"You Are in Bear Country"

Close encounters of the bear-human kind are skyrocketing, though actual attacks remain few and far between. Hopefully, new outreach education efforts will keep things that way.

 

LATE LAST MAY, Glenda Ann Bradley, a 50-year-old fourth-grade teacher from Cosby, Tennessee, and her former husband, Ralph Hill, drove to a trailhead in the Tennessee portion of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The couple, who were reconciling, hiked in for a few miles, and then Hill went down to the Little River to fish while Bradley read beside the trail. He returned two hours later only to find her daypack, which contained food, lying untouched on the path and her lifeless body about 70 yards away, with two black bears—a 110-pound adult female and a 40-pound female yearling—hovering over it. Hill and other hikers tried to get them away from the body, but it took two park rangers—and 19 rounds from their pistols—to do it. An autopsy later revealed that Bradley died from blood loss, and necropsies on the bears suggested that both had fed on her. It was the first-ever fatal bear mauling in the Smokies— indeed, in any of the southeastern national parks.

Just over a month later, around 9 a.m. on July 2, Mary-Beth Miller, a 24-year-old Canadian biathlete who was training to make the national women's team, went jogging alone at the Myriam Bédard Biathlon Centre, located on a Canadian army base just north of Quebec City. She was wearing headphones, so she may not have heard her attacker, which rushed at her from the side, throwing her to the ground and biting and clawing at her head and neck. It appears Miller escaped for a moment but fell, brought down again. A military search party found her body on the trail around midnight. Four days later her killer was trapped and killed: a 165-pound female black bear with traces of mother's milk in its fur. Investigators later speculated that the bear may have been distraught over a missing cub.

TWO WOMEN killed by black bears, within six weeks of each other, without any apparent provocation. Though the incidents are tragic and disturbing, there's no need to panic. There are perhaps three-quarters of a million black bears in North America, but fatal attacks are exceedingly rare—on average, only about three people die every year from injuries caused by grizzlies or black bears, says Stephen Herrero, author of Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance and North America's leading authority on the subject. Minnesota's North American Bear Center knows of only 43 people who were killed by black bears in North America during the 20th century. Still, as hikers, climbers, and canoeists fan out across the backcountry this spring—just as hungry black bears emerge from hibernation—they will do well to arm themselves with recent research on ursine behavior. And hey, a few cans of pepper spray couldn't hurt.

While the number of actual attacks has remained roughly consistent year to year, complaints about nuisance bears have skyrocketed. In New Jersey, home to over eight million people and about 2,000 bears, the number of complaints rose from 285 in 1995 to 1,659 in 1999. There, as in many other states, suburbanites moving into new developments in previously rural areas have discovered that their new neighbors have a poorly developed appreciation for private property and will invite themselves to barbecues, jump through windows, eat pets, and kill fawns in the yard. "We're not talking warm and fuzzy here," one disgruntled resident told The New York Times.

With grizzlies limited in the Lower 48 to remote stretches of the northern Rockies and the inland mountains of the Northwest, most complaints in the Lower 48 involve black bears, and most are fairly inconsequential to humans, if drastically consequential to bears. Last June, police in Albany, New York, shot a 436-pound black bear after it "approached" a jogger; a month earlier, a teenage Boy Scout in a sleeping bag was shoved off a bench by a bear at a campground in New Jersey. In a string of three separate incidents in July, four Scouts and two adult campers were scratched and bitten at New Mexico's Philmont Scout Ranch by black bears starving due to drought. (Two of the animals were shot, the third escaped.) Last June, in Glacier's first black bear attack since 1978, Jason Sansom, an Air Force lieutenant hiking in the park with his wife, was caught and bitten by a black bear. After playing dead for 15 minutes, Sansom decided that "it was either do something or die." He beat the animal away with his keys, escaping with bruised ribs and minor wounds.

Clearly, there's a fine line between nuisance and tragedy when it comes to bears, so wildlife agencies across the country are stepping up efforts to stop people from feeding bears, inadvertently or on purpose. A couple of years ago, the town of Snowmass, Colorado, mandated bear-proof trash containers to discourage curious local bruins, says Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Todd Malmsbury. "If people want to have wildlife," he says, "they have to learn to live with it."

Of course, there's more wildlife to live with in some areas than others. In the sixties, the Smoky Mountains had about 300 black bears. Now the region boasts 1,500—the result, in part, of several years of good acorn crops, according to Mike Pelton, professor emeritus of wildlife science at the University of Tennessee. The black bear population in the southern Appalachians exploded in the early nineties, says Pelton, former head of the world's longest-running bear study. "It's higher than we've ever seen it." Pelton and his team had previously trapped and tagged the bear that killed Glenda Ann Bradley, which had shown no prior nuisance behavior, and Pelton served on the National Park Service inquiry that looked into Bradley's death. The inquest found that Bradley's biggest mistake may have been to run from the bears; once she did that, according to Jason Houck, the park's laconic chief ranger, the animals "plotted an intercept course, took her down, and fatally mauled her." For that reason, Pelton was dismayed to hear one question repeatedly posed by the public in the uproar following Bradley's death: If a bear attacks, aren't you supposed to play dead? Experts say that's exactly the wrong thing to do with black bears; instead, they recommend fighting back with sticks or rocks while backing away. Similarly, running from any bear is not a good idea.

Perhaps the most essential piece of knowledge is that serious black bear attacks are almost always predacious. While grizzlies will attack to defend cubs, their territory, or a carcass they're feeding on, black bears are probably more interested in food, the intended meal being you. Since many day hikers think of black bears as relatively harmless, John Hechtel, a bear biologist in Canada's Yukon Territory, is producing a new video in partnership with the International Association for Bear Research and Management, Staying Safe in Bear Country, to be distributed in the coming months to national parks. The video aims to teach the public sophisticated tactical advice to replace the old—and misleading—adage, "If it's brown, lie down; if it's black, fight back." (In addition to the tips above, for example, campers should avoid areas where bears are habituated to human food and not trust that a black bear won't be brown in color.)

Hechtel allows that attacks are complex, often ambiguous events: "You can't do science on bear attacks. You can't roll back the film of a mauling and say, 'This time, don't shout, don't wave your arms.'" But given how incredibly tolerant black bears really are, Hechtel says, it was hard to find footage of aggressive behavior. His ultimate advice is to put the horror stories in perspective and realize that bears "are a lot more like dogs than like some kind of mythological critters who are out there waiting to kick human butt."

Full Suspension of Disbelief

Meet Joshua Bender, professional test pilot

YOU'D NEED A graduate degree in Extreme Recreation to stay on top of freeride mountain biking, a sport that has splintered in the past five years into the velo-genres of stunts, steeps, urban assault, and now big air. Of this last category, no one hucks meat more merrily, or from more absurd heights, than 26-year-old Joshua Bender. Thanks in part to the cult success of New World Disorder and Down, a pair of recent bike videos, the Virgin, Utah, resident inked a two-year, $24,000 contract with Fox Racing. And while he's mangled ten frames, tacoed nearly a hundred wheels, broken six bones, and knocked himself unconscious three times since he started his gravity experiments two years ago, Bender claims he's just getting started: "My goal is to drop a 100-footer," he says. (His record to date: 60 feet, off a cliff near Kamloops, B.C.) In the 30-foot jump above, filmed last October outside Glendale, Nevada for the upcoming New World Disorder II, Bender successfully landed his custom-built Karpiel bike, which, at 50 pounds, is tricked out with a full foot of front and rear suspension. Why risk life and limb just to huck? "It's like Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier every time I go out."

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Fast and Lit

With UPS drivers sipping from CamelBaks and just about everyone using carabiners as keychains, the gadgetry of the outdoor world continues to surface in unexpected places. Witness the Photon Micro-Light II—an ultra-lightweight LED flashlight, about the size of four stacked quarters, prized by trekkers. Now the device has found a following in, of all places, the rave scene. That's because when clipped to a whirling raver's extra-large trousers, the Photon leaves neon-colored tracers of light in the darkness (see above). The manufacturer, Oregon-based Laughing Rabbit Inc. is getting into the groove, and in March will unveil a tiny light expressly for dance-floor exhibitionists, for about $30. The beam will change color when moved and a crystal prism lens will scatter the light in all directions. "I am making it so that it is awesome," states company president David Allen. Whoa...Intense. —James Glave

   

Mergers and Expeditions

Forget the Internet, the real money is in financing high adventure. Or so goes the thinking at one new startup.

SERIOUS adventure ain't cheap, and since governments and wealthy industrialists tend not to fund expeditions the way they used to, today's climbers and trekkers usually rely on equipment companies to fix them up with ice axes, down jumpsuits, and a nice mule or two. But for many free-spirited types, writing a grant proposal is more daunting than topping out on K2.

Enter Yourexpedition, a Minneapolis-based marketing, PR, and logistics firm launched last fall as a broker between athletes who want to do something epic but don't have the money, and deep-pocketed firms that want a piece of the glory but have few heroes handy in the Rolodex. "We're going to come in there with a big splash," says Yourexpedition president Charlie Hartwell, a 37-year-old former marketing manager for Pillsbury.

As Hartwell explains, his firm (which caters exclusively to female athletes) matches up the jocks with the suits, taking a fee from the latter. In the case of the company's first big deal, a $1.5 million Antarctic traverse by Scandia, Minnesota­based Ann Bancroft (a Yourexpedition partner) and Norway's Liv Arnesen, the athletes got cash and PR, and sponsors Pfizer, Volvo, and Motorola, reached the 18- to 50-year-old female demographic in the ensuing media frenzy (the company cites more than 1,200 "placements," PR-speak for media mentions).Bancroft and Arnesen's send-off party alone—a lavish evening in Cape Town, South Africa—ran over $50,000.

Hartwell is currently shopping for future sponsors, but with a recent infusion of $2.7 million in private financing, he still has enough cash left to make at least one more big splash. Or belly flop. "A lot of stuff is overhyped," complains Utah-based Himalayan climber Kitty Calhoun. "What is important is to not lose the heart and soul of climbing." Fair enough. The line for application forms is on the left.

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UPDATE
Kyrgyzstan Kidnapper May Be Alive in Prison

"I WANTED TO GO HOME." That appears to be the ultimate, if cryptic, reason why Rafshan Sharipov, a 20-year-old Islamic rebel from Tajikistan, allegedly admits he took part in the kidnapping of four young American climbers last August in Kyrgyzstan—a six-day drama detailed in Outside's November issue ("Fear of Falling"). In the story, Sharipov was last seen tumbling off a cliff into the darkness. The man who sent him there, 22-year-old Colorado climber Tommy Caldwell, made the fateful decision to yank his captor so that he and his companions—Jason Smith, 22, Beth Rodden, 20, and John Dickey, 25—could make a break for freedom. All four climbers saw Sharipov (who identified himself to the group as "Su") go over the edge and believed that he could not have survived the fall.

However, much to the surprise of his former prisoners, he apparently did. Sharipov, who seems to be a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan—a militant group seeking to carve out an independent Islamic state in Central Asia—was subsequently captured by the Kyrgyz military. In a videotaped jailhouse interview, obtained and translated by Outside, Sharipov appears dejected but surprisingly healthy, considering the fall he apparently took. In the taped interview, Sharipov claims he encountered the Americans while traveling home through Kyrgyzstan after four months of weapons training. Although he does not speak on camera about the kidnapping or the days during which the climbers were marched around the Kara Su Valley—nor does the footage allude to Sharipov falling off a cliff—a Kyrgyz official on the video says that, according to Sharipov, the Americans fled after he fell asleep. Dickey, who has seen the tape, believes Sharipov was their captor, and all four climbers stand by their account of their escape.

The U.S. State Department has declined to comment on the kidnapping, but Caldwell says the FBI has taken an interest in Sharipov. "They want to interview him, with a view to looking into prosecuting him," says Caldwell. All four climbers have expressed relief that Sharipov is alive—relief that has removed the guilt that they mave have taken a life to save their own. —Greg Child

Global Warming? Get Real.

In the high Arctic, climate change isn't an abstract concept

HOT ENOUGH for ya? It is in the far north, where ocean currents are shifting, the polar ice shelf is thinning, and the Inuit are for the first time seeing wildlife—i.e. robins, dragonflies, and salmon—previously only found in far warmer climes. Early signs of the apocalypse? Based on last November's failed United Nations meeting on climate change at The Hague (and the collapse of subsequent emergency talks in Ottawa in December), we should all be investing in boats. The U.S. delegation, headed by Frank Loy, refused to back off on a proposal that would allow emissions credits for pre-existing carbon "sinks," such as forests. Such sinks would significantly offset the nation's 7 percent greenhouse gas reduction goal set under the Kyoto Protocol. Scientists are still split on what's behind the thaw (the planet's natural cycles, or smokestacks) but some are biting their nails: "Regardless of the cause, the change is so extraordinary it needs attention," says Lawson Brigham, an Arctic scientist. Consideringthe indicators below, one has to wonder: Will the next North Pole fashion craze be Hawaaiian shirts?

1 A Robin in Winter One of the more obscure words in the Inuit language of Igloolik is misullijuq—loosely, "rain in midwinter," an extremely rare event. Until recently, that is. According to research conducted between June 1999 and May 2000 by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (a Canadian think tank), residents of Sachs Harbour on Canada's Banks Island are noticing spring ice breakup coming earlier, and, for the first time, thunderstorms. Townspeople also encountered dragonflies and robins, and have had to venture farther out to sea to hunt for seals. The most alarming change: House foundations are beginning to shift as the permafrost melts beneath them.

2 Baja, Canada? In 1942, after a grueling voyage that included two winters locked in the ice, the schooner St. Roch (above) successfully navigated the perilous 1,000-mile Northwest Passage across the top of Canada. Last July, 60 years after the first trip began, the St. Roch II—a 66-foot aluminum-hulled catamaran—made the same trip in only 103 days. The key difference: "No pack ice ever even touched the hull," explains St. Roch IIcaptain Ken Burton. The crew went swimming (without wetsuits) in 40.1-degree-Fahrenheit water between 70 and 72 degrees north latitude, about 1,200 miles from the Pole. "It was surreal," he says. "It looked like Baja."

3 The Floe-Protein Diet Polar bears are not light eaters; North America's largest land carnivores will nosh 43 blubbery seals each year. But shortening Arctic winters are cutting into the feast. The earlier arrival of spring breakup (June, compared to July in decades past) now means fewer floes, which the bears use as fishing platforms from which to secure plump, juicy pups. A recent Canadian Wildlife Service study found that the earlier ice breakup is resulting in skinnier bears (the average body weight has dropped 10 percent) that have 10 percent fewer offspring than they did two decades ago.

4 Into Thin Ice By reflecting up to 80 percent of incoming solar radiation back into space, sea ice acts as a kind of planetary thermostat. Trouble is, the thickness of the frosty mantle covering the Arctic Ocean has diminished by about 40 percent in the last four decades. "Not only has there been a reduction in polar sea-ice thickness but in surface area too," says climatologist Mark Serreze of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

Fracture Zone

Bouldering was once a sport of strategy and strength. Now a new movement is pushing it to hazardous heights.

HAD THERE been an orthopedic surgeon on hand for the Colorado premiere of the climbing film Scary Faces, she would have been handing out stacks of business cards. The crowd that December night at the Boulder Theater included a man in a wheelchair with two broken ankles, a pair on crutches, and a handful of others with pronounced limps. All were apostles of "highballing," rock climbers who used to boulder, or climb horizontally within ten feet of the ground, but who now scale bone-breaking heights of up to 30 feet, with foam pads and spotters strategically arrayed below to cushion and direct their falls.

"If pads had never been invented," says Paul Lembeck, a 40-year-old horticulturist who tore his ankle ligaments after falling 15 feet off a boulder last November, "people probably wouldn't be out highballing very much." The sport seems to be thriving under a twisted, crash-test-dummy logic: Give drivers air bags, they just go faster; give boulderers pads, they just go higher. More than a dozen companies now make over 40 foam models, and climbers from Squamish to the Shawangunks fear bouldering will forever change from a sport of strength to one of nerves—and good insurance.

Naturally, highballers love the thrill. "When you top out on a highball," says Michael Moelter, 22, "you're so psyched you didn't wreck. It's rad." But the sport is dangerous. Take Steve Banks's word for it. As head of the Venice, California­ based gear firm Pad Industries, one of the manufacturers that helped stoke the trend, he discourages highballing. "The higher you climb, the better chance you have of missing your pad," he says. "That's just good math."

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It's What's Inside That Counts
After a century of service, say so long to the inner tube

"THIS IS GOING to be the big-time standard in every mountain-bike wheel out there," gushes Steve Driscoll, marketing manager at the French component manufacturer Mavic. He's not talking up a tweak on the rim or a novel twist in the spokes, but something more fundamental: a new generation of wheels that do away entirely with that 113-year-old fixture of cycling, the inner tube.

Driscoll has good reason to be pumped. Like similar designs available from competing wheel manufacturers Rolf and Bontrager, Mavic'stubeless Crossmax UST ($799) and more affordable Crossroc UST ($350) are less vulnerable to pinch flats, or "snakebites," the holes that occur when a rider slams his wheel into a rock or log, squishes the tire, compresses the tube into the edge of the rim, and tears the rubber. Converts will also be able to ride on as little as half the air pressure, doubling the amount of rubber on the trail and, by extension, the traction. This spring, tires from Continental, Geax, and Specialized, with unique treads arranged for low-pressure setups, will be widely available for the first time. "Tubeless will have as much impact on the industry as front suspension did," promises Specialized product development manager Al Clark.

Maybe. Bontrager founder Keith Bontrager believes that for now, at a steep $799 a pair, his firm's Race Lite Tubeless wheels will appeal primarily to pro racers. "The product reviewers are saying, 'I smashed the hell out of the rim, but I never got a flat,'" he says. "That doesn't work for the general public." Aside from bringing the prices down to earth, engineers have a few other kinks to work out. With their thick sidewalls, the new tires are heavier than their tube-bearing predecessors. Grit can sneak into the seal between tire and rim, allowing air to seep out. And at low pressure, front tires can fold and crumple during hard braking. But then, better the tire than you. —Ben Hewitt

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RAW DATA
Lake Sailing, Sans Lake

Maximum number of three-wheeled "dirtboats" expected in America's Landsailing Cup, the largest terra-firma regatta in America, at California's Ivanpah Dry Lake this March:
90

Surface area of course, in square miles of hard-packed clay:
3

Years Ivanpah regatta held
26

Speed of fastest seafaring yacht, in mph:
53

Speed of fastest landsailing yacht, in mph:
116.7

Size of sail flown on that yacht, in square feet:
71

Female sailors expected this year:
4

Radio-controlled model dirtboats expected:
10

Weight of speed-record-holding Iron Duck, in pounds:
1,800

Dirtboat crashes resulting in broken bones at Ivanpah:
0

Nonfatal motorcycle crashes involving man hired to barbeque a pig for the 1999 event:
1

Number of cement mixers used to prep après-sail banana daiquiris:
1

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$17B
>REVENUE
The estimated Gross Domestic Product of Cuba for 1998—and the amount Americans spent on outdoor sports equipment and clothing in 1999, according to an industry report by the Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America.

Shear Comfort

The Ibex Randonee Pullover brings wool back to the woods.

WHILE FEW would argue that the humble sheep offers any sort of benchmark for animal IQ, it's hard to trump the brilliance of ovine design when it comes to temperature control: Wool keeps you warm when it's cool out, cool when it's warm out, and doesn't even begin to feel wet until it has absorbed 40 percent of its weight in water. So it's nice to see innovative clothing manufacturers going back to the farm. Using modern milling techniques that eliminate scratchiness and enhance durability, companies like SmartWool, Devold, Icebreaker, Woolrich, and Ibex are rekindling a love affair between outdoor enthusiasts and wool that ignited sometime around, well, 7000 b.c. and blazed brightly until the debut of down in the early fifties.

The Ibex Randonee Pullover ($235; 800-773-9647; www.ibexwear.com) features a soft weave of merino wool on the inside with a synthetic flexible fabric made by Schoeller called "Skifans" on the outer surface. The result: a light, breathable, wind-resistant shell that solves a problem Ibex president John Fernsell understands all too well. "When I run or ski, I overheat and sweat like a 400-pound fat guy," he sighs. "But wool's climate control is distinctive. Basically, you can wear it at 45 degrees or 20 degrees without changing a thing." Of course, sheep knew that all along.

Eclipse of the Son

John Shipton embarks on a poignant trip to Patagonia.

IN A LIFETIME spent exploring the world's most remote ranges, the legendary British mountaineer Eric Shipton wrote six classic exploration books, discovered the first route up Everest, and co-invented the now de rigueur fast-and-light approach to alpinism.

About the only person not impressed was Shipton's youngest son.

"To everybody else, he was this great hero," says John Shipton, a 50-year-old horticulturist from Y Felin, Wales. "To me, he was just this silly old bugger. He wasn't around much and that was all right with me."

Shipton the younger spent much of his youth rebelling against his father's "reactionary values." Thrown out of two schools, John eventually graduated and bummed around the world with the stated ambition of "becoming a beggar." Only now, something is calling him to the mountains. In March, he expects to be circling and, weather permitting, climbing Chile's 5,741-foot Mount Burney —a peak not touched since his father summited in 1973.

Burney's height may be modest, but Shipton's trip will involve two weeks of arduous tramping through thick temperate rainforest, peat bogs, and icefields. "This trip is totally what my father was all about," says Shipton.

So how did John finally come to follow, quite literally, in his dad's footsteps? For one thing, he read Everest and Beyond, Peter Steele's biography of the elder Shipton. "I realized there was another side to the family story than the one my mother always told me," says John. The trip also springs out of his own increasingly ambitious botanical outings—plant-hunting trips that have taken him to the highlands of Morocco, Turkey, and Chile.

As of late December, the affable but scattered Shipton was still mulling over a number of crucial details of his trip. "It's rather like the way Eric would have done it," says Steele. "I think he's starting to realize his father wasn't so bad after all."

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From Luna to Lumber

THERE'S A THIN LINE between sacred environmental totem and patio furniture. In the case of Luna, the northern California redwood from which Julia "Butterfly" Hill revitalized the anti-logging movement, that line is about half an inch thick and just under three feet deep—the work of a vandal's chainsaw. In a senseless act of violence undertaken sometime last Thanksgiving weekend, the still-unknown assailant sunk a 36-inch blade more than halfway through the base of the 1,000-year-old tree. Spying an unbeatable PR opportunity, Pacific Lumber and the California Department of Forestry—the 27-year-old Hill's former nemeses—joined foresters, arborists, and engineers from around the nation in an effort to bolt Luna back together. Though the braced tree is less vulnerable to toppling now, only time will tell if the inner cambium, Luna's nutrient-transport system, can recover. "Luna's value is much more than just the wood," says Stuart Moskowitz, a member of the board at Sanctuary Forest, the group overseeing Luna's welfare. "Even if she falls, she's a symbol of peace and the need to protect our resources, and that's priceless." On the other hand, were Luna not Luna, she'd be just another old-growth redwood—one that, as it turns out, would yield about 150,000 board feet of specialty lumber, potentially worth more than a million bucks. Should the unthinkable happen and Luna end up on the shelves of the nation's home-improvement stores, here's where she might go from there. —Misty Blakesley


If a Tree Falls in the Forest
What might lie in store for the nation's most famous redwood
80 Tongue-and-groove siding-clad homes: Single-story, 3000-square-foot house
168 Gazebos: 895-board-foot gazebo
833 Hot tubs: Five-foot diameter hot tub
1,974 Picnic tables: 76-board-foot table
2,083 Park benches: 72-board-foot bench
More Adventure

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