Monday, October 26, 2009

Bears in the GSMNP, don't be afraid

If you're a hiker, don't fear the bears.

We had 6 bear sightings last week in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park on 2 hikes. Five were from the hike up the Appalachian Trail from Fontana Dam to Shuckstack.

There seemed to be a lot of campsites closed due to 'bear activity'...and a bellicose new sign I hadn't seen before: "Campsite #XX is closed due to aggressive bear activity."

Aggressive? From what we saw, these animals were anything but. They could not wait to get out of view of us. One came down a tree so fast that I thought it would fall.

I sent a photo of the above sign to my father. He sent me a few hysterical texts, hinting that I was putting my life and Iska's in grave danger. Absurd. Bears don't go after hikers. They go after the smell of food, smells usually created from cooking at a campsite.

This bear photo I took at a distance of about 50' with 3X zoom. Isn't he cute? This bear was in our path just off the trail and when I yelled at him, and waved my stick, he promptly left. I followed him a little ways and when I got too close, he let me know by squaring around on all fours, facing me. Like he was saying, 'don't mess with me.' I didn't, I took the photo and left.

The only circumstances that I could see that a bear would be aggressive to a hiker is if a bear were surprised and had no easy way to run away or if you got in between a mother and cub. Otherwise, don't fear the bears. They have an extreme fear of humans and your fear of them is not healthy during an encounter. You should stand your ground and ready your hiking pole or walking stick just in case.

Fontana Lake and the Great Smoky Mountains - Oct. '09

Fontana was as beautiful as ever.

Four nights on the boat in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains, an ideal getaway. The fall colors were nearly at a peak.

Iska and I did two hikes, saw 6 bears and a lot of beautiful trees.

Despite the cool temperatures, I swam everyday. The water temperature was about 65 degrees and one morning when I swam, the air temperature was 40 degrees, but it was sunny.

The boat ran great and due to some high winds and showers, we kept the canvass up most of the time and the heat on inside at night. The new electric blanket made the bed quite cozy. The weather was generally mild (near 70 during the day, upper 40s at night) except on the last day when a cold front came through, Sat night it was in the 30's. We had one rainy day but were able to hike everyday we were there. The rainy day was great for some evening movies.

We did the Shuckstack tower hike from Fontana Dam and the High Rocks hike from Forney Creek - 16 miles roundtrip and 3500' climb. Unfortunately, High Rocks peak was socked in with fog and quite cold.

Here are descriptions of the photos from top to bottom (click on photos to enlarge) :

1) Morning fog - looking north toward the Welch Ridge from Fontana Lake.

2) Me and the boat

3) View from Shuckstack tower

4) Dawn on the lake

5) Boat at Chambers Creek

6) Shoreline near the dam

7) View north from Shuckstack

8) Iska hiking in the rich colored forest, Bear Creek Trail

9) Iska at an overlook on the Appalachian Trail near Shuckstack

10) Iska hiking

11) Me swimming on a 40 degree morning

12) Iska doing yoga stretches on shore in the morning sun

13) Iska and I on the roof of Shuckstack Tower