Be sure to pack extra food in the Fall...
by Bryan Whitehead (1 of 2)

In the fall of 1978, a friend and I decided to take a short Autumn break away from our studies and backpack into the BWCA. We took the Kekekabic trail off of the Gunflint and headed West.

The BWCA in October was amazing. The leaves were fantastic, the days pleasantly warm and the nights cool. The “leaf peeping” guides told us it was past peak color – these are guides written by amateurs. We loved every minute of it. We journeyed onward deeper and deeper into the wilderness. We saw absolutely no one on the trail or portages. We had the wilderness to ourselves.

At the end of the first day, we pitched our small tent and made camp near a small stream that connected two adjacent lakes. We made a fire, prepared dinner and generally lounged about without a care in the world. As darkness fell I secured our food into a nylon stuff sack and hung it from a tree – well out of reach from our furry friends…of all sizes!

First came the mice. As near as I can figure it the mice must have walked across the branch and slid down the cord, dropping into the stuff sack. Once they were in, they seemed to eat their fill, whereupon they chewed their way out the bottom and plopped to the ground – probably completely set for a long winter’s nap. Assuming they could squeeze into their burrows in their now altered state.

In the morning, I grumbled at their dexterity and was thankful that we had probably packed too much food anyhow. We broke camp and headed further in.

That evening, after dinner I placed our remaining food into the now well perforated stuff sack, and carefully tied it up, this time placing improvised metal guards on the drop cord, hoping against hope to outwit our little friends.

Early the following morning, I awoke to the clatter of pans and the unmistakable sound of my backpack tumbling over.

Assuming we had attracted raccoons, I unzipped the door and leaned out – only to find myself about six feet from a grown and very hungry Black Bear. This bear was completely captivated by the outer pockets of my orange backpack, carefully placing his extended claws under each pocket, effortlessly and gracefully plucking them off to examine each pocket’s contents.

Knowing that bears are easily scared by loud noises, I grabbed a small aluminum pan and camp spoon and began banging away and yelling – all of this leaning out from my sleeping bag. My friend woke up – completely disoriented – and demanded to know what in God’s name was going on? The answer came in the form of another crash as the bear knocked over his pack. My friend was gone – out of his bag and into the woods in a flash – almost bringing down the tent on me as he departed!

The banging spoon only succeeded in denting the light aluminum pan – the undisturbed bear had settled down to further examine the contents of our packs and see if anything was even remotely edible.

I joined my friend about 45 feet from the engrossed bear and watched helplessly. My friend, who had purportedly qualified for our small college baseball team decided to scare the bear off by throwing rocks at it.

I was less sure of this approach, but before I could think further, he had grabbed a baseball sized square rock and delivered it at the bear – a fast inside 85 MPH pitch that probably would have killed any creature… but this bear.