Q. Dear Bear,
After getting done with a gnarly, rope-assisted scramble in Utah, a friend and I popped a packed-oat soda at the bottom of the pitch to celebrate surviving. Not 100 yards away, we saw a black bear shimmy off a similarly hairy precipice. We got to thinking: How good are bears at rock climbing? — Bruce, via email
A. Dear Bruce,
How about Chris Sharma-good? I don’t want overplay my ursine brethren’s talents on the crags, but they’re pretty damn boss at it. Don’t believe me? Watch a black bear mother and her cubs positively crushing a 5.10 (minimum) wall in Santa Elena Canyon, filmed last month:
You see those impeccable stems, grabs, and dyno moves? Whoever said you can’t pack on a few pounds and send a wall just the same doesn’t know what they’re talking about. And clearly we’re into stewardship and access, as we’re passing it on to the next generation.
Bears get vertical for all sorts of reasons—play, escape, simple traversal of landscape—but the most common reason is food. Black bears are perhaps the most agile and limber of North American bears (we get practice in trees all the time, after all). But grizzlies are known to climb the highest ridges in Glacier in search of army cutworm moths, and polar bears will ascend cliffs to munch on bird eggs. Climbing is as much in my bones as it is in yours.
So who’s better on the rock, man or bear? I’m not a betting bruin, but if shoes are out of the equation and Alex Honnold is barred from competition, I’m always betting on black (bear).