Our Very Close Encounter With A Black Bear

This is a story that will now live forever in our family memories. I know our daughter, The Short Chic, will be passing this down to her kids and grandkids and retelling this story throughout her life. This is the story of the time we went hiking and almost got eaten by a bear in The Smoky Mountains.

As our time in The Great Smoky Mountains was coming to an end, I had hoped for one final hike in Cades Cove. All week I had read the “warning” signs of bear activity in the park. Abraham Falls was always on that list. Abraham Falls was also on another list: that of great fishing places in the Smoky Mountains. Wayne was hoping to catch a fish, I was hoping for a bear sighting, so we set off to hike Abraham Falls on our last day in Townsend.

Abraham falls6 The entire crew traveled to the welcome sign and the majority of them bid us adieu so they could hang out at the campsite and rest. Wayne, The Short Chic and I headed to Cades Cove. Going into this hike, we were a little ill prepared. We had eaten breakfast but had not had lunch. We did not pack snacks (because we were not hungry when we set out). We did not realize Abraham Falls was a 5 mile hike round trip (2.5 in/2.5 out). We did pack several water bottles but if I am honest, I carried in more photography equipment than anything.  I give you this background information so you will understand that after hiking the 2.5 miles into Abraham Falls we were HANGRY and to make matters worse, The Short Chic talked nonstop about having ice cream for lunch the entire hike!

abraham falls5The Abraham Falls hike terrain is rocky, uneven, and generally follows the Abraham Creek although the creek is often not accessible due to the terrain of the forest. Wayne took his fly rod and practiced catching wild Appalachian Brooke Trout any chance he could access the creek. The path dipped and climbed as the terrain did and it took us through moments of no shade/full sun, to the coverage of dense tree canopy and full shade, as well as up and over a rocky ridge. Several times the path took us over offshoots of the creek where we walked over wooden log foot bridges.

abraham falls2IMG_7159The falls were a welcome site after hiking 2.5 miles! Numerous hikers had shed their shoes and clothing (yes they had swimsuits on underneath their clothing) to wade and splash in the water below the falls. The Short Chic had fantasized about getting wet in the water the entire hike and as we walked up to the waters edge the first thing we saw were dual water snakes! Wayne may have spent some time fishing there but The Short Chic and I got no where near that water and kept a diligent eye open for any additional reptiles during our short stay!

abraham falls3We chose not to linger for a long time at the Falls, we still had 2.5 miles to go to get back to our car and it was getting late. I think we began our return around 2:45-3:15 p.m.. The Short Chic started making up songs about food on the way back and first Wayne attempted to hush her but I had the thought that it was approaching dinner time….not just to us but for animals as well. We let her sing at the top of her lungs just to make our presence known. We also hiked in a very specific order: me, The Short Chic, and Wayne just in case any predators were eyeballing us and looking for our weakest member.

abraham fallsAfter we passed the ridge line and about 45 minutes into our return I notice some wild blackberries growing along the trail. You should all know that I love wild blackberries and was so hungry that I started picking the berries and eating them right there on the spot. I did notice that the berries were small and most of the larger ones where not yet ripe. As I picked berries for myself, Wayne picked them and gave them to The Short Chic.  Wayne spied a larger ripe berry just an arms s t r e t c h off the path and he decided to reach and pick that one berry.

I never saw her. I heard the noise first. Then I heard Wayne yell. He saw her. He heard her. Just as he was about to reach that berry, a black bear who was hiding in the blackberry bush let her presence be known by woofing at him. As I turned back up the trail, there was my husband doing some Fred Flintstones thing with his feet, trying to run but yet not being able to move. I see the people who were behind us on the trail turn and run one direction and others who were in front of us run away from us. We were left to defend our ground and ourselves against this bear not knowing if the bear was going to charge us or not.

Abraham Falls10I grabbed The Short Chic’s arm and swung her around me. I stood as close to my husband as I could and in what felt like hours (but really was only a few seconds) we realized that bear had no interest in charging us; she wanted Wayne to leave her berries alone!

Abraham falls8We moved safely up the trail. I am no judge of distance but we put enough space between that bear and us so that I felt safe. Ironically, that bear was completely hidden in the dense forest prior to letting us know she was there but after she gave us announced herself, we watched as that bear shook the living dickens out of the trees and the berry bushes. As the trees were shaking, we stopped everyone who was walking on the trail and explained there was a bear right there and I could see people up the trail hiding around a bend, their numbers growing as well.

abraham falls7As we stood in safety waiting for our hearts to stop racing and for us to feel strength in our knees the next part of this story occurred. A baby bear walked down from the hill, crossed the trail, and went into the trees to the bear who woofed. The realization that we inadvertently had been standing/hiking in-between a momma bear and her cub hit us like a ton of bricks.

Abraham falls9I think Momma Bear had been shaking that tree to knock the berries to the ground so Baby Bear could eat them with ease. A few moments after the Baby Bear joined the Momma Bear the shaking ceased. A few minutes later, both bears walked back onto the trail. Momma Bear never looked at us, she looked up the trail in the opposite direction of us but that Baby Bear turned and looked right in our direction. I had carried all of that camera equipment just hoping to spy a bear and here I was on the same trail and total strangers had to suggest taking photos!

Abraham Falls11Momma Bear and Baby Bear walked up the trail away from us. In fact, just as they were reaching the bend with all the hikers hiding they turned to the forest and walked off the trail to not be seen again. It was as if time held still. I have no idea how long we all stayed in our safe spots before finally one of the hikers behind us came around the bend. I signaled where the bears had left the trail. He made it by safely so the masses decided to get finish the hike and get off the trail.

abraham falls12The Short Chic never got her ice cream for lunch. By the time we got back it was nearing 5:00 p.m. and time for dinner. We met the rest of our party at PawPaw’s Kajun Kitchen in Sevierville on Wears Valley Road for some of the most amazing cajun food I have ever had. As we told our friends our story of the bears we guzzled sweet tea and munched on boudin balls and catfish. There was a lady sitting behind me who kept advising me on the menu so I struck up a conversation with her. Turns out she was the owners Momma visiting her daughter from New Orleans. Her accent was thick and she was a delight!  I gave her every opportunity to take credit for raising such an amazing cook but she never once did. We ended the night with the white chocolate bread pudding and left that place happy that the bear did not eat us so that we could enjoy such amazing food!

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