Having climbed Shuckstacks, the grueling gateway mountain at the outer edge of the Smoky Mountains Naitional Park I sat and rested at the fire look out tower on it's summit. I tried to imagine what it must have been like many, many years ago for the fire wardens. They had to climb that mountain every day and report back every evening on forest fires, or fire risks in the area. It was my third time climbing this mountain and three times, at this point, seemed more than enough for a life time.
The walking was quite pleasant after the initial climb, an undulating trail lined by a continual carpet of very pretty spring wild flowers, mostly spring beauties. There were still no leaves on the tree's so the views to the east and west were crystal clear, Tennessee on one side, North Carolina on the other. I continued along all day enjoying the peace, quiet and amazing scenery. Eventually i came to a three sided trail shelter. There were quite a few people around doing their evening chores before going to sleep. I sat and made dinner, spoke to a few of the hikers but mostly just focused on eating.
I wasn't really keen on spending the night in a full shelter with all the snoring, twitching, rolling over, coughing, whispers, head lamps, and most of all the shelter mice running all over the place. I moved along at dusk and found a nice spot to set up camp with a fantastic view of the looming mountains ahead, the sun glowing orange making every tree around for as far as the eye could see glow a subtle pink color. I climbed into my tent, got settled and read for a while until it was completely dark. That's when i switched to my tiny pocket radio I'd brought along. I popped the headphones in and tuned in to a local radio station falling asleep to the sounds of some good old country music.
I was woken abruptly in the night by a hideous noise which seemed to be very close to the tent. The unmistakable howl of a coyote rang in my ears and made me freeze with fear. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up, my heart was racing. The howling continued but was joined by another howl on the other side of the tent, then another in front of the tent, then another behind it. I picked out at least six different howlers as they circled my tent. I wasn't sure whether or not the coyotes wanted me, or my food, either way i was terrified and unsure about what to do. All that separated me from them was a few ounces of nylon. I decided that the best thing to do was give up any hope of sleeping that night and to try and ignore it. I did this by putting my head phones back in and turning up the radio as loud as possible to try and drown out the noise outside. This worked very well! Luckily I was tired enough from the days walking that i eventually fell asleep with some very loud bluegrass music playing in my ears. I woke up at dawn, my radio still on full volume. I got up and looked around the area I'd camped, nothing there at all. You would never have thought that the night before this was the scene of a howling coyote party and I was the guest of honor!
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