Tag Archives: Snake

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.

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Thinking about…fauna on the Appalachian Trail. What about…snakes?!? (Part I)

Rattlesnake

Rattlesnake (Photo credit: Mauro Luna)

When you announce to friends you’re backpacking the Appalachian Trail the first response is: “What about bears and snakes?”  When and how this became a worry for hikers and backpackers is a riddle.  But, if snakes were a significant risk along the Appalachian Trail I never would have hiked it, seeing that my first encounter with reptiles was unsettling.

While hiking the Uwharrie National Forest on a clear April Sunday I bushwhacked off-trail to explore.  Using compass bearings I reached a squat rocky outcrop and poked around a bit.  I sat, snacked on a granola bar and drank some water.  Then I stood up.  Three feet to the right of where I stood lay a rattlesnake.  Adding to the joy, a copperhead lay a foot further on.  Though my comprehension of snakes was limited I knew one thing; when copperheads and rattlesnakes are found together it means you may be at or near a den – which suggests many snakes.

Timber Rattlesnake SE Georgia

Timber Rattlesnake SE Georgia (Photo credit: TomSpinker)

Adrenaline punched me in my stomach as I charged down the slope.  I struck the earth in front of me with my hiking staff and, finally reaching the trail.  My imagination got the better of me as I sped down the trail the way I came, making incredible noise and beating every bush and fallen log to alert snakes of my presence.  I got back to my car trembling and sweating, and drove home.  Driving down the two-way parkway I saw a long black thread squirm across the blacktop.  It was a huge blacksnake.  Adrenaline spike two!  Getting home I “came down” from the experience, and was doing nicely a few hours.  Until I switched on the television.  Hoping entertainment would be an agreeable diversion, I tuned in a science fiction television series which was airing its pilot episode.  The show was “V”.  At the conclusion of the episode, some valiant soul tore away the human skin of an invading alien face only to find underneath…a reptile!  That sealed the deal.  I don’t think I slept that night.

When the first fear subsided, I began to do what I always do when I’m faced with a situation I’m interested or unversed about.  I started reading.  By the end of that year I knew enough about snakes to nearly be an amateur herpetologist.  And I had answer to the question: “What about snakes?”

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Rattlesnake in the Berkshires

Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At least once every year or two a reptilian resident reminds us of its presence.  Why not?  After all, the bears are certainly putting in more appearances of late – why not rattlesnakes?  Not to worry, though.  These snakes are shy and will retire when they sense the vibration of your footfalls, unless you rile them up.  Just enjoy the encroachment of fauna back into suburban wilds.

Related article:

Mass. woman finds rattlesnake on porch (wcvb.com)

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