Sunday, August 12, 2018

Photo opportunity saves trail runner from bear encounter

I was on my usual long mountain run on Saturday morning following the steep, winding, logging road up Cumberland Mountain, when I was overcome by the beauty of the view below. As I gazed out at the fir-tree forests, and beyond that, the Georgia Strait, separating Vancouver Island from the mainland, and the Rocky Mountains silhouetted across the horizon in the early morning sun, I felt I just had to take a photo. I stopped near the summit to remove my smart phone from my backpack, powered it up, aligned the view finder, and took the best shot.

When I turned around to take another photo of the trail ahead, I spotted a black bear, not too far off. It was eating ripe black berries from the bushes at the side of the logging road. I took a shot of it too, and then, quietly, I backed away, moving down the steep hill I had just run up, thinking, "If I hadn't stopped to take that photo I would've had a close encounter with a black bear."
Since I was up at the summit so early, there weren't other bikers or trail runners around. I descended the mountain the same way I had come, quickly, hoping that the bear was not alerted to my presence. I checked over my shoulder a couple of times to make sure that I wasn't being followed. I was relieved when I got back to the lower trails where there were plenty of bikers and dog walkers.
Since 2015 I have been running the Cumberland Mountain trail system. I had seen posters with cougar and bear warnings, but had never had an encounter or even spotted one. I had seen evidence of them like tracks and dung. My only other encounters with bears while on trail runs were on the Pipe Line Trail north of the Stotan Falls bridge, and the Cape Scott Park trail on northern Vancouver Island. In those incidences I was making enough noise that they knew I was there, and they took off.

The best way to avoid bear encounters while trail running:

- Make noise; sing, shout, wear bear bells.
- Use trails frequented by dog walkers (dogs mark their territory).
- Avoid trails where berries are ripe.

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