So I just finished reading this:
Scary bedtime reading, for sure. But not as scary as having a bear rip your tent open in the middle of the night as though the tent were a wrapper and you the sweet, sweet candy inside. To be fair, this has never actually happened to me. It has, however, happened to many other people. Just read this list of fatal bear attacks in North America. Never mind all the ones that only resulted in horrifying injury.
While camping in the interior in Algonquin Provincial Park, I had bears on the brain. When it got dark, the adrenaline started pumping. Every single snapping twig or falling leaf made me jump. Lying in the tent in total darkness, my heart all a-flutter, I anxiously awaited dawn. Do you know how hard it is to sleep when your heart is beating out of your chest?? Just ask my partner, I only woke him up every 20 minutes saying “I heard something!!!”.
But back to the book. Stephen Herrero doesn’t mince words or spare any details when it comes to the actual injuries and fatalities. Unfortunately, the book was written in the early 80’s, and leaves out the most terrifying story of all.
*warning, this is disturbing*
A man in his early 30s and a woman in her late 40s were camping on Bates Island on Lake Opeongo in Algonquin Park on October 11th, 1991. This is a large island featuring many campsites, not more than a 2o minute paddle from the access point of the lake. According to investigators, the couple were setting up camp when a black bear attacked them and broke their necks. There was evidence that they had fought back (a broken paddle). The bear then dragged the couple into the woods and ate them. When police and park officials arrived a few days later, the bear was still guarding their partially-consumed bodies.
Just in case the story itself isn’t terrifying enough, let me break it down for you, so you understand why this story was running through my head on repeat during our trip:
- They were on an island campsite, which are usually bear-free. We mostly camped on islands.
- They were only a few kilometers from the dock at Algonquin Outfitters. We were way waaay into the interior of the park, where presumably there were more bears.
- According to the investigators, there was evidence that this bear had STALKED these people with the intent to eat them. They never saw it coming.
- They apparently kept a neat, clean campsite. We did everything right: no garbage or food out, no food in the tent, careful fish cleaning far away from the site, hung our pack at night. So did they.
Basically, you can do everything perfectly and use all the common sense and safety tactics in the world, but you can’t plan for a rogue bear. If a bear decides to see what humans taste like, well…you won’t see it coming either.
Speaking of common sense, here’s a little: black bear attacks are actually relatively rare. Relative, of course, to the number of black bears and the number of people entering the bears’ habitats. Prior to the aforementioned attack, the last one in Algonquin Park was in 1978 (3 teenaged boys). And the one before that? In the 1890s. The park receives over a million visitors annually. There are approximately 2,000 bears in Algonquin which is about one for every three to four square kilometres. I think the bears are showing remarkable restraint, honestly. The bear who killed that couple on Bates Island was describe by a park naturalist as “right off the scale of normal bear behavior”. No kidding.
So with all this running through my mind, I
prayed for daylight slept in a tiny, thin nylon tent virtually in the middle of nowhere for six nights.
And we never saw a single bear.