Wildlife Encounter in Colorado: Kill or be Killed?

I am hiking across acres of Southwest Colorado with my fabulous best friend, a Black Mouth Cur that I named, appropriately, “Blessing” on our morning “walk” through the fields and woods of the farm where we now live.  It is out … Continue reading

Scientists assess damage from Yosemite-area fire

wildfire natureSACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Scientists are assessing the damage from a massive wildfire burning around Yosemite National Park, laying plans to protect habitat and waterways as the fall rainy season approaches.

Members of the federal Burned Area Emergency Response team were hiking the rugged Sierra Nevada terrain Saturday even as thousands of firefighters still were battling the four-week-old blaze, now the third-largest wildfire in modern California history.

Federal officials have amassed a team of 50 scientists, more than twice what is usually deployed to assess wildfire damage. With so many people assigned to the job, they hope to have a preliminary report ready in two weeks so remediation can start before the first storms, Alex Janicki, the Stanislaus National Forest BAER response coordinator, said.

Team members are working to identify areas at the highest risk for erosion into streams, the Tuolumne River and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, San Francisco’s famously pure water supply.

The wildfire started in the Stanislaus National Forest on Aug. 17 when a hunter’s illegal fire swept out of control and has burned 394 square miles of timber, meadows and sensitive wildlife habitat.

It has cost more than $89 million to fight, and officials say it will cost tens of millions of dollars more to repair the environmental damage alone.

About 5 square miles of the burned area is in the watershed of the municipal reservoir serving 2.8 million people – the only one in a national park.

“That’s 5 square miles of watershed with very steep slopes,” Janicki said “We are going to need some engineering to protect them.”

So far the water remains clear despite falling ash, and the city water utility has a six month supply in reservoirs closer to the Bay Area.

The BAER team will be made up of hydrologists, botanists, archeologists, biologists, geologists and soil scientists from the U.S. Forest Service, Yosemite National Park, the Natural Resource Conservation and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The team also will look at potential for erosion and mudslides across the burn area, assess what’s in the path and determine what most needs protecting.

“We’re looking to evaluate what the potential is for flooding across the burned area,” said Alan Gallegos, a team member and geologist with the Sierra National Forest. “We evaluate the potential for hazard and look at what’s at risk — life, property, cultural resources, species habitat. Then we come up with a list of treatments.”

In key areas with a high potential for erosion ecologists can dig ditches to divert water, plant native trees and grasses, and spray costly hydro-mulch across steep canyon walls in the most critical places.

Fire officials still have not released the name of the hunter responsible for starting the blaze. On Friday Kent Delbon, the lead investigator, would not characterize what kind of fire the hunter had set or how they had identified the suspect.

“I can say some really good detective work out there made this thing happen,” he told the Associated Press.

Delbon said the Forest Service announced the cause of the fire before being able to release details in order to end rumors started by a local fire chief that the blaze ignited in an illegal marijuana garden.

Tips for surviving a wild animal encounter

080930135301-large black bearWith the numerous wildfires, our wildlife are getting displaced, increasing the chances of an “encounter of the worst kind”.

It’s a situation you never want to find yourself in. You’re on vacation, peacefully enjoying the planet’s natural wonders and then – out of nowhere – a wild creature attacks.

While these encounters are usually very rare, Kyle Patterson, spokeswoman at Rocky Mountain National Park, say it’s because people aren’t aware of their surroundings or don’t use common sense.

“Any wildlife can be unpredictable,” she said. “Sometimes you see a visitor who sees an animal and think, ‘they’re close to the road, I’ll just get out and a take a picture.’ This isn’t a zoo where it is fenced off.”

Every animal responds differently to human interaction, but a general rule of thumb for any wildlife encounter is be prepared and look for signs.

“If the animal is reacting to you, you’re too close. All wildlife will give you a sign.  Some species will put their ears back.  Some will scrape their paws.  Some will give verbal cues,” said Patterson.

In order to help you, we’ve come up with a list of tips for surviving all kinds of animal encounters, from bison to sharks.

Even with this list handy, remember that it is illegal to approach wildlife at the national parks and no matter how prepared you are, expect the unexpected.

  • 1Bear


    North America’s recent rash of bear attacks should be inspiration enough to want to know how to survive a mauling. At least six people in five states have been mauled by black and brown bears recently. There was the Alaskan hunter who was attacked on Saturday, the hikers in Yellowstone National Park who were attacked by a grizzly last Thursday and 12-year-old Abigail Wetherell who was mauled by a black bear on the very same day, while out on an evening jog in northern Michigan.

    “These are two species that you shouldn’t never run from: Black bear or mountain lion,” said Patterson. “You should make yourself big, as much as you can.  Whether it’s taking your jacket and putting it over your head, or picking up sticks or just waving your arms, you need to fight back.”

    Here’s a list of bear attack survival tips from Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources:

    1.) If you see a bear that is far away or doesn’t see you turn around and go back, or circle far around. Don’t disturb it.

    2.) If you see a bear that is close or it does see you STAY CALM. Attacks are rare. Bears may approach or stand on their hind legs to get a better look at you. These are curious, not aggressive, bears. BE HUMAN. Stand tall, wave your arms, and speak in a loud and low voice. DO NOT RUN! Stand your ground or back away slowly and diagonally. If the bear follows, STOP.

    3.) If a bear is charging almost all charges are “bluff charges”. DO NOT RUN! Olympic sprinters cannot outrun a bear and running may trigger an instinctive reaction to “chase”. Do not try to climb a tree unless it is literally right next to you and you can quickly get at least 30 feet up. STAND YOUR GROUND. Wave your arms and speak in a loud low voice. Many times charging bears have come within a few feet of a person and then veered off at the last second.

    4.) If a bear approaches your campsite aggressively chase it away. Make noise with pots and pans, throw rocks, and if needed, hit the bear. Do not let the bear get any food.

    5.) If you have surprised a bear and are contacted or attacked and making noise or struggling has not discouraged an attack, play dead. Curl up in a ball with your hands laced behind your neck. The fetal position protects your vital organs. Lie still and be silent. Surprised bears usually stop attacking once you are no longer a threat (i.e. “dead”).

    6.) If you have been stalked by a bear, a bear is approaching your campsite, or an attack is continuing long after you have ceased struggling, fight back! Predatory bears are often young bears that can be successfully intimidated or chased away. Use a stick, rocks or your hands and feet.

  • 2Elk


    Migrating elk are known to take over towns, especially this time of year. For example, Estes Park, a popular resort town in the Rocky Mountains hosts nearly 2,000 elk for the summer months, and much of the year. With a population of only 5,858 inhabitants, the town is literally overrun by elk.

    Rocky Mountain National Park also has a large population of elk.  Patterson said the dangerous times are in the spring, when they’re protective of their calves, and the fall mating season, known as the rut. “Sometimes the bulls can be very aggressive,” she said. “During the rut, elk are in big groups.  You want to make sure you’re not in between  the aggressive bull elk and the focus of his attention.”

    That’s why the park takes preventative measures such as closing meadows and sending out teams of volunteers to patrol.

    Here are some tips from The Payson Roundup, a small paper that covers Rim Country in central Arizona, an area that has had its fair share of elk invasions.

    1.) Always keep a safe distance and if driving, stay in your car.

    2.) Never approach a baby calf; they are not abandoned even if the cow is not in sight. The cow is close by or very likely has gone to water and will return. The maternal instinct could produce an aggressive behavior if something might come between her and her calf, so play it safe.

    3.) Elks travel in the reduced light of early morning or late afternoon — so if you want to avoid an elk, don’t go out during dawn or dusk.

  • 3Bison


    Bison are the largest indigenous land mammal in North America. The bulls can often weigh as much as one ton. Not only are they huge, bison are fast. They can quickly accelerate to speeds up to 35 mph. So if they look majestic and docile out on that plain, just remember bison are beasts and they are much faster than you.

    If you encounter a bison, here are some tips from Canada’s National Park Service:

    1.) If you encounter bison along the roadway, drive slowly and they will eventually move. Do not honk, become impatient or proceed too quickly. Bison attacks on vehicles are rare, but can happen. Bison may spook if you get out of your vehicle. Therefore, remain inside or stay very close.

    2.) If you are on foot or horseback: Never startle bison. Always let them know you are there. Never try to chase or scare bison away. It is best to just cautiously walk away. Always try to stay a minimum of 100 meters (approximately the size of a football field) from the bison.

    3.) Please take extra caution as bison may be more aggressive: During the rutting season (mid July-mid August) as bulls can become more aggressive during this time. After bison cows have calved. Moms may be a little over-protective during this time. When cycling near bison, as cyclists often startle unknowing herds. When hiking with pets. Dogs may provoke a bison attack and should be kept on a leash. On hot spring days when bison have heavy winter coats.

    4.) Use extreme caution if they display any of the following signs: Shaking the head. Pawing. Short charges or running toward you. Loud snorting. Raising the tail.

  • 4Mountain Lion


    Attacks from mountain lions are very rare, Patterson said, and they’re going to prey on elk and deer–not humans.

    But she said the danger arises when people hike alone or families with children let the kids run ahead and make noises.

    “If a child is running along a trail they can mimic prey,” she said.  This is why they tell visitors to ‘”make like a sandwich” when walking along the trails.

    “Families and adults should think like a sandwich and the parents should be like a piece of bread and the children should be the filling.  Have an adult should be leading the pack and should be in the back.”

    Here is a list of tips for a mountain lion encounter from the conservation advocacy group, The Cougar Fund:

    1.) Be especially alert when recreating at dawn or dusk, which are peak times for cougar activity.

    2.) Consider recreating with others. When in groups, you are less likely to surprise a lion. If alone, consider carrying bear spray or attaching a bell to yourself or your backpack. Tell a friend where you are going and when you plan to return. In general cougars are shy and will rarely approach noise or other human activities.

    3.) Supervise children and pets. Keep them close to you. Teach children about cougars and how to recreate responsibly. Instruct them about how to behave in the event of an encounter.

    4.) If you come into contact with a cougar that does not run away, stay calm, stand your ground and don’t back down! Back away slowly if possible and safe to do so. Pick up children, but DO NOT BEND DOWN, TURN YOUR BACK, OR RUN. Running triggers an innate predatory response in cougars which could lead to an attack.

    5.) Raise your voice and speak firmly. Raise your arms to make yourself look larger, clap your hands, and throw something you might have in your hands, like a water bottle. Again, do not bend over to pick up a stone off the ground. This action may trigger a pounce response in a cougar.

    6.) If in the very unusual event that a lion attacks you, fight back. People have successfully fought off lions with rocks and sticks. Try to remain standing and get up if you fall to the ground.

    7.) If you believe an encounter to be a valid public safety concern, contact your state game agency and any local wildlife organizations.

  • 5Shark


    While shark sightings are on the rise, shark attacks are still relatively rare. Last year only seven people were killed in shark attacks. Although, in 2011, the number of shark-related deaths was 13. On the off chance you come face to face with Jaws, you should be prepared.

    Here are some shark encounter survival tips from Discovery’s Alexander Davies:

    1.) Don’t panic. If you find yourself face to face with a shark, you’re going to need your wits about you to get away with your life. So keep calm; remember that while sharks are deadly animals, they’re not invincible. Thrashing and flailing is more likely to gain its attention than to drive it away.

    2.) Play dead. If you see a shark approaching, this is a last ditch effort to stave off an attack. A shark is more likely to go after a lively target than an immobile one. But once Jaws goes in for the kill, it’s time to fight — he’ll be as happy to eat you dead as alive. From here on out, you’ll have to fight if you want to survive.

    3.) Fight back. Once a shark takes hold, the only way you’re getting out alive is to prove that it’s not worth the effort to eat you — because you’re going to cause it pain. Look for a weapon: You’ll probably have to improvise. But any blunt object — a camera, nearby floating wood — will make you a more formidable opponent. Often repeated advice has it that a good punch to a shark’s snout will send it packing. In fact, the nose is just one of several weak points to aim for. A shark’s head is mostly cartilage, so the gills and eyes are also vulnerable.

    4.) Fight smart. Unless you’re Rocky Balboa, you’re not going to knock out a shark with a single punch. Not only will a huge swing slow down in the water due to drag, it’s unlikely to hit a rapidly moving target. Stick with short, direct jabs, so you increase your chances of landing a few in quick succession.

    5.) Play defense. Open water, where a shark can come at you from any angle, is the worst position place you can be. Get anything you can to back up against, ideally a reef or a jetty. If there are two of you, line up back to back, so you’ll always have eyes on an approaching attack. Don’t worry about limiting your escape routes- you won’t out swim a shark, better to improve your chances of sending him away.

    6.) Call for backup. Call out to nearby boats, swimmers and anyone on shore for help. Even if they can’t reach you right away, they’ll know you’re in trouble, and will be there to help if you suffer some injuries but escape the worst fate.  Who knows, maybe a group of sympathetic dolphins will help you out – they’re fierce animals in their own right.

    7.) Fight to the end. Giving up won’t make a shark less interested in eating you, so fight as long as you can. If the animal has a hold on you, he’s unlikely to let go. You have to show him you’re not worth the effort to eat.

  • 6Stingray


    While stingray attacks are not usually deadly, they are painful and warrant close medical attention. With a recent stingray invasion along the Alabama coast, now is an important time to learn about the barb-tailed sea creature. The animals often bury themselves in shallow water, so even if you are just wading in the ocean, you are still at risk of being stung.

    Here are some tips from Jake Howard, a lifeguard at Seal Beach, Calif. on how to handle a stingray encounter:

    1.) Always shuffle your feet when walking out to the surf, sting rays are shy and skitish creatures and will generally flutter away at the first sign of danger. The sting is a self-defense mechanism when they get stepped on or threatened. The Sting Ray Shuffle is your first line of defense.

    2.) If you do feel something soft and squishy under your foot step off of it as quick as possible. I stepped on a sting ray last weekend, but got off it in time that it didn’t get me…Step lightly in other words.

    3.) In the case that you do get stung come to the beach as quick as possible, don’t panic because it will only increase your circulation, thus aiding in the movement of the toxin through your body. Also you want to try and limit anything that may bring on symptoms of shock.

    4.) Go home, or to the nearest lifeguard or fire station to treat it. The wound can vary in pain. I’ve had a woman compare it to child birth and seen full-on tattooed gang bangers cry like little sissys, conversly I’ve seen little girls walk away with relatively little discomfort. Either way it’s not going to be fun. Pretty much the only real thing you can do for the pain is soak the sting in hot water, as hot as you can stand, but don’t go burnin’ yourself. You can also take Advil or something, but no asprin. Asprin thins the blood and allows the toxin to travel easier.

    5.) Soak the foot until it feels significantly better. The pain probably won’t go completely away, but it should feel dramatically better. A little swelling is normal. Be sure to clean the wound as best as possible. If it looks like the sting ray barb is still in your foot see a doctor for treatment. Actually if anything weird at all goes on go see a doctor.

  • I wish I could help you, but I can’t.

    Nobody else can save you, only Jesus Christ can. Trust Jesus Christ of Nazareth today. He loves you so completely!

    Admit that you are a sinner and turn from sin. Believe that Jesus Christ of Nazareth died for you, He was buried and rose from the dead. Through prayer, invite Jesus Christ of Nazareth into your life to become your personal Savior.

    No one is guaranteed a tomorrow and the Bible has predicted the current world events to warn all mankind of the return of Jesus Christ, Who lives forever and ever. There will be no “second chances” once He comes to bring all Christians to heaven for eternity.

    His priceless, yet free to us gift of salvation is NOT something you want to reject, deep down you know you need Him. For YOUR sake, do not delay.

The Danger of Overreacting To Danger Pt.4 from Lessons Learned As a Novice Hiker

imagesCAYRODLJ aspen trees & lake

Photo courtesy Google Images

In stark contrast to last night’s star gazing, a beautiful stand of quaking aspen stretches far to the east, the sunrise painting the jagged pinnacle with a fascinating spectrum of color, highlighted by the multicolored sunrise, then modified by the occasional, wispy cloud. Shimmers of golden foliage radiate life, fresh and new this very morning. I’m certain I’ve never smelled air this fresh, clean or inviting. It carries the taste of promise on it. I watch as the sun continues its slow climb to a higher station in the lightly mottled sky. My eye is drawn to the fascinating lake that reflects the entire scene on its still, mirrored surface. Serrated vivid hues of yellow, gold, and orange with a thread of charcoal, bridge the spectacular cobalt water to its shoreline. The bank is punctuated with a ribbon of darkly shadowed brush, fanning its smudged boundary along the irregular water’s edge, dividing the scene dramatically, strikingly. It moves the heart, an intoxicating vista. A dark pool brackets the outer westerly edge, hinting at deeper waters, a potentially profitable bass fishing hole, mingled with underwater plants and leafless, drowned trees. Truly the pearl of the region rests and boasts of its beauty before me.  I realize I’m hungry. I tear myself from the blessed demonstration of a promising new  day to reignite last night’s campfire.  My dwindling pile of dead and down looks  too meager for a hot breakfast, but I want a hot drink and I have enough wood  to heat a few cups of water. I spread out my petroleum-laced cotton balls under  several twigs and strike the match; instant results. I gather fresh pine  needles and break them up and then add them to my tin of water, setting my pine tea to boil onto a flat rock that I had placed in the fire circle last night.

The early morning air is brisk; I warm my hands over the paltry fire, then cup my hands over my nose to warm my face. The steam from my pine tea as I sip it  supplements the warming process easily.  I scarf a breakfast bar during my morning devotions, and stand midway; need to stretch and wake up the muscles. I decide I will continue climbing; I want to reach the overlook at its highest rim. I pack my gear after scattering the remaining ashes, now doused in leftover clean-up water. Casting a longing look at the array of aspen and the surrounding, profoundly exquisite lake I leave my camp site with as little trace of my temporary residence as possible, ending my cleanup with a downed, short pine branch sweep.

MP910221019[1]I realize I hadn’t studied my map and compass again, just to be sure my bearings are correct. I justify the compass edge against the maps left westerly edge; adjust the bezel, point the compass towards my target goal, note the boxed needle and then top-pocket the compass. I fold the map into my pack, confident I’m on-course. It appears I’m on a game trail, it sure beats fighting underbrush and Mountain White Thorn patches. I study my target goal far ahead and am glad I began during the crisp early morning conditions.  Now this is backpacking! 


Photo courtesy Google images.

It’s a few hours later and the day is heating up quickly. I scan the terrain after a swift motion catches my peripheral vision. I couldn’t see what sort of animal it was, but it’s at least the size of a coyote.  A strong, offensive, unbelievably vile smell permeates the air, and then I hear the ominous sounds of a swarm of what I think must be bees. As I round the corner, it’s apparent that it isn’t bees, but an enormous amount of flies.  A huge, black cloud of very noisy flies in fact, drawn to the scent of a fresh kill. The kill’s death-scent; a chemical dinner bell for creatures big and small. Perhaps I scared off one of the scavengers just previously. The kill is partially buried with forest debris, known as a food cache, and I mentally run-through which animals try to hide their kill only to return to feast on it later.   Large or small   …  returns later to feast …

imagesCAJ4VXYP food cache

Food Cache photo courtesy Google images.

My eyes wide, I examine my surroundings more methodically, thoroughly. I really, really don’t want to interrupt an animal’s lunch, especially a carnivore’s meal. I can’t shake the mental picture of a boiler-rooms’ large pressure gauge, needle pegged at its maximum red-line danger zone. I sense red flags waving frantically all around me.  Cougars are crepuscular hunters and it’d be dusk by the time I crossed this path on my return.  Yet, insanely I muse:  Turn around or continue? If I continue, it means crossing paths with this kill yet another time.

What am I thinking, why even question continuing?!angry wolf 2

I decide I can return to this trail another time, possibly with a hiking partner; but now is time to turn-tail and head home.  I hadn’t thought-out just how remote this hike is, nor had I thought about the larger wildlife in this region.   I waste not another moment in this particular area. My steps are swift, and not as careful. My focus is straight-ahead, I am not checking my surroundings. I remember that I need to watch for predators. Again my focus is tunnel-vision, I’m not trail tracking.

While keeping an eye on the surrounding wilderness for any predators, (that vile odor is still prevalent, I’m now down-wind of the kill) out-of-the-blue I hear a much-too-familiar-to-me rattling sound. I gasp and see the rattler under a small shrub just a single pace ahead of me.  In lieu of the last rattler encounter, the infamous “Incident”, I completely overreact. I scream (as if that helps), jump up (I seem to manage this acrobatic move rather easily these days) and turn to run. I did everything one does not need to nor should do. Somehow, as I turn to flee, I trip over my trekking pole and find myself scrambling for purchase as I’m now over the side of the mountain.   Again!  

I am in an even worse place as far as other vipers are concerned, this area has all the hallmark’s of DEFINITE snake infestation, plus falling further down the side of the mountain is a viable threat.  I’m sliding down the loose-rock. Terrifying images of a den of vipers sear my intellect; I am screaming for God to, “Get me out of here! Oh, Lord help me! GET ME OUT OF HERE!” as frightening déjà vu sears my mind, scrambling massive panic cells throughout the bloodstream. I frantically scuttle uphill with every ounce of effort and beyond. I am more terrified of startling another snake than falling down the mountainside. This hike is circling the drain but fast.

At least it rattled at me Western Rattler

Crossed the trail & into the area I fell into! photo by Marybeth Haydon

Retreated to its hidyhole on the other side crop

Retreating further into the “snakie” area. photo by Marybeth Haydon

Somehow, it had to have been His Hand helping me, I get back onto the trail and I see the snake moving across the game trail, heading right into the potentially snake infested area I just scrambled out from.


I yell aloud to myself, “Get the camera, get the camera!” as I fumble with the camera case zipper. I’m able to get two pictures off, one of the tail end as it leaves the trail, another with its rattle standing up when it is under some brush. I always strive to have the ‘evidence’, I’m not completely sure why. I sometimes think since I experience way too many freaky things in the wilderness and I need the photographic evidence.
Inventory reveals that I have bent one of my trekking poles, my arms are cut up, I completely messed up my knees, “that” knee especially, and my most favorite hiking pants are torn. BLAST!  Insult upon injury!  I bend forward from the waist trying to get my wits about me and blood to my head, once again I feel like I may faint.   Oh, snap … I really messed myself up … again. I am way, way far from civilization.

Seriously, am I learning anything?

Not wanting to see how badly the knee is injured, I skip looking through the gaping tear in my trousers. If I know how bad it is, I probably won’t make it all the way down, and it’s a at least full days hike back down. Sometimes ignorance is bliss or something to that effect.  I can’t have The Incident affect me like this! I just cannot overreact when being simply warned by the viper that I’m too close.   It’s not like I was standing on it, it simply wanted its “space” so that the shy critter could move away from me. This is, in fact, exactly what the snake did. Textbook, easily anticipated, extremely easy to avoid confrontation much less flat-out panic. Logically I know this to be true, but I struggle with residual fear from standing on a rattler just a month previous.

I ever-so carefully continue my descent, now completely rattler-paranoid, foolishly jumping even at the sight of a lizard.
Why do I hike the wilderness? Am I energized by the drama of risk, of real danger? Is this what lights me up?  What is wrong with me? I’ve encountered many rattlers before The Incident; I simply waited for them to move on. No harm, no foul.

Lord God, please help me get over this new fear. Help me overcome this new fear of rattlers, I must not overreact! Draw me close to You once again! Show me how to apply Your word to this situation!

Silver Falls, Colorado 9-29-09 025

View from near the trailhead. photo by Marybeth Haydon

And amazingly, the adventures continue….

Todays Lesson Learned: By overreacting, I literally threw myself into a potentially more dangerous situation.  For more on snake and other animal behavior (so that you know what to expect, and can react with calm) click here  http://ow.ly/gY1Yn

Are you enjoying my Lessons-Learned (How Not To Hike Stupid) series?  Share your comments, questions, or concerns. Go to the “About the Author” tab on this site, scroll down to the “Comments” section bottom left. Your input is appreciated!

Twitter: http://twitter.com/MarybethHaydon      Or comment on my Facebook:   http://ow.ly/hycIm


FIGHT OR FLIGHT Part Two: Signs of Presence, Danger, Precautions, First Aid


Photo courtesy Google images.

Trail Safety when practiced, will enhance your hiking experience because you will know ahead of time what to do should a problem present itself. These tips are general. I encourage you to do your own, and more thorough research. I’m available to answer questions and value your comments and concerns. Lets get to it:

Signs of bear presence:
Look for bears up in oak trees foraging on the acorns, or bedding down on the other side of a felled log, (don’t just hop over logs, check what may be on the other side first) near streams (they can NOT hear you when they’re near running water, so know that it’s easier to surprise them there) and among berry patches. More signs of bear activity are overturned rocks (foraging for grubs and worms), claw marks on tree trunks (announcing their prowess, height, and territory to other bears, sample photos at the end of this post), among heavy brambles and brush, or flattened grassy “beds”.  The most obvious is the bear track, which to me looks similar to a human bare foot print.  The tracks will have a “pigeon-toe” pattern, each paw print will show the piercings of their claws in front of the toe marking.  Also you can easily scan for fresh scat, dig marks, tracks, clawing markings on the ground where a bluff or animal challenge had previously occurred since you are checking the ground in front of you anyway. Caves, hollow trees and logs and even under dense brush are common “dens”. In other words, they’re everywhere, but there’s no reason to be frightened by it. Simply be aware that you are in their backyard and enjoy the adventure, camera-ready!

bear 3 DSCF2191

Black bear foraging in brambles. By Marybeth Haydon

Learn to identify scat and tracks, (I found Scats and Tracks by James C. Halfpenny, Ph.D very helpful) you will be amazed at how fascinating this can be! After capturing the scat or track on film, you can research it when you get home and the thrill of discovery is enhanced by the challenge the research presents. Don’t be timid about breaking apart scat with a handy twig to discover if there are berries, fur, or bone in it. Fur and bones, probably feline and canine. Berries, fur, hairs and garbage probably bear. Once the bear begins to feed on meat, the scat will be black in color with a stronger odor. Do not sniff scat, some can be hazardous & toxic when inhaled directly. (Raccoon scat can be mistaken for bear scat and the raccoon scat can carry a parasite that is fatal to humans.)

A bear cub will make a sound that sounds to me just like: “MA!” or “Maw!” which is their distress call. You know what to do. And it’s not scream and shout and run all about. Be calm, back away, deep breath now, you can do this. (But doubtful you ever will need to.) My personal experience was, the cub was more frightened of me and went scrambling up the nearest tree, calling “ma!” which gave me plenty of time to calmly leave the area. (Disappointed at a photo op missed, but I’m not completely stupid about photos.)Black bears often follow well-established trails. Wide double ruts formed in the grass or the ground are a good indication of a bear trail. In wooded areas, these trails often go under obstructions. They are careless about the amount of sound they make vs an animal that is stalking you such as the cougar. Listen as you hike.

Cougar scratching post ch 16

Cougar or Bobcat scratch post. Marybeth Haydon

Danger signs: A distress call from any of our wild animals’ young is a definite get-away-from-the-area signal.  You will recognize it immediately once you’ve heard it, regardless of the type of animal. I had stopped for a comfort break and as I prepared myself I heard this odd meowing, but not quite a meow and there was a definite “distress tone” to it. 2+2 I’m thinking it almost sounded feline, when my ah-ha moment engages: Oh Snap! I rushed out of the bushes and headed far, far away. My nemesis the cougar, flashes of its beautiful but powerful body raced through my imagination. Near her distressed cub/kitten? I think not! So use all of your senses while on trail. It will become second nature to you, much like noticing traffic problems before they happen.

imagesCAJ4VXYP food cache

Animal Food Cache courtesy Google images.

NOTE: Don’t carry your car keys or phone in your pack. If you need to throw your pack as a deterrent, there go your keys as well. Keep them in a zip-up pocket on your person or safety-pinned inside a pocket. On your person! I learned the hard way.

Food Cache: Another danger are food caches.  Usually you will know immediately from the distinctive odor and/or the abundance of flies that there is a kill in the immediate area. DO NOT REMAIN IN THE AREA OF A KILL OR FOOD CACHE. Remain calm, and leave the area. Animals are highly protective of their caches.

Cougar/Mountain Lion/Puma:

They are gorgeous animals, big, strong and potentially lethal. They like to be at the highest point, but they also are at ground level, under brush for surprise attacks. Even at a distance a brief glimpse should be cause for alarm. Though the cougar is most likely to leave the area, you should group together and travel with caution.

If there are repeated sightings, be prepared to aggressively defend yourself and others. Be alert and on guard for the remainder of your hike. Also, the mountain lion is crepuscular, so plan the hours of your hike around that. This is one animal I highly respect and depend completely upon the Lord for help and protection against. He is more than capable! Then I subsequently rely upon my training, research, experience and upon my God-given senses.

hunting cougar

Intense, focused. A cougar on the hunt. Courtesy Google images.

If attacked by a mountain lion, appear larger: Raise your arms. If you have trekking poles raise them over your head, appear large. Pick up small children. Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice. Women, lower your voice, sound masculine, decisive. The idea is to convince the mountain lion that you are not prey and that you may be a danger to it. Fight back if attacked, using anything as a weapon.  Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal. Fight back aggressively! It goes without saying, but I must; a cougar attack must be reported.

Precautions, good sense:

  • Make a wide detour or leave the area if you see a bear at a distance. If you cannot detour or retreat, wait until the bear moves from your path. Always leave the animal an escape route.
  • Do not run. Most bears can run as fast as a racehorse. A scream or sudden movement can trigger an attack.
  • Don’t throw anything at a bear; it may provoke an attack.
  • Do not wear scented perfumes, sunblock, chapstick, etc. as scents attract a habituated bear.
  • Do not pack-in food that is not in bear containers.
  • Never feed a wild animal. It is a disservice and a disgrace! The animal will likely end up euthanized because of it.
  • The sight or sound of multiple flies, ravens or crows means you are near a carcass. Leave the area immediately.
  • Heavy, foul scent, like old, spoiled meat. Carcass, a sure sign to detour safely.
  • Menstruating women should hike another time when you’re not on your cycle.

First Aid Snake Bite:

One should always carry an ace bandage and small – large band aids with them on any hike. To treat a snake bite, wrap the limb a few inches above the bite snugly with the ace. The idea is to slow the lymphatic not the blood flow. You are NOT applying a tourniquet! You should be able to get a finger under the ace, between the ace and the limb. Do NOT suck-out the venom. Try to avoid unnecessary exertion. Obviously, get medical help immediately. Take a few cleansing breaths and force your thundering heart to slow down, calm down. Rarely is a rattler bite fatal. Expensive, extremely so, yes. Fatal no. You will probably feel faint, it’s that post-adrenalin download. Go ahead & squat so that should you faint, you don’t have far to go. Just practicalities here. Where you were bitten will be painful and may begin to tingle. Don’t stress it, it is what it is. You’re not dying out in the wilds. If you have a pen in your pack (some people take notes on what they observed during the hike) draw a circle around the bite, 2″ from the center of the bite.  Write the time down. This will help first responders. It will swell. Again, it is what it is. Be calm, your body is responding the way it should.

Hiking alone? Well, with that fire starter in your 10 essentials, if it is safe to do so, start a signal fire only if you are in a very clear area around you and above you, so that a responding helicopter will be able to CLEARLY see you and the smoke. Lay flat, spread out for the maximum exposure for the helicopter overhead, you want to be a very broad, wide “target”. Spread out that large red bandana you had in your ten essentials. When the helicopter is overhead, signal with your hand a slithering snake, (remember they’re viewing this from overhead, make the proper adjustments.) then the striking motion & point to the body part. They’ll understand & arrange medical & evac for you.

No possibility of a signal fire, trees too dense? Not the ideal situation, but you need to hike out. Get your composure, obviously pray, and be as easy on the affected limb as possible, you may have to scoot your way downhill rather than chancing wide, deep steps. Limit your mobility while being safe. No trekking poles? Snag a downed limb to use as a cane, the less stress on the affected limb the better. (Assuming it’s a leg.)

Since I hike during the week, (low trail traffic) I encounter snakes a lot. Remember with weather patterns changing, that snakes are out from their hibernation at atypical times (at least for my state, CA) and you do need to keep an eye out for them. They like the trail and rocks, anywhere that the sun can bake upon them. If you encounter a snake whose eyes look clouded-over, it is in the process of shedding its skin. THEY ARE VERY UNPREDICTABLE DURING THIS PHASE. Just a heads up.

Ten Essentials:

You’ve probably heard about this. You can customize your pack, but here are a few that really are essential:

  • Extra water!!
  • Fire starter (I use cotton balls saturated with vaseline in an old, small film canister.)
  • Waterproof matches
  • First Aid to include ace bandage and band aids
  • Map. You printed the trail details from a website? Don’t leave the directions in the car!
  • Compass
  • Flashlight
  • Knife
  • Sunscreen. Large red bandana
  • Extra clothing (ie extra jacket, preferably waterproof)

Remember, there are always exceptions to the rule, these are wild animals. But the more informed you are as to their usual behavior, the more relaxed and confident you will be on handling any encounter.


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Do your research! courtesy Google images

Do your research from various sites on how to handle animal encounters pertaining to the area and state that you will be hiking in, for your general 411 and safety confidence. If you’re camping, after you’ve set-up go chat with the ranger and see how they handle wildlife for their particular park. If you’re hiking in a different state, please check with their local forestry dept., and with their fish & game for wildlife information particular to their state. I also look up the fire department number for the area that I’m hiking. Some small towns are volunteer fire dept and have a direct number which is actually faster than 911. Do your research. When you know how to handle a situation in advance, the more relaxed you will be while on trail, making your adventures truly sensational! My knowledge is far from replete, so please, do your homework!

Leave no trace is essential!  You got to enjoy your views litter-free, so please pass it on. It’s important that we all practice good stewardship. I carry a small sandwich bag in a designated pocket to collect any used tissue that I may have had to use (allergies), perhaps you have additional tips on keeping wildernesses beautiful and vibrant, I’d love to hear from you!

If you have something to add, I value your comments.  More Identifying Photos below. Your comments at the end of this post may help someone else logging-on to read & learn. Please post your comments!

black bear claw marks on alder tree

Bear claw markings by Kim Cabrera

3-19-11 two marshal cyn trails scouting 034

Habituated bear scat (note the saran wrap) by Marybeth Haydon


Bearprint by Marybeth Haydon

2 large area of scratchings

Hasty markings on trail by Marybeth Haydon

You can see more photos of tracks and scats at my FB page  http://ow.ly/gEwua   Click for Part 3   http://ow.ly/gY1Og   Click for Part 1   http://ow.ly/gY1Yn

FIGHT OR FLIGHT Part One: Animal Behavior

OK, I’M IN THE WILDERNESS, NOW WHAT DO I DO?  . . .  Lions & Tigers & Bears, Oh My!

Ok, no lions and tigers and no Auntie Em either.  But definitely time to explore the practicalities and safety issues of wildlife encounters. Remembering that all wildlife are indeed wild and are extremely dangerous when provoked. So let’s learn how  “not to provoke”.  Also, the more you know and understand equales empowerment, and the calmer and more assured and safer you will be while on trail.

Black Bear. You’re hiking an area that has a lot of switchbacks, blind corners and you’re in bear country. We don’t need to startle mama bear with her cubs, so softly talk or sing, or pray out loud as you near those blind corners. Occasionally check the ground ahead of you for tracks or scat to alert you to its presence.  Their tracks look like bare people feet (at least to me) and their scat is significant and full of berries or fur. If you see garbage or saran wrap in the scat, you have a habituated bear in the area. Time to reconsider your hike. A habituated bear associates humans with food, making them uncharacteristically aggressive and eventually a dead animal by our euthanizng hands. Not to mention at minimum, a rattled you.

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Black Bear by Marybeth Haydon

Well, lookie there, a black bear. What to do?  Has the bear seen you? If not, don’t announce yourself and simply detour or turn back. Calmly.  It has seen you? Stop where you are.  Be calm. I know you did NOT bring McDonalds or tuna sandwiches with you, or any food to entice wildlife, so is the bear considering you a food source? If somehow a packed picnic lunch found its way into your pack, remove your pack and toss it on the ground ahead and away from you. Disassociate yourself from it and begin to back away. Do not run or turn your back on the bear; that’s what prey do and loud noises might force it to protect itself. Again, DO NOT RUN, it will stimulate the animals predatory instinct.  Black bears often will bluff charge, it will be difficult, but stand your ground. After it stops a few feet from you, you can continue your backing away and the bear will definitely investigate the pack that you left. Don’t bother going back for it, which is why you pack your car keys and turned-off phone (otherwise  the battery will wear down trying to find a signal while you’re in the mountains) on your person, preferably in a zip-up pocket or safety-pinned to your clothing.  (I had to re-hike a snowy and difficult trail looking for car keys once. Lesson learned.)

Being respectful and aware of the animals comfort zone will go a long way. Another point to remember is that dogs irritate bears. If you hike with an unleashed dog, please change that habit, it’s a danger to Spot and to other hikers. Secondly, as your dog jogs ahead, encounters a bear, it runs back to you for protection. Guess who they are leading back to you? Yup,  Spot just brought you one big unwanted “gift”.

My biggest problem is getting an enounter on film, getting the camera out fast enough to capture the rare moment. And you may want to check behind you occasionally, especially if you’re preoccupied taking pics of your exciting encounter.  Remember, BEAR SIGHTINGS AND ENCOUNTERS ARE UNUSUAL. I have been in the bear country for the majority of my hikes, 2-3 times a week and it took over 3.5 years before I actually sighted a bear. Bear encounters are rare. So relax and have fun!

Snakes. While you’re checking the ground ahead of you for scat to avoid, protruding roots or rock to trip you up (aka ‘speed bumps’), and for anything alive, you may as well look for snakes.  Snakes are shy critters and prefer not to interact with you. They are typically unaggressive. They usually slither away before you’ve approached them since they have sensed your “trespass” by the vibration of your steps. They don’t have ears, can’t hear you so if you’re screaming at it, it’s for naught.  If it’s a rattler and it actually rattled at you, (they do not always rattle) it’s simply warning you that you’re too close. It wants it’s “space”, so give it some.  The last thing a snake actually wants to do is to bite you, as any close encounter with another animal (including YOU) puts the snake at risk as well.

Please, do NOT go chasing after it because you have “great video” especially if it is rattling at you. You are putting yourself and companions at risk and you are needlessly harassing animal life. You have most likely chased it into an area where there are other snakes & while you’re videoing one, you have others who see you as a threat. Quite the picture, isn’t it?  If that isn’t enough incentive, not only is a bite very painful but will run you $100,000 AND UP for anti venom that is if you get to medical within a reasonable time.  More on first aid in Part Two http://ow.ly/gY1UB

Western Diamondback

Western Diamondback Rattle Snake by Marybeth Haydon

Back away and wait for it to wander off. It out-of-the-ordinarily lingers? Then from a distance, toss a few rocks around it, no need to hurt or kill it, and it will move away to the nearest brush or rock hideaway. Or you can stomp your feet, to the snake it will feel like an entire army is approaching, and as shy as it is, off it will go. If it’s injured you may need to pull from your patience reserve, but it will eventually get out of your way. I usually “X” mark the trail dirt with my trekking pole so that on my return I can be aware that there was one at that spot on my way up.  Also, I use my poles to tap the rock in front of me as I descend from a hike since I can’t see what’s beyond or under the rock ahead.  They like to hide in the crevices.  ALWAYS tap-out any log or rock that you intend to rest upon.  For your hiking times you can purchase a pair of *snake gaiters if that will make you feel safer, which I wear when I’m trail-blazing and off trail. Again, my biggest problem with snakes (well, every wildlife encounter) has been getting the camera out fast enough. Even after accidentally standing on a really ticked off & coiled rattler, (NOT RECOMMENDED) I wasn’t bitten, by the grace of God. I repeat: accidentally!  (W.T. the Novice chapter 7) I’ve learned to stay on trail while on regular treks since then!  Do NOT approach or handle snakes, or any of our wildlife. And, generally, a triangular head means venomous. A rounded head, not.  But I’m speaking generally and from experience from within California; I’m not familiar with other states and their wildlife. So do your research before you hike. As a rule, the young venomous snakes, if they strike, in their inexperience tend to over-envenomate which is what makes their bite more dangerous. Keep your distance, please. But no need to be freaked out now that you know their behavior, you know what to expect and how to respond.A Bobcat will most likely run from you, or simply watch you as you pass. They’re the size of a really overgrown tom cat and generally do not pose a threat, but such a sighting is definitely camera worthy!

11-13-09MountainLionEducationAndIdentificationA mountain lion is one creature I strongly doubt I would be saying, “How cool!” if encountered or sighted. Although, I would really prize a photo op with one.

The cougar is dangerous and has been known to attack people and children.  If you’re hiking with a group, all the better. But if you’re the smallest person in the group, you do not want to be last in line. It signals weakness, possible prey to the cougar. In CA, a woman was attacked from behind as she rode her bike along a fairly trafficked trail. The animal was later euthanized.

They are gorgeous animals, big, strong and potentially lethal. They like to be at the highest point, but they also are ground level, under brush for surprise attacks. Even at a distance a brief glimpse should be cause for alarm. Though the cougar is most likely to leave the area, you should group together and travel with caution. If there are repeated sightings, be prepared to aggressively defend yourself and others. Be alert and on guard for the remainder of your hike. Also, the mountain lion is crepuscular, so plan the hours of your hike around that. This is one animal I highly respect and depend completely upon the Lord for help and protection against. He is more than capable! Then I subsequently rely upon my training, research, experience and upon my God-given senses.

11-13-09MountainLionEducationAndIdentification2 If attacked by a mountain lion, appear larger: Raise your arms. If you have trekking poles raise them over your head, appear large. Pick up small children. Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice. Women, lower your voice, sound masculine, decisive. The idea is to convince the mountain lion that you are not prey and that you may be a danger to it. Fight back if attacked: A hiker in Southern California used a rock to fend off a mountain lion that was attacking his son. Others have fought back successfully with sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools and their bare hands. Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal. Fight back aggressively!

Deer. Believe it or not, they can be aggressive.  Simply keep your distance and appreciate these lovely creatures from afar. Do not approach and feed. If a wild animal appears docile, is bedded down and is allowing you to approach it? There is something seriously wrong and it will most likely attack you in lightening speed.  Leave wild animals alone. If you accidently stumble upon one up close, do not look it in the eye. Stay still, look down, it will take off.


Gray Fox by Marybeth Haydon

Fox, Coyote, Bighorn sheep. These fascinating animals commonly will avoid you, but if you get the privilege of sighting them, I sincerely hope you brought your camera! Fox packs actually use one area for scatting, called a fox latrine. When you see multiple, thin, fur-embedded scat you have probably hit upon a fox latrine. Get your camera ready, they are so fun to watch as they track mice underground!The bighorn sheep will tolerate your presence as long as you are quiet and do not look them (or any animal) in the eye. They feed on the brightest of food, the bright color signals high nutrition. So, when we thoughtlessly release those mylar balloons into the atmosphere, the sheep are dying from feeding on them. FYI.

Coyote, in a pack should be considered dangerous. Pack attack on humans are not a common occurrence. Again, if you’re carrying food, you’re making yourself a target. If approached, toss that Bigmac!

TWO-LEGGED THREATS: And if you routinely hike alone, may I suggest that you carry some sort of pepper spray?

REMEMBER: Preparation is key, watching for danger signs will become habit, a very good habit, and you will be able to enjoy your trek with confidence and calm. Yes it’s wild out there, just not so savage that you should stay away.

* I’m very happy with the snake gaiters that I purchased from Uplanders Warehouse http://ow.ly/gOq8n

Your comments, concerns, personal experiences and information is greatly encouraged!  Your comments may help someone else! Also check back for updates on Part 1 and Part 2 of the Fight Or flight blog. Scroll for my next blog, Part Two.

Click for Part 2 http://ow.ly/gY1UB Discussed in FIGHT OR FLIGHT  Part Two: Signs of Presence, Danger Signs, Precautions, First Aid for snake bite.