Bear Can Do

posted Apr 1, 2014, 10:20 AM by Paul Wagner
Packing a bear canister can be a bear.  And it got even worse for this hiker in the Emigrant Wilderness.  Check out his trip report from earlier this month....
 
"I was so jazzed to be going backpacking last weekend.  We had our permit for Leavitt Meadows, heading up over Dorothy Pass into some really great country.  But it turned out to be the trip from hell....
 
Following the suggestions I'd read on a lot of different backpacking site, including https://sites.google.com/site/backpackthesierra/home/our-blog/packingthebearcan I had carefully repacked all of our food into baggies and packed them tightly into our BearVault 450 bear canister.  It was a tight fit, but I got it all in, and I didn't have to use 2x4 for leverage like I do sometimes.
 
But it didn't work out that well once we got up to our campsite at frozen Stella Lake at 10,000 feet.  It had been a long cold day on the trail, with a little drizzle, and we were both starving and slightly hypothermic.  And I could not get the bear can opened. I tried everything, but the lid just wouldn't move. 
 
I asked Big Walter, my hiking partner, if he could give it a try, since he is six foot five and mainly muscle.  He grunted hard, his tongue wedged tightly between his lips.   Beads of sweat appeared and then froze on his forehead.  The lid wouldn't budge.
 
The more we tried, the less it moved.  I realized that the zip-lock bags that I had packed at sea level were now completely expanded at 10,000 feet, and the pressure against the lid of the bear can was so strong and it was jamming the lid in place.  Stuck fast.  And we were now fasting. 
 
We had just hiked 12 miles to get up here, and now we had no food to eat.  And just so you know, those damn BearVaults work pretty well.  They are not only bear proof--they are also hiker proof. 
 
I tried forcing a small knife into the lid--and broke the blade off my only knife.  I got so frustrated that I threw the whole can against rocks over and over....to no avail. 
 
The inflated plastic bags were indestructible inside the can...and the can couldn't be opened because of the bags. We had to reduce the pressure in those bags before we could get the can opened.
 
Big Walter was furious, and you don't want to be around Big Walter when he gets angry.  Which is right where I was. 
 
Then I had an idea.  If we could get then can into the lake and we could hold it deep enough under water, the pressure from the water would compensate for the lower air pressure at altitude.  The zip lock bags would deflate a bit, and we could get the lid off.
 
Big Walter said it was a great idea, and I handed him the bear can.  He handed it back to me and told me to take a deep breath.  Then he picked me up and carried me out onto the ice of Stella Lake.  Big Walter held me under his left arm while he chopped a hole in the ice with his hatchet. 
 
I tried to protest, but Big Walter had my arms pinned. 
 
Once the hole was big enough, Big Walter grabbed me by the ankles and shoved me headfirst under the ice.
 
It was remarkably cold.
 
I tried screaming, but my throat froze solid before I could get any sound out at all. 
 
I looked around wildly for some way to escape, but Big Walter had my ankles in a steel grip.  I couldn't breathe, I couldn't scream.  I was going to die. 
 
Suddenly, he yanked me back out again.  I gasped and sputtered while he looked at the bear can.  I hadn't even thought to try to open it. 
 
Big Walter studied my face for a minute and shoved me back under the ice. 
 
This time I got the message.  To my amazement, the water had penetrated the bear can and relieved the pressure against the lid.  I managed to turn the lid just enough to get it past the two locks before my hands stopped working and my breath gave out.  The world went black.
 
 
The next thing I remember, I  was smelling smoke.  Smoke and Chili Mac with Beef.  I couldn't see--because my eyelids were frozen shut. I couldn't move my arms or legs, but I felt like I was seasick.
 
Finally, the ice on my eyelids melted, and I managed to get one eye opened. 
 
The world was upside down.  There was fire above me, and blue sky below. Everything was moving in my head.  I looked down at my feet to see Big Walter holding my legs.  He was waving me over a fire like a popsicle.  And there was a pot of Chili Mac on the fire as well.   The smoke may have come from my wool cap. It was hard to tell.
 
Big Walter smiled at me. "You got it open," he said happily.
 
I tried to smile back, but my face was frozen.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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