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The World’s Smartest Bears

Welcome to Yosemite, iconic American landscape, hikers' paradise, and all-you-can-eat home of the wiliest bruins on earth.
Backpacker_Magazine_YosemiteYosemite, Courtesy of Robert Holmes/California Tourism

Visitor reactions follow several common themes: Some are alarmed that bears are this close. One surfer dude expresses indignation: “You’ve got bears here? Well, shoot ‘em!” The Fresno locals observe with bored looks; they’ve seen all this before. Everybody else finds it fascinating. It’d totally make their vacation if Orange 15 stuck her face out of the bushes.

Which is more or less what happens. She reappears a hundred yards down the row, making another play for El Dorado at the center of camp. More hollering. Lots of pot-banging. Then one activist neighborhood sends her fleeing. We all tense for another sprint, but Green 1 pulls off the headphones. “Nah. She’s past the 50-yard zone. Let her go.” The fading signal indicates that Orange 15 has run right through a strip of forest and is moving across Stoneman Meadow, the vast grassland between Royal Arches and Glacier Point.

She’s too far off to see, but I can picture her anyway: a frustrated bruin shuffling along with a ponderous side-to-side sway, grazing lazily beneath the moonlit face of Half Dome. And that counts as just one more small- and all-too-brief— victory in the age-old contest between man and bear.

After a half-dozen close (yet peaceful) backcountry encounters, Rocky Mountain Editor Steve Howe thinks bears generally behave better in the woods than he does.

8 Ways to Foil Backcountry Yogis

Carry a canister Store it 100 feet from your tent, and don’t wedge it between roots or any place bears can torque the lid.

Keep it close When cooking/eating, leave food within arm’s reach.

Stay put If a black bear shows up, defend your camp. He may chase if you run.

Act tough In a group, stand all together. Scream, yell, throw rocks.

Look away All bears consider direct eye contact to be a challenge.

Use pepper spray But expect some black bears back in 30 minutes.

Let it go Once bears possess your food, they may defend it violently.

Report problem bears It’ll help keep them alive.

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