There we were, looking into the jaws of death!

Well, not quite.

Here's the story:

My best friend Sherry and I decided to go on a camping trip to the Delaware Water Gap. We got a camp site in Worthington State forest and arrived thursday night. One of my goals for the trip was to see bears.

Worthington has what they call a "bear problem". Simply put, this means that the bears consider people to be "caterers". They've gotten to the point where even when they can't smell anything, they recognize coolers as something that contains food and will open them. If they see a cooler in a locked car, they have been know to break the window to get to it. All food has to be locked in the trunk along with anything that smells like food such as tooth paste, soap, etc. You have to make sure you don't even leave any crumbs around.

We were visited by the local wildlife right away; a mouse got into our bread and ate a few slices and as we were sitting around talking a raccoon wandered by looking for unguarded food. Raccoons and deer visited the campsite every night and a skunk came by late saturday night.

Friday we decided to hike to the top of Mount Tamminy, one of the two main peaks of the Water Gap. The round trip is about nine or ten miles. About a mile and a half along, we were passing through an area with large ferns covering the ground as it sloped down to our right to a stream.

We were crossing a muddy patch in the trail and I was looking down at my feet when Sherry stopped suddenly. I looked up and about 15 yards ahead of us just to the right of the trail was a very large black bear (presumably female) at the base of a tree. Two cubs were climbing up the tree and their scrambling was the only sound we could hear.

The sight of the cubs terrified me because I know how dangerous a female can become if she thinks her cubs are threatened. We quickly backed up the trail and waited. Once we moved back up the trail we could see three more cubs farther down the slope. Two had a wrestling match that lasted about twenty minutes. We waited and watched about a half an hour until finally, with one brief glance in our direction, the mother bear crossed the trail and moved on up the slope. After a few minutes the cubs joined her and they all moved towards the top of the ridge.

We gave them a few more minutes then continued along the trail. We followed a beautiful stream for about a mile stopping every now and then to listen to the water and just enjoy the scenery. At that point the trail started up toward the top of mt. Tamminy. This last part of the trail was more difficult, because of the steepness and the fact that the trail was composed sharp rocks about the size of softballs/footballs. Many of these rocks were loose making footing treacherous on the steeper sections.

The trail finally flattened out on the top of Mount Tamminy where we had a pleasant surprise. The top of the mountain is covered in wild blueberry bushes. We followed the trail, crossing acres of blueberries, as it followed the ridge line. Climbing a number of boulders we reached a point where we could climb down onto an outthrust of rock overlooking the Delaware River. The front of the outcropping dropped off over a thousand feet to the river. On either side there were thick bushes and brambles.

After the hot hike to the top I pulled off my shirt to enjoy the breeze. I took off my hiking boots and socks and enjoyed the air on my feet. Sherry also removed her shoes and we sat on the left side of the outcropping to have lunch and watch the hawks gliding along the river, between our position and the peak on the PA side of the Gap. Sherry was sitting about three feet in front of me.

We had finished lunch and were sitting quietly, lost in our own thoughts while we continued to watch the raptors, when I looked up and saw a black bear standing in a gap in the bushes on the right side of the rock about 15 feet from us! I quietly said to Sherry "we seem to have company". At this point I wasn't too nervous. I figured that once he realized we were there he would just wander off about his own business. I turned out to be very wrong!

He moved toward us and began to sniff my shirt where it lay on the rock drying about ten feet from us. At this point we were talking fairly loudly at the bear trying to make him leave to get away from the noise. He moved up the rock behind me and for a moment I hoped that he would just continue crossing into the bushes on our side of the rock. I actually was calm enough to grab my camera and snap a picture. The bear, however, other ideas. He began to come down the rock towards me. At this point he was about six feet away. Having given up on our hope that he would just leave, we moved toward the other side of the rock grabbing at our packs and shoes. I managed to grab one of my boots and both socks. Sherry grabbed both of her shoes but dropped one as we climbed the rocks. Looking back I saw the bear sniff at my abandoned hiking boot then start up the outcropping towards us.

Moving barefoot at first then with just one shoe each, we moved over the boulders then onto the trail along the ridge, the bear coming ponderously after us. We painfully followed the trail trying to dodge the sharper rocks but finding it impossible to move quickly without doing some damage to our feet. As we moved along we tossed aside any garbage we were planning to pack out (banana peels, egg shells, peach pits, etc.) After about fifty yards along the trail we stopped and turned back to see "our friend" coming over the boulders and onto the trail. We moved along another thirty or forty yards and again stopped. We waited but did not see the bear again.

After about ten minutes a group of three hikers came along the trail. We explained to them what had happened, and after a few more minutes we all moved slowly (Sherry and I carefully placing our feet)along the trail toward the boulders. The bear was nowhere to be seen. We recovered our boots, my shirt and the bag of Oreos Sherry had thrown from her when she saw the bear.

We took a moment to gather ourselves, then started on the return hike. We didn't see any more bears on that hike or the next day but the paranoia created by those two encounters lasted for the remainder of our trip. Every sound was noticed, every blackened tree stump caught our attention.

All in all, since no people or bears were hurt, and I "got to see bears", I think the camping trip was a great success!

To see a rather poor picture of the bear in question click here.

To see a photo of the ledge where this took place (with some other hikers having lunch) click here.

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Last updated 7/17/98