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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Ask A Bear: Are You A Good Swimmer?

Our resident bruin expert answers all your questions in our weekly feature, 'Ask A Bear.'

by: BEAR


Q: I recently saw a commercial on TV where two young boys were being chased by a bear: One decided to go up a tree, and the other boy decided to swim to safety in a small lake. The boy who had taken refuge in the water advised the boy in the tree that bears can swiftly climb trees, but they are not very good swimmers. Is this true? —Christopher Rowe, via email

A: They always say you shouldn't believe everything you see on TV, and here's another example of why. In fact, if televised depictions of me are to be believed, I also might wear a tie or love snuggling in freshly-laundered blankets.

The truth is, I'm a very good swimmer—perhaps not terribly fast or agile, but certainly comfortable in water. While polar bears are the clear Michael Phelps of my genus (regularly swimming tens or even hundreds of miles between ice floes), grizzly bears have been observed bobbing in Denali's Wonder Lake searching for a meal, and I've personally run into blacks bathing leisurely in Olympic National Park.

As an avoidance strategy, swimming is little better than climbing a tree: Bears have been known to chase prey by swimming. On top of that, in most places where you'd find a bear, you won't last long in a chilly lake. Meanwhile, I have pretty decent wetsuit built-in to my fur—and I'm not afraid to use it.

—BEAR

Got a question for the bear? Send it to askabear@backpacker.com.


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Josh
Aug 02, 2012

Its easier to fight back in a tree than in water the bear can only come from one angle.

Dave
Aug 02, 2012

My brother, a friend & I were backpacking the upper Selway River in Idaho 2 weeks ago. While we were fly-fishing a black bear entered the water from the far shore, swam downstream about 40 yards & then casually walked back up onto the bank, shook himself off, and wandered off into the woods. It was in the high 90's that day so we assumed he was just cooling off

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Sep 30, 2011

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Alex
May 01, 2011

Black bears can climb trees very well, better than humans

Justin
Feb 08, 2011

I once saw a bear go into a latrine, that was the scariest sh*t ever!

Beefy Dan
Feb 04, 2011

In Lake Havasu, Arizona last year, there was a bear seen swimming at least 1/4 yards off the shore for an extended period before it was lost track of.

Ikan Mas
Jan 29, 2011

Will you East Coasties just stay home? You know all the bears out here in California just want to shred your pack and eat your cookies.

Zac
Jan 27, 2011

Up in northern Alberta one of the guys doing some backhoe work alone and was confronted by a Grizz, he quickly climbed up into the elevated bucket and the bear circled him all night. Finally some of the guys came up to where he was working the next day and scared the bear off. I don't know how long you can swim for but I'd rather take my chances spending the night in a tree.

Raif
Jan 27, 2011

I have been backpacking the Rockies and Appalachians for about 30 years now. I've had lots of bears in my camp, or cross the path ahead of me. I've always sat back and observed while they wander through and have never had a problem. Moose on the other hand have scared the crap out of me in campsites!

Laura
Jan 27, 2011

At Katmai several of the bears (brown) regularly swim the river and lake to fish. Even the young cubs are excellent swimmers- I watched a pair that were maybe twenty-five pounds (smaller than my dog) swim much farther than I could, nearly keeping up with their mom.

Rod
Jan 27, 2011

After watching a 400 pound black bear run a mature and healthy elk into a large lake and then swim it down kill it and pull to the bank (where the feast began). I realized that the "lovable" bear was 10x more formidable than I'd thought. I'm a biologist (27 years) that has been involved in bear rescues and relocations. Think of yourself as a floating chicken-nugget--the bear will too.

Steve
Jan 27, 2011

In Dusy Basin just the other side of Bishop Pass, Sierra, a few luckless backpackers had put their food package on a rock fairly well out in a lake...perhaps 30 meters. In our camp we were taking bets on what time that package would be gone. I'd asked what was going through their minds earlier and suggested they retrieve it and that we could probably find room in our bear canisters or set up a hang a mile or so down into trees. They said it deterred mice in New Hampshire.

Just before sunset, the bear wandered into camp, did a cursory sniff and looksee and without hesitation jumped into the water, picked up the package swam on to the other shore and consumed it. As easy as pushing a market basket down the aisle.

We didn't share dinner nor breakfast with them. It was the end of a 5 day trip for them and a hungry 7 mile walk out. I suspect that bear ended up being destroyed. She was just too accustomed to dropping in for a late afternoon snack.

I wonder if they took my suggestion and reported the theft to the Ranger where they got their permit. (Evil grin)

Jo Ann
Jan 27, 2011

I saw a black bear playing in the water like a black lab. He would take a flying leap, make a belly flop, paddle around, crawl out and then repeat the whole sequence. I watched him play for at least 15 minutes.

Brian Lang
Jan 27, 2011

Grizzly bears have swam from the mainland to Vancouver Island in the last couple of years. Previously there had been no sightings of Grizzly Bears on Vancouver Island, but now there have been. Most likely the bears island hopped, but that still involves swims of several kilometers.

And don't forget that Polar Bears swim pretty well too.

Larg
Jan 27, 2011

Well, here's a question: Do bears really chase people? What makes them do that?

Anonymous
Jan 27, 2011

I prefer eating White Castles as a defense. Then, when the bear scares me, the stench from the sliders makes his eyes burn and he runs away in horror. As he yelps in pain, he vowes never to bother another human again... I do it for man-kind.

Bob
Jan 26, 2011

I'll take my chances in a tree.

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