Monday, August 14, 2006

Fauna Report

In which we find, the hard way, SNAKES on a TRAIL!

Set off for what I had hoped would be a long, 8-plus-mile hike Sunday in Trail Canyon, just off Big Tujunga Canyon. It’s a lovely, wooded trail in the Northwestern corner of the San Gabriels with a brook running down from the mountains, a few private cabins, and a 30-foot waterfall.

It was an easy enough hike for the first two miles along the stream and then up a steepish slope that wound up the side of the canyon. Here I met a mother-and-son pair coming down. They’d seen what they thought was a bobcat and had turned back for fear of ending up Kitty lunch. I almost laughed. People, afraid of animals? Ha! What kind of food-chain inferiority complex is that? Why, a bobcat’s like a big house cat and will only try to harm you if you corner it or harass its kittens. I crept along the path, camera ready, hoping for a snap, but no dice. Mega-Fluffy had fled the coop.

I pressed on. The trail wound back down into the ravine—or, rather the ravine wound up to meet the trail—and I found myself scrambling over boulders along the creek bed, losing, then finding, then losing the trail again.

I’d gone maybe half a mile upstream when it happened. The trail became overgrown and deeply shaded, dark even; definitely not my favorite sort of place for a hike. That’s tick country, and I hate those little bastards. I was sort of weaving between the bushes, trying to avoid dense patches of poison oak when I heard the buzz. I thought it was a cicada. Then, as I stepped forward, I looked down to see where my foot would fall. And there it was, coiled in a figure eight—the biggest fucking rattlesnake I have ever seen in the wild. But it was too late: I’d already committed my weight forward. I planted my right big toe right on the thick of its back. I leapt off of it—shrieking like a little girl who’s just gotten a glass of ice water poured down her blouse—and it leapt after me. From now on, I will thank my fencing coach every day for putting me through those seemingly endless and painful drills back and forth across the gym floor. I turned and leapt simultaneously—a sort of reverse-balestra demi-volte—as the evil son-of-a-bitch sprung up at me, trying to bite me in the crotch.

It fell back to earth as I skittered backward through the brush and—what the hell was I thinking?—fumbled with my camera in hopes of getting a picture of it before it disappeared, or killed me.

When I was out of range it slithered beneath a bush, rattles a-blazing. I stood there for a bit, listening to the rattles and—what the fuck was I thinking?—wondering if there was a way I could coax the viper out of its hiding place so I could get a snapshot, or if there was a way around him, so I could continue my hike. After a few moments, though, I started to go weak in the knees and I decided to call it a day. I turned and trotted, carefully, back down the trail, got on my scoot, and headed for my local for a soothing and potent beverage.

Critter Count:
Rattlesnakes: 1 (XXL)

  • Watch where you’re stepping, moron,

  • Remember to bring your snake bite kit—the one you bought for hiking in rattlesnake country, remember?

  • Rattlesnakes sun themselves in the morning. When it gets hot, they head for shade, like the kind you were hiking through, jackass.

  • Rattlesnakes only rattle like babies on speed in the movies. It's a loud buzzing sound that they make, like "ZZZZZZZZZZ." Avoid it.

Trail Canyon Hike
34°25'22"N, 118°28'75"
Rating: ♠ ♠ 3/4

Being Attacked by a Rattlesnake & Living to Tell the Tale
Rating: Priceless

DISCLAIMER: The snake pictured above is not the pit viper mentioned in this article. It is another, smaller rattler, photographed in the Owens River Valley, and at a very safe distance.


Blogger marc said...

Glad you're alive. Reminds me of a old joke that I'll spare you with the details ..except the punch-line...

"The doctor says you're going to die."

10:00 AM  
Blogger the colonel said...

Big Baby!

3:18 PM  
Blogger BleuEyes52 said...

I bet Samuel L. Jackson wouldn't have screamed like a girl.

9:56 AM  
Blogger BleuEyes52 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:56 AM  
Blogger jackadandy said...

You, my friend, are a lucky bastard. Stepping on a rattler does NOT usually turn out this way.

I've done that same dodging maneuver in mid-air, out jogging one day and not seeing a small rattler in a shaded divot in the sand until my next step would have landed me on it. Its rattle brought me to attention in split-second time.

Roadrunners, of course, do these dodging maneuvers routinely, spinning on a dime and eliciting repeated strikes from the rattler until the snake is exhausted. The spent serpent then gets tossed up in the air and swallowed whole.

Re: Screaming like a girl. When I first moved to the desert I encountered a large snake in the brush. Before I could determine it was harmless I danced a jig from one foot to the other, in a panicky lower-brain instinct that a moving target might be harder to hit. The poor frightened snake, at the same time, was desperately trying to not get stepped on and did its own bobbing dance back and forth, trying to determine which way was safe to go without getting its head danced upon. Whether any noise was made during this watusi I could not, in all honesty, tell you. Except, I think the snake was pretty quiet.

10:21 AM  

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