We’ll begin by describing the most striking event of the last five days. Late at night on day 50, we had an encounter with a bear.

After a full day of hiking, we found a flat spot at mile 684.75, uphill from Fox Mill Spring, to set up the tent. The area was pristine except for one set of shoe prints. We put all our food and scented items, including trash, toothpaste, and sunblock, into our Ursack Minor food bag, which we placed 100 feet from the tent. We did not hang the bag as the trees were quite short, with tiny limbs. We ate dinner in a third spot, forming a triangle with the tent and food bag.

Shortly after climbing into our tent for the night, we heard the thudding footsteps of a large animal nearby. Assuming the creature was a deer, Shutterbug readied his camera, unzipped the tent, and peered out, but found nothing. Soon we both fell asleep.

Anna woke at about 12:30 AM to the nearby sound of ripping bark. Suspecting a bear, she began shouting to scare it off. This woke Shutterbug, who unzipped the tent, stood, and aimed his headlamp at a sizable black bear. The bear glanced up briefly at Shutterbug’s headlamp, then resumed tearing apart a log. We had no rocks to throw and did not want to approach the bear, so we eventually stopped shouting and remained alert in our tent. The bear continued digging, ripping, and biting for some time, mostly near our food bag. To our relief, the bear eventually moved off and we heard nothing.

About half an hour later, the bear returned, closer to the tent and more mobile. We heard ripping tree bark to our right, then soon after to our left. The bear grew so close we heard it panting, and we shouted as loudly as we could and beat the tent walls with our hands. Finally the bear sauntered off. Our hearts raced with adrenaline.

We were very uncomfortable with the bear’s aggressive behavior and decided to pack up and start hiking immediately. We quickly threw everything into our packs and spoke loudly and constantly. Together we walked over to our food bag and found its fabric ripped apart, with empty food wrappers scattered next to it. All our food was gone. The nearby log to which we had tied the bag was shredded in two. We tossed the trash into our packs and began hiking around 2 AM.

Walking by moonlight and headlamp was slow going, but we were relieved to put distance between us and the bear. As our adrenaline wore off, tiredness set in. Because we had no food, we decided to quickly walk the 18 miles to the Kennedy Meadows General Store. The walk was uneventful, though our bellies grumbled with hunger, and we were groggy from lack of sleep. Upon arriving at Kennedy Meadows, we immediately ate a full pint of ice cream each, then moved on to veggie burgers.

Most PCT hikers consider Kennedy Meadows to be the end of the desert section of the trail, and the beginning of the Sierras, which means the beginning of bear territory. However, we learned the hard way that bears are active prior to Kennedy Meadows, and there are very few trees there suitable for hanging food. Please note that the Ursack Minor food bag is not recommended for protection against bears. It only protects against rodents. We hope fellow PCT hikers learn from our experience and ship themselves bear cans earlier in the trip, perhaps to Tehachapi or Mojave.  We also want to emphasize the importance of storing your food at least 100 feet from your tent. Our story could have ended badly if we had kept our food close to us.

We now have our bear cans and plan to carry them for the rest of the hike.

Other highlights from the last few days include:
– On day 46 our friend Dancing Feet caught up with us at the Kelso Valley Road water cache. We hadn’t seen each other since Silverwood Lake, almost 300 miles ago. Surprise visits with trail friends are a really fun part of this trip.

– At the end of day 46 we watched the full moon rise just as the sun was setting. We had an amazing 360 degree view from our campsite!

– For 24 hours starting with the end of day 47, we dealt with the windiest conditions we have ever experienced. The wind battered the tent walls so ferociously that neither of us slept well. By morning a layer of sand coated us and everything in our tent. Somehow the wind blasted the sand under the rain fly and up into the tent!

A record of the ground we’ve covered in the last six days:
Day 46: Near Landers Meadow (Mile 606)-Near Wileys Knob (Mile 627.5); 21.5 miles
Day 47: Near Wileys Knob (Mile 627.5)-Walker Pass Campground (Mile 651); 23.5 miles
Day 48: Walker Pass Campground (Mile 651)-Near Joshua Tree Spring (Mile 663.5); 12.5 miles
Day 49: Near Joshua Tree Spring (Mile 663.5)-Uphill from Fox Mill Spring (Mile 684.5); 21 miles
Day 50: Uphill from Fox Mill Spring (Mile 684.5)-Kennedy Meadows Store (Mile 702), plus .5 miles off trail; 18 miles
Day 51: Zero at Kennedy Meadows

While resting in Kennedy Meadows preparing for the Sierras, we reflected on our experiences in the desert section of the Pacific Crest Trail. We compiled a list of our favorite parts of the desert, and the things we will be happy to leave behind.

Desert Awesomeness:
– Many wonderful trail angels shared cold drinks, filled water caches, and cooked meals at various junctions of the trail. We will miss your generosity as we head into the less populated northern sections of the PCT. Below is a picture of Tom’s internet setup for hikers in Kennedy Meadows. Thank you very very much!

– The blooming cacti and wildflowers were stunning. Their bright colors were especially attractive in this harsh dry climate.

– The spaciousness of the desert was quite beautiful. Often we could see for many miles, and this created a pleasing mental space.

– The quiet of the desert was similarly attractive to our ears. A backdrop of silence meant the sounds we did hear were more distinct, and we could appreciate them fully.
– We smiled every time we found a horny toad. They are both cute and ancient.

– We also loved our time in the desert for the same reasons we love backpacking anywhere: we enjoy living a simple lifestyle in peaceful surroundings, having new adventures, and seeing landscapes we have never encountered before.

Things we won’t miss:
– The heat sometimes made us wilt.
– Poodle dog bush looks pretty, but we have seen enough of it for a lifetime! We are glad we won’t have to dodge this itchy rash-inducing plant anymore.
– We enjoyed safe encounters with rattlesnakes and scorpions, but we are glad to relax our constant guard.
– Long dry stretches meant we had to carry lots of water. You don’t realize just how heavy water is until you carry it for many miles.

As we enter the Sierras, we expect our Internet access to be limited or nonexistent. We may not be able to post again for two weeks or more, and our location in the Tracking link may not be up to date. Thanks for reading, and we will post more stories and photographs when we can.


  1. Glad you guys were close to food and the bear was happy with your nutella. Amazing story, What an adventure!


  2. Wow crazy story!! Glad the bear ate your food and not you. I’m happy you have your cannisters now though! :). By the way, what a good name your friend has: Dancing Feet! Almost as good as Tippytoe. ;)


    1. Cheers Jim, thanks for sending the bear canisters to us! We sleep more easily now with them, and they help the bears too, since bears that start taking food from people become dangerous and usually have to be relocated or killed. We’ve had no problems since using the bear cans.

      Dancing Feet was excited to learn that you dance with SF Ballet! We like her name too.


      1. Bears that get into food don’t become dangerous. There’s no evidence of such, and the evidence shows contrary. The only reason they’re removed is because they become a nuisance and scare campers. If you wish to disagree please provide a link to a documented case of a bear attacking a camper to get the food. Yes, bears get into unoccupied tents, in fact they’ll try to get any unattended food, but they never attack hikers to get the food.


  3. That photo of the Ursack is nuts!! I have one that I’ve used once, and now I’m convinced that it will be the last time I rely on it too. Bear cans are really the only way to be sure, too bad they are so heavy! Though, after Tahoe you enter the land of the hunted bear, and apparently that makes them more avoidant of people….?

    On a related note: those “odor-proof bags”? NOT. My first night out of KM, with a brand new OPSak for my “overflow” food, we camped on the hill above the bridge over the Kern — halfway through the night I heard rustling near my food, and after a few curious visits, I pulled it in my tent. Sure enough, the mouse had chewed right through it. I stress that it was brand new, so I really doubt there was a plethora of food odors on the outside of the bag. You might as well get 50′ of line now and carry it with you to Canada.

    I never had a bear encounter, but the mice were mightier forces: the last night before Canada, we set up camp in a snow storm, and because we were hitting town the next day and because I was terribly cold, I set my food bag in my vestibule instead of hanging it on a critter line; a mouse chewed through my tent on the opposite side trying to get at it. Just glad I shooed him off before I ended up with a mouse running circles over me!

    I guess you guys have a crazy story to tell in your old age, eh? As if the PCT isn’t one enough…. Glad that nothing more than your food supply was compromised, and great that you were close-ish to a town! Keep up the good work, keep up the good times! Liz.


  4. Congratulations! By huddling in your tent and allowing a bear to eat your food you have now conditioned or reinforced the bear’s taste for human food and insured that it will look for more easy snacks provided by other ignorant hikers. Black bears are afraid of humans and want nothing to do with you if you protect your food and aggressively defend it. A black bear’s temperament is closer to that of a dog than a grizzly, and there are no grizzlys in California.

    The very worst thing that you can do is place your food on the ground far away from your tent where you can’t see it. If there is no good tree to hang your food from or no deep rock crevices to cram it into that a bear can’t reach, then sleep with it. Bears won’t come into tents if you are in there – they are afraid of you. When you hang food, hang it close to your camp where you can watch it and attach a couple pots or something metallic to the line so that you will be awakened when the bear first tries to locate your stash. The get up and chase that bear away – throw rocks and sticks, make noise, and run towards the bear.

    I realize that it’s not your fault that you don’t know how to deal with bears and the overhyped danger from them.The lack of backpacker education by rangers is the reason that we all have to now carry those damnable heavy cannisters. Be more aggessive and you will find that bears will retreat from a person determined to guard their food. I have been backpacking in the Sierra for over 40 years and have never lost an ounce of food to a bear, even in the most notorious Yosemite locations.

    Enjoyed your blog and the wonderful photos until the bear incident.



    1. I’m sure Chris and Anna will have a thoughtful, carefully considered reply to your post when they have internet access again.


    2. @Baggins – well its always reassuring to have an omniscient sage of the Wild to comment. Thank you!

      @Chris & Anna – Glad you two are safe and have weathered snake/scorpion country and your first PCT close encounter of the bear kind. Keep on trekking my friends.


    3. Actually, bears can and do slash into tents with food in them, whether hikers are present in the tent or not. We have heard multiple stories detailing this. In addition, we talked to a thru hiker who slept with his food as a pillow and woke up to a bear inches from his face. He was unable to scare the bear away, even with rocks, and ended up having to leave the site. All these incidents involved black bears.

      This is why sleeping with your food is never a good idea. Even hanging your food isn’t enough, especially in parts of Yosemite and Kings Canyon where bears are habituated to humans and have become quite aggressive. Bears there will jump from branches to get your food, or break branches entirely.

      Bear cans are required in parts of the Sierras for a reason. If you don’t carry one, you risk your own safety as well as the bear’s. Any park ranger will tell you this. We will be carrying our bear cans for the remainder of the trail.


  5. What an adventure! So glad the bear liked garnola bars and nutella. We’re having trouble with bears being where they shouldn’t back here on the east coast as well. They’ve been climbing onto people’s porches in towns, etc. I heard that it is at least partly because the climate has been so changed that bears aren’t finding their normal food supply, so they are traveling into unusual territories.

    The red wildflowers are stunning! And I love the picture of Anna hiking along the trail with rocks above and below. Enjoy your upcoming adventures in the Sierras!


    1. Thanks Mom, I’m not surprised to hear about problem bears on the East Coast as well. Whenever a bear gets used to stealing human food, it becomes dangerous as it repeatedly encounters people in negative ways. Often that ends in death for the bear, which is quite sad. So really, keeping food in a bear-proof container is the best thing for the bear.

      Glad you like the Indian paintbrush photograph. Those are very common along the PCT, but certainly not back east. So many amazing things to photograph, it can be hard to choose!


  6. Anna and Chris – So glad you made it through the desert portion well and are on to the Sierras. We update a PCT hallway display at work with a few of your photos and show your progress on the map. Us cubicle folks keep you in our thoughts and all enjoy your blog quite a bit. It helps to remind us how amazing the natural world is. Thanks so much for the work you put into sharing your adventure! Walk on!


  7. I contacted Tom Cohen at Ursack after reading this story as I’ve relied on my Ursack for many, many miles without incident. My sack is about 3 years old. He said the sacks have not been made out of Kevlar for more than 10 years. The white and green sacks are made out of Spectra, I had somehow thought mine made out of Kevlar. I’m very, very concerned after the safety of my food and the bears after reading your account. I really like the bag and do not want to switch to a cannister due to the bulk and weight. For my sake, I hope either your bag was not a Ursack or was greater than 10 years old. I look forward to your reply. Thanks for sharing not only this incident but your journey along the way. I’m really hoping to meet you and some of your fellow hikers when you are enjoying the trail between Old Station and the Oregon border.


    1. I don’t know if they edited their posting, but it was an Ursack Minor. Those are not supposed to be bear resistant, only rodent resistant.

      I haven’t had my Ursacks tested by bears yet. Only some unknown rodents and a mountain lion. I also hope an Ursack will prove to be good enough. I am thankful that Anna and Chris shared this experience with us.


    2. Hi Jan! Just to note, it was an Ursack Minor. We have edited the post to clarify that point. We have had the sack for about a year. We have not tried any other Ursacks.

      A bear can is the safest bet, so we will be carrying our bear cans for the rest of the hike. We have found a good way to pack them in our Osprey packs. There is a weight penalty, but we are willing to accept that.

      It would be good to meet you, so hopefully that will work out. Cheers!


  8. Good you had your bear scare early on. It’s all part of the deal. I think you behaved just fine. Don’t apologize for being off line for longer periods of time now. That too is part of the magic on such long distance hikes: time out; off the constant onslaught of media interaction. Enjoy the silence. In the end it might actually be one of the most precious experiences of all.


  9. Thanks to your blog, I was able to get word about the bears to a thru-hiker I’m supporting who’s just approaching Kennedy Meadows – he’s got a satellite device to which I can send a short text.


  10. HOWDY….glad you guys were not involved in conflict with the bear,,,,,,,could have been bad….we dont have bears here thank god…i would have pooed myself…….we do however have some large (larger than you imagine) baboons…. sometimes the alpha male can become dangerous but not very often (they often shoot him when he goes insane)……he rules a clan as an absolute despot and maintains his position more and more with violence as he gets older which makes the whole troop more aggresive……….i recall one occasion when a large troop tracked and followed us for about 5 km and when we stopped for a break they surrounded us in the rocks all around us and came very close and some were acting aggresively….it was very scary but they kept about 20 to 30m away and never bothered us directly……they too will eat anything that you leave out…..suprisingly though they will not touch feta cheese…weird………….yes deserts have a special beauty of their own…i did military training in the deserts of the northern cape…very inhospitable…….dry and extremly hot …45 degree celsius and higher every day…dangerous and easy to dehydrate and heat stroke and possible to die within 24 hrs without water….teaches you an important lesson of not to take water for granted………..yes water is a very heavy comodity…but well worth its weight…….i always carry more than i require………….south africa is generally a hot and dry place………take care in the bear county………enjoy


    1. when i am aware that baboons are around i carry a stone in each hand and bang them together as i walk…..last thing you want to do is suprise and corner a wild animal…may work well for bears too………


      1. indeed its is nice to realize just how insignificant you really are……..it makes you realize how small you are in the larger scheme of things but at the same time how large you are by the very fact that you are an intergral part of the larger scheme of things…………..mountains and silence always do this to me and thats why i go there…..its a spiritual experience ………..


  11. Wow, I say this is truly an adventure. Glad you are both safe and knew what to do. Will read to Ella, Mary and EJ when they get up. I can already see 6 BIG eyes listening to me read your bear encounter. Have a wonderful trip.


    1. Thanks Elaine! People have really responded to this story, which is great because it’s a chance for us to teach people about how to store their food when in bear country. If we can get a few more people using bear cans and storing their food outside their tents, we will have turned a negative experience into a positive one.


  12. Baggins,

    You might just be lucky! Not all people have had the same experience and I would suggest you avoid giving the advise of leaving food in your tent. I also have verifiable knowledge of a person being attacked by a bear from a Boy Scout leader because the person had been sleeping in a tent with food on his body.

    Be careful what you suggest as not all bears are as docile as the ones you have met some have been know to attack humans.


    This was posted on the pct-l.

    I’m glad you clarified it was an Ursack Minor, which is mostly for rodent protection. I have a regular Ursack and was tempted to get the minor, but now I’ll wait. So sorry you went through that, but glad you were fairly close to KM.

    Not trying to blame the victim here by any means but, for learning purposes, I’m curious to know about all the factors at play in this circumstance. I’m wondering if you used odor proof bags or if they were still intact by the time you got there? And were the jars of Nutella and peanut butter and all your trash also in an odor proof bag?

    I tend to be a little OCD about bear hygiene, putting everything into odor proof bags inside one big odor proof bag. And I’m careful to have no food residues on my hands when i close the bags. The bags do spilt or wear out after awhile, and they’re heavy. I try to send a new one in my resupply now and then but they’re expensive.

    I met a retired aerospace engineer from Irvine up in the Sierras who hikes up there every year (near Mather Pass.) One night 10+yrs ago a bear slashed through his tent. He was in his sleeping bag but was able to raise his arm up to shield himself and the bear chomped on his arm, causing a lot of muscle and nerve damage. He showed me his scars. Strange, he still doesn’t use a bear can. While he does use an Ursack, he still sleeps with the food in his tent. Go figure.

    Dys-feng shui-nal


  13. I thought I had posted a response to your bear encounter the other day (see Jan the Beekeeper above), but since I don’t see it here I guess I’ll try again.

    I am the founder/CEO of Ursack, and am terribly sorry for the problems you had with our product. I have inspected the photo you posted as much as possible, and can tell that your Ursack was a very old model. Given the color and the color/size of the cord, your Ursack was either one of our original Kevlar models (not made for about a decade) or a Vectran bag from about six years ago. We switched to Vectran when the military took all the Spectra fabric. For the last several years all our bear bags have been made from Spectra, which is much more robust than either Kevlar or Vectran. (Our newer Ursack Minor–made for rodents not bears–is made of a different weave of Kevlar).

    Although our official warranty is one year, we will be happy to send you a new Ursack S29 AllWhite and an aluminum liner. Although not required, we recommend the aluminum liner until you get north of Yosemite. Please let me know where we can send the Ursack to. You can email me directly at tomcohen@ursack.com.

    Again, please accept my apologies for Ursack’s failure.



    1. That’s pretty cool, Tom. Glad you’re standing by your stuff. I don’t know much about Ursack, but I’ll be sure to look into it now : )


    2. Thanks Tom. Just to clarify, the bag that failed is an Ursack Minor we purchased in 2011. We know it is not intended to protect against bears, but did not expect to encounter any in the desert. We will email you shortly.

      We recommend renaming the Ursack Minor, as many thru hikers have been confused. Many do not seem to know the difference between the Ursack Major and Minor. Perhaps the name Ursack should only be used for bear proof bags, and the Minor could be called something entirely different.


  14. Your journal is a delight, thank you for the email alerts. You shared: “We enjoyed safe encounters with rattlesnakes and scorpions, but we are glad to relax our constant guard.” You will need to be on guard again ( a little bit anyway ) past the Sierras, as rattlesnakes will reenter your world again further north. But those encounters will seem like old friends by then … Happy Trails, Two Legs


  15. Y’all are misunderstanding a few things.

    The Sierra bears are not interested in people but many now recognize people as sources of food. Bears in some areas will steal an empty backpack. Bears will also steal a full one, or tear into tents for power bar wrappers. OP Sacks do not work well as they are not odor proof to a bear anyway, nor do any storage methods except approved canisters or bear lockers, which are placed at regular intervals along the JMT (a particularly bad area). Hanging food in trees does not work, nor are you supposed to hang an Ursack or a canister – it just gives them something to use to take the container away (the rope). Ursacks are intended to be fastened to something immobile (like the trunk of the tree or a rock) and canisters are of a size and shape that the bear cannot pick it up. Hanging defeats both those.

    Bears break into cars, cabins, and are now roaming well above tree line following people in attempts to get our food. Sequoia/Kings rangers have told me that they will likely start requiring people to carry canisters above treeline (previously this was not an issue). There was even a bear in Kings that bluff charged people to get them to drop their pack for a while. Signs instructing people to not fall for that were posted some years ago.

    Don’t blame people who have taken reasonable measures to store food safely, and don’t blame rangers who are now working in the parks – the park service has an incredible educational program attempting to reverse the damage done to bears by previous generations who were allowed to feed bears. (This used to be a way to advertise for Yosemite!) Bears have been teaching their cubs the tricks of the trade for several generations now. Do store your food in ways that are recommended by the agency with jurisdiction over the area you will be hiking in. I highly recommend canisters for any backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada. A proper counter balance hang is difficult. In some areas, it is entirely ineffective.


  16. I’ve done a lot of day hiking, but have never been backpacking. That will change next week when I go for a 3-day/2-night trip into the San Pedro Parks Wilderness area, which is in the Santa Fe National Forest near Cuba, New Mexico. The purpose of this trip is to “test” my ability as a backpacker because I am now 62 and I’m not the biggest guy in the world, either (as you can see by the pic on my blog).

    Your bear encounter is interesting to me because I have gone back and forth about whether or not to buy a bear canister for my trip next week, being concerned about the additional weight in my already-too-heavy pack. I did finally break down and buy the small BearVault and will carry all scented items inside so the smells don’t permeate my pack and everything inside. I plan to leave the canister on the ground, maybe a 100 feet or so from my tent. In an attempt to keep the weight down, I will eat dry this trip so don’t have to worry about cooking smells.

    I understand making noise is SOP in trying to scare bears away, but why did you not use your whistle? I ask because that is what I plan to do if a bear wanders into my camp — blow my whistle and make whatever other noise I can. Since you did not use your whistle, and since I am new to backpacking, I am now wondering if using the whistle in this manner violates some unwritten backpacking code of which I am unaware. Maybe someone can set me straight on this.

    BTW, thank you for sharing your adventures and I am happy to hear you survived your bear encounter. Safe journey to you both.


    1. Cheers George! We didn’t have a whistle, but certainly any method of making a loud noise is good to try. I don’t know if bears respond better to whistles, yells, or rocks. Regardless, hopefully none of that will be necessary, as generally if you keep your food in a bear can far from the tent, the bear will move on and won’t mess with you. Hope you have a great hike. New Mexico is beautiful!


  17. Love the blog and pictures, Shutterbug and North Star/Eagle Eye. Surrounded by cityscapes, it’s inspiring to see and hear about your experiences out in nature. I’m so glad you both made it through the bear incident…just a tad more frightening than our black bear “sighting” in Glacier (I use the word “sighting” liberally since I didn’t even see it across the river without my glasses).

    Anna– second guessing the decision to save weight without the whistle? : )

    I think about both of you often and can’t wait to reconnect in person once you finish the trail. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping up with all of your trail adventures.


    1. It was nice to have a lake between us and that bear. Though I suppose they can swim…

      It’s funny, we have whistles built into our headlamps and packs, but didn’t even think to use them. Something tells me this bear would have just been amused. Like those bear bells people would jingle in Glacier.

      It would be so fun to visit you in Chicago after the hike! Hopefully we can work that out. In the meantime, it’s great to have you following here. Comment anytime. You always make us laugh :-)


  18. Curious if you guys ended up carrying your bear canister for the rest of the PCT. I was aching to get mine out of the pack by the time we hit Echo Lake.

    Hope you guys have been doing well since last seeing you in the Sierrras.




    1. Hey Beardoh, Yes, we each carried a bear canister for the remainder of the PCT. We saw five more bears during our hike so we were glad to have the canisters to protect them from becoming accustomed to human food (and to protect us).

      Hope we cross paths again on a mountain someday. Take care.


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