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March 28th, 2008 by Carl D

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Bear Spray Effectiveness – how effective is bear spray?

March 27th, 2008 by Carl D

Grizzly bear cub photo, Katmai National Park, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

A lot of people ask about bears and bear spray and guns and what we do for safety. We don’t carry guns on our trips, and nor would I be comfortable with someone on the trip carrying a firearms, unless there were some very extenuating circumstances. I do carry bear spray, and we usually take 2 or 3 cans per trip, depending on the size of the group.

A recent Canadian study showed bear spray to be quite a bit more effective than firearms might be. The study looked at data from the last 20 years, and concluded bear spray is generally a safer option than firearms. “Despite persistent doubts among hikers and campers venturing into bear country, you’re better off with an eight-ounce can of bear spray than a gun, according to an analysis of 20 years of data.

Canadian and U.S. researchers announced Wednesday that they found the spray stopped aggressive bear behaviour in 92 per cent of the cases, whether that behaviour was an attack or merely rummaging for food. Guns were effective about 67 per cent of the time.”

The news report in the Canadian Paper is here. From the actual report itself, ” Of all persons carrying sprays, 98% were uninjured by bears in close-range encounters. “ The study looked at incidents involving brown or grizzly bears, black bears and even 2 polar bear incidents. What’s also important is that in each incident where the person/s using bear spray suffered some injury, those injuries were relatively minor (i.e., no hospitalization).

Here’s an abstract from the actual report:

“We present a comprehensive look at a sample of bear spray incidents that occurred in Alaska, USA, from 1985 to 2006. We analyzed 83 bear spray incidents involving brown bears (Ursus arctos; 61 cases, 74%), black bears (Ursus americanus; 20 cases, 24%), and polar bears (Ursus maritimus; 2 cases, 2%). Of the 72 cases where persons sprayed bears to defend themselves, 50 (69%) involved brown bears, 20 (28%) black bears, and 2 (3%) polar bears. Red pepper spray stopped bears’ undesirable behavior 92% of the time when used on brown bears, 90% for black bears, and 100% for polar bears. Of all persons carrying sprays, 98% were uninjured by bears in close-range encounters. All bear-inflicted injuries (n = 3) associated with defensive spraying involved brown bears and were relatively minor (i.e., no hospitalization required). In 7% (5 of 71) of bear spray incidents, wind was reported to have interfered with spray accuracy, although it reached the bear in all cases. In 14% (10 of 71) of bear spray incidents, users reported the spray having had negative side effects upon themselves, ranging from minor irritation (11%, 8 of 71) to near incapacitation (3%, 2 of 71). Bear spray represents an effective alternative to lethal force and should be considered as an option for personal safety for those recreating and working in bear country.”

The report can be purchased if you subscribe to the Journal of Wildlife Management, published by the Wildlife Society.

It’s illegal to fly in the US, in most places, with bear spray, so if you are coming to Alaska, realize you won’t be allowed to bring bear spray with you, nor will you be allowed to return to the Lower 48 with it after your stay here. That’s the primary reason why we provide the spray for each trip. If you intend to do some other hikes after or before your trip with us, I definitely recommend you grab a can of bear spray in Anchorage, from either AMH or REI. Some flights in Alaska the airline will let you transport bear spray, as long as you hand it over at the counter at checkin . They seal it in a Ziplock bag, and stow it safely in the rear of the plane – You’ll be responsible for getting it back at the end of your flight though, so don’t forget about it and wander off to get your luggage – usually you pick it up as you get off the plane. Smaller planes, like bush planes and float planes, tend to either duct tape it onto the wing or stow it in the floats of the plane – the danger, of course, being if the can of bear spray does explode whilst you’re flying, you don’t want that stuff going all through the plane, particularly the cockpit. 🙂 Nor will your pilot. So make sure you remember before getting on or off a bush plane to hand over your bear spray, and let the pilot put it outside the plane.

Bear spray is extremely powerful stuff, so treat it with caution. Make sure you understand how it works, how the can works, and follow basic safety procedures that you might for any dangerous weapon. Read the label warnings and directions before you venture out hiking, and then keep your bear spray handy, but safe, whilst you’re hiking. Leaving the can in the bottom of your backpack is NOT going to be of much use to you if a bear pops out of the woods and gets a little feisty. I carry mine in my pants pocket, or in a water bottle pocket on the outside of my backpack, where I’ll usually tie it on, so I don’t lose it if (when) it falls out).

Thanks folks – if you have any questions, shoot me an email or leave a comment here.

Travel safely.



Winter Outdoor Gear?

March 23rd, 2008 by Carl D

The Kennecott Glacier and moraine covered in snow one early winter morning and Chugach Mountains in Winter, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

hey Folks,

Well, as winter just wound to a close, I thought I’d post a short note about winter outdoor gear. All in all, what’s the best outdoor hiking and backpacking gear I bought this winter? What piece of gear really rocked my world? A $40.00 pair of Sierra Designs Down Booties! These things rock! Kept my feet warm and happy during the coldest of days – not quite 50 below zero! I was really impressed with them. Sierra Designs make some good gear, but these are the best buy of the season. Comfortable, light, durable, cheaply priced and stylish! Other candidates for good buys or just good winter gear were:

* My Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap. I don’t even know if this is still made – I’ve had mine for over 10 years, and it’s still good as new. It now officially counts as my oldest piece of 1st-tier gear. My North Face Firefox sleeping bag, which is no longer made, is just as old, but I don’t use it most of the time, after buying the Western Mountaineering Ultralite 18 months ago. Regarding the cap, I have the Triple Point Fabric version and they also have a Gore-Tex version. This hat is awesome, fleece-lined, and toasty! And it looks cool as well!

* A surprise contender, for me, is the REI fleece gloves I have .. they’re fingerless, but with a little extra fold-over mitten .. these are great, I can fold the mitten cover back, exposing my fingers for operating a camera, and quickly cover them back up as it gets cold. Unless it got REALLY cold, these gloves we re just fine this winter. Well-priced, and warmer than I thought they might be.

* Atlas 1030 Snowshoes. Excellent shoes for getting around in the powdery snow in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park, good traction cleats, lightweight rugged construction, and easy to fix buckles. Great snowshoes for just about any snowshoeing trip, though not cheap either.

If you’re looking for something to spend your tax refund on, you won’t go wrong with any of the above gear, and it’s probably all marked down for end of season sales.



Book Lists

March 21st, 2008 by Carl D

Sunset over Skolai pass, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

Anyone out there looking for some good reading material? I thought I’d make a post that lists some books I’ve really enjoyed – I’ll add to it as I go, and would appreciate any visitors adding their favorites to the list. I’ll start with some great nature books:

Thoreau (of course): My favorite is “Walking”
Jack Turner: “The Abstract Wild”
Derrick Jensen: “Listening to the Land”
Paul Shepard: “Coming Home to the Pleistocene”
Jack London: “Call of the Wild” (I know, I know, it’s fiction, but wow, what great fiction!!!!)
Wendell Berry: “Another Turn of the Crank”
Doug Peacock: “The Grizzly Years”
Aldo Leopold: “A Sand County Almanac”
Bill McKibben: “The End of Nature”

That’s enough for starters – I’ll add more as they come to me!



Canning River Rafting Trip, ANWR, Alaska.

March 10th, 2008 by Carl D

Rafting float trip, Canning River, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, ANWR, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

I’m super excited to announce the 2008 Canning River Rafting trip in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR this coming July. We’ll be leaving Fairbanks on June 29, and don’t return until July 14 .. 4 solid weeks of exploring and traveling in the arctic is hard to beat. Room is a premium on this trip, so it’s wise to get in early. 2 people are already booked, and we won’t have more than 5 people on this trip, plus 2 guides (if the trip is full), so definitely start making preparations!

The trip will include flying into ANWR, to the headwaters of the Marsh Fork, in the heart of the Brooks Range, just on the north side of the Continental Divide. The Upper Marsh Fork is pristine mountain terrain, and we’ll spend some time exploring and hiking the peaks and valleys to see more of this region as we make our way north. After a couple of days we join up with the Canning River, continuing through the Brooks Mountains – spectacular country. We go through 2 very cool canyons; they’re short but really neat little canyons. Sometimes Dall sheep are in the area, and caribou, grizzly bear, wolves and wolverines too!

Gradually, as we wind our way north, we reach the coastal plain, which is seemingly endless. The Canning and the Staine river (pronounced Steen) lead us to the coast, where we’ll see the arctic ice pack, just off shore, the Beaufort Sea and Arctic Ocean. We’ll visit the renowned Bird Camp, and hopefully get some great opportunities at photographing migratory birds that visit the area, including tundra swan, shorebirds, sea ducks, loons, and maybe even snowy owls. Arctic foxes and red foxes are in the area, and we’ll also see arctic terns as well. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is famous for 2 herds of caribou, the Porcupine Caribou Herd and the Central Arctic Herd, and we have a good chance of seeing either as they make their way along their migratory routes.

We’re allowing plenty of time for this trip .. so we won’t be pushed for time, we’ll have lots of free time for hiking and photographing and exploring along the way. We’ll try to get around in the best hours for wildlife viewing and landscape photography, as the midnight sun allows 24 hour travel. A trip to ANWR is always a treat, and I can’t way for summer to roll around and to get back up to this incredible place.

Rafting is the way to travel in ANWR, we’ll cover lots of ground with little effort, there are very few rapids at all, it’s a great float down the river. We will do some hiking on both the coastal plain and in the mountains, but with the raft we can get ourselves and all our gear over 100 miles northward with far less effort than a regular backpacking trip would require. Campsites abound along the way, and we’re sure to have a blast. The weather in the high arctic is typically dry during the summer, so it’s a trip that’s hard to beat. Contact me at Expeditions Alaska for more information.



Back on Track

March 2nd, 2008 by Carl D

Winter sunset, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

Welcome back. It’s been a stressful week, working to change server from one very poor webhost I’d had in the past to the new host. Hopefully all the glitches have been worked out and the site is back to normal. If you run across any anomalies, please use the contact link, or write a post here and let me know. I’d appreciate it, thank you. I think we’ve got it all working again though.




Please Excuse

February 29th, 2008 by Carl D

Hey Folks,

Please excuse us for the minute. This site is changing to a new webhost server, and it might be a few days before I get the blog running correctly again. Currently it seems as if all the old posts aren’t accessible. I’ll try to rectify this and get the blog back to normal ASAP.




Winter in Alaska

February 25th, 2008 by Carl D

Snowshoeing, winter, in the boreal spruce forest, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

Just a quick note to let you know I’m still around. As you can see, I’ve been getting out a bit, over in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park, and there’s plenty of snow around to keep things interesting. It was nearly minus 50deg F a couple of weeks ago, and skiing and snow shoeing was a task. But I did manage to get out every day and enjoy the woods.

The winter is absolutely amazing in the Wrangells, and though the weather can at times be somewhat adversarial, it’s so worth the experience. Fortunately, the road in to McCarthy is reasonable this year, though it does have a few glaciers across it that require caution. If anyone’s headed in to the park, bring some chains, though so far they haven’t been requisite. Do bring snow shoes, skis a hat and gloves!

Anyway, I’ll try to get back to posting information as I have time. I hope you’re all have a good winter, and getting in shape for a big summer backpacking season. It’ll be here before you know it!



Last post for a while.

January 4th, 2008 by Carl D

Hiking and backpacking on the Kennicott Glacier, near McCarthy, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

Just a quick post to say I won’t be around much for the next while. I’ll be in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park shooting for my book project, and so won’t have a lot of time or internet access to update the blog, but will do so as I’m able. Feel free to comment or post, or email me if you have any questions, and I’ll definitely reply as soon as I am able. I’ll try to check in at least every few days or so, depending on the availability of email access. Be patient. 🙂

So, for now, stay warm, and enjoy the rest of the winter.



Happy New Year

December 31st, 2007 by Carl D

Mt. Bona and Mt Churchill dominate the University Range, and the Russell Glacier meanders in the foreground, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

Happy New Year, and all the best for the coming new year.



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