Smokies Bear Adventure
By Dan Addison
In 1979 I took a good friend on a 4 night camping trip
in the Smokies. We left Cosby Campground one late
morning in August on route to Walnut Bottoms. Hiking up Low Gap
with full packs, caused my hiking partner to question my enthusiasm
for this type of recreation. But once we hit the AT, the downhill
hike and the beauty of the Smokies help considerably. When we reached
the backcountry campsite there were already a couple groups of campers
set up there. So we walked upstream a bit and looked for a level
spot to set up our tent. We found a nice secluded area at the bottom
of a small hill and pitched our tent.
That night heavy rains flooded our tent and our
gear got soaked. But the rain stopped by morning so we grabbed a
quick breakfast and began to look for Gunter Fork Trail. The trail
was a bit was difficult to follow at first as it crossed a few small
streams that were swelled from the nights rain. This is a very nice
section of the trail with lush rhododendron, a cove of hardwoods
and scenic stream views. As the trail started to climb the rains
returned so we kept a steady pace.
Just off the trail to the right we saw a 10 foot
cascade that plunged into a wide inviting pool. It seemed like a
perfect spot for hot summer's day. Shortly after we passed a 150
foot cascade that started well up the side of the mountain. It appeared
as a waterfall at the top and then it flowed over a large rock slab
and into a pool right next to the trail. These were some incredible
sites, too bad the rain kept us from stopping. We passed 3 huge
hemlock tree that were up to 4 feet in diameter. Then during the
last mile or so, the rain stopped and sun started to break through
the clouds. The hillsides were covered by thick beds of sphagnum
moss. This was an most unusual and incredible site. When we reached
Laurel Gap shelter and it's beautiful grassy meadow the sun was
bright and the sky had turned blue. With the help of fellow campers
we built a fire, dried off our gear and changed into some dry clothes.
The evening was full of trail stories by the fire and a densely
star filled sky.
We headed out Balsam Mt Trail the next morning
on our way to the AT and Tri Corner Knob. The trail was full of
mostly healthy balsam fir trees with many dense groves. The forest
floor was covered with soft balsam needles and the trees towered
high above our heads. This day we really enjoyed some great high
elevation ridge hiking. The shelter at Tri Corner Knob was a bit
crowded but everyone seemed friendly as usual. We picked out some
bunks, cleaned up, cooked some dinner and relaxed. My partner and
I walked about a ¼ mile up the AT and found a secluded rock
to enjoy a few sips of bourbon and enjoy a sunset through the trees.
Some of the other campers were also
exploring the area when I heard someone say something about a bear.
We walked back to the trail and noticed some commotion and several
folks pointing down the steep sloping mountainside. Sure enough
there was a good size bear moving along the side of the mountain
about 75 feet away. Then the bear lurched up towards us and suddenly
we all began moving quickly down the trail back to the shelter.
When we returned the bear was nowhere to be seen and one bold hiker
stayed outside looking about. Suddenly he too jumped into the shelter
and locked the gate. Just then the bear entered the campsite and
walked around the side of the building. Then we heard the sound
of the bear as it climbed up the hill behind the shelter and on
the roof. It came to the front portion of the roof and pawed over
the edge towards the top of the shelter's door. To say the least,
it was a bit unnerving. This spectacle lasted long into the night.
I woke at dawn and saw the bear
sitting upright begging right in front of the shelter door. By first
light he was gone and so we ate a light breakfast, packed up and
hit the trail. As we hiked north down the AT were saw numerous piles
of purple bear scat. After the experience the night before, we were
both on bear alert. We hiked to Inadu Knob and then over Maddron
Bald still seeing bear tracks and scat all along the trail. Near
the bald we stopped and fired up our stove to have an early dinner
so we could avoid cooking food at the campsite. After we finished
our meal and headed down the trail we came upon a small bear heading
straight towards us. When it looked up and saw us he headed into
the woods and did a big circle around us. Then it climbed back onto
the trail and continued on it's way.
Soon we reached the cool, damp backcountry
campsite at Otter Creek. We quickly pitched camp and began to look
for fire wood. All the sticks we could find were wet and as hard
as we tried we couldn't get a fire started. It was getting late
so we began to search for trees to hang up our food. We tied a rope
around a stick and threw it over a lower branch. It was a difficult
feat because many of the lower branches were still 15 to 20 feet
high. Soon it got dark, very dark, so we climbed into the tent.
About ten minutes later we heard sounds around the tent so we began
to make noises hoping to scare off our late night visitor.
By first light we noticed our food
was gone so we checked to see if there was anything left. Two small
packets of instant coffee were all we could find, so that was our
breakfast that morning. Luckily it was our last day so we broke
camp and headed back to Maddron Bald on our way to Snake Den Trail.
This time as we hiked back over Maddron Bald we noticed bushes full
of blueberries and ate our fill. It quenched our thirst and our
We hiked back out to Cosby Campground and
civilization. As we climbed back into the car and headed
towards Gatlinburg we reflected on our adventures and the intense
beauty of the Smokies. After days of granola and dried fruit, pizza
and beer suited us just fine. Since that trip I have returned numerous
times and enjoyed many more memorable adventures.