In the Land of Oz you have to watch out for lions, tigers, bears and even wicked witches. In the Adirondack Park it’s only bears we have to contend with. Oh lucky us.
Let me start at the beginning. Early one Friday morning 2 carloads of us (8 people) from Victor Hiking Trails headed up to the Adirondacks to climb Mt. Marcy (the highest mountain in NY State). We fully expected to get pummeled by a hurricane the first day, as Isabel made her way inland from the North Carolina coast. As we drove, we passed through some rain and several bouts of fast winds. But once on the trail we had a dry hike into our camping spot. Jane Luce and Marsha Bryant were staying in John’s Brook Lodge, a bunk cabin. The remaining six were going to set up camp in a lean-to by John’s Brook (a rarity to find it empty on a weekend – thank you hurricane). But, a ranger came along & told us that a mother bear had trained her two cubs to climb trees, shimmy out on small branches and get food bags. The shelters were on their nightly rounds. So we bagged the shelter idea & headed up a side trail then up a steep hill to a plateau well off the beaten path (to Larry Fisher’s secret spot) and set up camp with the hope that we wouldn’t be on the bear’s nightly rounds.
We did a very good job of selecting a tree with a high-outstretched branch & Dave Coleman managed to get our rope over it with a rock tied to the end. The preliminary attempts provided the rest of us with our nightly entertainment. Then we hoisted all our food, far above the forest floor. After dark we went to bed. Periodically big swirls of wind would blow through and it rained all night. Around 10 PM we heard strange honking sounds and snorts which sat me upright in the tent. It was momma bear giving instructions to her brood.
In the morning Dave Wright walked toward our hoisted food bag & brought back some remnants. The bears had totally ripped & ransacked all our food. Larry Fisher had kept his food in his tent so he was heating water & making us all some coffee/chocolate/whatever he had. Everyone was getting up & standing around taking about how we’d have to hike out & cancel our mountain climb now that we were foodless. I decided to go pick up the litter so I walked over to the scattered garbage area & began picking up scraps. All of a sudden I heard 2 snorts, the second closer than the first, and the sound of pounding feet. I ran like the blazes & crashed through the woods back to the group. They laughed at me and said, “wow, we didn’t think you could run that fast.” I never saw momma bear but the sounds were unmistakable. We scanned the treetops & found a black fur ball high in a tree just above where I was picking up littler. One of the cubs was still in the tree & momma was protecting it. We had a standoff. We couldn’t pick up the trash while the cub was there & the cub wouldn’t come down while we were there.
Dave Wright and Larry Fisher headed to the bunk house to tell Jane and Marsha our hike was cancelled & the rest of us began packing up with the intent of vacating the area for a while then circling back to see if the cub was gone. But while we packed, the cub straddled the tree and climbed down & off they went. Dave and Larry returned with the report that our hike was on. With the food of the three people (Jane, Marsha and Larry) plus donations of food from other bunk house people who were heading out, we had enough to do some communal meals. We cleaned up the litter & took 2 garbage bags full to the bunkhouse for daytime storage & hiked up Mt. Marcy.
It was fun having communal meals. Dave Wright made up a “menu” based on our inventory of food so for each break and meal we doled out equal portions of whatever was on the menu. Such as a ¼ apple to each, plus a granola bar. After dinner back at our tents, we had eaten all of the food. So we set the garbage in a pile where the bear had left it the previous night and went to sleep. The bears came back & rummaged through it again, licking it clean.
The next morning we picked up garbage again and hiked out to a restaurant for breakfast. I can report that bears do not like carrots, dried green beans, toothpaste or ibuprofen. They very much like apples, cream cheese, bagels, peanut M&M’s, cereal and most everything else.
Oh, by the way, it was a gorgeous 2 days of hiking with great views from the mountain top.