While it may seem to out­siders like a walk in the park, back­pack­ing is seri­ous busi­ness. It requires real sur­vival skills and it places humans back in the food chain; back­pack­ers expose them­selves to the very real dan­gers of the wilder­ness. How­ev­er, giv­en our of years of intel­lec­tu­al and tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment, we have devel­oped strate­gies for avoid­ing many of the dan­gers of rur­al adven­tures. Hike at your own risk!

bearBears: Food Safety
When trav­el­ing in the back­coun­try, or even near towns in cer­tain areas such as the Sier­ras, bears pose a very real threat—particularly giv­en how used to humans they have become. Before you trav­el, do a bit of research to find out if you will be in bear coun­try. If you will be trav­el­ing through lands poten­tial­ly occu­pied by these hulk­ing beasts, food aware­ness is key. When you go to bed for the night, you will want to keep all food, includ­ing food waste, and good-smelling items, such as lotions, sun­screen, deodor­ant, and tooth­paste in a bear-safe con­tain­er, such as a bear can or bear bag, and hang it at least 100 feet from where you will be sleeping.

Bears: Avoid­ing and Address­ing an Encounter
While hik­ing, you should make noise or wear bear bells to warn bears of your pres­ence to avoid an encounter, though the effec­tive­ness of bear bells is debat­ed. You can fur­ther pro­tect your­self from curi­ous or starv­ing bears by car­ry­ing a can of bear spray while you hike and keep­ing it handy in your tent. This is a high­ly effec­tive means of ward­ing off a would-be attack at close range. If you encounter a bear at some dis­tance, and/or you do not have bear spray, assess the sit­u­a­tion, slow­ly retreat while keep­ing your eyes on the bear (but not eye con­tact), and if it stalks, approach­es, or charges you, attempt to climb a tree and/or pre­pare to fight back. How­ev­er, if the bear is a griz­zly, play­ing dead has also been proven effec­tive in deesca­lat­ing the sit­u­a­tion or reduc­ing the damage.

wolvesWolves: Address­ing Encoun­ters and Food Safety
While much less com­mon, wolf pop­u­la­tions have been ris­ing in the Unit­ed States, so an encounter could hap­pen. Just as with bears, being aware of and pro­tect­ing your food is impor­tant for avoid­ing wolves. If you encounter a wolf in the wild, what­ev­er you do, don’t run. Also, do not make eye con­tact, but do not show fear. If you can find a rock face to back against, do so, and try to scare them off by mak­ing your­self look big, make a lot of noise, and throw stones. If they attack, cov­er your head and face.

raccoonRodents: More Food Safety
A very real dan­ger in the wilder­ness is star­va­tion, so it is impor­tant to keep your food safe. Rodents, such as mice, squir­rels, and even larg­er ani­mals, such as rac­coons, will try to steal your food if giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty. Hang­ing your food up in a bear can is also effec­tive for pro­tect­ing it against pests if sealed properly.

Rodents: Avoid­ing Disease 
When peo­ple think of ani­mal-human com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases, they often think of rabies. Of course, avoid approach­ing ani­mals in the wild, but if you do get bit­ten, wash the wound with soap and water as soon as pos­si­ble. Then, if you have it, rinse the wound with alco­hol or iodine and head straight to the near­est hos­pi­tal for treatment.

How­ev­er, anoth­er dis­ease lurks in back­coun­try wildlife. Believe it or not, the bubon­ic plague is alive and well and exists in the Unit­ed States. It is, just as dur­ing the dark ages, trans­mit­ted by rodents through their feces, bod­i­ly flu­ids (dead or alive), and the fleas they car­ry. While back­pack­ing, avoid all dead ani­mal car­cass­es and try to stay away from rodents as much as pos­si­ble. Thank­ful­ly, we can now treat bubon­ic plague with antibi­otics, but they should be admin­is­tered with­in 24 hours of the first sign of symp­toms, so if you feel like you have a flu com­ing on while hik­ing and you know you were recent­ly exposed to rodent drop­pings or were bit by a rodent, head straight to the hospital.

Black Bear
Black Bear
Black Bear

When you’re plan­ning your next adven­ture, make sure you keep bear safe­ty in mind.

Know Your Bears
There are three kinds of bears in North Amer­i­ca: black bears, griz­zly bears, and polar bears. Black bears are the small­est and least aggres­sive and are iden­ti­fi­able by their straight muz­zle, point­ed ears, dark claws, and lack of a hump. Griz­zlies are larg­er, lighter in col­or, and have round­ed ears and a shoul­der hump. Polar bears are the most aggres­sive but are only found in the Arc­tic regions.

When you’re plan­ning your trip, research what kinds of wildlife you’re like­ly to encounter. Check with local experts and call local rangers or land man­age­ment if you have any ques­tions about the pro­to­col. The locals will know their bears and are always hap­py to share advice on how to inter­act with them safe­ly and respectfully.

Grizzly Bear
Griz­zly Bear

Make Noise
Most bears are inclined to avoid con­tact with humans, and will often leave the area if they hear peo­ple approach­ing. Unin­tend­ed encoun­ters hap­pen most often when bears are sur­prised and feel cor­nered or trapped—so tell them you’re com­ing! Tie a bell to your back­pack, sing out loud as you’re hik­ing, clap your hands, what­ev­er suits your fancy—just make enough noise so that they know you’re there.

On trails or in envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions that might make it hard for ani­mals to see, smell, or hear approach­ing par­ties, make sure to pay extra atten­tion to mak­ing your­self known. For exam­ple: if you’re walk­ing into the wind, bears might not smell you. Blind cor­ners or trails that ascend hills might block their view of approach­ing hik­ers. Berry patch­es or rivers with fish might dis­tract bears, and low light con­di­tions at dawn or dusk can reduce visibility.

Keep a Clean Camp
When you get to camp, imme­di­ate­ly coor­di­nate with the rest of your par­ty to estab­lish a plan for keep­ing your camp­site clean. Nev­er leave food unat­tend­ed and store all edi­bles, food con­tain­ers, cook­ware, scent­ed prod­ucts (like lip balm, sun­screen, and scent­ed wipes) and trash (includ­ing fem­i­nine hygiene prod­ucts) in a bear can­is­ter, food lock­er, or in a stuff sack hung in a tree or bear wire at least ten feet off the ground (which is out of a bear’s reach.) Nev­er throw garbage into toi­lets, and be wary of leav­ing any­thing that a bear might mis­take for food in a locked car—they’ve been known to break win­dows in search of a snack.

Keep in mind that bear safe­ty at camp­sites is a team sport, too. If the site next to you attracts a bear, it’s as much your prob­lem as it is theirs. Com­mu­ni­cate with fel­low users, and don’t be afraid to ask local rangers for advice or assistance.

Polar Bear
Polar Bear

In Case of Encounters
If you see bears at a dis­tance of more than 100 yards, observe them respect­ful­ly. Keep the animal’s line of trav­el unin­hib­it­ed, and always make sure they have an escape route so they don’t feel trapped or cor­nered. Move away if they approach you—every bear has his own require­ments for per­son­al space, and you want to error on the side of safety.

If you’re close to a bear, back away slow­ly. Try to assume a non-threat­en­ing posture—turn side­ways, be qui­et, and act sub­mis­sive. Don’t make direct eye con­tact, which might be inter­pret­ed as threatening.

Con­sid­er Car­ry­ing Bear Spray
If you trav­el fre­quent­ly in areas where bear encoun­ters are com­mon, con­sid­er car­ry­ing an aerosol pep­per spray designed specif­i­cal­ly for ani­mals. Sprays are effec­tive, non-tox­ic, non-lethal tools to deter aggres­sive bears. Read the instruc­tions care­ful­ly, prac­tice with a dum­my spray, and remem­ber: car­ry­ing spray is not an excuse to get slop­py with pre­ven­tion and good habits.

It’s a place you’ve prob­a­bly nev­er heard of. But the Great Bear Rain­for­est agree­ment has the poten­tial to keep places wild on a mas­sive scale.

What is the Great Bear Rainforest?
The Great Bear Rain­for­est is a mas­sive swath of sea, for­est, and moun­tains rang­ing from the north end of Van­cou­ver Island to the Alas­ka bor­der. At first glance on a map, it looks about half the length of the Cal­i­for­nia coast. But when you look clos­er at the intri­cate mix of islands and chan­nels, it’s real size is much larg­er. It is a land­scape of rugged reefs and surf-bat­tered islands, deep fjords, glac­i­er-carved coastal moun­tains, salmon streams and thick rain­for­est. It’s named for the Spir­it Bear (also called the Ker­mode Bear), a rare white-col­ored race of black bear, as well as two dis­tinct pop­u­la­tions of coastal wolves. Almost entire­ly road­less, the Great Bear is one of the last great wilder­ness­es of the Pacif­ic Rim of North Amer­i­ca. Dot­ted by one town (Prince Rupert) and the small First Nations vil­lages of Bel­la Coola, Bel­la Bel­la and Klem­tu, the region is the his­toric home of the 28 First Nations cultures.

What Hap­pened on Feb. 2?
Con­ser­va­tion bat­tles have raged around the Great Bear for decades. The com­bi­na­tion of small pop­u­la­tion, rich tim­ber and fish resources and sea access along the inside pas­sage have made it a tar­get for extrac­tive indus­tries. A coali­tion of con­ser­va­tion groups and First Nations have fought for the Great Bear a quar­ter cen­tu­ry. They notched a big win on Feb. 2.

It went under the unas­sum­ing name of The Great Bear Land Order, an agree­ment signed by BC Pre­mier Christy Clark. Under the agree­ment, rough­ly 38 per­cent of the land stretch­ing from rough­ly Bute Inlet to Prince Rupert is for­mal­ly pro­tect­ed from logging—an area that’s five times the size of Delaware. Anoth­er mas­sive area, 47 per­cent of the region, is des­ig­nat­ed as “Ecosys­tem-Based Man­age­ment,” which is also referred to as “light touch log­ging” with restric­tions to pro­tect streams and estu­ar­ies, buffers and that pre­serves half of for­est cov­er. But per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant fact is that the var­i­ous par­ties were able to hash out an agree­ment after so long in opposition.

What Didn’t Happen?

It’s Not A Nation­al Park
First of all, the agree­ment doesn’t—as some sound­bites mention—protect 85 per­cent of the Great Bear from log­ging, which would be an area half the size of Ire­land. The land in Ecosys­tem-Based Man­age­ment “should not be con­fused as a sur­ro­gate or replace­ment for pro­tect­ed areas because it will involve rota­tion­al forestry, road build­ing, dry land sorts and a host of oth­er human activ­i­ties,” writes Ian McAl­lis­ter of Pacif­ic Wild in Bel­la Bella.

The Pipeline
The agree­ment does noth­ing to stop the oth­er threat to the Great Bear Rain­for­est: the pro­posed Enbridge North­ern Gate­way Pipeline. It would car­ry tar sands crude from Alber­ta across the coast range to Kit­mat in the Great Bear, where it would be loaded on tankers. The tankers would ply the nar­row, rocky chan­nels of the Great Bear, threat­en­ing the area with a Valdez-size oil spill. Hap­pens Now?

Ban the Tankers
Pacif­ic Wild and oth­er con­ser­va­tion groups are pur­su­ing a tanker ban in the Great Bear to counter the North­ern Gate­way threat.

As Abra­ham Lin­coln said, a law with­out enforce­ment is basi­cal­ly just advice. First Nations and con­ser­va­tion­ists will be mon­i­tor­ing the enforce­ment of the pro­tect­ed areas and envi­ron­men­tal restric­tions of the agree­ment. In an area as wild, remote, and sparse­ly pop­u­lat­ed as the Great Bear, where all trav­el is by float­plane and boat, a lot can hap­pen on the ground before offi­cials notice. “The bur­den of mon­i­tor­ing will fall dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly on the Indige­nous peoples—like Heiltsuk—who live on the front lines, and whose lives and liveli­hoods depend on the integri­ty of our lands and waters,” said the Heilt­suk Trib­al Coun­cil.

How Can I Visit?
You can help by vis­it­ing the Great Bear. The more that peo­ple vis­it and care about a place, the eas­i­er it is to enforce the agreement.

Like most remote and beau­ti­ful places, get­ting to the Great Bear is chal­leng­ing. That’s part of the adven­ture. The first step is a BC Fer­ry from Port Hardy at the north­ern tip of Van­cou­ver Island to Bel­la Bel­la, Klem­tu or Prince Rupert. From there it’s more chal­leng­ing. To access the coast, fjords or moun­tains requires a boat, a kayak or a boat with a kayak strapped to the deck. Plan lots of time: this coast­line calls for a zigzag­ging explo­ration of coves and islands. Trav­el is weath­er and cur­rent depen­dent. Cur­rent tables most­ly don’t exist, and unchart­ed tides do. This is true wilder­ness. Expect to share your camps with wolves and bears.

But like all wild places, it needs lit­tle defend­ing. Now’s the time to visit.

Last year, Shel­don Neill and Col­in Dele­han­ty put togeth­er an amaz­ing edit of Yosemite Nation­al Park. We were blown away by the mes­mer­iz­ing time-lapse footage that trans­port­ed you to a world where nature pre­vails above all else, and is dic­tat­ed by noth­ing but the pas­sage of time. 

Once again, the duo has cre­at­ed a film so riv­et­ing and gor­geous in scope that its vision seems sur­re­al. Let Yosemite HD II take you even fur­ther into the depths of one of the most spec­tac­u­lar play­grounds on earth.