camping and hiking trip

Backpacking Memories: An Amazing Encounter at Avalanche Lake

When I was younger, our family trips involved a four-person tent and a patch of lonely woods. I didn’t mind. I loved hiking, campfires, and sleeping in a tent. There’s one trip. However, that stands out as the most memorable.

A bit of background

our beautiful tent in the wild
Our beautiful tent in the wild

It was the summer I was eleven. My parents once took me on a trip to Avalanche Lake. Dark cliffs tower on both sides of this mile-long lake, and there’s no shore. The trail we took was an adventurous route of wooden catwalks bolted to the cliff face. The lake itself was smooth as a mirror, reflecting the tall cliffs and the narrow stretch of sky between them.

At the end of the day, we arrived at a cluster of campsites. Several other groups of campers were setting up tents and cooking meals. We picked a site of our own and got ready to eat dinner. We had the best franks and beans I’d ever eaten. Just about anything tastes amazing after a long day of hiking.

After dinner, my dad put the rest of the food in a bag. He tied a rope to it and slung it over a thin branch. He missed one thing, though: a piece of chewing gum I’d been saving. I had dropped it near the tent. I didn’t think such a small thing would attract any dangerous wildlife, though, so I didn’t say anything about it. I had no trouble falling asleep that night.

I woke up to a strange clanking sound. I looked around and realised my parents weren’t in the tent. I stuck my head outside. Lots of other people were up, including my parents. Everyone was banging on a pot or bowl or canteen. Then I saw something black moving through the trees, and I knew why. It was a bear.

A big fat bear!

Black bears are common in the Adirondacks, but I’d never seen one in the wild before. This one looked no bigger than a large dog. It was moving quickly among the campsites toward a stand of trees at the edge of the camping area. I grabbed a pot and began hitting it. The bear moved to the base of one of the trees and started to climb. I looked into the tree and noticed something else: three bear cubs.

Once they saw those, my parents got me out of there quickly. There are few more dangerous places to be than between a mother bear and her cubs. On the way out, I noticed the chewing gum I’d left out last night was gone.

I have no way of knowing whether the bear or another animal took my gum. But my misstep could have attracted her in the first place. Here’s an overview of what we did right and what we should have done.

Store your food the right way

our bear encounter, scary
Our bear encounter, scary!!!

Proper food storage. My dad put our food in a bear bag. To do this, put the food in the bag, close it securely, and tie a rope to one end. Tie a rock to the other end of the rope. Then throw the rock over a thin tree branch. Pull the rope up until the bag is hanging about eight feet from the ground and at least four feet from any tree trunks or branches. The tree branch you choose should be at least 150 feet from your campsite. Most people think this is enough to keep bears away. It’s not.

We made the mistake of storing only food in our bag. Bears have an incredibly fine sense of smell. If you want to keep them away, you also need to include all “smell-able”: shampoo, insect repellent, chapstick, soap, lotion, any container that’s ever contained a flavoured drink, bandages, clothes worn while cooking and eating, dirty cookware, toothpaste, deodorant, medication…and chewing gum. Also, you should never eat near or in your tent. Many parks suggest you don’t use sunscreen, insect repellent, shampoo, or lotion after 3 pm.

What to do if there’s a bear in your campsite. Grab a pot and make noise. If there are several people in your campsite, everyone should make noise at once while slowly advancing. It is intimidating for bears, and it will usually run them off. We did this by the book, and it worked. Our mother bear climbed the tree where her cubs were, giving everyone a chance to pack up and get out. If there are cubs, don’t get between them and the mother. It is one of the few situations where a bear will attack you.

Our encounter didn’t turn out to be fatal. Most bear encounters aren’t. However, it’s important to cut the risk by properly storing your food and other belongings. Bears often return to places where they’ve found food before, and our bear was probably used to raiding for food around that group of campsites. By taking care to store your food and other sellable items the right way, you aren’t just keeping the bears away from your site for the present. You’re also helping to prevent future encounters.

streets of paris during winter

A potted guide to ‘La Belle France.’

As one of the world’s most visited tourist destinations, France has much to offer. With a rich cultural history, fantastic scenery and some of the best food and drink to be had anywhere on the planet, there is so much more to be seen that just Paris. So where else should you go to experience this marvellous country?

The Mediterranean Coast: You don’t need to be a billionaire with a pad in St Tropez or Monaco to enjoy the French Mediterranean.

view of the town of sete south franceMarseille has a reputation as a bit rough and ready, but the city has a charm all of its own. As a port with connections to North Africa, the cosmopolitan nature of the city is evident not just in its people, but it’s food and lifestyle. Take a stroll around the Vieux Port (old port) and sip a pastis as you watch the ships sail and then try a Bouillabaisse (fish soup) or genuine Berber tagine just off Canebiere boulevard.

Just down the road is Avignon, previous home of the Popes (before the Vatican). The city boasts fantastic Medieval forts as well as the famous Pont de Avignon (Bridge of Avignon).

The area around cool and trendy Montpellier is where the French come for their summer holidays. Long sandy beaches, cool coastal towns, and a genuine ‘laissez-faire’ vibe are the reasons to hit the beach here. Montpellier itself is a beautiful little city full of winding alleys lined with boutique shops.

Visitors to the region should also visit the Camargue, a vast protected natural area home to flamingos and other migratory birds.

amazing local producer selling traditional french foodThe East and the Alps: Fans of winter sports don’t need to be told of the fantastic opportunities to be had in the French Alps. Popular resorts such as Chamonix, Alpe de Huez and Courcheval have a reputation as some of the best skiing in the world and rightly so. No matter if you’re a learner or more advanced there will be something for everyone.

The region around Alsace and Reims is more famous as a farming heartland and where some of France’s most famous produce comes from. Reims is the centre of the Champagne region and is surrounded by beautiful lakes and farmland. The Alsace region provides some of the county’s most famous cheeses as well as exceptional beer thanks to the Germanic influence.

Normandy and Bretagne: The rugged north of the country is home to some of the most famous sights and food too. The stunning castle on the island of Mont St Michel is found close to Rennes or St Malo and is one of France’s most picturesque sights. The region of Bretagne (Brittany) is stunning and dotted with small fishing villages and rolling hills. After a day spent strolling the rugged coastline grab a crepe or a savoury galette (pancake) and wash it down with some local cider.

The Atlantic Coast: Bordeaux is a sleepy city world famous for it’s wine. Like most French cities it also has a host of exceptional museums, ancient churches and cathedrals and more than enough food to keep the most demanding gourmand happy.

In the furthest south-west is Biarritz in France’s Basque country. This pretty little town is famous for being the surf capital of France but has a distinct character thanks to it’s Basque influences.

If you’re looking for art, great food or adventure no matter where you head in this great country there will be plenty to keep even the most world-weary traveller happy.

the amazing city of carcassonne
The amazing city of Carcassonne