Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Three Bears...Where's Mom?

Christmas Getaway – 12/23/08 – Laurel Falls Trail – 6.2 Miles

My daughters and I got up, dressed, packed and out of the hotel room with a minimum of verbal exchange (very important skill as the parent of young adults) and ate breakfast in Gatlinburg before heading to the Laurel Falls Trails. I was very excited to be doing this trail with them. Actually, I’m excited to hike just about any trail with anybody at any time, but this was especially great because I knew the waterfall would be a big payoff for them. The thrill meter had slipped a tad since yesterday because now they knew that hiking could be hard work, but they were still good sports. They got a kick out of the fact that yesterday we went to “Meg’s” mountain and today was “Laura’s” waterfall.

It was cold but clear once again and now Megan and Laura were experienced at being outfitted. (The day before Laura’s hands had been too cold after our lunch break, but we got that worked out with different gloves.) Ours was the first car in the parking lot of this extremely popular spot and I knew we would not be alone for long.

The trail up to the falls is paved so it’s easy walking, although a little bit steep in places. I remembered from the summer that a bear family hangs around this trail so I kept a watchful eye but saw no signs. Along the way we saw really cool (ha!) icicles and hoar frost.

Laurel Falls was in fine form and we hung around taking photos from different angles. At this point Laura chose to go back to the car (I had given them both an option earlier that they could turn around any time if they were willing to wait in the cold car for me.) Megan and I continued up the trail to its intersection with Little Greenbrier Trail, where Judy and I had been just a couple of weeks before. Along the way I pointed out to Meg the faraway ridge line of the AT. Could that be Clingmans Dome in the distance?

We turned around and walked back to the waterfall, took a few more pictures and slipped around on the ice. By now other people were making the pilgrimage up, some hikers in proper attire and others in jeans and carrying babies and asking the inevitable, “How much farther?” As always, I try to remember that I once hiked in jeans and that anybody who takes the time to step on a trail and see the forest is a potential convert to the hiking life.

For both hikes I had slowed my pace for Megan and Laura, but now that I was in the home stretch I asked Meg if it was okay to go ahead of her back to the car so that I could see how Laura was doing. Turns out Laura was cozy in the back seat with her quilt and her iPod, of course. She told me about seeing two bears on the creek below the falls soon after we parted ways. They were far enough away that she did not disturb their behavior and she watched them for a few minutes. The fact that she was alone didn’t seem to bother her.

Megan arrived back at the car just five minutes later, very excited because she had seen a bear too! During a moment when there was no one else on the trail she heard leaves rustling and saw it moving around behind a big log. The fact that she was alone did freak her out a little bit so she didn’t linger. So…three bears for the girls, zero for mom! Add that to the one yesterday and that’s a pretty good bear score for our trip.

Thus ended our mini-trip to the Smokies. We drove back to Charlotte to get started on the holiday festivities, but I felt like I had already received one of the best gifts possible: time with some of my most favorite people doing one of my most favorite things.

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