Where’s the Wildlife?

That’s the question that was posed to me by a southbound AT thru-hiker a week ago while we took a short break at the Leeman Brook Lean-to. He was pretty disgusted that he had traversed nearly the entire Hundred Mile Wilderness and had seen but one rabbit. Of course, I didn’t make him feel any better when I admitted to having seen a rabbit myself after hiking just 2 miles of the HMW.

It did seem unnaturally animal-free to me, too. I live in a bedroom community for a small city, so it’s not exactly deep-woods-rural here. But I’ve seen a black bear (twice), a coyote, a handful of foxes and more deer than I can count while running or driving within two miles of home.

So why didn’t we see anything on the AT? Well, I have two theories. First, the terrain is watch-every-footstep rugged. That section is an endless minefield of rocks, tree roots, mud and water crossings. When watching one’s feet, it’s difficult to see an animal doing its best to stay invisible as you pass by.

Then there’s the volume of traffic. I was frankly surprised by the number of southbound thru-hikers I passed (seven) in just three short miles out there. I followed one hiker’s journal as he journeyed northbound from Springer, and he passed through the Hundred Mile Wilderness the same week I was there and summited Katahdin two days after my hike (Congratulations, “Coach”!). According to him, all the shelters (and the tent sites around them) were clogged with southbounders. That means a pretty steady stream of hikers would be on the trail, and unless you were first in line on the way to Monson every morning, there’s a good chance that many animals had been startled away from the trail by the time hikers like the disappointed college grad from New Hampshire that I chatted with at Leeman Brook got there.

I was hoping to see a moose or two, or least a bear. Maybe I’ll have better luck heading south, away from the Wilderness. In November, when the thru-hikers have all gone…

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