Omar is a Jerk and Other Observations

Outside Effects

Coming off the trail today to hit the outfitter in the AM.  Over the years we have noticed, despite our carefully arranged plans, outside forces sometimes adversely affect these ideas, changing them considerably.  This microcosm of life, our trek on this trail, has proven to be just as fragile.

Omar, The Jerk

The day before yesterday, we stayed at Standing Indian Shelter.  There were several signs along the way warning hikers to use bear resistant containers as bear encounters were on the rise.  We are some of the few hikers that carry this item – its weight of 2lbs+ is a major discouragement toward most backpack weight conscious hikers.

Bear Alert

Bear Alert

Use of the Bear Canister

Using a bear canister is like a bad Easter Egg hunt.  The goal is to place the canister at least 250 yds/228M from your tent site to avoid scrapping with the curious creature.  You also want to place it strategically.  Place it near a cliff or a river, and the bear might just roll it over.  Sure, he doesn’t get it, but you don’t either.

We jammed ours in between two trees about 20 yds/ 18M from the privy, with the hopes that those odors would mask that of our food.  To be extra safe, we put out Ma Wampus’ Biolite Stove – a huge contraption but one that might have some scent of food on it.  No animal is going to take it though – it’s just metal and plastic. Unless you are Omar.

There are bears, and there are skilled bears.

Bears are kind of like mice – granted, they can eat you.  For the most part, they really don’t want to have anything to do with you.  Still, if you leave food around where they can get it without too much fuss – they will give it the old college try.  Some bears get really good and are named by frustrated rangers.  Omar is the name of the bear living near the Standing Indian Shelter.

The next morning a fellow hiker was yelling about his food bag, hung in a tree – now just a shredded string of rope swaying 20 ft/6M up in the cold wind.  All his food and his medication – gone.  We found our bear canister cracked and a nice scar on the metal lid.  Apparently, while the wind was raging Omar smashed the crap out of the canister, cracking it.  He then bit or clawed the lid.  Failing, he took the good smelling bag containing the stove, with the stove in it.  It’s like 4lbs of metal and plastic, Omar, you dumbass.

Damaged Bear Canister

Whacked Around a Bit

Omar 1, Wampus 0.  Now what?!?

We lost our ability to cook food easily.  We came up with a solution, which worked admirably, as long as the weather holds out.

Cooking over an open fire

Cooking on an Open Fire

Today, I Missed My Trashbag Dress

The rain started before 0530.  By 0700, it was quite the torrent, and I could feel that familiar damp on the floor and in the 36F/2C air.  The day has to kick off with me getting our stuff from the bear box or our canister hide spot, so the morning rituals (breakfast, foot balm) can begin.

Ma Wampus gave me a sweet smile.  I grabbed my new fluorescent orange rain poncho and rolled out the door.  It was cold, but the poncho was doing its job, so I was dry.  Still, by the time I unhooked the latch on the bear box, the 4’x3’ (1.2Mx.9M) metal container meant to stymie bears from helping themselves to your food, my fingers were going numb.

The Ponchito

On my return, Ma Wampus immediately looked alarmed.  “What happened?”  She asked.  I thought I had forgotten something.  Then she pointed behind me.  I turned to see a sliver of my fluorescent orange poncho extending a good 4ft/1.2M out the tent.  It was unraveling.

After my ranting about a worthless sun poncho, we came to the conclusion that we would at least need to get to the next shelter, Long Branch, to reassess.  This required us to go up and over Albert Mountain, about 1,000 feet higher in elevation.

Fun on Albert Mountain

Wet Day on Albert

Albert Mountain

Albert Mountain and its famous fire tower is a fairly strenuous hike on the best of days.  With rain, it becomes a bit more difficult because the rocks that form much of the pathway are very slick.  As we made the ascent, the rain picked up and began coming in sheets while the temperature fell to 41F/5C.  With all my wet clothing clinging to my shivering skin and just my rain protective, fluorescent orange, rapidly vanishing, now singlet, this was becoming more difficult.

I really wish I had a photo of the upward climb.  When you are being given a cold shower and whipped around the face with little lines of plastic, the desire of photographic evidence of your achievement becomes secondary to just getting off the darn mountain.

At Albert Mountain Firetower

At Albert Mountain fire tower – 100 Miles complete

Helpful Advice

We arrived at Long Branch at around lunchtime, completely soaked through.  “Guidebook,” a hiker who had witnessed the trash bag dress a week earlier, happened to be there.  “Gosh, I think the trash bag was better!” he said.  Then, as I watched the steam rising from my wet pants as I sat shivering in the back of the actual shelter, a new hiker, Jackie, helped us out with some sage advice: “You know, I always keep a contractor trash bag or two in case something like this happens.”  Yes, Jackie.  This is definitely good advice.

Other Observations

In sum, we had to come back in town today to hit the outfitter tomorrow.  While no rain is projected, I am sure we will see some in the near future.  In addition, we need a viable way to cook food, especially if it’s really cold. With these problems solved, we’ll head back out to our adventure, ready to face the next ones.  In the interim, here are a few things we saw along the way.

Ancient Cherokee

Franklin is the site of an ancient Native American mound, which was the center of their town, Noquisi (anglicized Nikwasi).  The mound dates from 1000 CE and was one of the Cherokee “Mother Towns”.  In 1761, the Cherokee sided with the French in the French and Indian War.  The British burned the town and used the mound and its culture center as a field hospital.  In 1776, the Cherokee sided with the British, as we talked about earlier.  This town, like Hiawassee, was again burned during Rutherford’s Raid.  The town came back to life only to see the Indian Removal Act, resulting in Noquisi becoming Franklin.  Huge deposits of rubies and sapphires were discovered after its “Franklinization”.

Nikwasi Mound 1000CE

Coweeta Basin

The Albert Mountain fire tower overlooks the Coweeta Basin, which is considered one of the oldest environmental studies in North America, having started in 1934.  Because of its range in elevation (2250ft/685M to 5223ft/1592M) this basin allows scientists to study effects in these small areas and apply them all over the United States and elsewhere.

Tree of Woe

I forgot to mention this peculiarity during our foray from Blood Mountain.  At the Neel’s Gap parking lot, there is a tree with dozens of pairs of shoes tied into the branches.  Rumor had it that this was where hikers who had called it quits showed their disdain, which seemed counterintuitive to me.  Why would you throw away $150 pair of shoes when you might take this up again later?  Upon investigation, the shoes were a problem for their owners on the first 30 miles of trail. People that fight over carrying either two or three pairs of underwear on a six-month journey are not going to carry a pair of shoes that did not work for them.  Since the market for used sweaty hiker shoes that caused pain is limited, they make great tree ornaments.

Shoe Tree

Shoe Tree


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Comments 8

  • Thunder Road : Mar 27th

    Just wanted to say how much I’m enjoying following the adventures of MaPa Wampus!

    You two are the best, thanks for sharing!

    • MaPa Wampus : Mar 27th

      Thanks for joining us on this journey!

  • Kelli Ramey : Mar 27th

    I am really glad you care enough to include some native American history. “Burningtown”…..outside of Franklin is so called because during the removal, cabins were torched as families were removed. As there was a good sized settlement there, the fire burned for days….thus Burningtown.

    And sometimes you find a park or campground named after an interment camp or officer in the army that worked on roads into villages, or manned the”forts.”

    Enjoying your blog.
    Try to stay warm&dry

    • MaPa Wampus : Apr 2nd

      Thanks so much for the additional info. The history here is fascinating and as twisty as some of these mountain roads. So many of these characters are so complicated. I got to talk to a former nurse that worked with some of the older Cherokee and he relayed several stories – I don’t honestly think I could do a blog on them. I am going to try to at least throw some references out for my next one. Thanks again.

  • Morgan Sommerville : Mar 29th

    Hi, MAPA Wampus. I’m sorry Omar stole your stove! Did you look for it? Bears rarely carry things away very far, maybe 200 feet at most. If something similar happens again, do a widening concentric circle sweep of the area, down and uphill too for things they can carry like a stuff sack or pack, but downhill for bear cans.

    I’m glad, however, Omar was unsuccessful in breaching your bear can. Thank you for using one! Bears are becoming increasingly adept at getting even well done food hangs (20 feet up!) which is why ATC and the USFS recommend using a bear can. Also, there are surprisingly few trees that are good or convenient for a food hang along the A.T.

    You may have noticed as you hiked past the Betty Cr. Gap campsite that the Nantahala Hiking Club and USFS recently installed a food storage locker (which ATC paid for). Only about 40% of A.T. overnight sites have food storage provided, due to their frequent misuse leading to very high and costly maintenance; or as at Standing Indian, they are in federally designated Wilderness where such facilities are rarely permitted. Again, why ATC and the USFS recommend carrying a bear can – which is also mouse proof!

    • MaPa Wampus : Apr 2nd

      We did look for it and I did the concentric circles – liked diving in a former life. We were also looking for Jacksonville Tom’s unsuccessful bear hang. I went down a little past that old road below the privy and back up that little ridge. I was out there a good 30 minutes but there was no sign. (Ma Wampus was pissed, so extra effort was necessary 😆). She still did her own search later – 😂. The bear can had been removed from where it was and moved downhill 15-20ft where it had been propped against another log. There were lots of leaves moved around the area, so he was pretty active with the can. He had hope.

  • Morgan Sommerville : Mar 29th

    Oh, I forgot to mention, the suggested distance from where you (or others) are sleeping for storage of your bear can is 70 adult steps (about 200 feet) not 250 yards – but 250 yards would be a good daily warm-up and warm-down. 🙂

    • MaPa Wampus : Apr 2nd

      You may have just saved my legs. THANK YOU!


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