Let’s talk about last night. I crossed Fontana Dam at about 6:30 pm, then it’s a small hike to the entrance of the Great Smokies National Park. I planned to hike about 5 miles to the first camp site.
Above the dam, below some geese (with 4 babies).
After a few hours of hiking, it got dark – real dark. The hike was all up hill. Naturally, I take lots of breaks, especially while hiking at night. There was zero wind, so I can hear every forest noise possible. The ground is covered in a thick layer of dry leaves from last fall. Basically, every creature makes noises as they travel over/under/through the crunch leaves. I can easily hear the difference between crickets, milipedes and beatles.
At one of my many breaks, I just stopped on the trail for a minute. On my right is uphill and on my left is downhill. I left my backpack on and just rested while slightly leaning on my trekking poles. I could hear two crickets to my right and I could see them with my headlamp. I could also hear the occassional rustle of a single leaf as the nearly non-existant breeze swayed through. Also, about 12 feet ahead of me, on the uphill side of the trail, I’ve heard the same leaf make a tiny rustle 3 times in 60 seconds. I knew something was there, it had to be a lizard or a mouse. I decide to walk forward, very slowly with my light on my target. I hear another tiny rustle. At about 6 feet away, I finally see it – a snake! I jump back and literally fall off the trail, losing site of my devil. I slide down hill a bit more and scramble backwards before going back up to the trail. I reapproach my newly found friend and took a few pictures. Sorry, he’s hard to spot I wanted to keep about 15 feet away.
See him on the right? There’s no way I’m passing forward with his uphill advantage. So I threw a stick at the snake – no response. I throw two more and still nothing. I find a large branch and slap the ground nearby, rustling up as much leaf noise as I could. I stamped my poles on the ground; still nothing. I then get a little closer and rustle the leaves with my 10 foot branch and he lets out a sinister rattle. It’s a damn rattlesnake. He also slithers forward a foot, then takes his sweet ass time crossing the trail. Once, he crosses the trail he starts to haul ass and let’s out 45 seconds of rattles.
Three things to note. 1. I wished he would’ve rattled sooner. 2. I bent my trekking pole. 3. It took me about an hour to walk the next quarter mile. I needed to inspect every stick on the trail, in order to be sure it was just a stick.
Sometime later, still hiking in the dark, I see a reflection of a single eyeball about 100 yards down the trail for less than a second. I start doing my noises – barking like a dog, yelling out various things. The animal bolt up and over the nearby ridge like an elephant in a China shop. Only bears sound like that. Damn it again. These two instances really took the romance out of night hiking. I also saw a few bear poops.
I finally make it to the camp site and it takes me an hour or so to fall a sleep. I only turned my flashlight on 20 times.
About 7:00 am I awoke with alert as I hear crunch noises near me. It’s just a deer. Little does he know that I could punch him for startling me after such a silly night hike. He was about 15 feet away.
I got up and had nice hike to the next shelter for lunch.
During today’s hike I heard some more leaf rustling about 20 yards to my left – something was coming into my sight. I was thinking a small mammal; like a marmot, muskrat or the like. Then I saw a fuzzy head poke over the log, then two, then two more. It was a 4 pack of baby pigs. Fuzzy boar piglets. The cutest thing I ever did see. I did record them in a video. They were just running around having a good time, a lot like a small pack of farm dogs roaming the country side. I’ll upload it when I can. Then I pushed on to another shelter to call it a night. I met these guys…
Tadpole, Soleless and Chief. They’re brothers and their nitpicking amongst each other cheers me up.