The Forest Service has introduced new food storage regulations in Desolation Wilderness requiring overnight users to now carry “a canister designed to prevent access by bears.” Simply put, bear canisters are now required in Desolation Wilderness. This impacts everyone recreating in Desolation Wilderness, including Pacific Crest Trail and Tahoe Rim Trail hikers.
And to reiterate in case of any doubts, yes, this applies to PCT thru-hikers. Being a thru-hiker does not exempt you from the rules (except the ones that say you should bathe regularly and shouldn’t eat candy with every meal).
Effective July 18, 2022, and through July 17, 2025 (this will presumably be extended), anyone found without proper food storage will be subject to fines up to $5,000 per individual, $10,000 per organization, imprisonment up to six months, or a combination of both. That said, it should be noted that signs posted at ranger stations cite the fine as being $150 (still no excuse to not carry a bear canister).
The Pacific Crest Trail and Desolation Wilderness
Where exactly do Pacific Crest Trail hikers now need to carry a bear canister in Desolation Wilderness? Prior to this order, northbound PCT hikers were able to ditch their bear canisters as early as Sonora Pass (Kennedy Meadows North or Bridgeport), but many choose to ship their bear canisters from South Lake Tahoe.
Access to South Lake Tahoe where the PCT crosses Highway 50 is immediately south of Desolation Wilderness which means the new order is (almost) just an expansion of where thru-hikers already needed bear canisters. It wouldn’t make sense to mail a bear canister home from Sonora Pass and then have it mailed out again to South Lake Tahoe (or Echo Lake); hikers will simply have to carry them for longer.
The Pacific Crest Trail is within Desolation Wilderness for a total of 21.7 mi / 34.9 km. Heading northbound, the southern boundary of Desolation Wilderness is at PCT mile 1095.5, and the northern boundary is at PCT mile 1117.2 (southbound miles,1558.1 and 1536.4 respectively). Echo Lake is not located in Desolation Wilderness.
Could PCT thru-hikers avoid having to carry a bear canister in this section by simply hiking through the entirety of Desolation Wilderness in a single day? Yes. Most hikers over 1,000 mi / 1600 km into a thru-hike won’t see this as much as an obstacle. However, Desolation Wilderness is beautiful and it would be a shame to rush through it to avoid having to carry a bear canister for a few more days. But do what makes you happy (so long as you’re respecting the rules and the bears).
Carrying a bear canister through Desolation Wilderness means either picking it up or dropping it off in Truckee, California accessed via Highway 40 (PCT mile 1153.4 NOBO / 1500.2 SOBO) or Interstate 80 (PCT mile 1157 NOBO / 1496.6 SOBO). The PCT also crosses a road at Baxter Pass – just north of the Desolation Wilderness border, but getting a ride to/from here would probably be more trouble than it’s worth to just carry a bear canister a bit further.
Overall, these new regulations mean that most Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers will be carrying their bear canisters for an additional 58.6 mi / 94.3 km – likely two or three days hiking for most hikers this deep into a thru-hike.
Which Bear Canisters Are Allowed?
UPDATE: According to multiple people who have spoken directly with Forest Service, Ursacks are not permitted under this new order – hard-sided canisters only.
The information currently available leaves it unclear whether an Ursack will be permitted, but the order states “canister” which an Ursack is (arguably) not. Signs at ranger stations note “hard-sided” containers. Hopefully, clarification will follow.
The following is a list of the bear canisters currently approved for use on the Pacific Crest Trail.
|BearVault BV425||$73.50||28 oz / 800 g||305 in3 / 5 L||Plastic|
|BearVault BV450||$81||33 oz / 936 g||440 in3 / 7.2 L||Plastic|
|BearVault BV475||$87||37 oz / 1.03 kg||565 in3 / 9.3 L||Plastic|
|BearVault BV500||$92.50||41 oz / 1.162 kg||700 in3 / 11.5 L||Plastic|
|Counter Assault Bear Keg||$80||60.8 oz / 1.724 kg||716 in3 / 11.7 L||Plastic|
|Model 812 Garcia Backpackers' Cache||$100||44 oz / 1.247 kg||610 in3 / 10 L||Plastic|
|Bare Boxer||$80||22 oz / 634 g||275 in3 / 4.5 L||Plastic|
|Udap NO-FED||$75||38.4 oz / 1.089 kg||608 in3 / 9.96 L||Plastic|
|LIGHTER1 Lil' Sami||$130||30 oz / 850 g||305 in3 / 5 L||Plastic|
|LIGHTER1 Big Daddy||$140||36 oz / 1.021 kg||650 in3 / 10.7 L||Plastic|
|Wild Ideas Bearikade Scout||$275||28 oz / 794 g||500 in3 / 8.2 L||Carbon fiber|
|Wild Ideas Bearikade Weekender||$309||31 oz / 879 g||650 in3 / 10.7 L||Carbon fiber|
|Wild Ideas Bearikade Blazer||$333||33 oz / 936 g||750 in3 / 12.3 L||Carbon fiber|
|Wild Ideas Bearikade Expedition||$370||36 oz / 1.021 kg||900 in3 / 14.75 L||Carbon fiber|
Source: Forest Service Order 03-22-11
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