A Bear Encounter – Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina

My good friend Charles sent me the email below last Friday about an adventure he had over memorial day weekend in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Western North Carolina, a park that I’ve spent plenty of time in over the years. Charles and his girlfriend Holly were following a pretty standard route from Newfoundland Gap in the higher elevations down to Deep Creek in the lower elevations along the Thomas Divide Trail. As an aside, the overlook at Thomas Divide near Cherokee, North Carolina just up the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the spookiest places I’ve ever been. The closest run-in with anything I’ve ever seen in person that I would describe as supernatural happened there when I was 17 years old. Ask me for the full story if you’re interested. The trails in this area are steep but not extremely remote, seeing wildlife along these routes is possible but not as much as some of the further out locations in the national park.

Here is Charles’ story, I’ve included the pictures inline which spoils the outcome a bit but you can probably guess what happened anyway. Wow!

For Memorial day Holly and I went on a backpacking trip to Deep Creek in the Smoky Mountains National Park. Everything was going well, until the second night when I ran into a bear. I was pumping water by the creek around dusk and a few meters down steam was a black bear. We rattled our pots and made lots of noise on our side of the creek and then went to hang our bear bags just to be on the safe side.

Now, by this time it was almost completely dark and when we came back into camp he was standing about 15 feet from us. I blew my emergency whistle and waved my hands and he scurried off. Well, needless to say we were both a bit concerned, neither one of us was going to sleep that well, so we decide to hike out the last six miles in the dark.I began to take down the tent and looked up to see that the bear had made a circle around us and was now standing 10 feet from me watching me take down the tent. Once again I moved toward him yelling shaking the brush to make myself appear larger, and began looking for a good rock to throw. Well, by that point it was dark and I was certainly ready to leave. I thought that he was associating me food, (I guess he came across a backpack or trash earlier in the week and had made the connection between humans and food) which is never a good combo. So, I told Holly that we would just leave the tent flat on the ground, leave the packs up in the bear bag rigging and hike out.

Those of you who have done deep creek before know the last 3 miles up to Newfoundland gap road is not easy, and its really not easy in the dark! I even looked behind us every few minutes to start with to make sure we weren’t being stalked. We spent the night in the car and hiked back down to claim the gear the following morning. Upon entering camp we realized that the tent and both threma rest had be completely shredded!! After seeing that, we were looking around us quite regularly 🙂 We stopped and talked to a park ranger on the way out who was very interested. In the end we are just happy to be back in civilization.