This morning was a different story, however. While yesterday's high hit 57, Friday morning's low sank to 40. By late this morning the temperature dropped to 35 with a stiff wind. With the cloud pressing in and wind blowing up the mountain this morning, I felt like I'd been trapped in a Charles Dickens' novel. There's redemption at the end of A Christmas Carol, and I guess we've gotten some, too, as sunny skies have overtaken the top of Tennessee.
We're heading into late May and have yet to see a bear at the lodge. Usually by now, we've seen a bruin wandering through camp. With that in mind, I wanted to pass along a few bear safety tips for your trip to the Smokies.
We're sensitive to leaving food, drink or backpacks lying around camp. Sometimes the oddest things could attract a bear onto your porch here at the lodge. That's why we ask our guests not to leave anything out on their porch unless someone is there to watch it. One time we had a bear steal a pair of jeans from a porch.
I also heard a report recently about a bear breaking into someone's car trunk (which had been held partially shut with an elastic cord) in the Alum Cave Bluff parking lot. Please don't leave food in any unsecured location in the park. Once a bear gets a taste for human food, grubs and acorns don't seem quite so tasty. In all seriousness, once a bear begins to look at humans as a source for food, the people who got him hooked have signed his death warrant.
On the trail, be careful about leaving scraps of snacks. Just because it's biodegradable doesn't mean you should leave it in the woods. That apple core is an artificial food source and could begin a bear down that nefarious path of seeking food from humans.
We had some guests not long ago say they always kept a jar of peanut butter in their backpack to throw at a bear in case it threatened them. We mentioned that was exactly why that bear would threaten them, because it had been rewarded with human food for that bad behavior. We encouraged them to bring a can of pepper spray instead if they were concerned about bears (not that I've ever needed it in the Smokies). It's lighter than a can of peanut butter (but doesn't taste very good on a cracker), and much better for the long-term health of the bear.
We only had one problem bear last year at the lodge. This one bear had lost all fear of humans and was waiting around the lodge for someone to make a mistake--leave a pack unattended or leave a cup of lemonade out on the porch.
We ended up trapping him and ranger Rick Varner came up to do a full health workup on the bear. When that bear awoke from sedation, he was pretty wary of the two-legged critters responsible. That story ended happily, exactly like we hoped--that bear may have continued to call LeConte home but he never turned into a beggar. As far as we know, he's doing what Smoky bears are supposed to do--live wild and fend for himself.
I've heard some unfair criticism that the rangers are bullying trapped bears. I've seen firsthand two bears trapped on LeConte, and the actions of Rick Varner and the other bear rangers may very well have saved their lives and prevented ugly bear-human encounters. In both instances, the ranger explained each step of the process to a gathering of hikers in a wonderful educational opportunity while the bear was sedated.
I know this has been a long post, but this topic is important to all of us on LeConte. We're concerned for the health of our neighbor bears and our human guests. We can share the mountain. Allyson has returned from off days and will be retaking the lead on High on LeConte. I've enjoyed visiting with many of you in person and thank you for reading. Happy trails.