Bag lunches and Black Bears

Trip Start Aug 18, 2011
Trip End Aug 27, 2011

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What I did
Hiking Mount LeConte

Flag of United States  , Tennessee
Sunday, August 21, 2011

The alarm went off at 6AM and I was up with a flurry. This was the day I had been looking forward to the most on our vacation.  A chance to get into the back country of Smokey Mountain National Park.  Aside from the tremendous views and unique geology, the park is home to the second largest black bear population in the continental United States  Additionally the Smokey's house North America's largest Salamanders and if that wasn't enough, it has a large population of rattle snakes.  I'm all for seeing animals in their natural environment but even I can do without rattle snakes.

The morning was filled with a series of cursing and stammering as I hurriedly put together our hiking gear and prepared lunch.  Katie had the luxury of sleeping through my rants.  We were out the door by 7 and on the trail a little before 8.

We took the Alum Cave Trail to the summit of Mount LeConte.  The Alum Cave trail is described by many as "the classic Smokey Mountain Trail."  The 11 Mile out and back trail certainly lived up to it's reputation.

The trail started out fairly flat and after a brief mile we were at the "Alum Cave."  The "Cave" was more of a tunnel then a Cave, but still extremely cool.  A rock stair case guides you through the dimly lit tunnel until you reach the opening on the other side.

After another mile and half we came to "The Bluffs" which was a wide open cliff side that extended thousands of feet in the air. The rock color was very unique to the area. I heard something about iron being extracted from the bluffs in the 19th century, but I might be making that up...

The trail continued to navigate along the mountain side offering extraordinary views and relatively difficult inclines.  Despite the elevation gain Katie and I cruised to the top of the 6,500' mountain.  Months of hiking in New Hampshire's White Mountains had prepared us well for this hike.  At 6,500', LeConte was taller then any mountain in New Hampshire.  Despite that, the hike was never as strenuous as even some of the easier hikes in the Whites.
The White Mountain's have been beaten down by brutal winters and tremendous wind.  This makes for a lot more "rock scrambling" and what I call "technical hiking."  The Smokey's don't go above tree line and although we only did 1 fairly long hike, from my experience, it wasn't nearly as strenuous or technical.

Just below the summit was LeConte Lodge.  The lodge looked like a turn of the century village.  The cabins and office were lit by candle. Some buildings had generators although I got the feeling they were rarely used.  It was run by volunteers who lived their for a period of time during the hiking season. 

Before we reached the lodge Katie saw something in the woods. Suddenly an enormous Black Bear filled a small side trail.  What happened next will live in Mount LeConte lore forever!

The Bear was 8' tall and a thousand pounds if he was a pound.  The blood thirsty creature locked eyes with my wife. Clearly we were in grave danger and once he was done with us the caretakers at the lodge would be ripped to pieces.  Mount LeConte needed a hero!
Thinking fast, I let out a heroic cry and chased the bear down the mountain saving Katie and the caretakers

Now, an outsider may have mistaken my heroic cry for a feminine "yelp."  And it may have been revealed to us later that a 130lb female volunteer at LeConte Lodge had already chased the same bear away from the Lodge, but I digress! 

All joking aside, the Bear was beautiful and it was thrilling to see him in his own environment.  Generally speaking, Black Bears are little risk to humans.  Smashing rocks and pans together is usually enough to scare them off and in this case, my startled yelp worked just as well.
That isn't to say Black Bears are harmless. They can certainly injure or even kill people, but unless your antagonizing them or in some way threatening them or a cub, you shouldn't have a problem.  So despite the strong desire to chase after the Bear and get a once in a life time photograph, my better judgment kicked in and I let him go on his way. 

We bought a bag lunch at the lodge and the fog gave us very few opportunities to take pictures of the great views.  The hike down the mountain was uneventful. Katie set a torrid pace and we covered 5.5 miles in just under 2 hours.

We spent the rest of the night relaxing and enjoying our last day in Tennessee.  We ate a traditional bachelor meal (bacon covered hotdogs) in an effort to empty the cooler before the mornings drive across North Carolina.

Katie will fill you in on that in the morning...
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Monika on

Sounds like quite the adventure! Can't believe you two saw a bear :) and the pictures came out great! (I especially like the turtle one- ha ha) Great job scaring the bear away with your manly call Kevin!!!

Manda on

Wow Kevin 11! That was quite a detailed account of your adventures. The bear story is crazy! I told Katie that you have to start carrying sticks of dynamite like our tour guide in Alaska. We came really close to a baby bear, and were quite nervous that Momma Bear was lurking nearby.

Can't believe you guys felt that earthquake...insane! People in CT say that felt it too, and some buildings were evacuated around here.

Miss you guys!

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