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In the Tetons, Claws for Concern
· You're more likely to be injured by a bison than a bear in Yellowstone.
· Humans kill far more bears than bears kill humans -- though "that's not much consolation if you're the one on the receiving end," concedes Mark Bruscino, bear biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Human injuries from grizzlies average about two a year in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, encompassing both parks, says Bruscino. Injuries from black bears are much less common.
· Mountain bikers, because they move quickly and quietly over remote terrain, may be more likely than hikers to surprise bears. Last year a biker coming down a slope was charged by a grizzly and knocked off his bike just outside the park, near Togwotee Pass. His friends heard his screams and scared the bear away before he was more seriously hurt. Now that's friendship.
· Menstruating women who backpack or camp may be at greater risk of bear attack. The Park Service posts sanitary advice on its Web site.
· Here's what you're not supposed to do if you see a bear: run. "The worst thing you can do is turn and run because . . . that's going to excite their predatory instinct," says Skaggs. Also discouraged: diversionary tactics such as dropping your pack, especially if there's food in it. What you are supposed to do: Make yourself look big -- put your hands in the air. Talk calmly. Gradually back away. (Let me know if it works.)
· Grizzlies are most active at night, black bears during the day. Both like dawn and dusk.
· Bear bells don't work. "They make such a faint noise," says Skaggs. Better to talk, sing, clap your hands, especially if you can't see down the trail.
· Bear spray does work, as some hunters, firefighters and trail crews can attest -- but only if you have it handy and can steel yourself to use it properly. That means waiting, says Skaggs, until a charging bear is "within 15, 20 feet of you. And you have to aim down 'cause it has a tendency to rise up." (Be my guest.)
Higher and Higher
For our introductory hike, we pick the park's single most popular trail: the short climb to Inspiration Point. The hike -- a mile up and a mile back -- is perfect for bodies still adjusting to the higher altitud, 6,200 feet in the Teton valley floor. (If you're tempted, get to the South Jenny Lake parking lot early, or be prepared to slug it out for a space. Evil, evil Jenny Lake, we will mutter ever after when passing it.)
Under a darkening sky, we take a shuttle boat across the lake, then start up to the overlook in a column of entirely too many families with small children. Not fun, opines Laura. Just getting our -- ha -- bearings, I offer. No self-respecting predator is going to take on a crowd this size, I figure, no matter how many huckleberries (a bear favorite) grow along the trail.
But crowds aren't what we've come for. So we resort to that trusty people-shaking tactic: continuing on. A half-mile past the lookout, we've left behind three-quarters of our fellow travelers. By a mile or two farther, we have the narrow, winding path almost entirely to ourselves, with the Tetons towering magnificently above. When the storm finally breaks and we run for the shelter of some overhanging rocks, the day is redeemed. And no bears.
For our second Teton expedition, we decide, enough with the kid stuff. We settle on a six-mile hike up to Taggart and Bradley lakes. As far as the bears go, we figure that as long as we stick to established trails and keep out of the backcountry, we'll be fine. Surprise. The Park Service board at the trail head welcomes us to the backcountry.