I hope the bear experts on the site can shed light on several aspects of a black bear encounter my husband and I had some years ago in the Sierra.
It was mid-May, about 9500 feet, well above timber line, and the ground was almost completely covered with snow, except for a few bare patches. I concluded: "No bear in his right mind would be here." So we did not bury our food in a snowbank. Mistake. Big Mistake.
Shortly after we fell asleep, we were wakened by banging pots. A bear walked across the campsite, grabbed my pack, which contained all our freeze-dried food, in her teeth and disappeared into the darkness. My husband tracked her by flashlight and moonlight -- the dragging pack left a clear path. Soon I heard snarls and growls, and went off to rescue my husband.
I came upon my husband, a bear and her yearling cub. Here is where I would like your input. It seemed to us both, and I can't tell you why, body language, I suppose, plus something in the snarling, that the cub was saying "Let me at him!" and the mother was saying "Be quiet! I'll handle this!" We froze. After what seemed like a long time, the mother and cub turned and went off. Q1: Is this interpretation plausible, or are we just anthropomorphizing?
The two bears had ripped open my pack, pulled out stuff, zeroed in on the freeze-dried food, eviscerated five packages of freeze-dried food and had eaten it all. Q2: When the food reconstituted in their stomachs, did they get stomach aches, or are their stomachs large enough so the expanding food was no problem?
The bears stopped at a layer of very dirty clothes near the bottom of my pack, and so missed the last package of freeze-dried food, which was a reserve. Q3: Is it plausible that dirty, smelly clothes repelled the bears? It could have been that my husband interrupted them, but I'd like to think the smelly clothes stopped them.
We hiked out for two days on one pkg of FD food and tea. The sugar and all the fresh food were gone. A great experience!
Clarification: There were no established bear boxes -- we were far off trail. This was before the era of portable bear canisters -- or at least before it was common to use them; in any case, they aren't practical for a 14 day trip, which this was. We should have buried our food in a snow-bank; it was a big mistake not to. We have used the snow bank strategy successfully many times; once we saw bear paw-prints going right over our snow-covered cache. For Sierra black bears, the snow bank trick works. We have no experience with brown bears.