16 Bears Fill Up a Week in the Shennies

Other than the fact that many hikers aqua-blaze through Shenandoah National Park, I didn’t know much about the Shennies before I entered the park near Rockfish Gap, except that there were lots of bears here.

I was coming off a long break: six days spent resting an injured foot and spending time exploring Staunton (pronounced Stanton), Waynesboro, Virginia’s westerly neighbor.

After limping everywhere for a week, I wasn’t sure how my foot would do and if I’d even be able to hike more than a handful of miles. I was hesitant yet determined to get back on the trail.

I was also feeling a bit alone, as if I could quite possibly be the last NOBO. With nearly four months on the trail and a month of zeros under my belt thanks to injuries, sickness, and family commitments, nearly all my trail buddies have either moved on or gotten off the trail.

My mood was a little “meh” on that first day when I came to a rock scramble that made me pause, thinking, “What’s the best way down?” I turned around to let another hiker pass (yay, another hiker) and saw Freebird, who I first met back at Woods Hole Hostel. He told me Walkabout was somewhere behind him, and I felt a little less alone.

I forged on that day, eventually making the seven-something miles to Calf Mountain Shelter (not technically in the SNP, but the first shelter you reach after coming into the park.) Freebird and Walkabout had long since passed me, and their tents were set up when I walked in to claim my spot.

A little while later, Grateful showed up. My husband and I met her when we stopped at the Rockfish Gap Information Center that morning. She had an exciting encounter with a stubborn rattlesnake occupying the trail in front of her for about 20 minutes, delaying her arrival. She caught it on video and when she showed me I was thrilled to have missed that experience.

The next day I hiked out early and was quickly passed by Freebird, a much faster hiker than I am. A few minutes later I stopped for a moment to wolf down a Starburst and heard a rustling over my left shoulder. I turned to see a really large bear heading my way.

Thankfully it wasn’t my first bear, and I successfully convinced him to detour a bit before I continued down the trail. Even so, he was big enough that I felt a little anxious and was eager to move along at a faster-than-usual pace.

Continue Reading on The Trek.

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