AARON LAVINSKY / THE SEATTLE TIMES
An adult black bear stands on its hind legs after becoming aware of a nearby human presence Sunday, July 15, 2012 near Owyhigh Lake in Mount Rainier National Park.
Yesterday wasn't ideal for a visit to Mount Rainier National Park. Cloud cover obstructed every view of the peak, while constant drizzle made hiking wet and uncomfortable. After realizing a drive up to Sunrise for the view would be in vain, my friend and fellow photographer Sam Rosenbaum and I decided to stop at the White River Ranger Station for suggestions on where to spend the day. The friendly ranger recommended Owyhigh Lake, a seven-mile out-and-back hike that ends near a picturesque lake surrounded by jagged peaks and a wildflower-covered glacial meadow. About two miles in, we passed hikers who gave us a valuable tip: A large black bear was wandering around the lake.
After arriving at the Owyhigh meadow, we took a look around and saw no bears, so we decided to head over to the lake to relax for a bit and take in the scenery. After a few minutes, I separated from Sam to see if I could catch a better view of the lake. That's when I saw an adult black bear looking at me like a dinner menu from about 75 feet away.
After realizing I had been spotted, I calmly moved out of the bear's field of view to meet back up with Sam so that we had the power of numbers. We packed up our gear and moved into the open so the bear could see both of us. That’s when it became somewhat territorial and stood up on its hind legs to try to get a good view of Sam and me. It stared for a good 15 seconds, which was plenty of time to capture a few frames. This 15 seconds felt like an eternity.
The rest of the encounter was uneventful. The bear seemed much more interested in searching for food. Sam and I went our way, and the bear went his.
Here are tips for keeping safe while hiking in black bear country. They are taken verbatim from the Washington State University Cooperative Extension:
Hike in groups - the more the merrier!
Make noise - bear bells, clapping, singing and general chit-chat will notify the bear of your presence allowing them ample opportunity to run away.
Move with the wind at your back – this allows a bear to smell you.
Always be aware of your surroundings.
Carry a deterrent - bear spray is very effective in close range situations.
If you do happen to come into close contact with a black bear, here are a few suggestions to keep the situation from getting out of hand:
Avoid direct eye contact – this is a challenge to the bear.
Stay calm, and identify yourself as human by waving arms and talking to the bear – don't run (bears can out run you!).
If you can, slowly walk back in the direction you came from. Never take your eyes off the bear and don't turn your back.
If you cannot walk away, and the bear is not fleeing, try to scare the bear by yelling and clapping your hands. Throwing objects may also be useful.
If the bear charges, use your deterrent (bear spray). If you have no deterrent and the bear attacks, fight back. Use whatever you can (hands feet, sharp objects) and direct them at the bears face. As a last resort, rollover on your stomach protecting your face with your hands and play dead.