Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Close encounters of the Black Bear kind in the Great Smoky Mountains national park

Being attacked by a black bear while hiking or camping in the Great Smoky Mountains national park has never been a fear that I have had even though I spend on an average day more than 8 hours deep in the Backcountry of the GSMNP with no one else around.

Monday's black bear attack on a small child in the Great Smoky Mountains national park did have me thinking while I was hiking from Lead Cove near Cades Cove up to the Appalachian Trail and down Eagle Creek Trail and back a 20 plus mile hiking trip. Besides a group of 5 teenagers near the AT I saw only one other person in the whole 10-1/2 hours I was in the woods.

Blackberries and blueberries are ripe for picking in the higher altitudes and made for an excellent snack after lunch and late in the afternoon. Blackberries and blueberries are both sought out and eaten by black bear so I was alert to their potential presence as well as the potential for snakes in the higher brush. I did in fact find a snake hiding in the brush near the Spence Field Shelter but there were no black bear to be seen.

On the final stretch back to my car on the last quarter of the Lead Cove Trail a little adventure was thrown my way. Being tired form hiking so long and working my way down hill with the aid of my walking sticks as dusk was setting in I had no interest in photographing an more birds, flowers and insects, I just wanted to get home.

While I normally am very quiet when walking in the woods I must have sounded like a herd of buffalo. I was paying more attention to the trail so I would not trip over any rocks than what was high in the trees - a mistake.

While rounding a blind curve I could see that the trail was clear but missed the fact that less than 40 feet from me a mother and her 2 cubs were up in a tree to my right. A loud grunt and the sight and sound of the 2 of them scrambling down the tree and into the ravine startled me and woke me up to the fact I had better pay more attention.

2 turns on the trail later I saw and heard a black bear in the distance to the right of me. He looked large but not full grown and ran further down the trail ahead and crossed in front of me and went up a hill to the left of me.

As I continued downhill his movement matched mine about 200 feet away from me. When I stopped he (or she) did as well and when I turned to walk back up the trail the was a black bear on the trail 50 or 60 feet away from me who got startled and ran into the brush. I turned around and headed back down the trail even though the bear to my left keep following me crashing through the brush.

Another 200 yards down the trail the bar decided to come towards me crossing the stream and towards the trail. At this point I put my emergency whistle in my mouth had pulled my tripod out of my large pack which I decided to leave on and extended it to be a defensive weapon and picked up some large rocks and started banging them together as he came up the creek bed onto the trail. The bear turned to me look startled and fled to my right climbing the hill and watching me behind brush. As I continued downhill I keep looking behind myself to watch the bear which finally lost interest and stayed up in the brush.

While I was not scared, I was concerned and followed the black bear safety rules understanding I could not outrun or outclimb and attacking black bear. If the other bear was not behind me, I would have not gone downhill towards the bear that was tracking me but would have exited the trail taking the Finely Cane Trail back to my car.

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