At the end of summer of 2002, I had 3 weeks off in between jobs, so I decided to plan myself a nice long solo trip to local mountains for a 4 day / 3 night trip. It was to start at 6,500ft and make it to 10,500 ft to San Bernardino Peak Trail, then over to San Gorgonio Summit at 11,500 ft, then back down a different trail to complete a 23 mile loop. I had anxiously planned for this adventure for days and was ready to go on Monday morning. Full pack, lotz of food, and hardly anyone else on the mountain, let alone the remote trails I selected.

Monday – August 12, 2002

I left trail head about 3:00pm and hiked up to Dobbs Cabin Camp, about 5-3/4 miles & 3,000 ft up on Monday night. Within 30 minutes of arriving at Dobbs, I started to unpack my gear and set up as nightfall was approaching.

Soon after, a medium sized (~150 lbs) Cinnamon colored bear showed up right behind me. Being my first bear encounter, I was a bit startled to say the least. I grabbed my hiking sticks (the only defensive weapons I had), and my camera. I tried to scare him off, but he wasn’t taking no for an answer and got into my gear. I was blowing my whistle, throwing rocks, sticks, etc., but he persisted. Fortunately, he bit into an accessory bag and got a mouth full of bug repellent and ran off. I thought he was gone for good.

Sorry for the not-so perfect pictures, it was getting dark, under lotz of tree cover, and I was shaking . . . just a little bit. (I didn’t want to use my flash as to not upset him any more than he already was – I doubt he was scared.)

With little daylight left, and a stove that wouldn’t light, I had some trail mix and power bars for dinner. I packed up for the night and hung my pack and did all the right things – he didn’t bother me or my stuff. It was dark by 8:30 and I crawled into my tent for the night. I slept with my shoes on, and hiking poles in hand. (I didn’t have my usual large knife – it was too heavy for a long, solo trip.) I didn’t sleep very well . .. . .hmmmm, wonder why?

Tuesday – August 13, 2002

5:30am next morning I awoke and went outside. It appeared that the Bear left me and my gear alone. I cooked up some breakfast, coffee, etc and About an hour after being up and about, I started to pack my gear for the next leg of my hike. Knowing that bears were in the area, I packed up all my food and cook gear first, and stuffed it into my pack. I started with other things, and then I noticed Mr. Bear coming back down the hill where he ran up to the night before. In another quick panic, I stuffed my pack under a big log. Again, I grabbed my hiking poles, camera, and some rocks, etc. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything I could do to get him away. Sticks, yelling, stones, blowing my whistle, etc. We had a stand-off for a few minutes, as he stood by my tent. Once he started growling and stomping his feet I decided it was best to retreat a bit, so he kept coming and got to my backpack. I retreated until he was able to swipe my pack from under the log and drug it down the ravine near the creek. (Bears are extremely smart animals, and once they learn where humans store food and/or smell it, they know right where to go. It was like he saw me stuff my pack under the log and knew right where to go. I doubt he smelled it, as all was freeze-dried and sealed or double packed in zip-lock bags and stuff sacks.)

He proceeded to rip my pack apart, getting to the food inside. After a bit, I realized that my wallet and cell phone and practically everything else was in my pack. One lucky bit, I had my car key around my neck with Eddie (key chain guy) that I wore for company & good luck charm I guess? I don’t know why else I would have had my car key around my neck – I used to keep that stuff with wallet, etc. in my pack. Anywhoo, I tried for 3-1/2 hrs that morning to get to my stuff, but he wouldn’t let me near it. Even a rock to the side only startled him as he continued to eat and rip into my gear.

I had no choice but to pack up the little gear, water pump/filter and water I had and hike back down, as I had no food or other gear to stay another night. (not like I really wanted to stay another night up there anyway.) Note: my tent was still standing but there was no food or scented stuff inside. I had only tidied things up around the camp.

I hiked the 5-3/4 miles back down, got to my car and drove to the Ranger Station. I reported it to the Ranger Station and inquired if they could help with anything. They told me that they would send a volunteer patrol up during the weekend to get my stuff and I could drive back later during weekend to get it. Or I could try to go back up again the next morning to get my gear. They told me that once a bear gets to all the food, it usually moves on, and it’s rare that it would still be around after 24 hrs. Since I had planned to be out until Thursday anyway, I decided to figure out how to stay in town and hike back up the next day.

Oops, I had absolutely no money, no wallet, no phone cards, no phone. Collect phone calls and Western Union quickly became my friends. I had a friend wire me some cash, so I checked into a local hotel, took a long hot shower, got a huge Italian pasta feast, saw a movie – all as I was beat.

Wednesday – August 14, 2002

I woke up at 5:00am, got a fat feast at Denny’s and left the trail head at 7:00am. I made the hike once again and got to the around 9:30am (Only took 2-1/2 hrs this time) I approached very carefully, making the last 200 yards more like an ambush than a light stroll into the camp. I thought I was in the clear, but it was obvious Mr. Bear had more fun throughout the night. My tent was ripped up an poles bent, etc. (There wasn’t any scented gear in it, not even my sleeping bag, just some clean clothing and water bottles, etc.) Also, my rain poncho, which was tightly packed into a ball into a stuff sack, was ripped open and strewn about the camp.

As I went to the ravine’s edge to look for my pack and other gear, Mr. Bear appeared behind the tree and and spotted me. He instantly came towards me after crossing the creek/ravine. I didn’t even get close enough to see the rest of my gear. Once again, nothing was stopping him and he proceeded to literally chase me out of the camp area, and about 300 yds out the trail. He even cut the few switchbacks around the camp to get an edge on me. 6 miles back out and nothing but some good exercise and an extremely elevated heart rate. Again I reported it to rangers and this time they were worried and said they were going to notify Fish & Game.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any more pictures from here on out – I was pretty much scared s%$^tless at this point and just wanted to get out of there.

I had no choice but to return back to San Diego without any of my gear, wallet, cell phone with only hopes that rangers or someone else would retrieve my gear. I returned home, got the pictures developed and just waited for the next phone call.

Thursday – August 15, 2002

I got a voice message at home from “Jim” who said he had my gear. I called him back and he stated that he heard of my encounters on the internet (link below) so he decided to go up and get my stuff and see first hand himself. He said that he made it to the camp and started to pack up my gear. After packing up my gear (probably 15-30 minutes) he heard a noise behind him and turned around. Mr. Bear was 5 feet away from him, and apparently was wondering what this human was doing raiding his new home. Luckily, he had most everything packed up so he geared up and started to leave. He stated that the bear followed him a few miles out of the camp, similar as he did with me. Again, the bear was either after him or the gear which would have been useless by now. Anyway, he made it down safe and had my gear in hand. 

Later on in time…
We arranged to meet someday convenient. But, another guy, “Ed” read the stories on the internet and it all sounded familiar. It turns out that Ed, who works closer to San Diego, was a co-worker/friend of Jim. He contacted me, and we arranged a transfer of gear, and then I met him one early morning. This saved me about 3 hours and 200 miles of driving. Thanks to Ed and Jim, most of my gear has been returned. Jim did state that there were a few water bottles and my camera tripod somewhere up there, as he had to use them as throwing material to try to scare off the bear. I didn’t care – lucky for him he made it out safe too.

Thanks again to everyone who helped and kept in tune with the bear story. Especially to Ed and Jim, whom without it’s unknown where my stuff would be right now.  Next step is to see if my Home Owners insurance will cover any of the damages/losses. My tent is practically destroyed, backpack ripped up pretty good, and I’m missing some shoes, and other gear that was likely dragged off into the woods with Mr. Bear.

Hey, 22 miles & 6,000ft elevation gain/loss all in 2 days on foot, nice exercise if anything else . . . but I guess there will be some good story-telling from this one.

Finally, I contacted my insurance to see if I could recover any of the lost equipment against my home owner’s insurance. Hahaha, check this out . . . 

“…we have determined that your loss is not covered because damage caused by a ‘foraging bear’ is not considered a named peril.”

Next Time . . .

  • I’m keeping my wallet and other ‘valuables’ somewhere handy, if not on me all the time – as I did with my car key.
  • I’m keeping some extra money in the car, hidden of course.
  • I’m remembering my calling card numbers, so I don’t have to pay for $1.99/min collect calls.
  • I’d would have felt safer if I had better defense, like bear mace, or other (Like a 357 Magnum . . . (just kidding, it’s illegal in the National Forests… and it’s not a smart idea anyway) Hanging out with a bear and only some sticks and stones ain’t the best feeling around.
  • I already had changes of clothes in the car, so that helped, but always have an extra set handy.
  • And the San Gorgonio Wilderness can be read about here.