The Danger of Overreacting To Danger Pt.4 from Lessons Learned As a Novice Hiker

imagesCAYRODLJ aspen trees & lake

Photo courtesy Google Images

In stark contrast to last night’s star gazing, a beautiful stand of quaking aspen stretches far to the east, the sunrise painting the jagged pinnacle with a fascinating spectrum of color, highlighted by the multicolored sunrise, then modified by the occasional, wispy cloud. Shimmers of golden foliage radiate life, fresh and new this very morning. I’m certain I’ve never smelled air this fresh, clean or inviting. It carries the taste of promise on it. I watch as the sun continues its slow climb to a higher station in the lightly mottled sky. My eye is drawn to the fascinating lake that reflects the entire scene on its still, mirrored surface. Serrated vivid hues of yellow, gold, and orange with a thread of charcoal, bridge the spectacular cobalt water to its shoreline. The bank is punctuated with a ribbon of darkly shadowed brush, fanning its smudged boundary along the irregular water’s edge, dividing the scene dramatically, strikingly. It moves the heart, an intoxicating vista. A dark pool brackets the outer westerly edge, hinting at deeper waters, a potentially profitable bass fishing hole, mingled with underwater plants and leafless, drowned trees. Truly the pearl of the region rests and boasts of its beauty before me.  I realize I’m hungry. I tear myself from the blessed demonstration of a promising new  day to reignite last night’s campfire.  My dwindling pile of dead and down looks  too meager for a hot breakfast, but I want a hot drink and I have enough wood  to heat a few cups of water. I spread out my petroleum-laced cotton balls under  several twigs and strike the match; instant results. I gather fresh pine  needles and break them up and then add them to my tin of water, setting my pine tea to boil onto a flat rock that I had placed in the fire circle last night.

The early morning air is brisk; I warm my hands over the paltry fire, then cup my hands over my nose to warm my face. The steam from my pine tea as I sip it  supplements the warming process easily.  I scarf a breakfast bar during my morning devotions, and stand midway; need to stretch and wake up the muscles. I decide I will continue climbing; I want to reach the overlook at its highest rim. I pack my gear after scattering the remaining ashes, now doused in leftover clean-up water. Casting a longing look at the array of aspen and the surrounding, profoundly exquisite lake I leave my camp site with as little trace of my temporary residence as possible, ending my cleanup with a downed, short pine branch sweep.

MP910221019[1]I realize I hadn’t studied my map and compass again, just to be sure my bearings are correct. I justify the compass edge against the maps left westerly edge; adjust the bezel, point the compass towards my target goal, note the boxed needle and then top-pocket the compass. I fold the map into my pack, confident I’m on-course. It appears I’m on a game trail, it sure beats fighting underbrush and Mountain White Thorn patches. I study my target goal far ahead and am glad I began during the crisp early morning conditions.  Now this is backpacking! 

compass

Photo courtesy Google images.

It’s a few hours later and the day is heating up quickly. I scan the terrain after a swift motion catches my peripheral vision. I couldn’t see what sort of animal it was, but it’s at least the size of a coyote.  A strong, offensive, unbelievably vile smell permeates the air, and then I hear the ominous sounds of a swarm of what I think must be bees. As I round the corner, it’s apparent that it isn’t bees, but an enormous amount of flies.  A huge, black cloud of very noisy flies in fact, drawn to the scent of a fresh kill. The kill’s death-scent; a chemical dinner bell for creatures big and small. Perhaps I scared off one of the scavengers just previously. The kill is partially buried with forest debris, known as a food cache, and I mentally run-through which animals try to hide their kill only to return to feast on it later.   Large or small   …  returns later to feast …

imagesCAJ4VXYP food cache

Food Cache photo courtesy Google images.

My eyes wide, I examine my surroundings more methodically, thoroughly. I really, really don’t want to interrupt an animal’s lunch, especially a carnivore’s meal. I can’t shake the mental picture of a boiler-rooms’ large pressure gauge, needle pegged at its maximum red-line danger zone. I sense red flags waving frantically all around me.  Cougars are crepuscular hunters and it’d be dusk by the time I crossed this path on my return.  Yet, insanely I muse:  Turn around or continue? If I continue, it means crossing paths with this kill yet another time.

What am I thinking, why even question continuing?!angry wolf 2

I decide I can return to this trail another time, possibly with a hiking partner; but now is time to turn-tail and head home.  I hadn’t thought-out just how remote this hike is, nor had I thought about the larger wildlife in this region.   I waste not another moment in this particular area. My steps are swift, and not as careful. My focus is straight-ahead, I am not checking my surroundings. I remember that I need to watch for predators. Again my focus is tunnel-vision, I’m not trail tracking.

 
While keeping an eye on the surrounding wilderness for any predators, (that vile odor is still prevalent, I’m now down-wind of the kill) out-of-the-blue I hear a much-too-familiar-to-me rattling sound. I gasp and see the rattler under a small shrub just a single pace ahead of me.  In lieu of the last rattler encounter, the infamous “Incident”, I completely overreact. I scream (as if that helps), jump up (I seem to manage this acrobatic move rather easily these days) and turn to run. I did everything one does not need to nor should do. Somehow, as I turn to flee, I trip over my trekking pole and find myself scrambling for purchase as I’m now over the side of the mountain.   Again!  

I am in an even worse place as far as other vipers are concerned, this area has all the hallmark’s of DEFINITE snake infestation, plus falling further down the side of the mountain is a viable threat.  I’m sliding down the loose-rock. Terrifying images of a den of vipers sear my intellect; I am screaming for God to, “Get me out of here! Oh, Lord help me! GET ME OUT OF HERE!” as frightening déjà vu sears my mind, scrambling massive panic cells throughout the bloodstream. I frantically scuttle uphill with every ounce of effort and beyond. I am more terrified of startling another snake than falling down the mountainside. This hike is circling the drain but fast.

At least it rattled at me Western Rattler

Crossed the trail & into the area I fell into! photo by Marybeth Haydon

Retreated to its hidyhole on the other side crop

Retreating further into the “snakie” area. photo by Marybeth Haydon

Somehow, it had to have been His Hand helping me, I get back onto the trail and I see the snake moving across the game trail, heading right into the potentially snake infested area I just scrambled out from.

 

I yell aloud to myself, “Get the camera, get the camera!” as I fumble with the camera case zipper. I’m able to get two pictures off, one of the tail end as it leaves the trail, another with its rattle standing up when it is under some brush. I always strive to have the ‘evidence’, I’m not completely sure why. I sometimes think since I experience way too many freaky things in the wilderness and I need the photographic evidence.
Inventory reveals that I have bent one of my trekking poles, my arms are cut up, I completely messed up my knees, “that” knee especially, and my most favorite hiking pants are torn. BLAST!  Insult upon injury!  I bend forward from the waist trying to get my wits about me and blood to my head, once again I feel like I may faint.   Oh, snap … I really messed myself up … again. I am way, way far from civilization.

Seriously, am I learning anything?

Not wanting to see how badly the knee is injured, I skip looking through the gaping tear in my trousers. If I know how bad it is, I probably won’t make it all the way down, and it’s a at least full days hike back down. Sometimes ignorance is bliss or something to that effect.  I can’t have The Incident affect me like this! I just cannot overreact when being simply warned by the viper that I’m too close.   It’s not like I was standing on it, it simply wanted its “space” so that the shy critter could move away from me. This is, in fact, exactly what the snake did. Textbook, easily anticipated, extremely easy to avoid confrontation much less flat-out panic. Logically I know this to be true, but I struggle with residual fear from standing on a rattler just a month previous.

I ever-so carefully continue my descent, now completely rattler-paranoid, foolishly jumping even at the sight of a lizard.
Why do I hike the wilderness? Am I energized by the drama of risk, of real danger? Is this what lights me up?  What is wrong with me? I’ve encountered many rattlers before The Incident; I simply waited for them to move on. No harm, no foul.

Lord God, please help me get over this new fear. Help me overcome this new fear of rattlers, I must not overreact! Draw me close to You once again! Show me how to apply Your word to this situation!

Silver Falls, Colorado 9-29-09 025

View from near the trailhead. photo by Marybeth Haydon

And amazingly, the adventures continue….

Todays Lesson Learned: By overreacting, I literally threw myself into a potentially more dangerous situation.  For more on snake and other animal behavior (so that you know what to expect, and can react with calm) click here  http://ow.ly/gY1Yn

Are you enjoying my Lessons-Learned (How Not To Hike Stupid) series?  Share your comments, questions, or concerns. Go to the “About the Author” tab on this site, scroll down to the “Comments” section bottom left. Your input is appreciated!

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