Apologies for not blogging more. After hiking 18 to 22 miles every day I can hardly stay awake once I get to camp. So today I did a short day. In hiker parlance they call it a ‘Nero’. Not a ‘Zero’ day where you don’t hike at all, but a Nero, or nearly zero. No specific definition – it’s up to each hiker to define what that means to him or her.
It wasn’t a Nero day a few days ago however. It was a long and tiring day and I had hoped to go farther but the trail was tough and progress was slow. After climbing rocks all day and making it through the infamous ‘Lemon Squeezer’ and scaling an 8′ cliff, my final challenge of the day was an aptly named AGONY GRIND. A steep, rocky descent that seemed to go on forever. A real knee breaker. The whole way down all I could think of was "Tortuga is the smart one".
But it finally did end and after 16 miles for the day I came to the Fingerboard Shelter on Fingerboard mountain. I’d heard from a passing hiker and seen comments online about a bear haunting this shelter. I would have gone on if I could but the next place to camp was five miles away and even if I’d had the energy I wouldn’t have made it before dark. I wouldn’t be alone here though – three other hikers were there: Frenchmen Stephan and his dad Jean Pierre (known as ‘The French Connection’) and ‘Juggles’, a local guy who thru hiked the AT a couple years ago and was just out for a day hike. Two more hikers would show up later. They all slept in the shelter, I set up my hammock about 150′ down the hill from the shelter.
After I set up the hammock I returned to the shelter to prepare my dinner (dehydrated scrambled eggs and sausage). As the water starts to boil I’m the first to see him about 50 feet away. He’s got one eye on us but he is making a beeline for my unoccupied campsite. The hammock and tarp were set up but I had brought my pack and food bag with me to the shelter. So he snooped around a little but didn’t find anything interesting there. We watched and took pictures.
He then headed for the shelter where we were. He was very wary of us but keenly interested also. You could tell others may have tossed him food and he was hoping for more. Or maybe the hikers had run off at his presence and left their food for him to rummage through. We held our ground, watching in awe of this great beast, and he stayed 30′ from us. He even laid down and took a nap behind the shelter. For a while. We watched and took pictures.
As my dinner was nearly ready I spied him again – he had come up next to the shelter about 15′ from me. Too close! I gave him my loudest and meanest sounding "Get out if here, bear!" And he scurried off into the woods. It was scary that he would be so brazen to get that close but was also a good sign that he would quickly back off if yelled at.
He didn’t go far though. Soon enough he was back at my campsite checking out what little stuff I had left there. My SPOT locator was there – he tasted it and punctured the plastic baggie it was in. He checked out my hiking poles, leaving nice tooth prints in the grips. He played with the strings of my rain fly and checked out the straps holding up my hammock but didn’t harm anything. Then he pooped and left. We watched and took pictures.
We all hung our food bags in the trees, according to protocol and went to bed. There were pieces of pipe around from a scaffold that must have been needed to replace the roof on the shelter. I grabbed a pipe on my way back to my campsite.
An hour or so later I hear the guys stirring up in the shelter. The bear had returned and they were yelling and making noise to scare him off. Then they shout to me that he is headed my way. I don’t see him at first and he is incredibly silent. I finally get my headlamp on him – he is 10′ away. I grab the pipe and bang it on a rock and again yell at him. Again he quickly scurries away.
He doesn’t return the rest of the night. That we know of.
Onward and northward,
Miles hiked today: 6
AT miles completed: 554
AT miles to go: 1635
Average miles per day: 15