Bears on JMT

12:31 p.m. on February 28, 2006 (EST)
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OK, so I am planning on hiking the JMT this July, and my question is about the bear situation on the trail.
I do most of my backpacking in the Gila Wilderness, NM and we dont have a bear problem here. They see you and run. The bears here are scared of humans and they dont mess with you. So I rarely even hang food, or cook away from camp, or follow any bear saftey protocols.
I know I need to bring a bear cannister from what others have told me, but do I need to follow the rules about cooking 100 yards from camp(Down wind), and storing food far from camp? And what about toothpaste and lotions?
Can someone who has done this trail or is very knowlegable on bears in california please help me. I feel my current habbits wont cut it.

8:11 p.m. on February 28, 2006 (EST)
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Basic answer is yes, take ALL bear precautions on the JMT. Remember that the north end of the trail is Yosemite Valley, passes through Little Yosemite, Tuolumne Meadows, and Lyell Canyon. These are the home of the infamous Yosemite bears, holders of doctoral level degrees in getting food from backpackers and from inside cars. Much of the remainder of the trail runs through Inyo National Forest and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park. The bears in those areas include many expatriates from Yosemite (relocated when they were caught breaking into cars and stealing campers' food). It was on the JMT that my brother-in-law lost all his food TWICE while backpacking with his sons, each time about 2 days from the nearest trailhead (1 day for an in-shape adult travelling light).

I have personally never lost food to bears anywhere (including these areas), but have been camped within a few meters of campers who have. The basic rules are 1. use a bear box (the cylindrical containers when on the move or when the steel lockable boxes are not available at the campsites), 2. never leave food out that is not actually in the process of being eaten, 3. never leave food unattended, 4. do your eating, cleanup, and food storage 100 ft or more from your sleeping area, 5. never, ever have any food in or near your tent and sleeping area. It is also suggested by the rangers that you sleep in clothes other than the ones you eat and cook in, storing those clothes overnight with the food.

If you lose any or all of your food to the bears, you may be subject to a very stiff fine.

Sorry, but that's the reality, brought on by more than a century of people thinking it was cute and entertaining to watch the bears eat out of the garbage dumps (Yosemite and Yellowstone used to have bleachers at the garbage dumps for visitors to watch the bears). In 1965, when my soon-to-be spouse and I were backpacking in Yosemite backcountry after Labor Day, we passed one of the famous Curry Company High Camps that was closing for the season. They were just tossing the meat out for the bears. Having spent 5 days eating dried food, we took some of the steaks, chops, bacon, lunch meat, and cheese and had a grand feast that night about a mile from the dump. We could hear the bears all night having a food orgy in the dump. In those days you could hang your food in a bear bag, which we did with the leftovers that we hadn't cooked.

At this point, there are, I understand from my ranger friends, only 2 backpacking containers approved for use in Yosemite and Inyo - the Garcia canister and the Bear-I-Kade. The Bear Vault (the transparent one) is no longer accepted - seems the bears learned how to crack them. The Kevlar bag style has never been accepted, since the bears would bash these around until the contents leaked out, and apparently have learned how to open them (even the most recent modifications of heavier-duty, multilayer bags). Hanging, whether tethered or counterbalance, is easily bested by the bears (see the photos I posted over on MtnCommunity (backcountry non-ski forum )

The major reason for requiring that you cook and store your food away from your sleeping area is to help teach the bears to NOT associate food with humans.

9:44 p.m. on February 28, 2006 (EST)
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Thanks for the excellent reply. Those photos are nuts! I guess I'll need to shape up my packing skills for this trip. I have been spoiled down here in New Mexico!

8:56 a.m. on March 1, 2006 (EST)
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They won't hijack you on the trail, but if you leave a pack unguarded while you check out a photo op off trail aways, you might find your pack checked out.

The bears are stomachs with four legs. They obviously don't care for humans much, but love the stuff we eat too. If they were interested in us, you can probably guess they would have long ago been extinct.

You just have to be level headed around them and don't do anything level headed people wouldn't do. Just make sure that there is no bear food of any kind (toothpaste, etc) available to them.

Don't fight over who owns which food. If the bear wants your food, let 'em have it. You would not win a food fight with them.

I prefer not to eat near my kit and tent. Pretty much for the same reason I don't eat crackers in bed. I don't mind animals coming to check out all the nice smells around where I am sleeping so long as they don't make too much noise. You should make sure that your pack does not have any smells in it that will pique their curiosity. If it does it might be a good idea to leave all the pockets open so they don't have to spend any time trying to get in. This applies mainly to rodents, but bears might want to take the time to paw through your stuff.

On the other hand Gacia and Bearikade work just fine, are a bit of a nuisance since you can't carry and entire JMT worth along with you, and caches have to be secure with a bear can also.

Food hangs are not allowed and would not work anyway.

Probably a good chance you won't see many bears on the entire trip. I think we only saw one after we got a few miles away from parking lots.

12:20 p.m. on March 1, 2006 (EST)
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"They won't hijack you on the trail, but if you leave a pack unguarded while you check out a photo op off trail aways, you might find your pack checked out."

Actually, last summer, a bear attempted to grab a pack off the back of a youth in Little Yosemite Valley. This, even though he was in a group (Boy Scout troop trip). It was a very unusual, isolated incident, and the fact that the boy was fairly small may have caused the bear to think he was going after just a pack.

But the infamous "mugger bears" have for the most part disappeared. These were bears that would lie in wait in the bushes until some hikers approached. They would step out into the trail, stand up on their hind legs in hopes that the hikers would drop their packs and run, then grab the packs. This happened to a couple friends who were headed into Little Yosemite to do some climbing in the 1970s. In their case, they just turned around and started hiking down the trail. The bear then ambled back into the bushes to await the next group. My friends then turned around and hiked to their destination, and were not approached again by the bear. But according to some rangers I know in Yosemite, this confrontation apparently happened a number of times over the years with the bears being successful. The ranger briefing now says to just stop and yell at the bear, but the confrontations seem to have stopped over the past 5 years or so, except for the incident this summer.

12:48 p.m. on March 1, 2006 (EST)
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Food on the JMT

Actually, unless you plan a sprint for the 221 miles at 25-30 miles/day, you will need to resupply. There are a number of websites and books on this. Most people use 4 resupply sites. The first, at Tuolumne Meadows (going north to south), you can drop the food yourself by driving to Tuolumne, leaving it at the Ranger Station, then driving back down to the Valley for your start. The other 3 you can ship to by UPS (note that Reds Meadows charges an exorbitant storage fee, so use a tracking number so you have proof of when they actually received it and don't try to charge for more days than the box was actually there - several people I know have had them try to charge from date shipped, rather than date received). If you have someone who is willing to hike in over Kearsarge Pass to meet you, you can cut the break the last pickup in two, making it 5 resupply points, rather than 4. There is no "legal" storage at Kearsarge.

Besides, 2-3 weeks worth of food is way too much to carry from the start. At the canonical 2 pounds per day per person, a typical trip would require between 25 and 50 pounds of food per person, plus your fuel (30-40 ounces of white gas at the canonical 2 ounces per person-day).

3:40 p.m. on March 2, 2006 (EST)
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Re: Food on the JMT

Thanks for the wonderfull reviews.
As for resuplies, from what I have read on the internet(I havent got a guide book for the trail yet) it looks like there are four resupplies in the first 100 miles and then none until you finnish at Mt W. So my question is, why would a person want to do the trail from Mt. W to Yosemite? It seems like it would be more downhill, and more food options towards the end. But I dunno! WHat's you take?

6:02 p.m. on March 2, 2006 (EST)
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Re: Food on the JMT

Direction on the JMT depends on a number of factors. If you go in early season, going south to north means you are following the melting snow and have a better chance of not having as much problem going over passes. North to south means encountering some of the highest passes with a lot of snow on them.

Late in the season, south to north runs the chance of hitting snowstorms by the time you get to the northern end. Too late and Tuolumne is closed, and you have to slog through snow back to the Valley.

Most people I know have done north to south. Part of the thought is that by the time you get to Florence Lake (actually a few miles east of the lake), you are in better shape, boots well broken in, and the heavier load the first couple of days is easier to handle than having the heaviest load right from the start.

Another consideration is that north to south, you can camp a couple days in Tuolumne to acclimatize a bit (8600 ft), then you get a short 2 days from the Valley with a light load to start getting accustomed to the pack (happens with everyone, including "hardened" hikers), and you have a good shop there in Tuolumne to do any needed adjustments. The next day up Lyell Canyon is fairly gentle climb. Going south to north (best choice in a heavy snow year) means you have a steep climb right at the start from Whitney Portal (8200) to the pass (13,700). You might not be able to camp at the Portal the first couple of nights (small campground), so acclimatization is much more of an issue. And if you suffer from AMS on that first day or so over the pass, you have no retreat except over the pass (Trail Crest), putting you back at altitude, which will just exacerbate the AMS (or worse).

At any time, you are right that there is a big gap for resupply between Whitney Portal and Florence Lake (Muir Trail Ranch, which is actually Blaney Meadow), over 100 miles or almost half the trail. Going either way, you have 5-10 days of food to carry. Some people go on short rations for this section - lightens the load, but puts you way behind the energy replenishment curve. It is probably easier for most people to go short rations at the end of the trip than the first part.

If at all possible, try to have a friend bring in re-supply over Kearsarge. This will cur the smount you have to carry from Muir Trail Ranch. You will have to coordinate meeting time, since there is no food drop. If you don't meet up for some reason (miscommunication, some access problem, some delay on your part), you will be forced onto short rations. This coordination is easier on a south to north itinerary, since you are in cell phone coverage in Lone Pine (below Whitney Portal) just a few days before the meeting. Communication from Muir Trail Ranch is problematic, so coordination is harder on a north to south itinerary. Well, you could always use sat-phone, but then that takes away from the wilderness experience.

Another consideration is access to the start. Commercial transport to Yosemite Valley is pretty straightforward. Plus there is a bus between the Valley and Tuolumne, so you don't need to deal with a car. There are a couple shuttle services along the eastern Sierra, so pickup at Whitney Portal and dropoff in the Valley is straightforward (but costly). Going the other way, commercial access to Lone Pine is a bit questionable these days, with the changes with Greyhound.

I know a few people who have done it both directions. They almost all thought the north to south worked better.

6:16 p.m. on March 2, 2006 (EST)
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Re: Food on the JMT

Damn!! I couldnt have aked for a better reponse. So it looks like North to south, and just ration some food towards the end of the trip. I dont have a cell phone and dont want one either, so I'll have to mail some food along the trail before I take off. What experience have you had with mailing food to the 4 stops along the way?

8:23 p.m. on March 2, 2006 (EST)
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Re: Food on the JMT

The best answer to this is in the guides and JMT-specific websites. But basically, to keep it brief, the 4 sites all work well. Read the guides for general instructions on packaging and labelling, and the websites for current information. Be aware that Reds Meadows charges a steep storage fee, so you might actually have to take some cash with you on the trail. When you ship the food, use UPS (the one that seems to dependably get through with a short lead time), with tracking number and return receipt. Reds Meadows asked for storage costs for 2 friends in different groups from the shipping date, not the date they received the boxes. Luckily in both cases, my friends had printed off the UPS tracking info just before heading in and could show that the boxes had not been delivered by the time they set out on the trail, so an extra week of storage was unjustified. At the least, make calls in the Valley or Tuolumne to ask if the boxes are in hand. The others are a bit more interested in through-hikers. The two re-supply points will ship any excess you do not pick up, or your boxes if you have to bail early, or the change of clothes (some people put in a supply of new socks, clean clothes, and spare hiking shoes for the people using trail running shoes, and ship the other stuff home). If you want to do this, use containers that can be re-used (the 5-gallon "paint" buckets from OSH or Home Depot are favored, and even for people who only use them for the food). You will probably find that some of the food you thought would be so scrumptious makes you gag at the sight after a couple weeks on the trail, so the two southern resupply points have "exchange boxes". People put in what they couldn't stand and take something that now looks very attractive - different tastes for different folks, you know.

Get the current fees, addresses, and so on from the websites. Muir Trail Ranch (southernmost) has an extra fee because they have to carry the packages across Florence Lake in a boat. I expect that the fees will be higher this year because gas is much more expensive for the boats and trucks.

4:51 p.m. on May 3, 2006 (EDT)
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Hope your bear experiences are happy ones James! :^)
I was hassled a few times by the rascals - lost my food on one occasion after they'd successfully demolished a tree that I'd hung the food from. I'd still advise not to keep food in your tent with you though.
Here's a link to a few words I put together on "bear etiquette" that could be of interest/help...

Cheers, George.

February 20, 2020
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