It was nice to get a day to myself for some hiking in the great outdoors. I woke up early and headed out the door just before 5:30. I was bound for the Cataloochee section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for an ambitious loop hike on the Palmer Creek, Balsam Mountain, Mount Sterling Ridge and Pretty Hollow Gap Trails with a short bushwhack up to Big Cataloochee's 6,155 foot summit. After a quick breakfast in Newport, I arrived in Cataloochee and drove through a pleasant light fog.
I parked and hit the Pretty Hollow Gap Trail at 7:35. I passed the horse campground and headed into the woods, closely following Pretty Hollow Creek.
After passing some type of monitoring station
As I approached the spot I had seen the bear I was extremely cautious, as I was not sure there weren't more bears nearby. I never did see another bear the rest of my hike though. I would, however, find plenty more evidence of bears on my hike. Eventually I stopped to eat a snack of trail mix.
Eventually I got up to move on. I soon found the junction with the Mt Sterling Ridge Trail and turned onto it. Information I had read online stated that there was a "manway" leadin up Big Cataloochee summit "50 yards beyond the crossing of a shallow, but wide stream". After crossing a wide, wet seep that flowed across the trail I paced off 50 yards. I saw nothing that resembled a trail and so I decided to just thrash about in the woods. Luckily, I had brought my GPS unit with me and so I plugged in the coordinates for Big Cataloochee summit and slowly plodded up through thick vegetation.
I was relieved to be back on the trail. Bushwhacking in the eastern US is exhausting. I made my way east on the mostly level trail and started to see lots of bear sign. There were bear scat, areas where the earth had been torn up as bears rooted around for roots and insect larvae, and some of the most perfectly intact bear tracks I've seen!
The hike was all downhill and went pretty fast. The early stages of the descent were high above Pretty Hollow Creek and I could occasionally hear what sounded like people throwing boulders into the water from high above. Could the sound have been a bear turning over rocks in a search for food? I guess I'll never know. The later stages of the hike were close to water and I enjoyed the sound of the cascading creek