There were all sorts of signs that bears were in the area. Actual, literal signs posted at the put in of McCrae Lake that said there were active bears in the area. When my wife Lori asked me if we should be worried, I laughed at her, puffed up my chest and replied with confidence that I had tripped at McCrae many times and we didn’t need to worry about bears.
I was wrong.
We loaded up the canoe and paddled 1 short hour to our preferred site on the lake. Within a couple of hours we had our site set up and we were relaxing in the afternoon sun.
I have been to McCrae Lake many times before. It was a common haunt for my friends and I. Whether we were completing the Gibson McDonald Canoe Route (route details HERE) or as a standing camp, we visited the lake several times a year. We spent the ‘great blackout’ of 2003 on McCrae Lake and we have had more than 1 bachelor party there. We knew the place very well, we had preferred sites and we had never run into issues; until this trip.
As the sun was setting and our campfire was lighting up the site, my wife and I heard the sound of something moving through the woods next to the site. Although we couldn’t immediately identify the sound, we knew that it was big.
A moment later a black bear lumbered out of the trees next to our tent. It was about 30 feet from us and Lori had her back to the tent and didn’t see the bear. Being the manly man that I am, I again puffed up my chest, pretended that I wasn’t scared and started making some noise to warn the bear off. My efforts proved successful and the bear lumbered back off into the woods.
After taking a moment to catch my breath and settle my nervous I explained to Lori that it was a bear and that I had scared it off. I likely made some comments about being a hero, having saved her life and we both laughed about the situation. I assured Lori that it was simply a chance encounter and that that bear wouldn’t be coming back.
I was wrong…again.
A few hours later we were snuggled safely inside our tent, or so we thought. Just minutes after getting into the tent we heard the same sounds moving through the woods towards our tent. I felt Lori’s hand grab onto my arm and squeeze. We both knew that the bear was back, but the optimist in me hoped that it was just passing through camp.
I was wrong…once again.
The sound grew louder as the bear approached out tent. It wasn't long before the bear was right outside of our tent. My mind was reeling and debating whether I should make some noise to frighten the bear off or to remain quite. Making some noise had frightened it off earlier, but with it so close to the tent I was worried about startling the bear into an attack. The bear was inches from the tent. We could visibly see the tent move as the bear breathed and pawed at the ground. With my knife in one hand and my machete in the other, we tried to remain as calm as we could and didn't make any noise.
I finally got it right for once on this trip.
After what seemed like a lifetime, the bear lost interest in us and move back into the woods.
I don't think that Lori or I got a wink of sleep that night. Every noise, regardless of how small or distant, set us on edge. The following morning we made the decision to spend the day on site, but to cut our trip short and leave before nightfall. I don't think that either of us could have handled another night with unwanted visitors.
I am thankful that we were diligent about taking the proper precautions to bear proof our site that night. We properly hung our food and make certain to clean up the site as best as we could. I am doubly thankful that we didn't have any food in our tent or stuffed in a pocket or in our packs. I would hate to imagine how this story would have changed had we given the bear more reason to hang around that night.
Lessons learned. Regardless of how much experience you have or how confident (err...arrogant) you are, always error on the side of caution, read the signs (literally) and take the time to bear proof your site.
Over the next few weeks we will be sharing some tips and tricks to prevent bear encounters and what to do if you happen to find yourself face to face with a bear.