I’m OK with the fact that there are lots of black bears in the parks where I’ll be traveling.
It’s a bit stranger that I’m not allowed to carry bear spray (which is Mace on steroids: more capsaicin, more spraying power), and can’t just hang my food out of bears’ reach. That’s thanks to many, many clueless or apathetic folks who improperly stored food (in tents, on badly hung lines, or just spread around the campsite) and thus trained the bears to be way more excited about looking for food around humans. So food and anything with a scent (read: all toiletries) has to go in one of these big cans. You open it with a quarter, which a bear typically does not possess. (Remind me never to spend my last coin in town.) The canisters are heavy, rigid, and large. They occupy a prime hunk of backpack real estate and make accessing anything else more complicated. I’m not thrilled.
There is a better option, but unfortunately, Yosemite and Kings Canyon are among the few national parks not to have approved it. Oh, Ursack, victim perhaps of some powerful bear can industry lobby – you soft, lightweight, flexible food sack that is also bear-impermeable, you! I wish I could take it instead, but apparently my e-signature on the change.org petition was not enough to push through new regulations in time. With the Ursack, my food might be crushed to a pulp if a bear attempted to get at it, but it would survive. I’d rather risk eating a slurry of oats, freeze-dried refried beans, and chapstick for five days straight over carrying the Can–which, let’s face it, although not smashable, could still get rolled off a cliff by an ambitious beast.
So, bear can acceptance it is. Let’s begin:
The first silver lining is, well, the inside of the bear can is actually kind of silver colored. How metaphorically pleasing. But moving on to more significant advantages: NO MORE HANGING BEAR LINES!! I’m a lousy shot, so it takes me anywhere from five to 45 minutes to get a cord twelve feet up and six feet out from a branch strong enough to hold the weight of everything I plan to eat or apply to my skin in the next five days. (Never mind finding that perfect branch, especially in a tree-poor landscape.) Now all I’ll have to do is set the can away from the campsite… and far from any cliffs… and hit the sack.
Also, I have a top-of-the-line can: the Bearikade Weekender. It’s made of carbon fiber and is the lightest of those available (“only” 31 ounces!). It was a wonderful trail angel gift to J. from a woman named Ellen who no longer needed hers. She gave it to him as long as he would continue passing along her gift. He carried it through the Sierras last year on the PCT, and then sent it to the Sierra Club so they could loan it out as much as possible. Sean from the Sierra Club kindly mailed me the can a few weeks ago, plus his set of lovely rain-resistant maps, to borrow! Here it is next to my backpack:
Um. OK. So I stuffed the pack full of all my gear and wedged the can in too. Amazingly, if barely, it fit. Here is slightly misty photographic proof.
Then Zippy dropped me off at the foot of Mount Sentinel with the full pack strapped on. I hiked to the summit in the afternoon sun, and down the back side into Crazy Canyon’s welcome forested shade. Not even six miles, and my back and neck were aching. The bear can’s weight pulled backward at a yawning angle, and the pack rode low, twenty pounds hanging off my shoulders. Uh-oh. Was this going to be a Wild-style hike with constant pain? I hoped not. Yet it was too late to order a different ultralight pack, as these beloved cottage industry companies have a six to eight week waiting period due to high demand. What to do?
Enter social media. Thanks to forums such as Backpacking Light, the Backpacking Gear Flea Market for Women, Ladies of the JMT, and John Muir Trail Hikers Hikers 2015, a gal in need can post a want ad and have it seen by oodles of hikers, pronto. To my rescue came Chris, owner of an unused Zpacks Arc Zip, a slightly larger pack with proven comfort (Zippy uses a Zpacks Arc Blast, which I tested to be reassuringly comfy… even containing a bear can full of pemmican). He sold it to me at a marked down price, and I look forward to its arrival in a week or so. Three cheers for Chris!
Until then, I am hiking around in Zippy’s pack, fully loaded. Which brings me to the final gift of the Bearikade. I have discovered that when I tromp around in a 20-pound pack, each hour adds to my invisible satchel of confidence, which had been underweight until very recently. I hadn’t even noticed. My body had been strong and ready, but I was neglecting my mind. That’s the other half of training: the mental part, arguably the more important part. I am relieved and grateful to have been given the impetus, thanks to practice hiking necessitated by the bear canister, to work on my confidence weeks before I hit Yosemite… can, Arc Zip, rainproof maps and all. Let’s hear it for silver linings!