alaska-bound solo female

12:04 a.m. on July 3, 2008 (EDT)
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I'm a California female who's been backpacking solo for two years and playing it safe. Although I've sometimes ventured into black bear territory, my usual stomping grounds are dominated by elk, raptors, and fluffy bunnies.

Now I've gone and booked myself a solo trip to the Kenai Peninsula, and suddenly I'm terrified of grizzlies. To prepare, I've got five different books about bears, bear attacks, and avoiding them. Naturally, I've seen Grizzly Man.

I sometimes hike with a push dagger if I feel nervous, and now I'll add pepper spray and an airhorn to my arsenal. To amuse myself while alerting bears, I may even learn to yodel, thanks to this podcast:

I know I'm not the first female solo backpacker to head up to Alaska to step up her game, and I've planned my trip with an eye toward safety: I reserved a public cabin on a popular trail just seven easy miles from the trailhead; it'll be an out-and-back with two nights at the cabin, where I hope to read and nap and take photos. But the grizzly factor haunts my daydreams.

Any advice for a mountain girl on her first solo trip into grizzly territory?

9:45 a.m. on July 3, 2008 (EDT)
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Your fears are founded. Anything can happen out there, in here, or anywhere for that matter. The fact that you are planning ahead puts you in a better place than someone who may just take off and go.

Is there cell coverage where you are going? Unsure? Find out. If not, a satelite tracker might be a good tool to have. Friends and family can check in on you while you're gone too.

Wildlife officers and Biologists, that I work with, offer this:
Bears, Black and Griz, have a sense of smell approx 700 times better than that of a bloodhound. (A bloodhound has a sense of smell approx. 1000 times greater than ours.)
Keep your food sealed in an airtight bear proof container, and keep it FAR AWAY from you whenever possible. Some say as far as 100-200 yards from camp.

Here in PA, household amonia is used as an effective Black Bear deterrent. Because of their powerful sense of smell, the pungent aroma of the amonia (think smelling salts) is super strong. They don't like the burning sensation! We apply it to trash cans and around picinic areas with good results.

Hope this helped a bit. Safe trip.

12:02 p.m. on July 3, 2008 (EDT)
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I have been testing the SPOT and will have an extended write-up here on Trailspace in a month or so (have some more tests to run, plus they recently added a new "Share" function to their messaging). It seems ok for an emergency alert system (including the OK, Help, and 911 messages). As a tracking device, it leaves a lot to be desired, though. If you decide on using a SPOT, be sure you plan on a couple weeks of trying it out to make sure your "Team" (SPOT's term for your basic set of 5 contacts that you program in ahead of time - you can't change message wording out in the field, only via the SPOT website) receives the messages. There are some subtleties to making sure the message gets through (count on 10-20 minutes for a message to get through). Also, you must have the face of the SPOT facing upward (the antenna pattern requires this - hanging it on your belt means the message transfer is spotty - bad pun, sorry). SPOT is very sensitive to canopy and canyon effects (especially under evergreens, like redwoods and sitka spruce - lots of sitka spruce on Kenai). The Primal Quest event seems to be showing better tracking than I and some other people have been getting, but I have heard that Primal Quest is using a second, non-SPOT tracking device. Also, there have been several false alarms - one from a noted magazine writer while climbing Denali, one for an orienteer here in the SFBay area who was participating in an adventure race. It is pretty easy with the present version to push the Help button by accident (I keep my Help message at "This is a test" while in the local hills).

You might also consider renting a satellite phone. I suggest Iridium over Globalstar. They are expensive, but the peace of mind is worth it to some people. (disclosure - I worked on Iridium in its developmental stages way back before I retired, so have some bias. But then I have also used it in Antarctica and other less-remote locations. SPOT uses Globalstar to relay its messages, so having 2 separate providers may be more reliable - like belt plus suspenders).

On the bears - Kenai brown bears (the Alaskan version of grizzly) are pretty used to their natural food, so if you follow the procedures that the rangers will brief you on religiously (in the old sense of "religiously", not what passes for "religion" these days), you should have no problem.

Remember that Timothy acted like the grizzlies (in Katmai, remember, not Kenai) were his best buddies, to the extent of hugging them and feeding them. Just remember they are the wild animals that they are, not cute, cuddly playmates. If you do as "Grizzly Man" did, you will be in trouble. But if you follow the procedures the rangers will prescribe for you, and not show your fear (fear = "quarry", as does running away), you should be just fine (oh, this doesn't mean being confrontational and staring them in the eye - listen to the rangers - did I say, get a briefing from the local rangers?)

As f_klock said, use a bear canister (even in your rented cabin, or maybe especially in your reserved cabin). Make noise as you hike, to alert the bears to your presence - most problems happen when startling the bears. Do not hang around their food sources (berry patches, the remains from a kill, and such). If you camp in a tent, keep all food and smellables away from the tent. This means keep the bear canister 100 yards or so away and cook also that far away.

Again, talk to the rangers and get as much of a briefing as possible. I would actually have advised making your first trip or two with an experienced guide to get mentored on bear behavior.

It may be expensive, but you might consider going to Homer and taking one of the 8-hour visits to Katmai's Hallo Bay "bear viewing" flights. I think they cost somewhere in the $500-$1000 for the 8 hours, but you will get excellent photo opportunities for both the bears and various other critters, especially birds. You will be with a group (which is also safer with the Alaskan brown bears, and the guides know where to go to get good photos.

Did I forget to emphasize getting a thorough briefing from the local ranger on dealing with the brown bears?

12:52 p.m. on July 3, 2008 (EDT)
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Bill, could you clarify one thing for me? Is there value in talking with the ranger? :-)

4:03 p.m. on July 3, 2008 (EDT)
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Other than the standard protocol stuff...

...have a great trip!

You have a cabin, which, is the best way to go, IMHO. And, those public cabins are bomb proof, you wouldn't need to store food in a bear canister inside one of those rigs. Although, depending on what type of food you bring in with you, a bear canister is nice for transport to and from. Although, with the right packaging, I wouldn't bother (ie, prepackaged sealed so limited or no smell).

Seeing one (or more!) of those bears is such a priveledge, that I wouldn't over obsess with the danger aspect of it. If you're on the Resurrection Trail, they'll be other folks around. And, in AK (like anywhere else), its easy to be more bear aware than the standard person. Just don't roll in salmon guts (ha ha).

Where on the Kenai is your trip? I've done some hiking there in years past. Great spot.

The AK Fish and Game folks are kinda worried about the brown bear populations on the Kenai. Here's some more tips:

Follow the basic rules and don't over obsess with the risk. You're way more likely to get hit by a car with a drunk driver on the way to the trailhead than come into contact with a bear.

Keep the smelly food to a minimum. Maybe stop by the local FS or F&G office and see if there's been any problem bears in the area prior to your hike. Other than that, go and enjoy. Hopefully you'll see a few bears, and, can watch them in action. Once you spend a bit of time around them, you'll realize they usually just do their own thing and aren't concerned with you at all.

Have a great trip. Be nice to get a trip report when you return!


-Brian in SLC

4:40 p.m. on July 3, 2008 (EDT)
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Thanks so much for your encouragement and advice! I am indeed going to Resurrection Pass. Are there generally other folks on that trail during mid-week as well as on weekends?

I feel sure that by the time I get there and put my pack on, I'll be tired of obsessing about danger and ready to enjoy my adventure. ;]

One thing I haven't yet figured out is the location of the ranger station closest to the northern trailhead. Maybe at Porcupine Campground?

5:07 p.m. on July 3, 2008 (EDT)
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Girdwood or Anchorage are the best bets for FS. Unless you'll be down in Seward. I'd probably call them if I couldn't make it there, just to ask about any current bear issues.

Also, the folks at the diner in Hope would have pretty current info too (!). Great spot. Camp hosts at the campground would know too.

Are you hiking in from the north, just south of Hope? Are you in the carabou cabin?

Yeah, its a very popular trail, even in winter. We did part of it in pretty early season (when I discovered I'd broken my ankle on a climbing trip to the Ruth Glacier out of Talkeetna a few days earlier). Well travelled even when we were there (which was mid May). Lots of moose (at least in early season). I'd be way more scared of the moose there than the bears.

Really neat area. Scenery is outstanding.

The drive down to Seward is pretty neat. I seem to recall some cool hiking trails that go to glaciers in the area. Exit Glacier and some such. The aquarium in town is pretty neat and there's a neat trail behind town that runs down the beach, and above to the beach, with neat views and scenery too.

One place I really liked hiking was Whittier. Nutty town. Neat scenery around it.

Ahhh, so much to do. You'll have a blast.

-Brian in SLC

5:34 p.m. on July 3, 2008 (EDT)
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Yep, I'm hiking from the north to Caribou Cabin, after one night at Porcupine Campground. I'm sure I'll have dinner in Hope and will be sure to ask around there. And since I'm driving there from Anchorage, I can stop at the FS office there before I get on the highway.

2:29 p.m. on July 4, 2008 (EDT)
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If you get dinner in Hope, be sure to have the mushroom soup at Tito's.

By the way, I second Brian's comment about the moose, we saw 6 of them in the 8 days I was there. Most of them were about a mile north of Caribou creek south of Hope.

We did see some brown bears, but they ran off about as quick as I've ever seen any deer run away. I wouldn't be too worried about them as long as you're careful.

Most of the hike we were talking, but out of the 6 moose and 4 bears we saw, all of them were seen when we were being quiet. Also, we saw most of the wildlife after 6pm or so. If you keep up a conversation on the trail and don't hike too late in the evening, I doubt you'll see many moose or bear.

10:59 p.m. on July 9, 2008 (EDT)
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Depending on when you go, the bears might be busy on the salmon streams, which should work in your favor. And, there should be other people on the Res trail at this time of year.

8:59 p.m. on July 17, 2008 (EDT)
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I'm an Alaskan gal who just got home from the 40 mile traverse of the Resurrection Trail. Although I use a bear canister backpacking, there is no need to use one at Caribou cabin. You are paying for one big bear locker!

I recommend you do a day hike up to Devil's Pass to get up in the high tundra, since you have 2 days at Caribou.

I do Resurrection every summer & have seen a few black bears in the hills above the cabins & a couple of brown bears closer to Juneau Lake & the falls.

Porcupine Campground is great- be sure to at least go part of the way out on the Gull Rock Trail along the Turnagain.

Hope is a great little town to wander around to see all the old cabins.


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