"As I walked around the large rhododendron, I looked up and heard the loudest scream I've ever heard."
At SMG, our guides head out daily to show off the amazing places and things the GSMNP has to offer. While we always head out onto trails that our guides know well, sometimes the trails have changed. This is something our guide, Jared, found out for himself in one of his scariest (and most exciting!) moments on trail to date.
It was a nice cool morning when we arrived at the trail head of our hidden waterfalls hike in the Greenbriar area of the park. We had a family of four including a young 6-year-old girl and a couple in their early 30's. We went through the normal pre-hike conversation talking about the dangers we could encounter on trail and what to do if we encountered such danger. Our guides always discuss what to look out for from poison ivy to bear and how we should respond to each encounter with these things. What we didn't know was that this conversation would end up being very important down trail.
We hopped on trail and took off. It seemed like everyone was really enjoying themselves. Everyone made it through our creek crossing just fine and the first few cascades were beautiful as usual. We made a little war paint and put it under our eyes (always a favorite for the little ones) and continued up the trail, ready for battle. There is one point, just before a side trail to another creek and waterfall, where a rhododendron has grown out of the inside corner of the trail. It completely blocks your view of the trail ahead so you have to step around it to continue on. As I walked around the large rhododendron, I looked up and heard the loudest scream I've ever heard.
We had just come upon a 250+ pound black bear standing in the middle of the trail not 10 feet in front of us. It seemed as if all at once the 6-year-old screamed and ran back into her parents arms, my heart completely stopped and the bear took off running down the trail in the opposite direction. At this point, we all stopped and evaluated the situation and our own condition. The bear had evidently stopped in the trail because a deer had recently died there and it was a free, protein-filled snack. After a brief refresher on "bear etiquette" (aka don't run) and making sure everyone felt comfortable continuing, we finished the hike and had a wonderful time. Everyone was a little nervous, but excited that they had such a close encounter and lived to tell about it!
On any of our trips that go out, we always make safety our first priority. It's not uncommon to see wildlife on trail and it can be very fun if you take the right precautions and respond appropriately. Bear are often-times more scared of us than we are of them and will respond much the way this bear did but we must always be cautious. Want to know more about how to handle a wild black bear while in the mountains? Check out this article from the National Park Service and keep on adventuring!