Island bear
by Chris Bridson (1 of 2)

I've been on quite a few trips to the BWCA, but my most memorable trip occurred in 1989. My traveling companions included my friend Doug and his 13-year-old nephew. Many BWCA travelers have the rare opportunity to see bears. Though campers are educated on how to protect themselves from bear encounters, even if you follow proper procedures, encounters may still occur.

Our trip began in Ely. As we picked up our permit at the ranger station we examined the bear sightings log, which I highly recommend everyone to do. It gives you an idea of how active the bears are at specific camp areas and portages. This year there were more sightings than I had remembered in the past, but as we had never seen bears on previous trips this really didn't concern us.

On the third day in, we decided to stop on a large island in the middle of a rather big lake. The closest shoreline was about a hundred yards away. We pulled in our one 17 ft. canoe and a solo canoe onto shore and set up at a campsite on the very tip of the island. After having dinner we hung our food pack, keeping in mind that bears can swim, and sat around the campfire. We hit the sack around 10 p.m. As the three of us lay in the tent, listening to the noises of the night, we heard a faint splash and what sounded like something large swimming. After a while, the noise disappeared and we all agreed that it was probably a moose.

The night was uneventful and we slept soundly. I awoke about 7 a.m. to some shuffling outside the tent. I turned over and my traveling companions appeared to still be asleep. We had a vestibule on the tent so I could not clearly see what might be causing the noise. After a few minutes, I whispered to Doug to see if he was up and he was. Suddenly, in the direction of where are food pack was, the trees began to thrash loudly. Doug and I both scrambled to find our glasses, and by now his nephew had awaken to the commotion.

Doug unzipped the vestibule and peered out as I was still looking for my glasses. He whispered in desperation that there was a bear outside trying to get at our food pack. Between the three of us this was our first bear sighting ever in the BWCA. After a few seconds of discussion, we quickly donned our shorts and shoes and decided that a retreat to the canoe was the best course of action. As I stumbled from the tent, I quickly glanced over to see the bear, but it had hit the ground with our pack at this point so it was hidden in the brush.