hanging a bear bag after dark

One of my fond memories of preparedness, common sense and absolute lack of both of these qualities happened after dark on the first night of a weekend interior camping trip. Sometime well after the sun slid below the trees and between Crazy 8s and frantically fanning our hands around our ears and hastily slapping ourselves in a futile attempt to be rid of mosquitoes, there was the realization that we’d forgotten to prep the rope for our bear bag – with which we’d keep “survival food” safely out of reach of any midnight marauders. Despite the namesake, raccoons are the likely culprit, but I’ll be damned if a masked bandit is going to deprive me of breakfast and leave me to trek across over 12 km on a miserably empty stomach.

Granted, this wasn’t a terribly devastating muck up as far as muck ups go, except that we pitched our site in a particularly dense little nook in the woods and all the branches were either too thin or too short or a disheartening combination of the two, and when it was the wanting beam of a lone headlamp and our little dollar-store lantern to illuminate the pitch black abyss, we realized it would’ve been a trick to accomplish this feat in daylight. At night? It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack while blindfolded. And with padded gloves.

As exemplary case studies for OCD, our ideal branch needed to be well within the general guidelines:

1) It must be strong enough to support the weight of all the food, roughly comparative to a raccoon, say. Unless you want it to endure the weight of  a potential marauder, then imagine two fat raccoons as your ideal weight durability.

2) It must be long enough that it can be hung at least 4 to 5 feet from the trunk of the tree to discourage raccoons from midnight marauding, or it will be a mopey, hungry hike home.

3) It must be high enough that it is “safely” out of reach from its namesake, should a bear amble upon your campsite while you slumber. (Although, quite frankly, I would rather the bear find my bear bag in a tree than me nestled in my tent and wrapped like a twinky, but I am thankfully yet to encounter one such furry friend.)

While tip-toeing through our campsite riddled with poison ivy (just to keep things interesting), I noticed the birch tree by the water which seemed to glow with a “come hither” angelic light. It was a precarious little tiptoe along the water’s edge. My poor sense of balance and natural inclination to avoid the natural inclination of coming in contact with poison ivy were but minor inconveniences once our goal was in sight. My friend wore the headlamp; I held the carefully tethered throwing rock.

Now, bear with me. When your only branch is only two feet long and immediately below a cluster of spindly twigs, this challenge is more easily boasted than actually achieved. I could have put a pitcher to shame with my glorious array of throwing techniques were it not for the fact that it took roughly 27 tries before I knew success. My friend chimed in on occasion to give it a try, but by the ninth failed attempt, reel in and re-prep of the rope tied to the rock, it got personal.

Sherizard vs. The Branch, The Rock, and The Rope.

I had to win.

And I did.

Careful calculations, rope slack and varied underhand technique finally came together. The next trick was positioning it away from the trunk. This was a concerted team effort of flicking and see-sawing the rope away from the twig cluster. When our mission at last knew success, we fastened our bear bag and were ready to hoist it up when a thought sprang to mind and we gave it a little tug to test it’s strength and the whole branch tore off like tyrannurhubarb rex and narrowly missed our heads.


Our options for conventional bag hanging were at an end – or so we thought.

Two trees grew at an angle out above the water. The angle was gradual enough that I could shimmy up one using the other as a handrail, but the adrenaline started to course through me as I climbed higher into heights I couldn’t gage and I felt like a champion, daring Fate to test my limits. The prickly bark stabbing into the soles of my feet couldn’t slow me down, nor could the weight of the bag throw me off kilter, and even as my friend kept giggling and looking away, leaving me precariously perched on an edge with nothing below me but the mouth of the Gap of Khazad-dum, I overcame that fear of plummeting down, down into the endless void of darkness….

… or onto unseen jagged rocks below the water’s surface.

Either way, I did it, and as victors we slept easily.

The following morning, however, we woke to discover that a) there were no jagged rocks, b) the water was actually quite shallow, and c) I could reach up and untie it with ease while simply standing in the lake. Perhaps, especially in this case, it was just the thought that counted.

What we lacked in preparation, we made up for with ruthless determination and a little creativity. We did manage to find a far more suitable branch the following night, but I suppose that in the unlikely event a hungry bear wandered into our campsite while we slept that first night, he would’ve paid the meat-twinkies in the tent no mind, busying himself instead with what would’ve been like trying to eat a donut on a string. And I think I would’ve preferred that. It’s a comforting thought, at least.

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