What Flora and Fauna Will You Encounter on the Appalachian Trail?

The Appalachian Mountain range is home to thousands of species of plants and animals. A few of them could be harmful so you need to know how to act if you come in close contact with them. The most effective method of dealing with wild animals is to keep a safe distance and observe them from afar. Here are some tips for dealing with some of the most common wild animals and plants on the Appalachian Trail.

Black Bears
Black bears live in different parts of the Appalachian Trail. You will sight bears often in Northern Georgia, on the Shenandoah, in the Great Smoky Mountains, in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Although bears usually move away when they hear footsteps, audible sounds, or noise, getting very close to bears may startle them and cause them to react aggressively.

Basically, you will encounter bears in two main situations: on the trail and in your campsite or shelter. While walking in areas where bears are frequently found, be vigilant so that you can spot any bears long before you walk close to them. Whistle, talk, or make some noise to announce your presence and give the bear sufficient time to move away. If you are getter closer and the bear refuses to move away, you should avoid eye contact, and back off while speaking firmly. Don’t run or act as if you are dead.

In the camp, the best way to avoid frequent visits by bears is by storing your food out of their reach and by cooking at a safe distance from your shelter. Hang food items, utensils and scented items in food bags using poles, cable systems, or bear canisters. Avoid using your food bag as a pillow because bears have a strong sense of smell.

Prepare your food at least 200 feet away from your shelter or tent so that the aroma from the food does not linger and invite hungry bears at night. Never feed a bear or leave any leftovers where you cooked or in your shelter. Doing this will alter their normal behaviour and cause them to associate humans with food. Such changes have made it necessary to kill bears in the past to safeguard the lives of other hikers.

A bear may, however, come into a cooking area or campsite to satisfy its hunger by snatching away your food or feasting on your flesh. This is a rare situation. But if it happens, you should make loud noises, blow your whistle, and throw rocks at it so it can retreat on its own. If you are attacked directly by a bear, do everything you can to fight and overcome it.

In warm weather, you will find rattle snakes, vipers and other types of snakes lying passively on rocks along the Trail to keep warm. Ordinarily, these snakes will not attack you first. But they will respond in self-defence if you step on them. Respect wildlife and take a by pass if the snake is occupying the middle of the trail. Always watch where you step and use a headlamp or flashlight if you plan to hike at night.

Snake bites are not common along the trail and many venomous snake bites do not have a harmful effect. If you are bitten by a snake, call 911 and seek medical treatment as fast as you can. Wash the bite spot with soap and water. Try to walk to a trailhead for quicker access to emergency personnel and other hikers. Avoid using a tourniquet, ice, or the cut and suck method to take out the venom.

Deer Ticks
Deer ticks are known as the tiny terrors of the A.T. They pose a greater threat than the American Black Bear. Ticks are very small (about the size of a sesame seed) and they hide on footwear, clothing and the skin. Their tiny size makes them difficult to discover.

Ticks are present all over the A.T. and they are particularly active in New England between May and September when most thru-hikers are passing through the area. Ticks bury themselves under the skin of their host and suck blood until they become engorged. Unfortunately, about half of the population of the full grown adult tick carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is an infection that causes rashes and inflammation on your skin, pains in your joints and muscles, and mild to severe fever. To prevent tick bites and eliminate the occurrence of Lyme disease, you should use chemical treatments like permethrine or DEET to ward off any deer ticks. Wear light-coloured clothes that will make it easy for you to identify ticks. Wear a long sleeve shirt tucked into full length pants, which are also tucked into socks and enclosed shoes. Since a deer tick does not have a proboscis like a mosquito, it will not be able to bite you through your clothing.

Poison Ivy
Poison ivy is a plant that grows in many parts of the Appalachian Mountains. It can cause rash, blisters and serious discomfort if you touch it. To avoid touching poison ivy, you need to able to identify it. Its leaves appear in clusters of three with one of them having a long stalk and pointed tip. If you touch poison ivy you should wash instantly with strong soap and cold water. You may use anti-itch products from a pharmacy to reduce the discomfort until the rash and blisters disappear. If the rash spreads to the eyes, consult a doctor immediately.

Proper planning and preparation will help you to anticipate any threat from wildlife and deal with them effectively when they occur. Remember that while hiking in the wilderness, taking preventive measures against wildlife attacks is essential since medical help may not always be readily available.