Since we just moved to the Delaware Water Gap area, I thought I’d share one of our Appalachian Trail backpacking experiences. I should warn you, wherever I go, I’m the one who finds the snakes.
I found this little fella on my walk down to the lake. He may be small, but the ones on the A.T. are not.
My son and one of the twins are the back-packers of the family. They come with me on the A.T. We were hiking the Kittatinny Mountains on the New Jersey side of the Gap. You can find a short history and geology notes about the mountains here. Ever since my college geology course, I’m fascinated with the formation and rock strata of mountains.
On this particular trip, a three-night excursion, I found a sparse grassy area in the shade on the second afternoon. I was exhausted because I don’t sleep well on rocky ground. Pup tent or no pup tent. So I tried to make myself comfortable, reclining full-length in the grass, using my back pack as a wedge/pillow for my shoulders. I was afraid if I took off the pack, mid-day, I’d never put it back on. The kids picked wild blueberries by Sunfish Pond.
It didn’t take long for my son to come back with some blueberries for me.
“Oh cool,” he said. “A diamondback rattlesnake.”
“Coiled at your feet.” He said calmly
I looked down my body and saw the snake’s head held high by my feet—tasting the air with its tongue. I couldn’t even scream. This was probably a good thing. You don’t want to startle the snake any more than you need to. Now I understood what people meant when they said “scared stiff.”
I didn’t want to bend my knees up for fear that they could look threatening to a snake. And you never want to make sudden, jerky movements if you are very close to a snake. It is amazing how swiftly they can strike.
I was afraid to roll over because of the bulky back pack. Slowly, I tried to keep my legs low and drag them sideways out of the snake’s reach. My arms ached and my legs refused to move.
“Come drag me away from the snake,” I whispered to my son.
By this time my daughter had returned with handfuls of berries. They both abandoned their berries and grabbed my pack, pulling me back away from the snake. Suddenly my legs could bend and I scrambled to my feet.
We stood transfixed, watching the snake. He continued to taste my fear in the air around us. Maybe 15 minutes later—it seemed like hours—the snake uncoiled to its full three foot length and slithered away toward the thickets by Sunfish Pond where the kids had been picking blueberries.
I released a breath I didn’t realize I held. I would always rather encounter the snakes instead of my children.
As we continued on our journey to another campsite for the night, I couldn’t get the snake out of my mind. Snakes can be difficult to spot along the trail because they can hide in the grass, like the one I reclined next to. Or they could be sunning themselves on a rock that has caught a shaft of sunshine in a forest. Snakes are cold-blooded and always seek warmth from sun or heated rock. A hiker could shift that rock by accident or bump one nearby and jar the snake. Snakes startle easily and strike when they feel threatened. They are unpredictable. This is why you need to back away from them slowly. Never prod a snake to move. Their reach is amazingly long.
I don’t have a photo of our encounter with this rattlesnake. Believe me, a photo was the last thing on my mind at the time. These snakes live on the Appalachian Mountains. There are warning signs at the trail heads to be wary of them, keep your distance, and not provoke them. Here is a picture of an eastern diamondback rattlesnake from Smithsonian National Zoo.
Needless to say, I tracked the full moon’s nightly journey once again from our tent. But when I went out to use the trees, I took my son’s long hiking stick. We camped in knee-high grass this time and I wasn’t about to meet any snakes while I watered it. I thrashed the stick through the grass, thumping the rocky ground.
“Snakes,” I called, “you better get out of the way or I’ll water you!” Luckily, I didn’t meet any other snakes on that hiking excursion.
Gosh, I love autumn. Don’t you? I hope your days are filled with crimson and gold. May you have blue skies and crisp autumn breezes. May your journey be filled with crunchy leaves and star-studded evenings. Thanks for reading at Camping with Five Kids!