Scary, Sad, Disturbing and Tragic
Sep 13, 2021 at 3:10 pm #3727285
I’ve been planning a 5-6 day loop through the GSMNP or Smokies recently and came across this info while checking out campsite #82 “Calhoun” on Hazel Creek. This site is the uppermost site in the Hazel Creek drainage before the climb up to Andrews or Anders Bald below Clingman’s dome. I was considering it partly because it should presumably be pretty lightly used and I might avoid encounters with somewhat habituated bears. Hmmm. I got about 3 hits on google about the site and one of them had a comment that mentioned this event. I couldn’t find anything about it on BPL and hadn’t been aware that something like this had occurred ( in the Smokies or anywhere else east of the Mississippi except that Canadian attack back @ 2015? ) before stumbling across the comment on this pretty obscure backcountry campsite. Seems like pretty big news to me.
This situation occurred in September of 2020 but evidently has more recently received publicity since the autopsy report was just released in late August 2021.
I had thought/hoped? that the victim had maybe slipped on the long cascade near the campsite and the bear had found the body but the autopsy concludes there is preponderance of evidence indicating the victim was killed by the bear. BTW the hospital that conducted the autopsy is top notch with a national reputation.Sep 13, 2021 at 3:52 pm #3727286
I live in Asheville and many of us wondered what the detailed circumstances were in this case. Still a little suspicious of the lack of information. That area has more wildlife encounters then most others. Sad story, and again wish we know what really went down.Sep 13, 2021 at 5:59 pm #3727288
I may have misread, but…wasn’t the deceased found adjacent to his campsite (with possible drag markings in the dirt”? And the autopsy found no indications of natural causes of death. If so, it’s doubtful the hiker died on his own at his own campsite. Ergo….Sep 13, 2021 at 6:55 pm #3727290
I don’t seem to be hitting any signs of a paywall or whatever and the article seems pretty clearly written and relatively short. Worth the careful read
The ramifications however are disturbing.
This occurred upstream from the Hazel Creek site of the attack in this 2015 BPL thread: BTW there’s a link in the article to a report of another hammock attack at Cosby back in June of this year. I was planning to use my hammock too.
I was considering the upstream site to avoid the more heavily used site where the 2015 hammock attack occurred in lower Hazel Creek, which is more easily accessed by boat or from the tunnel to nowhere parking and gets more heavily used.
Neither site is listed on this year’s list of sites with bear activity.
Bear Campsite/Shelter Closures – areas that are closed due to bear activity.
Shelters: none. Campsites: #9, #41, #50, #57, #70, #71
Bear Campsite/Shelter Warnings – areas where bears are active.
Shelters: Russel Field, Spence Field & Tricorner Knob
Campsites: #21, #24, #26, #36, #37, #40, #61, #90, #93Sep 13, 2021 at 9:00 pm #3727294
Yeah, hikers found an unoccupied tent at a campsite and then sited a bear scavenging the remains of a another hiker across the creek from the tent/campsite. Possible drag marks were found.
I was responding to the “wish we knew what went down’ comment. Nothing is definitive, but to me it looks as if the likelihood is that the bear attacked a camper in or near his tent.Sep 13, 2021 at 9:08 pm #3727295
Jscott – your information is how I understand it as well. I poorly articulated our conversations and questions among locals. Provocation, food, sick bear, etc – would be helpful to know more about why it happened, is what we’ve wondered. What can be learned? How/could it have been prevented?Sep 13, 2021 at 9:36 pm #3727296
Steve: oh, now I understand. You’re asking good questions for sure.Sep 14, 2021 at 4:49 am #3727302
Yes agree with above. A disturbing aspect of this episode is it’s nature.
All of our current methods or patterns of managing bear interactions revolve primarily on the one hand around not supplying bears with our nutrient rich “people” food by using canisters and etc, and secondly with the grizzly or properly Brown Bear also with being able to deter an attack with pepper spray that might occur as what might be described as a defensive reaction in the event of surprising or startling the bear by unwittingly getting too close and invading it’s “space”; threatening it’s cubs, or threatening it’s food by stumbling upon a kill. My impression from reading Herrera, this blog and the news in general is that most Grizzly episodes involve one of those three types of events.
In this case it seems that somehow the victim was attacked as a food source, although there is the possibility the incident began as a dispute over food as it were. The bites in the buttocks and lower legs and drag marks from the tent site to the creek are well…. disturbing. As are also the recent trend to attacking people in hammocks.
This seems to be an unusual situation with regards to eastern/southern as well as Cali and other western black bears. It may have occurred in the eastern parts of northern Canada. I think I’ve also read that it is a more frequent occurrence in the northern Pacific Northwest like BC and Alaska.
The 2015 attack linked above and the other hammock attack linked in the article as well as the fatal attack might indicate a trend in the direction of that Pac northwest example of black bear behavior wherein we are possibly becoming the prey/food.
Or on the other hand confirmation of the need for us to become totally serious about keeping our food away from black bears to curb an apparent trend towards these types of events.
So now there could be a 3rd situation to be prepared for in dealing with bears? How do we adapt to becoming the actual prey?
As ultralight backpackers?Sep 14, 2021 at 8:01 am #3727311
Mistake: “This site is the uppermost site in the Hazel Creek drainage before the climb up to Andrews or Anders Bald below Clingman’s dome”
Correction: This site is the uppermost site in the Hazel Creek drainage before the climb up to Siler’s Bald and the AT. Conflated 2 legs of the route being considered.Sep 14, 2021 at 8:09 am #3727340
This topic has always been unclear to me. It comes up often when I take someone who hasn’t been backpacking before, and even with experienced campers. I want to be direct, honest, objective and prepared for them, and myself – but this “prey” possibility you mention is not part of my model. I’ve always considered these tragic events “unique”. For instance, the bear is abnormal, etc. Interestingly, I see them or someone I know has with some regularity in town, in the neighborhood (for instance the guy across the street from me just posted a big black bear on his back porch two night ago). But I’ve never actually encountered them in the backcountry. Some here on this forum say black bears are scardy cats and run away (probably most common) and to not even think about it (forgo bear spray). I carry spray, and recommend it (which I’d rather not have the weight), but 99 percent of the time I leave my Glock 10mm pistol at home (more for protection against people after an encounter my daughter and I had years ago, but a caliber that may offer some protection against a black bear if needed).
My neighbors mostly refuse to practice “no bear” behavior like no bird feeders, put the trash out the morning of, etc – so I can only guess some peoples protocol in the wilderness. Apologize for the ramble, but it is the most unclear topic for me in smart, adequate preparedness. Recent bear behavior is concerning and tragic at times. I’ll continue to read members’ contributions (and experts) on this topic and continue to strive for sensible precautions.Sep 14, 2021 at 8:38 am #3727345Todd TBPL Member
@texasbbLocale: Pacific Northwest
…a trend in the direction of that Pac northwest example of black bear behavior wherein we are possibly becoming the prey/food.
I am unaware of our PNW bears becoming more predatory. Do you have data/info/link?Sep 14, 2021 at 9:35 am #3727354
Todd to clarify that: I was referring to stories I’ve read about black bears north of like Vancouver and up into Alaska in that area maybe classified as the Inside passage on the lower western slope of the Rockies. I recall reading reports that black bears were more likely to engage in predacious behavior in that general region/area.
I’ve not read or heard anything like that about Washington State or Oregon.
Maybe when the time zones line up we can get some clarification from the locals. I may search later but hoping some of our contributors from that area can clarify if that is indeed a behavior observed in that greater region.Sep 14, 2021 at 10:08 am #3727358
Might look into infectious encephalitis in bears. Tahoe has some fearless bears due to this.
My son’s friend showed us a video of a black bear attacking her car while she was in it this spring. It was on top of Sherman Pass in WA state where the bears are hunted and usually very afraid of humans.
Bear was in the middle of the highway, so she stopped to let it move and it came over and tried to break thru the glass to get at her. Very strange.
Maybe the climate changes are causing more parasites/virus/bacteria to move around this planet and effect bear behavior.Sep 14, 2021 at 11:47 am #3727367DanBPL Member
I haven’t done a comprehensive study of this, but I don’t recall hearing about a substantial increase in black bear attacks here in Colorado. There seem to be a few each year, but many of them are at people’s homes. I’ve also heard of a few in established car-camping campgrounds. But black bear attacks in the Colorado wilderness must be extremely uncommon; I can’t remember any. I feel like these are rare anomalous events.Sep 14, 2021 at 12:18 pm #3727369
Colorado woman eaten this year.
“Colorado woman killed in rare bear attack
Wildlife officers said they found “signs of consumption on the body and an abundance of bear scat and hair at the scene.”Sep 14, 2021 at 12:27 pm #3727370
Colorado couple of weeks ago.
“Colorado Black Bear Attacks Tent with Campers in It, Forces Campground to Close Through Labor Day”
Pitkin County, Colorado has a problem on its hands. By recent events, the White River National Forest’s black bear population is no longer afraid of humans. At all.”Sep 14, 2021 at 12:28 pm #3727371DanBPL Member
Yeah, I remember that first one, Dave. As I mentioned, there are a few each year, and this one was near the woman’s home. Very sad.
I hadn’t heard about the campground attack, but as I said … there are a few each year, often at residences and crowded campgrounds.
Cherry-picking a couple of results from google doesn’t really show that there is any type of trend.
There have been a couple of serious attacks by cow elk recently also.Sep 14, 2021 at 1:44 pm #3727376
Calhoun # 82 is @ 12.5 miles from the parking lot at Clingmans Dome via the AT and Welch Ridge trails to the Hazel Creek Trail. Quite a bit longer from The Road to Nowhere and tunnel parking lot. It may be the actual most remote site in the GSMNP from a parking lot/vehicle.
Maybe that’s a factor?Sep 14, 2021 at 2:23 pm #3727382
The ranger at Pitkin talks as if a trend.Sep 14, 2021 at 3:35 pm #3727391
^^ Yes I talked to a GSMNP backcountry ranger and I would characterize his general inclination the same way. More on that later.Sep 14, 2021 at 9:47 pm #3727402AndrewBPL Member
There is a rather detailed posting and thread on this on the r/backpacking subreddit within Reddit. It was posted by u/toxicpandashell who was one of the two individuals that came upon the scene and hiked out to alert authorities. They postulated that perhaps the deceased suffered a stroke or some other health malady before the bear attack. There was also some commentary about it perhaps being an altercation over food since a blue bear hang bag was found near the body. Since the remains were so badly decomposed before the autopsy could be performed, it’s possible an additional injury was masked by the wounds inflicted by the bear. I agree that the news is disturbing as was the 2015 attack on a 16 y/o boy at Campsite 84 and the recent July attack on a teenage girl at Campsite 29. Reports on the July event indicate the bear was exhibiting predatory behavior and the family had made proper use of the bear hang cables. Hard to ascertain based on the limited info in the news articles if other circumstances came into play. The fact that these instances are still rare and the last know bear fatality in GSMNP before the subject death occurred in 2000 would indicate the risk of this kind of incident is still very low.Sep 15, 2021 at 10:04 am #3727420
Andrew thanks for your post. The thread you are referring to has a lot more detail; very informative.
Couple of key things gleaned are that the victims food bag was torn open and found near the makeshift picnic table at the site, AND the one thing the guy who found the victim noted as standing out as particularly out of place was finding the victims water filter beside the stream away from the table and food-bag like it had been dropped or left there.Sep 15, 2021 at 10:10 am #3727422
Here’s the video the young man took of the site and the bear. Nothing disturbing in the video just shows the site and you can just barely see the bear across the stream in the laurels. The guy said he was scanning the stream for trout and first noticed the bears tongue flicking in and out through the laurel leaves. Wow.Sep 15, 2021 at 11:09 am #3727424
So…a possible scenario…the victim was getting water and had left his food bag on the table. He sees the bear getting into his food, and tries to aggressively shoo it away. Things turn ugly.
My rule is, once the bear has your food, it’s game over. Now it will defend the food aggressively.
that’s why I wouldn’t pepper spray a bear that had my food.Sep 15, 2021 at 11:42 am #3727427AndrewBPL Member
This sounds like the most plausible explanation. I forgot about reading the part about the water filter. I was in a similar situation with a juvenile black bear in the Pisgah back in July, except it was at a group camp. Nothing we did would scare the bear away and it just kept circling the campsite overnight and coming in to grab loose bags. Most of the group had bear canisters which it did not disturb. We ended-up breaking camp early and leaving since it was clear the bear had become habituated to securing food at established sites. I have to believe all the additional visitors the parks and national forests have received during the pandemic is a contributing factor to the bear encounters. It would appear lots of day trippers and less experienced campers are not practicing proper food management and LNT. The first-hand encounter write-up on r/backpacking indicated the victim had UL gear which would seem to imply he was experienced, but maybe he did try to protect his food bag.
I have a trip up to GSMNP this weekend and will use the bear cables as instructed. I also try to make a habit of cooking meals off trail away from camp. It’s not a guaranteed solution to eliminating bear interactions but hopefully it minimizes those risks.
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