I was the first one in the shelter to get up. It had been a fairly quiet night; occasional snoring from a couple different locations. No mice, that I noticed. I awoke at 6am and quietly started to pack up. These shelters have two levels and I was on the top. It’s a hop down to the lower level, then a short step down to the ground.
Last night someone had hung their pack on the same hanger I was using. While trying to get them both off my pack fell to the ground with a quiet thud. This sound disturbed one hiker who, in half sleep, said “OKAY WHAT?….oh, it’s just a person… not a bear.” Then he promptly returned to full sleep.
Finally I went out to the bear cables to retrieve my food bag. It was still dark and I had my headlamp. As I reached the cable I heard a noise nearby and turned to see shining eyes maybe 50 feet away through the brush. The creature started huffing and puffing—the warning sounds a bear makes if you’re too close. I finished lowering my food bag and quietly retreated to the shelter.
I hiked along uneventfully all morning. I passed by a shelter at mid day and there was one guy there. I said hello and asked where he was hiking today. It turns out David was a “Ridge Runner” hired by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) to monitor a certain area of the AT, and educate hikers on Leave No Trace practices, among other things. I had heard about these people but had never run into one. I think they are hired for the peak hiking season, and mainly in Georgia and North Carolina, the first two states for most AT thru hikers.
At mid day I stopped at a shelter for lunch and a water break. There were three others there for the same reason. They were called Rooster, Bear Spray, and Bootlegger from northern Mississippi. This was the second group I have met from Mississippi in the park. They came last year and hiked through half of the park and returned this year for the other half. We ate lunch together and talked before heading in opposite directions.
At lunch I had more or less decided to stop at the last allowable campsite in the park. It seemed a bit too far to make it the whole way out—which would have been another 6+ miles beyond the last campsite. I could reach the camp around 4:30pm which was a little early to stop, but that was my plan. As I got near the campsite, around 4pm, I saw a large bear hanging out right along the trail in front of me. I made noise to ensure he noticed me. He didn’t seem to care and just stood there passively, with his head out over the trail. He wasn’t doing anything but waiting. It was almost like he was a toll collector with a paw out demanding a treat.
I backed up slowly but he didn’t seem at all stressed by my presence, unlike the bear at the cables this morning. I annoyed him a bit with some more noise and he turned and moved a few feet, like he was ready to leave. Then I stood waiting and took a short video of him after trying to get him to move.
Finally, I had to shift gears. I put my phone away and looked around. I was standing on a nice pile of fist-size rocks. I sent a few of these in his direction. After the third rock came very close to him he decided to move off. I threw a couple more as he went, just to make sure.
At that point, not knowing if I would be alone at the campsite, I easily convinced myself to continue downhill and out of the park. It was another 6 miles to the Fontana Dam Shelter, called the “Fontana Hilton” because of the unique amenities it offers: bathrooms, trash cans, power outlets, and hot showers. This sounded a lot better than a night in the campsite with my new bear friend, who at this moment is probably still hanging around there looking for treats.
I crossed Fontana Dam on the way.
I reached “The Hilton” around 7pm and found a nice spot to set up the hammock.
Given I had finished the Smokies in three days, I decided to take a rest day tomorrow. Fontana Village, the nearby resort, provides will shuttle you the two miles to their facility: they have a General Store, a laundromat, and a couple restaurants. It seemed like a great place for a rest day—and I figure there is time to take a “zero” and still make it to Springer Mountain by May 27th, my scheduled pick up day.