OK, he didn’t attack ME, but he sure got my food…

Here is my story. Not super dramatic, but hopefully a lesson or two can be learned:

Several years ago, my girlfriend and I took our first backpacking trip together. I have a good bit of experience in the woods from years spent camping in the Appalachians and in Scouting, and she has a decent amount. We were prepared for the trip, and we had plenty of decent gear. Some of it was a little heavy, but it was all quality stuff that would hold up fine under normal conditions. My backpack was rented from REI since I didn’t have a nice one at the time, and hers was a small daypack that held our food and a few other items.

They trip was up to Jack’s River in North GA. It is a pretty well-traveled area, so we were by no means the only people in the area. Our problem came in with the trail we chose. There are two trails in. One is about 5 miles, relatively flat, and one minor river crossing. The other is 12 miles, also flat, but with 22 river crossings (yes, 22 each way). I was stupid and didn’t spend enough time looking at the topo map, so we of course took the 12 mile one, not realizing quite how many crossings there were. The trail was awfully close to the river the entire route, so I didn’t notice that it kept snaking around the water.

I was wearing boots and took them off at the first four or five crossings. Since the crossings were every 5 minutes or so, I started just leaving my boots on. Big mistake. We had a lot of rain recently, so the water was up to my thighs in parts. Not especially fast moving, so we would not be swept away by the current, but it was still enough to get you wet. Every now and then, I would have to pick my girl out of the water because she would slip and fall. I had rope, so I used that in a couple of spots to tie on each side to make her trip a little easier.

By the time we made it to the camp area, we were pretty tired and wet. There were a few other groups set up by the falls. We set up across the river from them so we would have a little privacy. That didn’t last long, since a couple of black bears decided to see what we were up to. They are very used to humans in that area, so they would basically walk right up to your tent. We moved our stuff closer to the other groups since the bears seemed to avoid them a little better. After we ate, I tied the bag with our food about 30′ off the ground on a sturdy branch with paracord and tied the end to a tree. I put it a little ways away from our site in case the bears got interested again.

We wake up in the morning, and I wander over to get our food down for breakfast. The bear had untied the knotted rope (yes, untied…it was a tight knot wrapped several times around the tree and not frayed or cut when I got there) and gotten my bag down. I thought a fellow camper had done it at first, but there were clear bear tracks all over, and bear slobber on everything. There were a few claw marks on the bag, but little damage other than that and a bunch of bear slobber. The crazy part was that he had opened up every single zipper on the bag (8 or so) to see what was in the pockets. He ate all the food except a single can of vienna sausages, punctured the Gatorade that was in there and drank it, and left the trash in a little pile by the bag on the ground (yes, I carried the trash out).

So, we had 12 miles and another 22 crossings, and no food. Not life or death, but still sucked. Luckily, I had a water filter, so we were OK on water. One of the other campers gave us a couple of granola bars, so we had a few calories to get back on.

By the time we got back, I literally had holes worn in my feet from the friction of the wet socks on my feet. We were tired and hungry, but in good spirits because we both love the outdoors and still had fun.

So, I have been back to the area several times since then, and always do a few things differently than the first time:

-Wear water shoes if I am doing river crossings. Keen Newports and nice socks are a foot-saver.
-If I am backpacking, I come in from the other side. Wet boots suck.
-Bear canisters are a must. I take mine and just leave in on the ground with a few rocks piled up against it. A bear has swiped at it a couple of times, but my food is always still there. They are too smart to tie anything in a tree.