I tend to wake up early and am typically the first person out of the shelter and/or campsite. I really enjoy being on the trail first thing in the morning as the low angle sunlight first starts hitting the trees. I know that I’m in bear country, so I often find an old camp song about bears stuck in my head (where each verse is repeated in a sing-along):
The other day, I saw a bear
A great big bear, a way out there
He looked at me, I looked at him
He sized up me, I sized up him
My second day in the Smokies I lived the experience of that old camp song. As I was hiking down the trail I heard a noise up on the ridge to my left. It sounded like a person stumbling through the woods. People had told me that that’s exactly what a bear sounds like, so I stopped and looked towards the sound to see if I could see anything. I saw nothing.
I took a few steps forward and then heard the noise again. Once again, I stopped, looked, and saw nothing. I started moving one more time, i heard the noise and once again I stopped and looked. This time I did see something. I saw a great big bear! It charged down the hill towards the trail, towards about the first place that I’d stopped (10-20 feet behind me). It filled me with adrenaline, but at least it wasn’t charging at me!
I took a moment to process what I’d seen and then kept hiking up the trail. In about a quarter of a mile I came to a shelter. I told them about my experience and they said that they’d had bears around the shelter all night. As I headed up the trail again they jokingly warned me not to disturb anymore bears since the bears probably hadn’t slept much the night before because they’d been so busy keeping them up all night.
I laughed and walked on. About 1/4 mile later I came across a second bear. This one was in the trail about 20 feet ahead of me. As soon as it heard me it barreled down the hill and away from the trail, making a great big ruckus.
It seems like many if not most people hiking in the Smokies hope to catch sight of a bear while in the park. I feel like I’ve seen my fair share now!