Sulphur Skyline. And a Bear.

3:45 p.m. on May 10, 2012 (EDT)
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Got a Friday off, and managed to get out of Edmonton by 6:30 AM for a weekend in Jasper. I planned on getting in at least a half-day hike on the way in, and my plan was to do the Sulphur Skyline then relax in the Miette Hot Springs afterwards before checking in to my hotel.

I was lucky enough to tuck my little Yaris in behind a semi that was flying along at 130km/hr and drafted all the way to the park gates. I was at the trailhead by 9:30 and ready to go by 9:45. There were three other people in the Miette parking lot when I got there, a Swiss couple and a German, and no vehicles other than ours. The benefits of week-day, shoulder season hiking, I guess.

It's not a very hard climb, or very long, but the 'bang-for-the-buck' is great. For a relatively minor investment in time and energy (750 metres over 4 km), you get to the top of a real mountain, and enjoy great views all the way. The trails are well-groomed and easy to follow, but heavily worn.

The first part of the hike is a straight run up a moderate grade, with a series of benches to stop at if you want a break. I started out fully-loaded - shell, fleece, and gloves - but the shell was gone right away and the fleece followed shortly after. The Swiss couple was behind me and the German was five minutes ahead. 230774.jpg 230775.jpg The views begin fairly quickly. You're climbing up away from the hot springs with a deepening valley off to your right, and a dropoff steep enough that you can see the opposite side and its summits through the trees. After a couple of kilometres, the trail turns to the right and a series of switchbacks take you up to the treeline. The trail is severely compromised here - try to avoid the temptation to take the shortcuts. 230777.jpg  230778.jpg 230779.jpg

When you break out of the treeline, you find yourself on a plateau at the foot of the final ascent. Great views, and I suspect some people, when confronted by an unobstructed view of the rest of the climb to the top, stop their hike here. Everyone paused, and we got a bunch of photos of the views and each other. I'd promised my wife I wouldn't hike 'alone' so I wanted shots of other people to prove I was obeying. The fleece and gloves were back on, and a chilly wind was rolling down the slope. 230786.jpg  230788.jpg 230789.jpg 230790.jpg 230791.jpg

It's not too much farther, but it's a slippery stairclimb up a scree slope before you get to the summit. The trail would be especially nasty in wet weather, but it was dry and not too bad that day. The German had already started out when we reached the plateau, and we followed a few minutes later. After a bit of huffing and puffing, and a few pauses along the way, we finally made it to the top. Total ascent time 1.5 hrs.

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The views from the summit are excellent - a full 360 of every mountain in the area, and of the Hot Springs in the valley far below.  230797.jpg 230798.jpg There is also a wonderful view of the Fiddle River Valley. 230799.jpg

It was windy and cold on top but the temperature immediately began to rise as we descended. The Swiss couple stopped on the plateau for lunch while the German ran on ahead down to the parking lot. By the time I got back into the trees, the fleece and shell were gone again. It was now after 11:00, and we began to meet other people coming up. The jeans-and-sneakers crowd was well-represented, but many seemed to be those very fit, older Europeans who flock to the mountains in the fall. Total descent time 1 hr.

Everyone I'd seen on the trail wound up in the Hot Springs later for a soak. Definitely a nice way to finish off a brisk hike.

Bear Anecdote: When I got back to the parking lot, I ran into a (second) young Swiss couple who excitedly told me about their encounter with a black bear only moments before on the old Hot Springs Source trail. They met the bear just a few hundred metres down the trail and snapped a couple of photos.

However, when they retreated, the bear advanced, following them back almost to the parking lot! Thinking quickly, they decided it was probably after the apple in the man's pack, so they tossed the fruit in its general direction and scurried back to their vehicle.

I guess they just didn't know any better. I pointed out that it was probably following them because it had learned to associate people with food - in other words, someone else had fed it before, and it was just repeating its lesson. All they'd done was reinforce that behaviour, and now the bear would follow even more people looking for food, until it would one day get too close and would be killed by the wardens.

At least they got a 'Canadian Adventure Story' to tell their friends, and some great photos to back it up. Shame about the bear, though...

4:18 p.m. on May 10, 2012 (EDT)
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Great report, Peter! 

That they fed the bear made me cringe and laugh ruefully. At least you got to help inform them a little.

8:16 p.m. on May 10, 2012 (EDT)
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Excellent report Peter!

I'm going to have to quit reading trip reports or get a bigger bucket for my list!

11:20 a.m. on May 11, 2012 (EDT)
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Probably before the Warden gets to it, the bear will get on the back of some young kid or little old lady or you  or me and bite us.  If we are lucky we won't die, as the bear looks for that elusive apple that all humans carry.

12:27 p.m. on May 11, 2012 (EDT)
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Good report Peter. Thank you.

It is suprising and sad that people don't read the plentiful information available about handling bear encounters.

3:53 p.m. on May 11, 2012 (EDT)
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Wildlife safety brochures are handed out to people at the Park gates, but you'll still see them feeding the chipmunks and trying to poke their cameras into the face of an elk.

And let their be one little bear cub on the side of the highway munching on dandelions and you'll have a bear jam a kilometre long!

8:44 p.m. on May 11, 2012 (EDT)
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Nice trip. My kind of day off.

LOL - Bear Jam. Yah, we get those here too.

1:50 p.m. on May 12, 2012 (EDT)
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Nice trip report. Here in new hampshire we have more turkey jams. Plus the occasional moose mess.

12:05 a.m. on May 13, 2012 (EDT)
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I stepped in a moose mess last weekend.

11:11 a.m. on May 13, 2012 (EDT)
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Nice TR and photos -- looks like beautiful country. I noticed a distinct lack of snow on the mtns, so I reread see if you said when this trip took place. The way it's written suggests it was on some weekend shortly before you posted. Then backtracked from one of the photo and followed links to find out that it was September 2009. It'd be a shame if somebody headed up to BC in May thinking there would be no snow... Nothing wrong with old TRs -- just say when!

11:18 a.m. on May 13, 2012 (EDT)
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How fresh was the moose mess?  The level of freshness has a lot to do with the quality of the experience.

This also reminded me of the old hunting joke. Several guys go hunting and draw straws to see who was going to be the camp cook.  The first to complain about the food became the camp cook.  The first day the food is okay. The hunting is of course fantastic. The second it was burnt. The third it's absolutely horrible. Still no complaints. The fourth day the cook finds some moose mess and cooks it.  The first hunter to take a bite says "This tastes like moose mess!" Then swallows and says "But it's good!"

1:22 p.m. on May 14, 2012 (EDT)
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BigRed said:

Then backtracked from one of the photo and followed links to find out that it was September 2009.

 Sorry. I should have been a bit more clear. I have hundred of trip reports - just trying to find ones that have a bit more going for them than "Went for a nice walk. Saw some cool stuff". Don't want to bore you guys!

3:02 p.m. on May 14, 2012 (EDT)
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Wow! very beautiful country up there. Even makes Yellowstone look lame compared to that!

9:24 a.m. on May 15, 2012 (EDT)
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Every place is beautiful if you know where to look. But I guess you'll have to head up this way sometime soon just to make sure, Gary.

3:51 p.m. on May 15, 2012 (EDT)
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A couple of points here, the first is that this is not in BC, as one poster commented, it is in Alberta and the snow pack there is much less than in BC for some reasons I will not bore you with.

I am quite familiar with this area as I worked for Alberta Environment thereabouts for a couple of years in the early '90s. There is a terrible problem in that whole region with "fed" bears and other wildlife and the tourists just do not seem to learn.

Nice country, and some fine flyfishing in the area for trout as well as Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Grizzlies, a few Mountain Goats and lots of Elk, some Moose and other wildlife to be seen and photographed. There are also quite a few Lynx, large purrboxes with tufted ears and a stubby tail as well as long rear legs so they look a bit odd, for a cat.

3:54 p.m. on May 15, 2012 (EDT)
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Being that I have not encountered a bear yet, it didn't occur to me that tossing the fruit from the pack in order to lure the bear away from you, would reinforce. Thanks for the wilderness lesson.

4:14 p.m. on May 15, 2012 (EDT)
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If, you encounter a bear and you are frightened that he/she may be seeing you as an "hor'd'oevre" (sic?) and you have food in a pack, the accepted way of dealing with this is to just toss your pack,SLOWLY, in front of you and then back away, again,SLOWLY, until he gets engrossed with the pack/contents and then you quietly get out of Dodge.

Sooooo...., while this would "hurt" if carrying your spanking new "full dyneema" McHale Popcan , it is safer and better than trying to stare him down or outrun him. One should carry a small Freon horn and give him a good blast on it as this often makes a bear leave right smartly.

DO NOT do this and then "spray" a bear, not ever.

4:20 p.m. on May 15, 2012 (EDT)
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Ah, freon air horn...something else to add to the ever growing list for my first overnighter.

4:39 p.m. on May 15, 2012 (EDT)
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ocalacomputerguy said:

How fresh was the moose mess?  The level of freshness has a lot to do with the quality of the experience.

This also reminded me of the old hunting joke...

 You must hunt with lumberjacks...

4:43 p.m. on May 15, 2012 (EDT)
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Dewey said:

DO NOT do this and then "spray" a bear, not ever.

For clarification, do not do what?  Horn blast and spray, drop pack of goodies and spray, or what?  Want to make sure I get exactly what you are advising against.


4:56 p.m. on May 15, 2012 (EDT)
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I do not believe in spraying a bear UNLESS he is actually very close to and threatening you or another human. Spray is not a panacea for all bear issues and is often a poor choice in a bear encounter.

If, you run into a curious, hungry or aggressive bear,drop the pack, as above and DO NOT spray him as this will end his being distracted by and interested in your pack, whatever it's contents. Why deliberately irritate an animal that will, almost certainly, proceed to investigate and "enjoy" your pack/contents, when you can get the h*ll out of there, SLOWLY and QUIETLY.

The horn if available, should be used whenever you see evidence of a bear's presence,especially in dense forest or foggy conditions. I WANT the animal to know I am in the vicinity, BEFORE we suddenly meet on a narrow trail as surprise can  trigger aggressive behaviour and an attack may result.

If, he is close to me and is not chomping, growling, or laying his ears flat with his mane coming erect, I simply stand still and speak softly to him and they have always left. If, I do have odiferous foods or whatever in my pack and he is getting within "BO"range, I would drop the pack and slowly retreat.

I have been within feet of Blacks many times and a few yards of Grizzlies several times, NOT by "choice" I assure you as I am not a "hero" and this has always worked for me. However, maybe my "best friend won't tell me" and I don't smell too good to a bear.....???....who knows, I love bears and enjoy watching them and so far, my methods have worked.

5:09 p.m. on May 15, 2012 (EDT)
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Parks Canada suggests the use of bear spray, and all their employees carry it. Only a few carry any other weapon. PC also says NEVER to drop your pack.

Unfortunately, if you leave your pack for the bear and it gets food that way, it will go after the next person who comes along expecting the same result. The result is the same as if you toss it the apples from your pack - dead bear. As Callahan says, the next poor person who comes by gets seen as a food supplier, not as the threat that they would be if the bear had been pepper-sprayed. It's called 'negative reinforcement'. 

Parks has had big problems with bears in areas where people have done that, where they've learned that all they have to do to get a free meal is follow a hiker until they put down their pack. Leaving the pack behind is NOT an 'accepted' practice.

There is a lot of anecdotal information flying around and some of it is misleading or just plain wrong. For example, some bears have learned that bear bells mean easy-to-get-food too, which is why they're referred to as 'dinner bells'.

For reference check the Parks Canada website or talk to their employees. After all, they deal with bears all the time (including trapping them and hazing them), and they are undoubtedly the experts.

Link here:

5:47 p.m. on May 15, 2012 (EDT)
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Well, since this is no longer really about bears and "Peter" initiated this thread, I will not respond to the obvious and will leave him to expound on this issue.

10:00 p.m. on May 15, 2012 (EDT)
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I believe it was BF Skinner who did the original work on behaviour modification.

What this thread is about (as well as just being an interesting little trip report) was the unfortunate errors that well-meaning people make when dealing with animals. Parks Canada is responsible for the safety of 10 million visitors a year, and with the advice of scientists, naturalists and professional guides, they are trying to find ways to keep both visitors and the animals safe.

I found it quite a responsible and interesting website. I hope readers of this trip report do, too.

10:34 p.m. on May 15, 2012 (EDT)
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It is an important topic and one which was a major aspect of my working life in various government resource management agencies for many years. The problem  is compounded by the huge numbers of people who now visit the Canadian National Parks and the various provincial parks, most of whom are urbanites with no real background in wildlife management or basic bush safety.

Then, we have the fact that so many of the staff of these preserves are young and often students who never have the time to learn through experience what really works and what is agenda-driven propaganda. This, is exacerbated by the continual `cutbacks in funding that the provinces and the Dominion Government have instituted for many years and we thus must deal with a complex animal in a less than optimal fashion.

The suggestions on the Parks Canada,site seem to come from Dr. Stephen Herrero and,  from the first edition of his book on bears. He later changed some of these in accordance with the `feedback`from many working bush people who sent him comments. I first met him years ago, when he had just finished his Phd. in California and came to Canada, as a `draftdodger`.

I was a BCFS junior (VERY junior) supervisor at New Denver BC, in the `Slocan Valley`and the partner in their property at Hills,BC, whom he mentions in the book, was on my silviculture crew and was among those I taught to plant trees and basic bear safety. The Kootenays is among the most densely populated Grizzly habitats in North America and bear safety was then and is now a major concern as workers are attacked and sometimes killed all too often.

I would suggest, for anyone interested in the topic of bear safety, that you read Herrero`s SECOND EDITION, as well as Charley Russell`s `Grizzly Heart`and then, for another perspective and VERY sound advice on dealing with bears, the books by Gary Shelton of Hagensborg, BC. My opinions tend to run about midway between those of Herrero and Shelton, with an admitted bias toward preservation of Grizzlies.

I often disagree with Russell`s gibes at hunters, but, I have simply HUGE admiration for Charley and share his love for and admiration of bears. These books can help to see what a large divergence of opinion on bears and safety now exists and offer an introduction  to the situation as it is playing out here in western and northern Canada.

11:22 a.m. on May 17, 2012 (EDT)
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Nice to reconnect  with someone you worked with back in the day, Dewey. But if in fact this webpage was originally drafted up by Dr. Herroro, it looks like he and his colleagues have now moved on to a more appropriate way of handling bears. I do recall that at one time bear spray was a rarity, and few people had access to it. Now that anyone of legal age can get some at their local outdoor store, it's something that everyone can carry and everyone can use if needed.

As with most large government departments, Parks Canada policies are not created by just one person, and it looks like this one would have been designed (as mentioned above) by a consortium of experienced professionals that would have included others besides just Parks staff. 

All the scientific research supports these methods, and professionals working in the Rockies use those techniques. For example, I know Ben Gadd (Will's father) is active with the IGA and sets many of its policies, all of which are in keeping with Parks Canada's mandate. IGA and ACMG guides (who require a a substantial amount of training to get their license to operate in the parks) carry and use bear spray, as do Parks staff, and the information on the website is also offered as part of the curriculum on training courses for professional guides. 

On a website like this, I believe we have a responsibility to offer the best possible advise, especially when dealing with matters relating to public safety. Professionals have the most experience, and the most training, and if I'm going to trust my life to someone like that, I'll go with the pros. It's the same as trusting your doctor to take care of your health, a licensed mechanic to look after your car, or a professional pilot to fly the plane.

Even new Parks staff get proper training in visitor safety and animal management, but I'm curious as to where one might get the impression that Parks employees are young? I bunked with the mountain SAR team once, and most were in the 35-50 age range, and even the people at the gates seem to be long-term civil servants. 

But we're going off on a tangent here, and it's distracting from the original posting. It was, after all, a lovely hike.  Perhaps further discussion on this issue could be moved to a new thread.

12:50 p.m. on May 17, 2012 (EDT)
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Accidental mispost,removed by poster.

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