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Ticks, Bears and Covid-19: Spring Climbing in Canada

It's tick and bear season and non-essential travel is still discouraged

Rock climbing season kicked off this past weekend in many places across Canada thanks to covid-19 restrictions being lifted. Mountains and crags in national parks remain closed until at least the end of May.

Parks in Ontario, Quebec and B.C. remain mostly closed, but on the east coast many are now open. Skaha is scheduled to open on May 14, but locals are hoping to have that date pushed back to avoid long weekend crowds. The Smoke Bluffs are technically opened and locals are worried about the number of climbers that will be heading there over the next few weekends. See where provinces are in terms of reopening parks here.

Crags and multi-pitch routes in the Bow Valley were busy, as Alberta parks opened last week. Ha Ling was closed to prevent trail erosion. Backcountry areas, parking lots and roads were busy with out-of-towners visiting to access the peaks over the past few days, so hopefully everyone followed physical distancing guidelines.

Some things to remember for spring climbing: tick checks, bear spray, refresh old skills like communication and anchors, don’t leave valuables in the car and don’t leave trash (fruit peels and wrappers) or dog poop at the crag. Tick-checks are extremely important, because you don’t want to end up with a tick-born disease, especially these days, and wind up in the hospital. Bears are out and about, so carry bear spray on hikes and to climbing areas. This is not the time to let your guard down or underestimate the threats that surround us.

Reminders for tick checks: inspect every part of your body, as they can be as small as a poppy seed. Make sure to check between joints like knees, elbows and armpits, behind your ears and anywhere covered in hair.

In 2011, Canadian climbing legend Barry Blanchard encountered a bear while guiding near Lake Louise. After the ordeal, he said: “We started up the tree and we could hear the bear ripping apart our packs. After about half an hour of sitting in the tree, the tree started to vibrate and I realized the bear was coming up the tree. We had to go higher. When the wind gusts would come, I would lean into the wind, and the whole time the bear was snapping off branches, coming up the tree. It was terrifying. He went back to the packs and started ripping the packs apart, and he started coming to the tree again.” Blanchard recently told bear stories on Yamnuska Mountain Adventure’s Facebook page, watch here.

“I screamed at him to go away, threw a headlamp at him, and he started off down the trail,” he said. “We waited another half-hour in the tree. We thought after half an hour, maybe he’d be gone. We screamed for help some more, but he came back up the trail. All I can assume is he was waiting for us to come out of the tree.” The bear eventually took off, and about five minutes later, a hiker came across Blanchard and his client, and then another hiker came by and one of them was able to raise the alarm for help. A Parks Canada employee, armed with a shotgun, escorted Blanchard, his client and the two hikers down the trail to safety.

Non-essential travel is still discouraged and many climbing areas will remain closed for May. When you do head out to the trails and crags, remember to check for ticks, watch for bears and protect yourself and others during the covid-19 pandemic.

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