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003 Avoiding Black Bear Attacks and Hiking the Appalachian Trial Near Clingmans Dome in Tennesse

Posted by on March 13, 2014
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Bob Ward

Fiction author with a zest for adventure travel. Blogs, tweets, videos, and pins for research and fun. He also hosts Ward's Adventure Travel Research & Trip Journal, a weekly podcast available on EFN, iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and more.

Dad and I start this podcast episode (#003) with a bit of off-topic rambling about various subjects we find amusing and chat-worthy.

Then, at marker 22, we get to the meat of episode, specifically how best to avoid black bear attacks on the AT–what to do, what not to do, and so on. Mostly imaginings and vague ideas from the Don Quixote school of thought. Dad’s initial idea is to strap a Bowie knife to the top of his rattan walking staff for fast, effective defense. I inform him that would be folly to the highest degree. Bear spray, I say, is the proper answer, and we discuss various techniques of deploying the pepper (if that’s the main ingredient, which we doubt). I explained what I learned from a park ranger in Yellowstone, but dad says those are Grizzlies out west so the same combat tactics may not apply to the wild things roaming the Appalachian Trail.

In truth, neither of us really knows much as yet about the trail because we haven’t done any research beyond reading the first few chapters of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, which is mainly a read for fun and inspiration. Some parts of our chat, though, include accurate information about how to avoid bear attacks in general, such as the use of bear bells strapped to your staff (for noise) and singing on the trail (for noise) and doing anything else you can think of to alert bears, cougars, etc., of your oncoming intrusion to their peaceful rooting and berry foraging. It is possible, however, according to Bryson, that this may have the opposite effect in real world application, as many black bears have already gotten wise to the notion that singing humans bring delicious candy bars. So we commit to doing more research prior to the next episode, and coming to the cabin next week armed with better information.

Just two minutes before this episode ends, we decide to focus our adventure around Clingmans Dome in Tennessee–the highest point of elevation along the Appalachian Trail (6,700 feet). Once that decision was made, I said I’d get an official map of that section of the trail, which will help us dial in our trip and really get familiar with the area. Simply Googling “Clingmans Dome” turned up the website for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and from there I’ll be able to read and read and read.

The first things I see on that website are the Smokies Trip Planner, the Map Store, and the Black Bear Warning and Information page.

On the bear page, the first thing I find is a Six Minute Video on what to do when you see a bear–(e.g. “talk to the bear”…?) I have just watched this video, and bear pepper spray may be carried by hikers in the park, but must be labeled as Bear Pepper Spray and contain between 1-2% of the active ingredient Capsaicin and related Capsaisinoids (whatever those are). The park ranger in the video reminds us to FIGHT BACK AGGRESSIVELY if attacked, so I guess a Bowie knife and/or brass knuckles are options to carry in addition to a jumbo canister of noxious chemical most of us have never heard of (but is commonly called bear pepper spray).

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2 Responses to 003 Avoiding Black Bear Attacks and Hiking the Appalachian Trial Near Clingmans Dome in Tennesse

  1. Andrew Simmons

    Very, very entertaining!!!! Enjoy the banter!!!!!! I like the ideas bouncing around with you guys!!!!!!!

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