Thursday, April 8, 2010
Whitley Gap Shelter & Scaredy Bear...
Today is Thursday, April 8th and I'm enjoying an unscheduled town stop. The weather was blowing in a severe thunder storm and I was close enough to Helen, Georgia to make the executive decision to avoid the rain, mud and discomfort that was on its way. That won't always be the case and I'm sure I'll get my fair share of nasty trail weather ... but I'm pretty darned thrilled to have a roof, bed and private bathroom tonight! Whoo hooo... hot showers rule!
So, before leaving the trail I encountered "Scaredy Bear," a self trail named guy who, based on his accent, was most likely from the New York area. I had made my way to the Whitley Gap Shelter, which is 1.2 miles off of the trail. I chose to go there because I was too tired to make it to the next shelter (another four and a half miles away) and I didn't want to tent camp away from a shelter because I'd have to hang my food bag in a tree. You see, trail shelters have elaborately constructed food hanging systems that dissuade even the most determined bear, squirrel, raccoon, mouse or whatever else has a hankering for human eats. I'd been warned that there were active bears in the area and made the decision to only camp at established shelters with food hanging systems.
Walking 1.2 miles, just to get to a shelter, is almost unheard of which is why, once I got there, I wasn't surprised to find that I had the whole place to myself. The afore mentioned access trail wasn't easy and I found some tent sites and fire rings about half way to the shelter. Since I needed water and, according to the map, it was located at the shelter I kept going. The previous day's water source had been silty and somewhat bug infested so I envisioned a well with a pipe and cool, clean water pouring out of it. I hadn't encountered anything like that yet but heck ... if I was going to walk that far on such a difficult access trail then I could daydream about resupplying from a quality water source!
By the time I arrived it was about dinnertime so I quickly went through my nightly routine before zipping into my sleeping bag and drifting off to sleep around 8:30pm. Sad but true ... I think my bedtime now rivals that of my nieces and nephews!
About 11:00pm I was awoken by the sound of tent poles clicking together followed by a tent billowing open in the breeze. I wondered who the heck would traverse that access trail at that time of night. The sound of their routine was that of someone just trying to get their tent up and get to sleep ... and that's what they did ... so I returned to sleep as well. The next morning I awoke early, as usual, and tried to pack up my gear as quietly as possible so as not to disturb my new neighbor.
I carried my pack over to the shelter platform, retrieved my food bag from the hanging system and pulled out my new MSR Pocket Rocket (recently purchased to save pack weight over my MSR Whisper Light Stove - which is now on a slow truck back to California). Steaming coffee in hand I watched as a tired man crawled out of his tent and made his way over to my location. About half way to me he called out an apology, "I'm really sorry if I woke you up last night. I didn't mean to come in so late." "That must have been some access trail to make your way on using a headlamp," I said in return. He agreed and informed me that he'd been run out of his last camp by a 500 pound bear who was after his food bag, which he'd hung from a tree.
Apparently, he'd set camp about three miles south of my location, fixed dinner and then hung his food bag 12 feet off the ground using proper bear bag hanging technique. He said the bear didn't even wait for it to get fully dark before walking right into camp, standing on his hind legs and swiping at the food bag with his front paws. Out of reach, the bear climbed the tree and clawed at the rope. Not wanting to lose his food the hiker threw a stick at the bear and yelled at it too. The bear climbed down from the tree, totally unafraid of his two legged competition, and huffed loudly in the direction of the now completely scared backpacker. Luckily it walked off into the woods and left my now completely animated friend to quickly gather his gear and hike at light speed up the trail to the next shelter with a bear bagging system!
He pronounced that his new trail name was Scaredy Bear and I introduced myself as "Yahtzee." We exchanged some additional trail info, mostly about bear stories and trail conditions, before I shouldered my pack and headed back up the 1.2 mile access trail to reconnect with the AT.
I was about half way back to the AT before I remembered that I'd forgotten to take a picture. When I'd arrived the evening before and trekked down to the water source ... it was an old stone well with a large pipe sticking out of it. The pipe poured cold, clean wonderful water. It was just as I'd envisioned.