Solo hiking through the Great Balsam Mountains was as beautiful and challenging as it was misty. While hiking several miles on the Art Loeb trail towards the Black Balsam Knob summit, I stood in awe of the beautifully sloped forests filled with balsam fir trees that merged with grassy, wildflower-covered landscapes. Once on the ridge towards the summit, the landscape combined with a rocky terrain that reached above 6,000 feet in elevation. As the gusty wind blew through the dense mist, I observed ample moments to photograph unique scenes of trails that melded perfectly into high key backgrounds. For short moments of time, layered misty mountain views presented a breathtaking sight near the top!
Throughout my hike, I noticed signs of bear activity and took note of how the signs increased exponentially near the top. Could it be that wildflowers and increased areas of nutrient-dense vegetation (including wild berries) attracted more of my wild friends to this one particular area? I thought so, which is why I stayed around much longer in this area than most areas on the trail! I searched for bear scat, paw prints stamped on the dampened trail, daybeds in areas high in vegetation, and bear-made trails which were plentiful!
After hiking down a few hundred yards from the summit, I set up with my long lens for a few hours until I had an opportunity to photograph a bear traveling through the foggy terrain. This inquisitive bear seemed to be on a Sunday stroll, taking in his surroundings as he slowly crossed the trail and disappeared within his lush habitat. I was so grateful to have a moment with this bear after a long day traversing the backcountry trail!
Because I solo hike regularly, safety is a top priority of mine when out on the trails through bear habitats across North Carolina. I make it a point to let someone know where I will be and what time to expect me back. I pack enough electrolytes, water, snacks, and a comprehensive first aid kit to last more than the planned time on the trail in case an unforeseen emergency happens while I’m hiking. I always carry my bear spray when out in bear territories even though I have yet to use it on a black bear in all of my years with them on foot. Most importantly, I stay on the trail and take photos of areas where the trail comes to a fork or where the trail goes unmarked in areas of very rough terrain. Keeping track of the trail’s nuances by taking photos can make all the difference when you come back through and encounter an area where you can’t remember which way to go. Making sure my phone is fully charged before hiking is always a high priority when planning my hiking adventures as well!
Bears are not only food-driven experts at picking up scent from far distances, they are also highly curious. There were many reports of food and hiking packs being dragged away by bears in the backcountry campgrounds and on the trails while I hiked this area so tightly storing my food and toiletries in my BearVault BV425 Sprint Canister was all I needed to do to ensure I helped keep bears safe while day hiking the backcountry. It gives me peace of mind to know I can safely explore their world and not leave a trace while doing so!