We have camped and hiked in the Smoky Mountains for over 20 years. Never had a bear encounter. Well it finally happened! We were hiking down from Mr. LeConte on the Boulevard Trail. We first kept seeing bear poop, then ran into a fresh pile hot poop loaded with berries in the middle of the trail! Rick said “Well this bear isn’t far off”! We keep going. I am talking not really paying attention when Rick says “There’s a bear!” I said “What?”. His response was “There’s a bear!”. I said “Where?”. His answer was “Right There!”. We all freeze. This is where your not suppose to panic, Yeah right! Cause you just want to run, but your suppose to stand your ground with the black bears here. The left side of the trail went straight down, the right side went straight up the mountain. Nowhere for us to go. We had full backpacks on. Unfortunately, I was The only one with a little whistle. Rick tells me to blow the whistle. I do so three times. Doesn’t even deter the bear, he just keeps coming towards us on the trail. He gets about 10 feet from us. At this point I am blowing the dam whistle so much I am light headed and dizzy. The bear then stops looks at us, smells us, and decides he not interested. He then hooks a left and goes off the trail down the mountain.
This is the scary part. That bear never made a sound walking thru the brush. He was a big boy! So if they are around you may never hear them!
Another thing is the whole way up that 8 mile trail the day before there was bear poop on the trail everywhere. On the way down it was gone like some fairy cleaned it up. Except for the fresh stuff! I asked a Park Ranger what was up with that. He could not answer me. But a year or so later when we were camped in a remote area I saw tons of butterflies swarm the bear poop. So they must consume it.
Moral to my story is now we all carry the emergency whistles, and air horns! I am not a big fan of the bear canister sprays. Everyone says they don’t spray far enough and are expensive. If you want more protection a can of wasp spray would be good. They spray about 25 to 35 feet. Just make sure you have a dam good aim. Otherwise you will just piss the bear off.