Today’s post finds me out on a backpacking trip I went on last week. Friday’s post introduced the trip and took me off into the woods by myself.
I decided to remain camping where I was and go day hiking. That way I could explore the surrounding area early in the morning and late in the afternoon, while hiding out under a shade tree during the hottest part of the day. I had a number to choose from including incense cedars, ponderosa pines, white firs, and lodgepole pines. There was even a large sugar pine in the neighborhood with its 18-inch-long cones.
Staying in the shade involved moving as the sun made its way across the sky. This was a good thing; it forced me to get up every so often.
I create a very comfortable nest for myself in the woods, the type I can snuggle down in and read a good book, or write, or prepare a quick snack, meal or cup of coffee. My ‘kitchen’ is always on my right; my ‘living room’ and ‘office’ on the left. The Therm-a-Rest mattress converts to a chair and my backpack forms a great back rest. Everything is easily reachable from where I sit. Moving’s a bit of a bother (grin). It involves two trips and about five minutes to transfer everything. I quickly establish which trees provide the best shade and breeze for the time of the day.
I was in my five o’clock spot under a lodgepole pine when a movement caught my eye. I looked up from my Baldacci book and saw a Diamondback Rattlesnake slithering toward my tree through the pine needles. An ugly pit viper had dropped by for a visit! Keeping a close eye on my guest, I quickly pulled out my camera. The Diamondback kept coming. When it was about 10 feet away I said, “Ahem, Ms. Snake, do you see me? Do you even have a clue I am here?” (It might have been a male, but how in the heck do you tell the sex of a snake? I looked it up, actually, since I knew you would want to know. Male snakes have a couple of tiny penises under the skin inside their cloacal opening (vent under their tail.) You shove a snake probe up there. It goes up farther for a male than a female. Now you are an expert. I don’t think my snake would have cooperated.)
She stopped abruptly as her neck and head rose into the air. Out came a forked tongue. Her spade shaped, pit viper head and yellow-slit eyes pointed in my direction, checking me out, fangs poised for action. Who or what had invaded her territory? Was I food or foe? Heat seeking facial pits that work something like infrared detectors determined that I was too big to eat and might be trouble. So, she started slipping off to the right. Naturally I had to get up and follow. (This is where Peggy normally urges me to do something else, anything else, but she wasn’t along.)
I walked a respectful few feet behind. You never want to get within striking distance. The Diamondback is responsible for the majority of snake bites in the US and its toxin loaded injection can be fatal. The snake kept twisting her head back Linda Blair-like, watching me. Her rattles were pointed up, ready to explode into the loud buzzing sound rattlers are famed and named for. Twice she almost coiled. I could have forced the issue— it makes for a great photo-op. A timely prod with a stick would have had her coiling and buzzing in a flash. But I figured she wasn’t bothering me so I wouldn’t bother her. At least not much. Finally, she slipped off into some brush and waved goodbye with her tail. I wished her good hunting. I think I heard something like “fat, juicy mouse.”
While I wasn’t particularly bothered by the visit, I did move to a different shade tree on the other side of camp. Had Ms. Snake returned, she would have slipped up behind me. I was also more careful about watching where I stepped! Immediately afterwards, I called Peggy and related the story. She laughed. She knows my ways. Or maybe she was laughing from relief that I hadn’t been bitten.
Speaking of ‘my ways,’ one was that I would never carry a cell phone while backpacking. It was more or less written in granite. I go to the woods for tranquility, not the hustle, stress, incessant noise and constant connectedness of modern society. And nothing represents that more than cell phones. And yet, here I was with cell phone in hand. There was even a decent signal from a cell tower on I-80. My decision to break with my long-standing tradition was something of a compromise for my wife. Not many 74-year-olds go wandering off by themselves backpacking. In fact, the number of people who backpack alone at any age is limited to a relatively few adventuresome souls. Peggy is 100% supportive of my backpacking, even when I ramble off alone. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t concerned. My checking in on a daily basis— and being able to check in, if needed, in an emergency— helped allay her worries.
Cell phone service isn’t a given in the wilderness, however, especially in the US where profitability plays an important role in determining where service is offered. So, I went one step further. I picked up an emergency Gen 3 GPS tracking device named Spot. It’s kind of like Spot, the family dog of Dick and Jane repute, or Lassie, if you will, able to track me down when necessary. But all I have to do with the Gen 3 is hit an SOS button and it immediately sends out a message to local rescue groups that gives my exact location and the fact that I am in a dire emergency situation. Help’s supposed to be on the way within the hour.
There were other steps I took as well— carrying trekking poles, for example. They cut down on wear and tear on the knees and add a degree of balance. More importantly, I did everything I could, minus eliminating my creature comforts, to reduce weight. Modern equipment makes a huge difference. When I first started packing in the late 60s, my pack for a week trip was normally in the neighborhood of 55-60 pounds. By the 90s it was 45-50 pounds. Now it is down to 35-40 pounds.
There is great beauty in the wilderness, if you are willing to slow down and look around. It ranges from expansive vistas down to plants, rocks, and wildlife. Following are some more photos that reflect what I saw this past week. Enjoy.
NEXT POST: Native American rock art at Lava Beds National Monument in Northern California that dates back over 4000 years.