Second day of Great Smoky Mountain hiking adventure
After staying in Russell Field shelter for a night with 8 other backpackers, it was off for a long day of hiking on the Appalachian Trail and the backcountry near Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. My first trail junction of the morning was at Mollie’s Ridge Shelter over three miles away.
I took a rest at the deserted shelter for about 15 minutes and moved on. I heard a sound in the woods and turned to see two beautiful buck deer coming up the mountain right towards me in formation. When they saw me they veered away and one paused for a photo op for a few minutes before heading off into the forest.
Read about my first bear encounter here: My first bear encounter in the Great Smoky Mountains
First of three Smoky Mountain bear encounters
A few minutes later, I again heard movement in the woods. This time it was no deer, no squirrel, and no cub bear. It was an adult bear, well more likely an adolescent. It was obviously not a cub and not an adult. Perhaps it was a 20 something bear. It looked like it weighed about 150-200 pounds.
A surge of adrenaline went through me as I stared the bear down from a distance of about a 100 feet. I never approached it any closer as I was too close already. I took a few pictures and put a little more distance between it by moving back on the trail slowly. He stared at me inquisitively.
I was a little nervous, but not really afraid as the bear was the same size as me. I felt there was no way it would risk an attack on an equal. Black bears actually eat more fruit and vegetables than meat, but they do supplement their diet with meat when they can get it. They usually will go after small prey though. The amount of times that black bears have attacked people for predatory reasons are so rare that you are probably 10 times more likely to get struck by lightning than be attacked by a predatory black bear.
I think the bear was thinking I might provide a hand out and was why he was sticking around. Once it became apparent to him this was not going to happen – he took off into the woods.
Bear encounter number 2
I commenced my hike. Literally, five minutes after this a black bear cub ran across the trail. Now there is much more of a chance of being attacked by a mother bear protecting its cub. I looked around for the mother bear, but I did not see it. I figured the cub ran in the direction of the mother, so if I walked forward I would be safe, and I was. I never saw the mother.
I hiked 20 miles on this day. I had to walk an extra 4 miles due to the Gregory Bald Trail being closed on the north side of Gregory Bald. I had to hike the Gregory Ridge Trail to the Parsons Branch Road and then take the Hannah Mountain Trail to campsite 14.
By the time I was on the Hannah Mountain Trail, it was twilight time, and the sun began to descend on the other side of the mountains. I had about 3 more miles to go to the campsite when once again I heard a sound in the woods. Usually when you hear these sounds, 90 percent of the time it turns out to be squirrels. On this trip most of them turned out to be bears.
Bear encounter number 3
Sure enough, another cub was climbing a tree not more than 50 feet away from me. I again scanned the area looking for the mother. I did not like how close I already was to the cub. I decided to just keep walking. I was a little worried the mother might be in front of me, which would put me between her and the cub.
I had an out though. I was hiking along a ridge with a steep incline down from the trail. If the mother bear appeared in front of me, and if it aggressively approached, I was going to jump off the edge. The incline was steep where I would have slid down the mountain about 20 feet, but it would not have been life or limb breaking as it was soft dirt along the side. It would have been a pain to climb back up, but it was better than the alternative. There is no way the mother would have followed if I had to do this as it would run to reunite with its cub.
Fortunately, I did not come across the mother. I am sure it was on the other side of the cub and was most likely responsible for it climbing the tree. It was a good thing I kept moving because I am sure the mother would not have appreciated me loitering so close to its vulnerable offspring.
Tips for solo hiking in bear country
- Make noise – You do not want to scare a black bear, especially one with cubs. I had a heavy backpack on, so I used it as an excuse to constantly groan, curse, and yell out load. There is no shortage of words and expressions to utter with a 50 plus pound pack on. Some of my favorites are motherf#cker, God damn it, Crap, holy shit, and the old reliable UGGGHHHH. You can also sing and talk out loud. Most bears when they hear you coming will get out of the way.
- Be especially loud when coming to a blind turn
- Read the park warnings and closures and avoid high bear traffic areas
Tips if you encounter a bear
- Leave a safe distance between you and the bear, if you are too close then slowly move back
- Do not run
- If the bear has cubs be relaxed and quiet. You do not want to be perceived as a threat
- If a solo bear does not leave then make noise. You can pound a stick against a tree, yell, stand tall, and even throw rocks.
- Most likely a mother with cubs will run away or quickly move away. If a mother with cubs does not leave then you should. It will not follow with cubs in tow.
- Have a plan in case you see a bear and take in account different scenarios
- Take pictures, but not too close
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