Lessons learned and summary:
- You CAN encounter a bear in the Dolomites.
- Physically and technically demanding ascend to Passo del Comedón
- Bivacco Feltre and Rifugio Bruno Boz at this stage. I recommend to end the stage at Rifugio and stay there for the night. Wild camping in this area turned out to be a very bad idea.
Imagine this: You are lying on the ground in your sleeping bag, listening to lurid sounds of a wild beast moving around. A beast with a paw of a size of your head. A beast so confident that you are constantly failing to cast it out. All that stands between you and the animal is a tin tarp of your tent….The worst thing is that you have no clue….no clue what to do and especially no clue what the animal will do. And so you’re just lying there, listening into the dark trying to guess how far from you the animal currently is. Good that it’s so vocal all the time. But each horrific sound it makes sends shivers down your spine. You can hear that its distance is changing. That it moves around, closer and closer. The closer it gets, the more violently your heart beats in a foreceful alarming manner. The helplessness is boundless. You are slowly starting to panic. You begin to talk….talk, not scream ! With a phone in your shaking hands, you have just read on the internet that screaming could provoke the bear. And so you speak loudly: “Hey Bear, go to hell, we don’t want you around here…”. Your only weapons are: your voice, internet, a small pocket knife, pepper spray, deodorant in metal tin and a lighter. So what you’re gonna do in order to get out of this…ideally alive?
Wait a minute….how the heck did we even get into such trouble in the first place? Let’s take a step back….
After a pleasant night next to someone else’s house, we depart. It rains persistently and the wet stones are incredibly slippery…not the greatest conditions for via ferratas. And you bet there still are some ahead. Despite the poor weather conditions, we do not feel like we shouldn’t finish this trail.
Today’s stretch is fine at first – we walk on a thin path meandring in the middle of a rocky hillside. We are surrounded by greenery. The foggy clouds are shuffling around and we are moving forward – slowly and cautiously.
The landscape is changing. In certain moments we feel like if we were somewhere else. In another country. Like in Great Britain for instance…Scotland, maybe. Not that I would have ever been there but this is how I would imagine it.
We hide from the crawly weather in the Bivacco Feltre and make lunch there. At least we can see how it looks inside…Not great but that’s how it usually goes with these mountain shelters. We haven’t met anyone since the morning yet. We can finally enjoy the remoteness and loneliness we always long for. We do not know that in only few hours time, we would give anything for having other people around…for someone to come and rescue us.
After lunch we begin to scramble to other pass – Passo del Comedón (2,130 m.n.m.). As we go up, we take a pleasure in breath-taking views. At least when the clouds disperse. It feels like heaven….and soon enough like hell again.
Before we know it, we are crawling on all fours in the middle of slope of unstable scree. “Are we sure this is the way?”. The rocks keep slipping under our feet and hands and dash down with a great rattle, disappearing in the deep vast chasm underneath. We have to be careful not to throw the rocks on one another. This whole situation is totally crazy again. These are exactly the moments when I hate this trek. I feel the tiredness weakening me. I feel I’m not as vigilant as I should be and I’m afraid of making a mistake…of stumbling. “I can’t believe this is the right way“, I insist. We take a careful look around and notice a red markings about 50 meters to the left of us. “Oh, c’mon! Damn it.” We have to go down a bit and traverse all the way back to the trail.
At one point I stumble indeed (self-fulfilling prophecy). Before I know it, I’m lying on the ground, clutching firmly on a rock to prevent myself from rolling down. I realize that I’ve heard a crunching sound. “Shit!“. One leg, second leg, one arm, second arm…ufff, all good! One trekking pole is broken in half though. “Nooo, not my trekking pole!” I feel like crying but I manage to hold the tears. Rest in peace girl. I’ll miss you. We walked a piece of world together!
The rest of the day is all about tiresome toiling and moiling in the middle of a rocky emptiness while being rained on. The waves of euphoria mix with moments of desperation. Together with my trekking pole, the last feelings of sympathy towards this trail definitively died today….and I have no idea yet at this point in time what it still prepared for us.
We finally decide to break a camp at around 7 pm. We find a little spot under the tree on the border of a meadow. We are exhausted and we only want 2 things – 1) eat, 2) sleep. It’s still raining. To speed up the process, Thomas is building a tent while I begin with dinner preparation. We do not have much food left. We can chose either an instant soup or an instant risotto. “What? 15 minutes cooking time?!”, I make an unpleasant discovery as I read the instructions. That sucks. My stomach evinces clearly that skipping the dinner is not an option….Therefore, I grab my stove and begin to cook. The risotto simmers and the saffron aroma wafts through the whole valley. It makes my mouth water…
…And not only mine….
Wrapped up in my sleeping bag, I finally feel dry and cozy. It even stopped raining. Even though it’s only 8 pm, I’m already beginning to dive into the sweet unconsciousness of a deep sleep. For the first time in the day I feel comfy. For two minutes or so. Suddenly, I’m torn out of the soothing snoozing by a disturbingly familiar sound. VUBÚÚÚ….GRRRRR. A sound of an animal that is certainly not a deer….nor a squirell. Unmistakeable sound. But this time it’s DAMN CLOSE!
Still half-asleep I mumble: “Some animal again”…Then I realize what’s going on. I bolt up on my elbows, blinking at Thomas in the dark. “I can hear that!”, he replies nervously with slightly riled tone. I can see his dead pan and eyes opened wide staring into the darkness.”Bam…there you have it….your SQUIRELL!”, a spiteful thought enters my mind. For a tiny little moment it almost makes me laugh. A smile on my face freezes in the very next second as another groan of the beast moving around just few meters far from our tent cuts the silence…and so begins the longest and the most terrifying night of our lives. A night that is hard to forget.
“Keep calm”, I say aloud…mostly to calm down myself. “We know what to do during bear encounter”. At least that’s what I thought. Thomas begins to quickly google some tips on how to behave in such situation. I don’t even have a connection. What he finds doesn’t add much comfort. It’s a mix of contracting information. With each piece of advice we are sinking into deeper and deeper shit. It goes like this:
We: “Let’s talk loudly.”
Internet: “Talk forcefully in a loud voice”
also the Internet: “Talk in a mild soothing voice not to infuriate the animal. Do NOT scream!
also Internet: “Scream. Chances are you will repel the bear.“
We: “If things would go wrong, at least we do have a pepper spray.“
Internet: “Common pepper spray (used for defense against people) DOES NOT work on bears. You need to have a special bear spray with different contents and caipsicin quantity”
We: “The heck?! Well so we will make a fire….like a flamegun…with lighter and deodorant.
Internet: “Fire attracts bears. It provokes their curiosity.
My: “OK, so if he attacks, we will play dead….That is generally recommended, no?”
Internet: “Yes. But playing dead is recommended if you encounter bear face-to-face on the trail. In such case you respresent a threat for the bear. If you lay down on the ground and pretend your own death, you eliminate the threat. Bear is likely to mind his own business after a while. If, however, a bear decides to enter your tent for example, that is a completely different situation. It was his conscious decision and at that moment you represent a prey, not a threat. If that happens, just fight with whatever you can.”
We: “Fight? With whatever you can? But HOW? Are you kidding me?“
VHRUM VHRUM…BRRÁÁH, resounds from the outside. “There are two of them“, says Thomas as he takes his eyes off the phone’s screen. “WHAT? No, no way!!!“, I shake my head disbelievingly, while trying to get the shivering of my entire body under control. I listen more carefully. “Indeed, there are two of them.” I can hear a roaring sound to the right of my head. A moment later, I can hear another vocal expression from somewhere to the left of our feet. The second bear seems to be a bit further away. “Holy sh***!“, I scream out slightly hysterically already. “I’m telling you, if these bastards can smell a fear, then we are fucked. Because mine must be stinking for miles”
“Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic”, I’m telling myself out lound. My teeth chatter as my body shakes and shivers uncontrollably.
“They write here that bears don’t like metallic sounds“, Thomas says. “But also they mention that each bear is a unique personality and what works on one doesn’t have to work on another”, he adds. His stoic and staid tone calms me down a little bit. “Mhmm, OK, metal, iron, metal…”, my brain jumps from one thought onto another. I begin to fish for something in my backpack. I fetch a travel size deodorant in a metal flacon and my pocket knife and begin to clink and clank with those two things.
GRRRR…BUHŮŮ….”Goddamn it, Tom, he’s getting closer!“
“Bear, bear, go to hell, we don’t want you around here“, we both begin to shout while I keep banging the metallic flacon.
“Youtube!”, I blurt out. “Quickly! Play some metallic sounds”
“Here you go, bastard“, says Thomas as he plays a video of someone banging on a cookware at full blast. I cringe in my sleeping bag hoping that the the tarp of the tent next to my face won’t get ripped suddenly by a huge claw.
Terrible loud cacophony of sounds worked out well. When we stop the video after a while, we hear the bear from a further distance.
We play this video about 12 times during the night. After few hours, it slowly stops working and we are forced to employ heavier weapons – METAL. Whenever the bear comes too close, we play anime battle music in combination with Yungblud’s Machine Gun which is the only rougher song I do have downloaded in my phone. I think I partly own my life to this song. Thanks, Yungblud!
This is how it goes the whole night long. We are spending the night by trying to repel two bears from our tent. By loud voices, metal music, Youtube videos and banging on things. It is desperate and frustrating. This agony lasts for 10 hours. Yes…10 hours, that’s 600 minutes or 36,000 seconds of ceaseless stress. 10 hours of permanent fear…fear for our own lives. 10 hours of insane mental strain. 10 hours of desperation. 10 hours of hell which I wouldn’t wish anyone to experience.
And what happened after those 10 hours? After the beasts finally left for good at around 6 in the morning? My body stopped “holding its shit together” and I started feeling like my guts are going to explode. I spent another 40 minutes with dewy forehead in painful crunches. Having no clue where the bears could be, I was still too terrified to go out of the tent . I was also afraid that by doing my needs, I could attract them back. Honestly I’m not sure what was worse – whether the fight with bears or the fight with my own gut. At 6.40 I really had to get out.
….And it was a near miss.
In retrospect, I wonder what was really happening there that night. What did the terrible bear sounds mean? Did they fight among themselves? If so was it for us (like a prey)? Or for territory? Or maybe we just didn’t interest them whatsoever and they were only handling their own disputes….? Were they angry? Afraid? Agressive? Or simply curious? Did I entice them with that bloody risotto? Or would they come anyways? I guess I will never know. What I do know since that night though is how beautiful it is to be alive….And I also know the true meaning of the phrase “to shit one’s pants with fear“.
My dear friends, be careful. And if you are trekking in a bear country, behave accordingly so that you don’t end up like we did. (Or at least minimize the chances). Happy trails!