The North Georgia mountains have a lot to offer during the summer, so my husband and I decided to spend a month at our cabin in Helen, Georgia. This quaint Bavarian themed town is nestled near the Chattahoochee River and National Forest in the northeast corner of the state. It is also close to the start of the Appalachian Trail (AT), so we decided to hike to the peak of Tray Mountain, described as an easy AT day hike with magnificent views.
It seemed like a harrowing feat driving the winding, bumpy dirt road up the side of the mountain. Steep cliffs dropping off on my side made my heart race and hands sweat. After an hour of this I was ready to hit the trail, but I was surprised we were the only ones in the parking area. It’s supposed to be a popular day hike.
I recognized the white lines on the trees indicating the AT. It was all uphill and I welcomed the challenge, although my husband wasn’t as eager. We discussed what we’d do if we encountered bears or wild boar, since they roam the area. In less than an easy-paced hour we reached the top. I took pictures of the amazing view, and suddenly my husband jumped back and shouted “Holy Shit.”
A fat six-foot snake sun bathed on a rock, its tongue flicking next to his leg. He moved closer to me. “I almost stepped on it.”
My eyes widened, “I must have walked right pass it while taking pictures.”
“What is it?” He asked. “Do you think it’s poisonous?”
“That’s the biggest snake I’ve ever seen. It looks dangerous.”
We were in a jam. It blocked our path back down to our car, we had cliffs on both sides and in the opposite direction the AT trail continued for another 6 miles to a gap, but we didn’t know if a town existed at that junction. Besides, I knew we weren’t prepared for a longer trek and we didn’t see another single hiker on the trail.
“Does your book mention anything about snakes?” He asked.
I took the trail guide out of my pack and paged through. “No, but it has phone numbers to the park service. They’d know about snakes in the area.” I hoped.
We finally reached someone at the forest service and described the snake. We couldn’t see it’s tail, but it looked like a rattle snake to me. I’ve never seen one that large during my hiking days in California, and I didn’t hear a rattle. Its size resembled a python.
She told us to treat it as poisonous. “Don’t point any sticks at it and don’t cross it’s path. Gather small pebbles and rocks and throw them towards the snake. Stomp your feet because they don’t like the vibration. You want it to retreat. But don’t get aggressive.”
I walked in the opposite direction down the other side of the mountain and found some small rocks. A few pebbles hit its head and the snake didn’t budge. We discussed our options, should we try to find a way down and around the cliffs, climbing through scrub brush?
“It’s too dangerous, you risk falling off the cliff.” Hubby said, before walking off to gather some more rocks. The moment he disappeared from the snakes view, it started to slowly turn away.
“It’s retreating.” I whispered loudly.
We watched it slither off, lastly revealing a large rattle. I shuttered and carefully walked down the rocks and then more hurriedly down the trail. Believing we were safe, I stopped and breathed.
“That could have turned into a deadly situation.” I said, still freaked out by the encounter.
When we got home, I started researching Georgia snakes. It was a Timber Rattlesnake described as a heavy bodied pit viper. It is one of the most dangerous snakes on the east coast due to its long fangs, high venom and impressive size. The females often bask in the sun before giving birth and they prefer not to strike, but will if threatened. In fact, a man in this area recently died from its venomous bite.
At the end of the day I had a cocktail, embraced life and relaxed on our back patio. I heard a large bang and my husband ran out. “Bear out front.”
The bear had knocked over our garbage can and proudly walked down our empty street. It too was large and beautiful. We often found our bear-proofed trash can sideways, but this was the first time I’d seen one in the area. I smiled and welcomed a bear over a snake any day.
The next day we watched mama bear and her cubs lunching on our trash. With four locks, I was shocked they opened it. Although I don’t think its a good idea for bears to eat human food, I certainly wasn’t going to stop her. She knew we were watching from the porch, along with a stray cat that adopted us.
After my wild life encounters the friendly cat scared the crap out of me the next morning with his warm greeting. I really didn’t want strange creatures jumping at me before my morning coffee. Maybe I was just a little sensitive.