Mountain solitude…

I have taken on a new volunteer experience this summer by adopting a backcountry campsite. This is in addition to patrolling Laurel Falls each Friday. I or should I say we (grandkids and parents) are cleaning and maintaining campsite #27 for the foreseeable future. I thought maybe it would be a good idea if I did a preliminary recon mission before taking the family. I arose early on Saturday morning, arriving at the trailhead to Jake’s Creek Trail at about 8:00. There were a number of cars already in the parking lot, but apparently everyone else was hiking Little River or Cucumber Gap Trails. As I hiked up Jake’s Creek I marveled at all the beauty surrounding me. The trees were turning green and I was surrounded by a multitude of wild flowers. As I walked my mind began to wander back to my first experience hiking alone in the park. It was late fall and most of the leaves were already on the ground. I was walking up a strenuous uphill section Indian Grave Gap Trail. I became a little concerned as I began to see evidence of recent bear activity. Granted I was a greenhorn to these mountains, but being a good Iowa boy with farm roots I could identify bear scat when I stepped in it. The more I walked, the more scat appeared on the trail. I figured that the noise of my feet in the leaves piled on the trail would provide plenty of warning to the bears that I was in the area, or at least that is what I was telling myself. After about a mile, I stopped to catch my breath and grab a gulp or two of water. That’s when I hear it. There was a distinct sound of something above me shuffling in the leaves. Then it stopped. I listened for a while and not hearing anything began moving up the trail. I traveled about 100 yards and stopped. Again above me I heard the shuffle of leaves. Then it stopped. This went on for nearly a mile. Me stopping every 100 or so yards; all the while intermittent shuffling. Finally I reached the top where the ridge above me met with the trail. I quickly ducked behind a tree and waited. It didn’t take long for the shuffling sound to appear. Then it stopped. By this time I was just sure a 400 pound male black bear was stalking me for his dinner. Then the shuffling appeared to come just out of my sight. As I was racking my brain trying to think what Daniel Boone would do the noise came towards me. I braced myself for battle when all of the sudden a skinny turkey stuck its head out from behind a tree. I had to laugh thinking back on how leery I was of being alone in the woods back then. Fast forward 8 years and I relished the solitude Jake’s Creek provided Saturday. I only met 3 other hikers (and 3 turkeys!).

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