In pictures: Bears, snakes and adventure as Daniel Clark from Comberton takes on 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail
The official distance for the Appalachian Trail is 2,198.4 miles and it is considered the world’s longest continuous footpath.
Taking his tent, clothes, cook set and other belongings in his backpack, Daniel Clark from Comberton battled the elements and his body to complete the trail earlier this year.
He said: “It was an incredible adventure; I made friendships with people I would never had met. My mind and body were tested.
“I took thousands of photos and videos, I walked in many places that few people get to visit, I saw wildlife up close in their natural habitat, and I raised some money for Cancer Research. I was lucky.”
The Appalachian Trail is managed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). The ATC promotes the trail as it passes through 14 states on the eastern side of the USA.
The trail follows the Appalachian mountain range from Springer Mountain just north of Atlanta, Georgia, through to Mount Katahdin in northern Maine.
Daniel, a 60-year-old retired accountant from Comberton, decided 2023 was his year. In order to be considered a thru-hiker, all those official miles have to completed within a 12-month period.
It is complicated for non-US residents as tourist visas are limited to a maximum of six months. The extreme weather in the mountains leaves a passable open window for hiking from late February to mid-October – enough for a six-month window.
Setting off on March 23, Daniel completed the trail in 145 days, arriving at the finish summit on August 14, to complete the trail in a little under five months.
“I didn’t know that I would make it until the last 100 miles. There were so many challenges and so many highs and lows throughout the five months,” he said.
“I learnt a lot and made some lifetime friends. As glib as it may sound, you have to try and ignore the bigger challenge and try and take it one day at a time...
“I saw many black bears up close. One was only a few feet from me. Luckily, it was more scared of me than I was of it, but as it is a very big animal, you just never know.
“Early on I almost stepped on a rattlesnake and I saw many many rat snakes. I’m not a fan of snakes, but you learn how to deal with them in the wild. On a nicer note, I was lucky to see a deer give birth.”
Daniel recalls: “At one point we were all caught up in a ‘state of emergency’ in Vermont where excessive rain washed away roads and paths and turned many streams into chest deep rivers overnight.
“One unlucky hiker was washed away and actually lost their life during that period, so you know it is serious. There were official warnings over the impact of the Canadian wild fire smoke on hiker safety for days on end.
“You often had to reassess your goals each day. When you add in the feeling that the trail creators do not hold back on the difficulty of their section of trail, with many sections coming with warnings, it’s not your ordinary trail.
“On the positive side, I was lucky to be an impromptu guest at a hiker wedding, I ate birthday cake multiple times on trail to celebrate hiker birthdays, we rescued a lost dog, I went through four pairs of trail shoes and odd bits of kit and clothing. It was an incredible adventure.”
From official ATC statistics, the vast majority of people who attempt to walk the trail in full fail to complete it. Fewer than 15 per cent of all those who start the trail actually finish, due to injury, running out of money or the mental and physical toll the trail places on your body.
Hikers come out of the mountains every three to five days to resupply with food, rest in hostels, shower and clean their clothes.
The trail has a unique community of trail towns, shuttle drivers and supporters that enable people of all ages and from all over the world to walk the trail.
Having walked the trail, Daniel is keen to share his experience to those interested in the outdoors.
“It’s early yet,” he said, “but I have made contact with a few schools who are interested in having me talk to their students.
“Multi-day hiking builds skills you can’t get in everyday life. When you realise that there is clear evidence of the positive impact of walking in the outdoors on the walker’s mental health, it’s another reason why I’m interested in talking to people about my experiences.”
To view Daniel’s daily video diary, go to bit.ly/46JqYlO.