• Otter Views: Stalking the elusive BPFC

    by Tom Stevens

    A mid-week closure at my workplace created a four-day window just wide enough for a mad dash up to Yosemite. My plan was to camp at a little-known back country lake I had visited sometime in the previous century.

    Much had changed in the interim, including my readiness. While never a mountaineer or a serious wilderness hiker, in my past life I always kept “back packing stuff” on hand for occasional treks through Haleakala or Yosemite. That was all history now.

    Also history was the springy, resilient stride that once propelled me along crunchy mountain trails, heartily singing “vol de ri, vol de ra!” This would be a more feeble, gasping, rickety ascent.

    As I set out to replace my camping stuff, I found good news and bad news. Luckily, pack design had advanced considerably, so a sleek body-hugging unit replaced the bulky, metal-frame Kelty beneath which I had staggered since 1970. Tents, cookware and rain flies had also teched up in the interim.

    The bad news awaited me on-line. I had last visited this “little known” lake in the pre-internet stone age. Now it was the subject of websites, blogs, You Tube videos, and starred reviews from hikers world-wide. Some sobering information also appeared amid the fine print on the National Park Service site.

    “Before entering posted back country areas, you must obtain a wilderness permit,” the site advised. Somewhat further down, it added: “In order to obtain a wilderness permit, you must have a Bear Proof Food Container.”

    This was doubly alarming. For one thing, it negated one of the great sporting thrills of back country camping: cramming your food into a nylon stuff sack, hoisting the bag by rope up a tree each night, and praying the bears wouldn’t get it.

    Even more troubling was the directive’s use of capital letters. Apparently there was now an officially vetted and agency-approved Bear Proof Food Container (hereafter, BPFC). I couldn’t just cobble something together. Fretful this new requirement would derail my tight time table, I called local camping gear purveyors. As I had feared, the BPFC proved elusive to obtain on short notice.

    “We’re all out,” the first salesperson said. “End of season, you know?”

    The second was more encouraging. “We have one left,” he said, but then brought the hammer down. “It’s $75.”

    The third call produced mixed results. “We’re out of the ones for purchase, but let me forward you to the rental department,” a sales associate said. After sustained clicking and some buzzy music, the rental clerk came on the line.

    “We have two containers left,” she said. “If you’re a member, the rental is $10 for the first day and $3 each day thereafter.”

    “And if I’m not a member?”

    “Then there’s a $100 deposit. But the membership fee is only $20, so you should just join up.”

    I was heavily tapped out at that point, so I went to Plan B. A friend who is a member kindly offered to rent the BPFC for me. I couldn’t wait to see what high-tech marvel merited a $100 deposit. Would it be a lightweight titanium missile with a threaded nose cone? Or perhaps some incredibly tough yet collapsible uber-wire cage?

    What finally appeared was a stout, squat, weighty cylinder of thick blue plastic with a black plastic screw-on lid. It looked like a cookie jar of Soviet-era manufacture.“

    This is the famous BPFC?” I asked.

    “See this little tab on the edge of the lid?” my friend demonstrated. “A human finger can depress it to secure the lid, but a bear claw can’t get at it.”

    “Where should I keep the container?”

    “The lady said far from your campsite, on a level area away from rivers, lakes or steep ravines. Apparently the bears swat the containers around, and they can roll for long distances.”

    “So my food will be secure each night, but I won’t know where to find it in the morning?”

    “Something like that,” she said, handing me the BPFC. Noticing my crestfallen look, she added: “Maybe you could hoist it up into a tree.”

    posted to Cedar Street Times on September 7, 2012

    Topics: Otter Views

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