Grumpy Bear Encounter, Scary Night, and Other Observations

Here we sit in Hampton TN – I grabbed something last night for dinner that didn’t sit well, which decided it needed to see the world again.  No sense in strapping on a pack and moving away from medical, if this is more than just food poisoning (Norovirus is still playing up). So, looking outside  my room window at a sunny day at what would have been great hiking.  Still, this allows us some time to provide some updates and heal our old ankles.  

Grumpy Bear Encounter 

This story is not mine so I was hesitant in telling it.  I got it first hand and was there for the immediate aftermath; furthermore, it played into our adventure later, so I felt it was needed for context.  


Navajo Jo is approximately our age, a native of Arizona, and a Northern Arizona University alumni.  She had a freak accident in the past that broke both her feet, so she is considerably slower than many of the hikers; however, she is like the little engine that could – she just keeps going.  She is quite the inspiration for several of us out here now.  

The Stage

Navajo Jo is toddling down a hill about a mile outside of Spring Mountain Shelter in North Carolina.  It’s dusk and the gnats are bad, so she has her bug net headgear on.  Like most of us, she is concentrating on the path before her, as that loose stone or tangled root can always spell disaster.  Suddenly, to the side of the trail she hears movement and something scampering up a tree.  It’s a bear cub, and she is far too close.  She begins to back away looking for Mom, which doesn’t take long.  The growling provides quick indicator.  

The Encounter

Navajo Jo spots her and then Mom stands up.  Jo yells at Mom, while continuing to move slowly back banging her trekking poles together, looking like some type of erect praying mantis.  This movement creates the space Mom needed.  Mom goes back down on all four and moves to the cub’s tree.  This allowed Navajo Jo to move around and continue down the trail.  Mom sat by the tree and watched Jo move away until Jo finally lost sight of her over the next ridge.  


Spring Mountain Shelter

Spring Mountain Shelter

Navajo Jo was pretty freaked out by the time she arrived at the full shelter.  Physically trembling, she informed the hikers at the shelter what she had seen and ordered them to make room for her, as there was no way she would be tenting tonight.  Everyone moved down – No questions.  

Scary Night


We had gone about 15 miles, were short on water, and the sun was beginning to set.  Shelter areas are our target, but there are plenty of established campsites on the AT.   Our chosen spot seemed flat and about .1 away from the road, which would start our ascent the next day.   

The Stage

By the time we had eaten and set up the tent, the full moon had presented itself, and the night sky was full of stars, ensuring that no headlamp would be necessary for the remainder of the evening.  At about 10 PM, Ma Wampus and I awoke to sticks breaking, leaves being kicked around and then something sniffing and snorting around the tent.  The creature’s silhouette shown on the opposite wall in the moonlight.  It was huge but indiscernible.  

The Encounter 

“Oh my God, I have the pots we used to cook dinner by my head”, whisper screamed Ma Wampus.  Right.  Andy the Ridge Runner’s advice on dealing with a predatory bear (about 4 instances in the Smokies every year) danced in my head:

  1. Be bigger than you are
  2. Be loud
  3. Throw things and hit the bear
  4. Fight, do not play dead.  

Adrenalin flowed into my system and the brain synapses pushed my thoughts toward what I needed to do.  Andy had bear spray.  Doesn’t matter, you do not.  Throw.  Zendure lithium battery – there was some satisfaction as my grip tightened around the blinking device.  I would take Andy’s advice and do so well, as well as any person could in their underwear, Wal-Mart house shoes, and armed with a single lithium battery.  Channeling my inner Navajo Jo, I exploded from the tent with a growl of my own.  

My unexpected attack totally cowed my opponent. What stood before me was, at best, a medium sized lab mix.  It was whining as I walked up on it and it actually rolled over and showed me his belly.  “Sorry Bud”, I said as I patted his flanks.  “It’s just a dog”, I yelled out to Ma Wampus. Noting that I was no longer a threat, and showed it some kindness, the dog became ecstatic and took off running circles around me and the tent at high speed.  After I returned to the tent, Ma Wampus and I discussed what we needed to do with an abandoned dog.  We eventually came to the conclusion that we would fashion a harness, call an animal friendly shuttle -5G at this campsite, and take him to a shelter.  

Coincidences Again

Brother Tom

The next morning two South bound hikers approached the tent site.  The dog ran up to them and they were definitely dog people.  “Is this your dog?” she asked.  “No, I believe it’s been either lost or abandoned,” I said.  “Well, that settles it.  I told my husband we would stay on trail until I found a dog that needed help,” she said.  “And you need help. You need a good home, dontcha, yeah”, she said while vigorously petting the dog.  And off they went, happy dog in tow.  

We headed down the trail to the roadside where Brother Tom was waiting with trail magic – cold water for one.  Of course, he had some homemade cranberry bread too – Turns out, I needed that too.  Ma Wampus got a hot chocolate and was much pleased!  

Other Observations

Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail

Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail

As we crossed back into TN near the Roan Highlands, the above trail crossed the AT.  I was very excited to see this one.


In 1780, Col. Patrick Ferguson, a Scottish inventor and skilled military officer sent word to the frontier that if the men there did not desist in supporting the patriot cause, he would march over there and put them to “Fire and Sword”.  Not sure what Ferguson was thinking.  These frontiersmen were hard, most Scots-Irish, and had learned their war trade from the Cherokee.  They had learned it so well, that when the Cherokee attacked the frontier early in the war, it was mainly this loose knit group that responded.  As we talked about earlier – they burned those Cherokee towns to the ground.  They were deadly, effective, and Ferguson just promised to burn their homes down in the name of the king. 

The frontiersman, the Overmountain Men, gathered over 900 armed men and marched 170-300 miles, from different small communities, through the mountains to provide Ferguson with a demonstration of fire and sword.  Ferguson met them in South Carolina at a place called King’s Mountain in October 1780.

The Battle

Ferguson held the summit of the mountain and had his men, over 1100 of them, armed with the famous Brown Bess, which are fantastic for volley fire.  The Overmountain men surrounded the mountain and slowly crept up the mountain with their Kentucky style rifles, which had significantly greater range but no capability for bayonets and they loaded slower.  

Funny thing about volley fire, the Overmountain men fought in war bands, like the Cherokee.  They had no interest in “Stand and Deliver”.  They had no interest in facing bayonet charges – they would just melt away and reform later.  Their accurate fire was a real problem.  Ferguson attempted to rally his men, but on his horse he was a brilliant target, and was shot 7-8 times.  The horse bolted into the patriot lines, carrying Ferguson’s body with it.  

Surrender and Aftermath

American loyalists tried to surrender but the fighting was extremely viscous.  One story here that demonstrates how nasty the fighting was is that of a wounded loyalist who sees his patriot brother in law charging up the mountain.  “Help me, we are family,” he said.  The brother in law responded with something like “I see no family here.  Look to your fellows for aid.”  Firing carried on sometime after the loyalist guns were dropped.  Some hangings occurred soon after.  Patriot war band leaders finally got the men calmed down and some 600 prisoners were taken.  Loyalist dead numbered almost 300, while patriots lost less than 30.  The battle took around an hour.

It must be noted here that Ferguson was British.  Everyone else there, loyalist and patriot, were American.  It was Civil War.  General Clinton remarked in his memoirs that Kings Mountain was the first in a chain of evils that resulted in the loss of the colonies.  Perhaps, but it certainly sent a message to those Americans loyal to the king who were willing to take up arms against their neighbors.  

Braemer Castle

Braemar Castle

Braemar Castle

Braemer Castle is a stone building constructed in the early 1900s to assist with logging operations in the Hampton TN area.  The building housed the workers, provided medical and commissary, and administrative offices for the company.  The company consisted of the lumber company but also the railroad in the area.  In the late 1920s, there was a significant flood, which wiped out a great deal of infrastructure.  Since the resources had largely been depleted, the lumber company cut their losses and moved on.  Mr. Brown, a foreman for the company, bought the building, the commissary, and some other property, and stayed in the community.  

Mr. Brown’s children supported the Appalachian Trail and eventually turned the house into a hostel, which it has been since the 1980s.  The last Brown to run both businesses (third generation) ran the hostel and the store for 50 years, but he passed away recently.  His family are trying to keep up and have found this effort challenging as Mr. Brown was very much a hands on entrepreneur.  Hopefully, they will hang on and this piece of Americana will continue to dress our nation as opposed to yet another Dollar Store.  That choice, in the end, is up to all of us.  

Brown’s General Store

Brown’s General Store

That’s it for this week.  Hoping to get on trail again soon and head to VA.  See you soon!  

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Comments 2

  • Melinda : Apr 28th

    There’s been a dog missing on the AT since February and I can’t help but wonder….

    • MaPa Wampus : Apr 29th

      Nope, it was not Sadie. It had short hair but was not a black lab.


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