Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Austin Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia / Big Ass Bear

My new Indian name should be Hikes With Wrong Lens... If I'd had the 300mm I'd have gotten a great shot.

Anyway, had a great hike today on Austin mountain. Four bear sightings, including the one in the lower three pix. I've been hiking around with my digital Rebel slung over my shoulder, which (given that I've already got at least a water pack on), is rather a pain. So this time I think to myself: those bears are always gone in an instant anyway...there's
never enough time to get a good shot. I'll just take the Sigma 17-200 in case I see another Timber rattler, and I'll keep it in my pack, as those things generally don't run off. So of course, less than a mile in, I see a BIG ASS BEAR (see pix right). And it just stands in the trail. I snap some shots, then start making some noise--it's apparently not good to sneak up on even mere black bears, and I don't want to get this one in trouble. Well, it trots down the trail a bit, but...doesn't really seem too concerned. In fact, it slows to a walk and just stays on the trail. In fact, it seems rather disinclined to make way. So, I'm making some noise and hanging back...
But the bear is acting a bit odd, and I want to see where it leaves the trail...there's lots of visibility forward here, and it's moving so slowly that I'm having a hard time walking more slowly than it is. I saw a big cub run across the trail awhile before I saw this animal, and so I'm treating it as if it's the sow of that cub...that is, giving it plenty of room.

Now, normally I have a can of bear spray clipped on my pack. You don't need it around these parts, but it's there and I don't take it off. But I noticed as I was leaving

this morning that it wasn't there. I made a cursory search, but had to get going...and, as I said, you don't really need it in the SNP. But I'm not wild about the way this bear is acting. At one point it semi-turns around and may or may not have taken a seemingly bad-natured swipe at a sapling. This I don't care for much. So I give up my strategy of hoping to see where it leaves the trail, and just stay put while it ambles over the next rise. As I walked on, I loudly explained to the local bears that my Indian name is actually Avoids Sneaking Up On Bears, or Greatly Admires Bears, or Tastes Really Bad... Soon the trail forked, and the grass going the other way indicated lots of traffic, so I hoped it went that way. Though for the next several miles, the Austin Mountain trail showed really heavy bear signs. Later on, I heard a bear making its way up the mountain toward the trail. I was a bit skittish from my earlier encounter, and as soon as it popped out onto the trail--looking away from me, so I would have had time to get a pic--I said "Hey, bear!" It was about a yearling cub, it looked around like WTF!!1 and took off post haste. If I'd have waited long enough to see that it was small I would have realized that I didn't need to say anything and could have gotten the shot. Ah well.

Austin Mountain--great hike, lots of bears, philosoraptor says: check it out.


Blogger lovable liberal said...

Four trail-side bear sightings in one day!? I hiked for years in the Smokies and maybe saw that many bears on trails in total. Is this kind of population density common in the Shenandoah? If so, cooool.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Dude this is way atypical in my experience. I've seen more bears this summer than in all my other years of hiking the SNP combined. I've seen approximately nine bears in the last three weeks--though a couple of those may have been two glimpses of the same bear. This includes lots of yearlings, but also the two biggest bears I've ever seen--one of which I walked right up on, the other of which was the one in these pix.

One thing I've done is adjust my hiking times so that I'm out on the trails early in the morning or at dusk. The other thing is that I've been going on longer hikes into more secluded and less-visited parts of the park. The Austin Mountain-Furnace Mountain area is known for a dense bear population.

Also it's said that a poaching ring was recently broken up, and that's upped the population around here.

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I' like to see some of the rattler shots.

10:00 PM  

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