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If packs could talk…..

I wanted to meet Tipi Walter last weekend for the Hammock Hang event but I needed to stay in cell range for my job so I planned a route to accommodate that. I planned a reliable old loop hike in the Smokies: Anthony Creek to Treemont and back via Russell Field and Derrick Knob.



 I started up the Anthony Creek Trail just before 7 PM last Friday. Notice that I was wearing a pack when I started.









 There was still a lot of blooming Rhododendron.









 And up where the trail levels out for a while I passed this neat mushroom.






I reached the shelter a little before 9PM and found two fellows already there.

 I’m still experimenting with the tarp so I pitched it out in front of the shelter about 40 feet away under some trees. (yes, I know that kind of thing is frowned upon)

After setting the tarp and blowing up my sleep pad, I hung my food and pulled some of my stuff out of the pack….clothes, sleep pad, blanket, diddy bag etc… I was about to hang the pack like I usually do and decided to wait until I got back from the water source because I wanted to get a few more things out.

It was dark by then (about 9:20 PM) and I went to go get water.

When I got back the two guys in the shelter called me over and were all freaked out. They said two large bears were roaming the area and had come by the front of the shelter while I was gone. They also said they heard some thumping around and assumed it was me (too dark to tell).

I immediately ran up to my little camp and noticed that my pack (which had been leaning against a tree) was nowhere in sight. I had only been gone for 15 minutes. I beat the brush in the immediate area by headlamp trying to find it to no avail. I then search up in the woods behind the shelter for about 30 minutes and heard a lot of moving around in there and decided to wait until morning. If I had found a bear still chewing on my pack I don’t know if I could have persuaded it to go way or not anyway.

So after a restless night I got up and canvassed the area as best I could. I spent about three hours looking in all directions, and the two guys helped for while. I didn’t find it.

So I had to decide if I should continue my hike with no pack, wallet (including drivers license and bank cards), toilet paper, water treatment, stove, fuel, head-net, bug spray, first aid kit, etc…I decided that for two more days, I could make do without all of that stuff….except the pack. I still had 27 miles (43.4 kilometers) to go on my planned route.











 I wound up wrapping up my remaining gear in the tarp. (It was all I could think of.)









 I tied the ends together and wore it like a Mexican mother carries her baby in those wrap things.

I skulked back down the mountain agitated and defeated.


I reported the incident to the Backcountry office and they said a “wild-life expert” or some such would call me back to get details. They also said they would call me if the pack turned up (and mentioned that in such cases the stuff usually turns up on the trail somewhere).

I got home in time to head to the County Clerk office that was open on Saturday and got a new license. I also canceled my bank cards.


Well, I got a call Monday from the Backcountry Office; someone had found my pack and brought my wallet to the Rangers Station! Since I had already dealt with that stuff my first question was:”did they find my pack?” Turns out they had hung it up on the bear cables at the shelter.

 So now I needed to go get my pack but I have to work this upcoming weekend….what to do?

So I planned a midnight run after work Tuesday: get off at 5PM drive the 1.5 hours to the trailhead, high-tail it 5.5 miles up the mountain, grab my stuff (if it was still there), hike back down in the dark and drive 1.5 hours back home, sleep for four hours and then go to work! Not a great plan but hey I brought that stuff up on the mountain and I’m responsible for cleaning up my mess.



 So here I was Tuesday after driving to the trail head.









 I brought my Seat To Summit day pack with three liters of water, a few protein bars, rain gear, etc.. (And Trailspace hat of course : ))









 It was a beautiful evening but I was focused on making time.










 Woo-Hoo! My pack was still hanging!










 The tree to the right in this photo was the scene of the crime.









 And here is the shelter. (I’m now way more familiar with this area than I really wanted to be after all my searching).






 You don’t say?








 Yep…I must agree.









 I raced the sun back down the mountain. Wouldn’t you know that I ran into a huge bear on the way back? No joke, that big guy crashed all around the woods; I shouted and clacked my poles on rocks and kept on trucking. It sure got my adrenaline going as I was all alone in the dark coming down the mountain wearing an ABC pack. (already been chewed)









 Hmmph, somebody went psycho on that little snake.







And so here is the damage:











 I’m going to send some picks to Mystery Ranch and get a quote for repair. Hopefully it won’t be too expensive!



So the other strangeness: several of my items are gone and I’m certain they were taken by people. They took my JetBoil, my TP, my head-net, my Aqua-Mira, and my pocket knife.






 But the stranger thing is that things were added! They put in a bag of garbage, a full container of Speedstick deodorant, a bottle of lotion and the grand prize….an Operation Iraqi Freedom Jacket!


Oh the things my pack has seen!

I had been racking my brain trying think of any food or attractant items I might have left in the pack. I was considering that I left it really close to where Gonzan was grilling onions on Roan Mountain the week before; maybe it picked up some odor? But after seeing where it was ripped (lower left side) I finally remembered what I left in that pocket: coffee grounds! Starbucks House Blend which we all know is a favorite of black bears everywhere.

I’ve left my pack laying like that in bear country a thousand times but finally got caught. So let this be a lesson to you! (er,,,,and me)

Happy Trails!


Hey Patman, it's easy to get lax in ones habits. Sometimes I have my kitchen to close to my camp. Or I don't hang my food bag right. Really we have done this 100s of times without anything happening, right? Sometimes people passing by think I'm nuts for even taking these precautions. But the fact is that shit can happen. I'm sorry for your lost and destroyed gear.  But a lessoned learned. I for one will be more careful because of your story. Thanks for the reminder. 


This is how we all started back in the 1960's and '70's, so don't feel so bad. You're humping the original bedroll.

But major bummer none-the-less.  How many times have I left my fully loaded pack to get water down a hillside to a spring?  I'm near fanatical about a clean pack with no food particles anywhere in it when empty.  All my food stays in the food bags or in ziplocs at all times, and then the pack is thrown inside my tent. 

Another point---I don't camp anywhere near a trail shelter although occasionally I may be a hundred or more feet away.  The Smokies is a very weird place where they tell you exactly where to camp at all times and this just focuses the bruins.  I'm all for dispersed camping.

In the meantime I have a couple packs you can use that would suit you very well---Dana Terraplane and a neato Kelty 50th Anniversary.  Give me a buzz if interested.

Haha one of your more interesting reports! As you were describing what happened to the pack in my head I'm thinking "Please don't be his mystery ranch pack. Maybe he took a smaller pack for the shorter trip. Any pack but teh mystery ranch pack!" Hope she heals quickly!!!!!

I take this as a warning that things can go badly very fast. I once left my breakfast pot out to dig my morning cathole, only to find a coyote licking it clean when I got back. That was only less than 10 minutes.

Jake W said:

Haha one of your more interesting reports! As you were describing what happened to the pack in my head I'm thinking "Please don't be his mystery ranch pack. Maybe he took a smaller pack for the shorter trip. Any pack but teh mystery ranch pack!" Hope she heals quickly!!!!!

 The old Mystery Ranch boys will fix it for sure but it will take a while.

Hey just be glad it's the pack with the holes in it and not your ass.

Freakin trail rodents that took your gear & left you garbage... May they walk off a ridge in the dark someday soon.

That's quite the trip you had.  One that will make a good fire side story.

WOW Patman! What a story! Glad you got that cool Iraqui Freedom coat!

A good story, well told, with a lesson... what more could you ask for?

Hey thanks for the comments guys….I went to bed not long after posting this last night (needed to catch up a little sleep, lol).

I wasn’t going to write a report initially as I was actually a little embarrassed about the whole thing. In a PM with Tipi he encouraged me to go ahead and write it up.

I will certainly be more diligent going forward. In this particular case the consequence of losing that stuff wasn’t dire as I was only a couple hours hike from the car when it happened. Now had I been farther out or someplace less familiar the scenario could have been way more stressful.


Thanks for the offer on the packs, I have an old Kelty external frame myself that I will probably use in the interim. And BTW, the bedroll thing kinds of hurts after a couple of miles. I wound up shifting that thing from side to side and pulling it off my shoulder to try make it more comfortable. I sure wouldn’t want to trek like that for any serious distance!

Patman - Don't be embarrassed!  This is perhaps one of the best trip reports I've read! 

Patrick, my man, thanks for sharing this!

 It is a sad day when a precious Mystery Ranch is untimely crippled, but I am certainly glad it was the pack and not you who was aerated. The rascallions who took your stove and other gear should...well, I will hold my tongue. 

Sometimes I get weary of hanging food correctly, as it can be a chore. You saw on Roan the absurd lengths required to haul 45lbs of food up high! Through less than perfect planning, a couple people brought WAY too much food, Ha!  But this is a vivid reminder of how important it is to hang properly and careful scent control. 

I hope our cooking on grassy ridge didn't contribute to the incident :(

 I've taken less experienced Friends and family on a number of trips in the last year, whose eating and cooking habits aren't great yet. So I am sure my pack has many more attractive smells than is "healthy." I haven't washed my pack since I got it, and must remedy that right away.

They also said they heard some thumping around and assumed it was me (too dark to tell).

Did they not have flashlight or headlamps?! Strange. 

I am guessing the extra items in your pack were just other things left behind at the shelter by others.  I think it likely a Ridgrunner or another hiker just consolidated everything in the "abandoned" pack to hang away from any other bears' reach.. 

Did the guy in the hut have an Iraqui Freedom tattoo?


Thanks Seth....I appreciate that.



Those guys had bedded down for the night in the shelter and I think they heard the noise before they saw the bears. I bet you’re right about the trash and such: it was probably a Ridgerunner. There were some funny journal entries in the shelter log: I was in a hurry that night and didn’t read them all but it may have provided a clue.


I have no clue about the jacket. I didn’t notice any tats.

Well this is definitely not cool. I am with Gonzan on this one. Better your pack than you. I am sure MR can get it back in working order for ya.

Real bummer on the stove. If ya need it I would be willing to shoot ya a Pocket Rocket free of charge if it helps ya out.

There are some real slime balls out there. Alot I would like to say in regards to these folks but this is a family friendly venue so I am going to demur.

Great TR. Or two actually.


Sorry to hear about the pack but darn glad you were'nt attached to it when the bear came calling!

Nice ya got it back tho a bit torn up. As for the !*#$%^! so n so's that made off what your gear...... well I think we're all in agreement there.

The bed roll setup brings back many fond memories, and some not so good too. That was how I first started packing, but your right, the rope really starts cutting into the shoulders after awhile.

Great story!

Poor Trance.  However, it does go to show how strong the pack is....

Now that is a trip report, Patman! Thanks for sharing it.

wow, so sorry to hear about that. It really does make a  interesting trip report.

Yosemite bears in California will steal your pack during the day if you lean it against the trail head restroom to go inside. 

Patman, Thanks for a great story and pictures, too!!  On one of my several Smoky AT hikes (I love that place!), there was a bear cage around Russell Field. I think it's gone now. I asked a Ranger how they get hold of bears to tag them. He said they hang a punctured can of tuna. The bears can smell it from 30 miles away if the winds are right. I quit eating tuna salad sandwich for my Day 1 lunches.  Glad you and shelter mates unscathed and got gear back or most of it. Strange.  I've yet to see a bear on my AT hikes. Ambivalence Still Reigns. Cheers, Spider

Thanks for the report Patman.  Your account is very well written. 

 While I was a bit more fortunate, I too had a bear encounter that woke me up to my bad habits.

Uwharrie, where bears are rare, one night late on the trail just before dark, I set up my tent, got out my stove and started cooking right there. 

A couple hours after settling in, a bear approached me from across the creek, and he got so close I could hear breathing.  I whistled loudly, smacked the tent floor like a gorilla, and sent the bear running. I could hear him crashing through the leaves and thicket. 

Then I was serenaded by a circling bear making "chuffing" noises the rest of the night. 

I cut my two nighter down to one and headed home. 

I was lucky and never forgot the rules again. I do not even leave my pack when going for water. If I can't hang it I lug it. 


 hey thanks for the blurbs folks! I didn't see these new comments until this morning.



Your story almost exactly describes my first solo backpacking trip in the Smokies. I mean in every detail! That's wild. My spot was campsite 34 / Gabes Mountain. That bear circled me for hours! I didn't sleep a wink.

That’s why I was a little embarrassed to write this report....if anyone should have good habits it's me. I've backpacked almost exclusively in bear country for quite a few years now (nearly the entirety of my experience) and should know better but I guess everyone can let their guard down. It only takes a few minutes.



January 21, 2022
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