Tag Archives: Pennsylvania

What about snakes? (Part II) Fauna of the Appalachian Trail

When I  began backpacking from Springer Mountain in Georgia on the Appalachian Trail I had lost any fear I had about snakes, rattlesnakes in particular.  I’ve always found knowledge to be an potent antidote to specific fears.  Since my first run-in with snakes in the Uwharrie National Forest until I began my backpacking trip, I became well-read about  venomous snakes.  Laurence Klauber (1883-1968) is known for the landmark book  “Rattlesnakes: Their Habits, Life Histories and Influence on Mankind.”  I consulted it other written work.  As I read I came to understand these reptiles.  The more I learned the more the myths faded.  By the time I saw my next rattler in Pennsylvania, I felt curiosity and appreciation and not dread.

On top of Blue Mountain

On top of Blue Mountain (Photo credit: cthoyes)

Along A.T. in the Blue Mountains of Pennsylvania I stopped 0n a sweltering August afternoon for a water break.  Dropping my pack I fished out my water bottle and took a long drink.  I sat on a log for a rest.  The trail ahead followed an abandoned woods road and I consulted my map to survey the course ahead.  Gazing from the map I checked the trail ahead, then observed a disk-shaped black patch on the footway.  Thinking it to be some sort of wheel – perhaps from a child’s wagon – I went over to investigate it.  It only took a moment to see it was a black-phase timber rattlesnake spiraled on the side of the trail.  The snake lay still.  It did not rattle.  But its eyes were full life as it lay patiently, waiting for an opportunistic meal to venture by.  I did not disturb the snake, but I did spend practically an hour standing there, observing the snake.  Fascination had replaced my fear.

Dwightwood Spring on Mackinac Island's shoreline

Spring

Some weeks later, while following a blue-blazed side trail on the New York section of the A.T. to get water, I stumbled across two rattlesnakes sunning on a ledge below me on the trail which led to the spring.  I admit being surprised.  They were not readily visible until I was almost upon them.  I bushwhacked around them.  On the way back I saw they had slithered into the bush.

Hikers and backpackers along the Appalachian Trail who meet up with snakes are fortunate.  Rattlesnakes and copperheads are endangered and vanishing from much of the A.T..  These creatures require distance and respect.  Basic rules for avoiding encounters with them would include:

Never go barefoot when walking in the wild.  Always wear hiking boots, especially in known snake country.  Avoid thick  underbrush where snakes may lie concealed.  Don’t step or put your hands where you can’t see.  Step on logs and rocks and not over them; a snake may be lying on the other side.  Also check the other side of rocks or logs before you sit down on them.  Never handle a dead snake; it can still bite.  Don’t antagonize or rile a snake for fun; you might regret it.

Snakes are animals you’re likely to see along the Appalachian Trail.  Most will be nonvenomous.  But if you’re in luck  you might see rattlesnakes and copperheads.  Treat them with caution, giving them some distance, snap a photo (only if you can do this from a safe distance), enjoy the moment – then hike on.

2 Comments

Filed under The Appalachian Trail

Thinking about…your mindset before you hike the Appalachian Trail

Mountain hiking

Mountain hiking (Photo credit: arnybo)

Discouragement.  Disappointment. Physical pain. Exasperation.  Dreadful weather.  Slick trails.  Mail-drops that aren’t at the post office when you get there.  Blisters.  Humidity and heat w

hich sap your hardiness and hinder your hiking until the cooler part of the day.  Mobbed shelters.  Difficult people.

These are some of the dynamics you will (yes, I said will) meet when backpacking the Appalachian Trail.  Even so take heart, and know this before you set about your journey; there will be joy.  Days of elation and striking beauty.  Nights of amazement under the stars.  Spectacular moments that are lifetime blessings.  Look for them.  Trust that they will come.

Here are some techniques you may find useful to adopt before you strike out for the Appalachian Trail:

The image shows a sign on the Appalachian Trai...

The image shows a sign on the Appalachian Trail at the northern trailhead of the 100-Mile Wilderness giving the following warning: “CAUTION. IT IS 100 MILES SOUTH TO THE NEAREST TOWN AT MONSON. THERE ARE NO PLACES TO OBTAIN SUPPLIES OR HELP UNTIL MONSON. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS SECTION UNLESS YOU HAVE A MINIMUM OF 10 DAYS SUPPLIES AND ARE FULLY EQUIPPED. THIS IS THE LONGEST WILDERNESS SECTION OF THE ENTIRE AT AND ITS DIFFICULTY SHOULD NOT BE UNDERESTIMATED. GOOD HIKING! MATC” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perfection does not exist on the Appalachian (or any other) Trail.  Hardship is part of the price paid for the glorious experience of hiking it.  If you’re susceptible to black-and-white thinking, realize that each mile and each day will bring a combination of arduousness and delight, and regardless of the difficulties, when you finally complete your hike it will be with a deep sense of attainment and reward.

Release the following expectation: hiking a specific number of miles per day.  A wise backpacker has said, “begin slowly…the 20-mile days will come.”  In my case, there were just two high-mileage days and both were triggered by necessity.  One was a 17 mile push to retrieve a Saturday mail drop in Maine; the other was simply because I missed some trail blazes in Pennsylvania.  By the end of that day I had walked 23 fatiguing miles!  Even if you’re in the best of shape you can expect about 7 to 10 mile days in the southern Appalachians.  As you reach the 10-percent trail grades in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, doing a 20-mile day is easier.  Even so, who says you have to?  Who is looking over your shoulder?  What person has hitched a pedometer to your pack belt?  This trip is for enjoyment and personal growth.  “Hike your hike” cannot be repeated enough.

Remember, during despondent moments, that you can do this.  A setback does not have to become something which derails your hike.  I once heard “if you’re sick and tired of hiking, go into town and get a motel room for a few days.  Kick back, rest, decompress.  If you’re not missing the trail in two or three days maybe you need to set your sights on another goal.”  There is no shame in this.  Besides, the Appalachian Trail is not going anywhere.  Never abandon your desire to hike it while the fire still burns inside you.

1 Comment

Filed under The Appalachian Trail

Be afraid – be very afraid!

This guy may have a point…

I recall my own encounter with a brash bruin at a Pennsylvania state park some time back on an A.T. summer hike.

For now, enjoy –

Leave a comment

Filed under The Appalachian Trail