Originally published on 2 June 2012.
Val and I got into a bit of a situation on our Appalachian hike today… Not only did we see two bears, the mama bear charged us! And we’ve lived to tell the tale! It all started when we decided to go hiking in the Shenandoah Mountains today. We were excited and having a great time out there for a while. We saw some chipmunks, pretty red birds, nice flowers, even a doe and her fawn.
We saw some other people on the trails, chatted with them a bit, then decided to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail. We met a few hikers who were doing the entire thing—Georgia to Maine! One of the guys we met was from Scotland and had just finished high school, and this is how he decided to spend a few months before starting college! Cool kid, awesome accent. He said he was pretty disappointed that he was half way through and hadn’t seen a bear yet. Oh, the irony.
Valarie and I had a snack and hiked a bit further, then decided to turn back and head to the car. We were trying to be quiet so maybe we’d see more deer, but as luck would have it, instead we stumbled upon… BLACK BEARS! We both stopped and stayed quiet for a minute. I knew running away and getting excited would be a bad idea, but I didn’t know what else to do or how to get out of the situation. Luckily for us, Val remembered the right things to do in this situation. Thank goodness she’s my best friend!
Apparently you’re supposed to make some noise to let them know you’re there (you don’t want to sneak up on a bear!). So we talked in normal volume and tones, and we clapped our hands, and when we thought they were gone, we started walking again. A few steps later… Here they come! The two of them must have gotten spooked further ahead, because they were rushing down the trail in our direction! So we turned right around and walked—not ran—in the direction we’d just come from, making noise and talking in regulated tones the whole way. At one point, I looked back at Val to see how far behind us the bears were, but they were only a couple of yards away and walking toward us–not far at all! I knew I couldn’t let Val know about that because I think she was flipping out inside even more than I was. She said the look on my face said I had a secret, but that I couldn’t tell—and she was so right!
We kept walking, talking, clapping, singing, etc., hoping to see more people, but we didn’t see anyone. I looked back again a couple of minutes later, and while the bears were no longer there, we still did not want to go back that direction. We made it to a clearing at a creek and sat there for a while. We both needed to sit down for a minute, and we wanted to wait till we saw more people coming from one direction of the trail or the other.
We sat for about 15 minutes or so, sang a fabulous rendition of Zippedee-doo-da, and when we didn’t see anyone (or thankfully anyTHING!), we decided to keep walking the direction we had come from (away from the bears) and find Skyline Drive, which is the highway that runs through the mountains. We had remembered seeing it just a half-mile or so up the trail, and we knew we could follow it to where we’d parked my car.
Up the trail we went, praying the whole way not to see any other bears! We came to the highway and tried to find the best way to get through the weeds without getting poison ivy (Val is highly allergic, and I don’t know if I am or not). We started up one way, I got bombarded with thorns; we went up another way, and we made it! Ironically enough, at the place where we came up to the road, there was a deer crossing sign. If you ask me, it would be better to post a BEAR crossing sign!
We flagged down the first vehicle we saw; we were not entirely too worried about getting arrested for hitch hiking–we figured a bear sighting could be a special exception! The sweet elderly couple who picked us up was from Louisiana, and they were happy to give us a ride back down to the visitor center/parking lot. Whew!
We went inside the little gift shop/diner where we’d parked the car and asked the ladies working there if we needed to alert anyone that we had a bear sighting. They said no, that people see them all the time. They were a bit more sympathetic when we told them how close they were and that they were following us down the trail! Thinking about it later, we realized how terribly things could have turned out had we done anything differently!
We got in the car to find a nice overlook where we could eat our picnic lunch, saw another deer crossing the road in front of us, and we just so happened to stop at the “Rocky Top Overlook.” We were eating our peanut butter and bagels, chatting about our close encounter, and that’s when I told Val how close they had been. I’m very glad I didn’t tell her before when I looked back and saw them just a couple of yards away. A “Bearable” distance indeed! (So said Val.)
We found out later that being charged by bears like that is called a “bluff charge,” which is what black bears do when guarding territory where they’ve just killed something. In which case, it’s REALLY good that we didn’t go back by the place again later! Apparently it’s very rare to be charged by black bears, but the one exception is when you’re in their territory, as we unknowingly were. All the things we did were exactly right, especially since we were in the very rare instance of being “run off” by black bears!
Have you ever had a close encounter of the animal kind? Tell me about it in the comments section!