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Re: What about Bears?
Bears are fairly common at least in the GA/NC sections, and I have seen
several. Although lots of people see bears in the Appalachians,
you virtually never hear about a mauling, and then only
when some tourist has done something foolish, like approaching cubs
or offering food. (I recently saw a fool do this in the Smokies,
and she was rewarded with a swipe of the claws which narrowly missed.)
Normally, they can detect you and will avoid you, although they have
learned to scavenge food at some popular camping spots. Bears
have good hearing and excellent smell, but poor eyesight. People say
that if they stand and look at you it is a good idea to talk (at
a normal level) and generally be obviously human, since they are trying
to decide what you are.
The important thing is to keep all food and any thing a bear might mistake
for food, such as cosmetics, oils, wax candles, or detergent, away from
where you sleep. Exception: In the GSMNP there are caged shelters, so
you can keep food inside. Most likely, though, that means that the
white-footed mice will get it. Anyway, I carry a long length of lightweight
rope when backpacking, and before nightfall I find a stone or stick, tie
it to the rope, and then chuck it over a high branch - on the AT there is
almost always a high branch available. Then when I am done for the
evening, up goes the food, etc. in a backpack or in a sleeping bag stuff
sack. And I sleep 100 feet or more away.
OK, here's a bear story. A few years ago I was camping in
the Standing Indian area a couple of miles off the AT on a side trail.
I had a small dog with me, and she nestled at night under a flap of
my backpacking tent. At night I woke up when she suddenly darted
to the other side of the tent. After a couple of minutes
there was a heavy footfall from the side the dog had formerly
occupied. Then later, cautiously, a closer one. Finally,
I could feel a big "Ker-Plump" as a large foot came down
right next to my tent. At this moment the dog shot off into
the bushes, which scared the bear, who shot off in the other direction,
woofing loudly. (The dog uttered not a peep.)
The bear came back with her cubs to investigate the campsite
for food a couple of times later in the night, but stayed away from the
tent, and always skedaddled when I showed a light. The dog didn't
show up until morning, by the way.
The only time I have been charged by a bear was when I was going
through a thick berry patch in North Georgia and the bear wanted to warn
me off. It was a "bluff charge," as apparently most of them are.
Memorable, though. My strategy was to back off politely, but not to
run. For what it is worth, the bear left me alone, and I didn't get
any more berries.
P.S. This applies to black bears in the East. I might give different
advice about the much larger brown bears (grizzlies) in the West,
and even black bears are said to be more aggressive there.