Thursday, December 27, 2012

The bear post...

Christmas morning arrived and I awoke to find myself off work for the first time in 10 days. I had a busy day ahead of me but I figured if I took a short hike my wife wouldn't be too mad and we would have the rest of the day to visit with the in-laws. I left the house at 7am for the Clark's Creek area in Erwin, TN. I've hiked here many times and enjoy the variety of trails and many waterfalls along the creek. It had been raining for the previous few days so I had my hopes up for some good flow and better pictures. I arrived at the parking area for Sill Branch Falls and grabbed my camera and hit the trail. The trail here is easy and level just before the falls there is a creek crossing but even in higher water levels rock hopping can keep your feet dry. The trail climbs steeply up a bank on the opposite side and levels about thirty feet above the creek, around the bend  Sill Branch Falls is visible in a small gorge. I was thrilled with the flow and with the cloud cover I knew I would have some good pictures. It was still slightly foggy since it was so early but it added to the picture I thought. I scrambled around the creek and took different angles and settings and noticed it was still early and I might be able to sneak in another hike.
Sill Branch Falls
Surrounding area at Sill Branch Falls

Just up the road from the Sill Branch parking area is another pull out. This trail leads to Pine Ridge Falls, a nice 25ft double waterfall just about half a mile up the trail. I had yet to visit this falls since purchasing my new camera so I was anxious to see what good photos I could get.  I hiked with a sense of urgency because I didn't want Amber to be mad at me if I wasn't back on our agreed time to leave for her parents. It was still cold so I wore my hoodie and between my heavy breathing I could hardly hear anything else. The cascades along the creek were really roaring and beautiful, I took some pictures from the trail but wasn't getting what I wanted so I climbed down the bank and started bushwhacking upstream through some laurel thickets and was worried about the leaves dripping on my camera, I had my head down pushing up to the cascades when it happened....A ROAR!! Just about three feet in front of me, a bear was staring me down. The roar literally vibrated my organs in my body and took my breath away. I'm not sure what the phrase "absolutely terrified" means to you but I'm sure that was what I experienced. You know like in the cartoons, where Scooby Doo gets scared and his lower body turns and runs away before his torso can join him?  Scientists one day will claim that an F2 tornado scarred the creek bank damaging the vegetation and trampling it lifeless, but I assure you it was 7'4" amateur photographer running for his life. I did manage to see the bear (also scared shitless) run away just as violently. I covered a half mile in record time and once inside my truck it occurred to me how funny it must have appeared and how desperately I needed to change my underwear (sarcasm). I've always dreamed of seeing a bear, however seeing one that gives me warning roar at about three feet is not the ideal photography conditions. Every book I've read on what to do if you encounter a bear left my mind the instant I heard the roar.
Blue Hole
Upper Falls (Grotto Falls)
small falls upstream from Blue Hole

You would think after getting scared to death I would avoid the woods for a few days, but later that evening on my way home from my in-laws we stopped by the Blue Hole in Elizabethton. We had the area to ourselves and the water was up even better than Clark's Creek. It was a wonderful end to my adventurous day. Hopefully the next time I encounter a bear it will be at a safer distance and I can bring home some wonderful photos instead of soiled undershorts. Until next time, happy trails.

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