I am hiking across acres of Southwest Colorado with my fabulous best friend, a Black Mouth Cur that I named, appropriately, “Blessing” on our morning “walk” through the fields and woods of the farm where we now live. It is out … Continue reading
These are not ordinary times and I am ready to dive off into the deep end.
Finally, I have reached the “want-to”, the readiness, the acceptance of furthering my “wilderness experiences” and I am willing to dive into the deep end, even though I can’t swim a single stroke on my own. Really, I can’t swim. I can fake it with fins on my feet, otherwise I’m floundering and lost in the vastness of the ocean, definitely “without a paddle”.
Recently there have been monumental mountains/changes in my life. I lost a sibling to suicide on July the 4th to name just one. Amazing how this tragedy has paved the avenue for a renewed and reconciled relationship with other family members, as only God can arrange, making beauty from of ashes. Two of us got together yesterday and it was a delightful day of reunion and of memories, discovery, jokes…
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TRAVELING ALONG THIS IMPRESSIVE RIVER, WHICH IS FLOWING NORTHWEST, paralleling the coast, I scramble up a hill for a photo op. Standing as close to the edge of my perch as safely possible, I hesitate to begin shooting. The awe and power of the river is complimented by the fantastic diversity of the rock walls and it is commanding my full attention. Clearly, iron dominates the rock canyon, leaving a fantastic rusty patina which is frequently interrupted with dark green trees and shrub. Gray to black mudstones, siltstones and sandstones further the pleasant variations. Even a swipe of golden brown color to complete the picture.
The river’s edge cuts a raw, white, jagged saw tooth line, the salt-crusted shoreline and boulders that rise above the water, where the natural water’s pulse and current spray have frequently misted the protruding boulders, scatter these highlights throughout the landscape. The current is intense, furious whenever the canyon walls insinuate upon the channel.
There is an odd, captivating rock formation close to the more turbulent section of the channel. It appears as though molten gray rock has spilled from the canyon wall with a round, spoon-shaped end closest to the water’s edge with its wide handle, ladle-like, balancing on the upper riverbank. This salmon-frequented river flows primarily northeast before changing course to southern pastures and wetlands.
Only a few hours into the trek and I’m met with dry-grass contrasting a man-made path with lush forests of oak and pines and other trees that I can’t distinguish, looming into its distant future. This revs my energy level, the promise of cooler, green pastures is inviting.
It doesn’t take long to leave signs of civilization behind and soon the hushed, fog-covered forest embraces my curious nature. Every step is soft, debris-mulched and fragrant under my boot.
This is true paradise.
On up the trail I continue, not knowing just why I feel I should get really deep into the forest today but I am very happy to be here, doing what I’m doing. The scenery never gets old, thank You God. The wildflowers are in full bloom and some are exceedingly fragrant. Their youth is renewed every spring, man, what a thrill that must be! I continue to scan the ubiquitous plant life and deeply inhale the surrounding scents. The perfume of the forest, nothing can beat it. The fragrances change as I proceed, pine mingling with wild licorice, licorice mingling with bay, bay mingling with mustard … I’m not sure if the oak trees have a scent but their dropped acorns are like marbles under my boots.
There is a spot reserved for me under a very large sequoia, its branches outstretched in a welcoming, “Come hither, under my canopy and rest.” I oblige. I remove my pack, habitually snapping the belt closed and settle down for a snack. The sound of rusting paper from my energy bar has apparently alerted many creatures, the most forward and aggressive of which is the scrub jay in front of me. Not far behind are a few squirrels & chipmunks in various stages of anticipation and wariness, and I’m beginning to wonder where Thumper and Bambi are.
I ignore the advancing blue jay and tip my head back to see if I can see any sky. What I do see sends my heart racing and my hands shaking.
My head now on a swivel, I check my surroundings more thoroughly, then up again into the trees. I begin to rise, keeping my eyes on the trees above me, moving ever so carefully, forcing slow and deliberate movement.
Where is mama bear?
Two curious black bear cubs are peeking down and over the foliage of the pine that is right next to the big sequoia that I am against. Still looking up, I reach for my pack, once again thankful for my habit of cinching the belt, and toss my power bar over past the oak that holds the cubs. Backing away, thankful for the soft, cushy debris and needle-carpeted ground I am looking everywhere. Seriously everywhere. Behind me, above me, beside me. No longer does my immediate forest hold a critter audience, the animals have left town.
I just can not even believe this is happening.
My heart ratchets yet another level as I swing my eyes towards the scraping, then soft thump sound. NO WAY! Those cubs are heading towards me, SNAP! I speak firmly to them, “No bear!” but apparently they don’t understand English. The larger of the two is still, although a bit hesitant, coming forward. I am nearly paralyzed with fear. WHERE IS MAMA BEAR?
I bump into a bush, maybe a tree I don’t really care and could not afford to be distracted with finding out. My entire body is shaking, my muscles feel weak, defenseless and inadequate. I sneak a look and find the path I came in on still backing away. Both cubs seem to be very perplexed, the smaller a bit distracted with a flying insect of sorts, the other looking from its sibling then to me, sizing up the situation. Thankfully they are remaining grounded where they are. But for how long, and the million dollar question: Where’s mama bear?!
I need not wonder any longer.
Emerging from the underbrush, sending a fleeting glance toward my power bar, is protective mama bear! She brawls at her cubs like a mother admonishing her children for straying beyond the yard, then gives her full, very direct attention to me. Somehow I continue to back away, averting eye contact, wild and insane thoughts swirling through my mind. Out of the corner of my eye I see the cubs scrambling up a tree to safety. Obedient children now that mom’s back.
Realizing that I have been shaking my head in a “no, no, no!” while retreating further, I force every cell, every adrenalin dump into sniper-concentrated focus. I know the choices on what to do, now how on earth do I choose which avenue to take? “Read the body language” comes back to memory and I continue backing away, not saying a word, my hands needlessly out in a “stay away” gesture.
Mama grunts threats, her sounds deep and quite menacing, then makes a swipe at the ground in front of her, sending dust and sticks flying into the air, shaking her lowered head. I’m reminded of a bull about to charge and I’m certain I’m going to lose it completely, right here. Right now. She has not charged me, I take this as a very good sign. I am still backing away when suddenly I’m falling, and I still haven’t landed yet!
Tangled in brush and briars, I look up the hill to see if she has decided to follow, then end me. Piece by piece, Marybeth-mulch nourishing the forest. At this point I have lost all reason, tearing my clothes and skin as I thrash through the sticky under brush in full panic mode. I don’t see her, I have lost my pack somewhere along the fall and I no longer care. I am completely overcome with irrational fear as I begin to run down the trail. DO NOT RUN FROM A PREDATOR but I figure after the fall that I’m far enough away and I’m around the bend so that she can’t see me? Panic trumps reason, it really does.
I am back to the manmade pathway, out of the dense forest and I have not heard any movement or growl behind me since the fall but every fiber of my being is still at high alert. I collapse in a sobbing heap, then I begin to laugh. I think perhaps I’m hysterical, just a thought.
Once I recovered and was shakily on my way home I was first, exceedingly grateful that I was reasonably unharmed. Physically. Emotionally I’ll probably never be the same. I thought about the good habit of keeping my keys and phone separate from my pack and for the habit of always fastening my pack belt. Even though I lost my pack, had I not fallen, I would have had it for minute protection or for the first aid kit inside it.
Establishing good hiking habits and knowing how to interpret and react to animal behavior goes a very long way. Even when you mess up the best laid plans.
For information on safety, signs of presence, and first aid please click:
Valencia High School Teacher Pat Hadley died on Thursday while hiking in the Sequoia National Forest
Friends mourned on Saturday the loss of a longtime Southern California high school teacher and running coach who died after falling 150 feet off a mountain ridge in the Sierra Nevada.
Pat Hadley died on Thursday in a fall on a rugged hillside in the Inyo National Forest, coroner’s officials said.
Tributes began to spring up online for the popular teacher who students called “Coach Hadley.”
“She is the mold that God made for teachers to follow,” wrote “Rose” in an online tribute page. “My heart is broken by Coach Hadley’s passing.”
Jim Bell, the principal at Valencia High School in Placentia, touted her accomplishments on the track and in the classroom in a statement posted on the school’s website.
“Pat tragically lost her life doing what she loved,” he said. “She will be missed and we ask you for your thoughts and prayers for her family.”
Hadley died while taking part in a series of day hikes on California mountain trails with about 20 others when she disappeared about 2 p.m. Thursday, said Jeff Mullenhour, a deputy coroner’s investigator in Inyo County.
Her body was found about two hours later. It was an accident, Mullenhour said. An autopsy set for Sunday would determine how she died.
The hiking community set up an online tribute for Hadley on Friday.
She was climbing alone on a ridge in Baxter Pass on Day 7 of the 10-day “Sierra Challenge,” a series of day-hikes to 10 peaks, wrote Bob Burd, a moderator on the site summitpost.org.
Fellow hikers found her lifeless body about 150 feet below the ridge, Burd wrote.
”All of us are devastated by this tragic loss,” wrote Burd, adding that the rest of the Challenge was canceled out of respect for Hadley’s family. “Our prayers and thoughts go out to her husband, family and a wide community of friends that will undoubtedly be greatly affected.”
The Wisconsin native taught ceramics and coached the boys cross country and boys and girls track teams in her nearly 20-year career at Valencia.
Hadley’s storied athletic career included national titles in mountain biking and a stint in the first unofficial female World Cup Soccer tournament, Bell said.
“Now cracks a noble heart,” wrote “MoapaPk” in the online tribute, referring to a line in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” “Good night sweet princess: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”
Giant, fluorescent pink slugs found on mountain
It would seem to be something you’d see only in a cartoon or at a Phish concert, but according to park rangers in New South Wales, Australia, dozens of giant, fluorescent pink slugs have been popping up on a mountaintop there.
“As bright pink as you can imagine, that’s how pink they are,” Michael Murphy, a ranger with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “On a good morning, you can walk around and see hundreds of them.”
The eight-inch creatures have been spotted only on Mount Kaputar, a 5,000-foot peak in the Nandewar Range in northern New South Wales.
Scientists believe the eye-catching organisms are survivors from an era when Australia was home to rainforests. A series of volcanoes, millions of years of erosion and other geological changes “have carved a dramatic landscape at Mount Kaputar,” the park service wrote on its Facebook page, and unique arid conditions spared the slugs from extinction.
They “probably would have long since vanished, if a volcano had not erupted at Mount Kaputar about 17 million years ago,” Ben Cubby wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald. “The result of that eruption is a high-altitude haven for invertebrates and plant species that have been isolated for millions of years, after Australia dried out and the rainforests receded.”
And they’re not the only unusual inhabitants on the mountain.
“We’ve actually got three species of cannibal snail on Mount Kaputar, and they’re voracious little fellas,” Murphy said. “They hunt around on the forest floor to pick up the slime trail of another snail, then hunt it down and gobble it up.”
Montana man dies in Yosemite climbing accident The Associated Press Published: Monday, May. 20, 2013 – 6:09 pm Last Modified: Monday, May. 20, 2013 – 6:26 pm YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — Authorities say a Montana man has died in … Continue reading
Todays summit was unexpected and spectacular. I completely ran out of camera battery at the summit since I had not charged the battery last night and took many pics on my ascent. I thought I would just check-out the trail for future, but then after ascending 2,000′ I decided to complete the hike, knowing I would later regret a turn-around. Was this yet another poor-judgement novice-call by going well beyond the planned hike? Ill-prepared for a summit?
The day is late and I’m getting plowed-under with fatigue from the unplanned summit. The descent is always harder for me with all of the cartilage in one knee completely removed (surgically, I shattered it in a motorcycle accident) and misaligned bone structure in both feet. Thus, I have no choice but to take my time heading down, grateful for trekking poles to help distribute weight and for the added stability that the poles lend.
While I was trying out this new trail on the way up this morning, I powered up my cell phone a few times in what looked like strategically clear areas to call my son to say hello from the top of the mountain. I never got any bars, so I’m not even entertaining the idea on the way down.
As I am continually amazed at the stunning and often tranquil views, I look up, changing my viewpoint to scan the east when I fearfully skid to a stop. Ohhh SNAP! There are flames head! A HUGE wildfire, the smoke and flames are just incredibly high into the atmosphere. This is bad.
Really, really bad.
I look at the south-easterly mountain ridge just beyond the ski lifts and realize that any minor shift in the wind will bring those flames right over the ridge and into the area I’m hiking in and into the mountain community below. There’s a decent breeze surrounding me and in about 20 minutes, the usual pre-twilight gusts will begin. Snap.
I’m hiking mid-week, so the ski lifts are not open, not operating. No one at the lodge either. Did I mention that this is really bad? Remembering that I found zero cell service on my way up, I power-up my phone anyway, desperate for communication, I need to warn the community. I need to get to safety. I neither hear nor see any fire-fighting helicopters or news copters for that matter, so I am concerned that this massive fire is still somehow undetected.
Oh, Lord! I really need Your intervention! I’m about to be stuck in a wildfire, with less than a ¼ cup of water left and a good 3 more hours left to hike out before I’m anywhere near the barest of civilization! I didn’t bring sufficient supplies since I had not planned on a complete summit. (Always, always bring more water than you think you will need!)
Desperate, I power-up the phone. Do my eyes deceive me? I scroll down and contact the community volunteer fire department. I have connection! Thank You, Lord! I immediately tell the woman answering the phone where I am and that I have sighted a large wildfire, are they aware of the fire? She hurriedly tells me to hold on, I panic; I’m not sure how much longer I will have service. I remain as still as possible, afraid of losing the few bars that I have. A gentleman is now on the line, asking exactly where I am. I give him the coordinates, point out that it only takes a mild shift of the wind to get that fire advancing over the ridge and he lets me know that he’ll take it from here. I tell him I don’t know how long it will take me to evacuate, please be on the lookout for me or my vehicle if I haven’t reached it should the fire hit our area.
I remember that my son is expecting me to call by 5:00 p.m., if not, that I am in trouble and to contact the area rescue, my back-up plan since I am hiking a new trail, one notoriously dangerous and known for its fatalities in foul weather. And it’s impossible to predict foul weather on this mountain; it seems to have its own weather system and erratic timetable. I had taken two steps after hanging up with the fire department, so I stop and repower-up the phone and EUREKA! I again miraculously have bars. I remain board-stiff where I am, and call my son. He is on the line with someone else and asks if he can call me right back. “No!” I tell him in a rush, “I’m in a wildfire, I called the fire department, but I need you to know I may not make it back before 5:00, so know that I’m ok, and I love you!” He is stunned, and then lets me know that he understands. I explain I have to high-tail it out, the best I can, need to go. Now. We say goodbye and I start truckin’. Well, semi-truckin’. No pun intended.
A million things and scenarios are whirling in my mind. I wonder why I still do not hear helicopters and question if I’m going to have to end up in one. I begin to plan how to best indicate the wind direction should helicopter rescue be necessary. I decide to tie my windbreaker to a trekking pole, making a sort of wind sock. I’m still heading down, all sorts of thoughts and plans running through my mind. I’m very thirsty from the salty GORP that I had at the summit and realize that should the wind shift, I don’t even have enough water to keep a handkerchief wet in this hot weather for smoke protection. I’m out of camera memory, so I’m unable to capture these near-aerial, spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime views of the enormous wildfire. Aw, double Snap!
Again, I’m struck with wondering if I’m actually learning from all of my hiking mistakes! Suddenly a strong gust of wind partially pushes me toward the uphill side of the trail. Ok, calm minds prevail. Be calm, embrace it, girl.
The sky is darkening from the smoke. I can now smell the smoke and suppress a cough. Focus, safely evac and evade. Thankfully my asthma is not affected yet, I figure I still have time to get out but I sure am thirsty, stress-sweaty, and completely punishing my complaining knees by trying to jog whenever I hit a flat section of the trail. Which are few.
It’s just You and me, Lord. Absolutely no one is out here today! I thank You in advance for You guidance, Your help. Please place a barrier on that ridge so that this lovely mountain community doesn’t get destroyed. Or me.
About an hour later I’m nearing the ski lift and lodge. I spot a father with his young son heading east to the backbone trail, even though I’m a ways off, I holler down to them that they may reconsider coming up the mountain, and explain about the massive wildfire. The dad asks if they would be able to see it from the trail they are about to take. I assured them they definitely would and reminded them all it would take is a shift in the wind to get this place blazing. To my surprise and confusion, they take their chances and continue up the trail! Go figure?
Thankfully, the fire remained northeast. The mountain community unaffected and I wish I could say the same for those in the cities on the urban side of the mountain. It’s difficult to describe the total loss, the devastation one feels after losing their home to fire. I can relate, as a fellow victim. Stictly from a possesion-value point of view, to lose all family heirlooms, handed-down recipes, photos, mementos. The investment of time, energy, talent, ideas and money into the house itself. I pray for those who had loss as a result of this massive fire and that no lives were injured or lost.
Gratefully home, I switched on the news and sure enough there it was in all its spectacular, destructive power. I contacted my son that I was safe at home and gave God the glory for yet another day of His protections and interventions.
Lord, You put me on that trail today, for that very moment in time to pray for and do what I could by alerting the officials. I realize the majority of my concern was for me, and I’m sorry. Yet, I’m grateful for Your intervention, getting me back safe, and for preventing the winds from changing. I know that the community, if they only knew the danger they were so close to, would be grateful for Your protections too. I now better understand 2 Timothy 4:2 about being instantly in season. You want me ready at all times, regardless of how I feel. Thank You for Your trust in me that You know I will respond to You! What an honor, Lord!
Todays Lesson Learned: Go no where without 10 Essentials which include extra water, food, clothing, first aid. Be prepared for absolutely anything going south! For more about 10 Essentials go to my post Safety Pt. 2 http://ow.ly/gY1UB
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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.
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!
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 …
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.
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.
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!
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
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Rounding the steep corner, I hum to myself in rich contentment, completely unaware of the surprise that waits ahead on this exhilarating hike. Mentally reciting the spectacular views already witnessed, the colorful wildlife observed, I’m thankful for the privilege of being out among it. I started this trail at dawn and the sun is rising without hesitation; how time passes so quickly when you’re having fun. I’m relieved this first leg of the summit is in the midst of shading oak and pines. I take a deep breath; the pine scent is sweet, delicious. Better enjoy the cool shade while you can, drink it in Marybeth!
As I reach another switchback I’m graced with an encouraging glimpse of the dignified, high peaks rising with towering ambition far ahead. It looks as though I’m more than half way up this beautiful mountain; I estimate the elevation at 6,500 feet. I’m excited, and feeling very alive, pacing myself to maintain a reserve of energy on the back burner, waiting for the even more strenuous climb to come. The last leg of the climb is always the hardest. It’s almost as though the pinnacle has called out the challenge: come-and-get-me-if-you-can. I’m dialed-in and ready to meet that challenge so I power forward, and disregard my complaining knees.
Suddenly, the outer edge of the trail gives way under the pressure of my step, propelling me painfully down the side of the mountain. Large waves of the rock slide that I have created begin to overtake me. I slide on my abdomen, head first, when one of my trekking poles catches the edge of a protruding rock spinning me a full 180, now I am sliding feet first. A large boulder flips me onto my back; I am struggling to gain purchase. Purchase of anything, I don’t care, anything to stop me from hurtling over the mountains edge into the valley far below. It’s a long way down and I’m approaching the edge with what seems to be a terminal velocity. The mountainside is loose sand and pebbled shale, absolutely nothing is solid except the occasional jutting large and very sharp rock, deeply entrenched studded outcrops, but too far away from my frantic grasps. I spot a felled tree, oh please let that stop me, I prepare to grab hold of it but I’m too fast, I have such intense momentum that I smack agonizingly sideways into the end of the log …I can’t breathe, the air is knocked out of me!
… then I am sailing, flung into the atmosphere, I’m actually catapulted over the downed tree and land in an excruciatingly, bone-jarring, slide. My bloody rag-doll body is scattering more rock and debris. I’m choking on the dust cloud that my landing has created, worsening my shortness of breath. I’m utterly engulfed with pain, I can’t be distracted! I am approaching the edge at a thundering, terrorizing rate, reaching impossibly, willing my body to lengthen; I must grab that tree stump.
I continue to scramble, I’m mute with fear and adrenalin. It wouldn’t have mattered if I did cry out; I’m alone, breaking a cardinal hiking rule. I am struggling to clear my mind; normal thought process is hammered, my perception is completely bulldozed. I’m now only a few feet from the edge, reflexively digging my heels deep into the slack ground beneath me, when miraculously they catch. My “brakes” work, I’m at least temporarily spared from a horrible, pain- ridden, fall to certain death.
I catch my breath, forcing myself to breathe slowly, deeply but I’m only partly successful. I begin to access my tenuous situation, I must clear my head. I am in very deep trouble without a viable rescue plan. The dust-filled air is silent but for the lingering, sporadic clatter of pebbles and the sound of my heavy breathing. Or is it that I can’t hear anything over the sound of the thundering pulse in my ears?
Crazy, have I hit my head? I hear a voice, am I hallucinating? Carefully I turn my head ever-so slightly in the direction of The Voice. Out of my peripheral vision I can see men frantically tying rope to a tree and someone is heading my way, causing more rock and sand to begin a secondary rock slide; I fear this will engage an additional slide under me. Terror grips me.
Lord, show them how to be careful, cautious. But … somehow make them hurry! Using the slight delay to steel myself, I pray they be mindful as to just how close they get to me, I’m far from solid ground and by no stretch of the imagination is my position stable. How long is their rope and just how long will my “brakes” hold?
Just as I question that, I slide several more inches, my heart is booming an erratic beat against my chest, my face a mask of fearful tension mixed with determination. I am applying savage pressure to my weakening “brakes”, well beyond what I’m capable of, reaching within myself for that extra resolve. I claw at the ground for additional traction, useless, it relents none.
I need a miracle. Just then a looped rope is passed over my head, I instinctively raise one arm at a time, being intensely careful to limit my movement, over the loop and it tightens. I slip a few more inches; there just aren’t very many inches left! I’m frantic, fighting panic, I’m wild with fear that is desperate to unleash. I’m shaking uncontrollably. The Voice is close to me now; I’m being reassured that everything will be alright. I slightly nod my acknowledgment, not as confident as The Voice; my entire life is in the strength of this rope and a stranger’s ability to tow me in it.
A hail of rock, dirt and shale-gravel assault my head from above me, I tuck my chin into my chest and clamp my arms around my knees, I am a frightened, tight ball. I am then hauled a few inches up, and then The Voice is being hauled up a bit. We seesaw like this for what seems like eternity, The Voice continues to speak assurances to me, reaching out to touch my arm, the slightest contact better than none at all. My trousers and pack are filling with gravel as I’m being dragged uphill, the rock tearing into soft tissue. The rope is painfully biting into my flesh and fairly new scar tissue across my chest, burning, yet I’m grateful for the pain. It tells me I’m alive … at least so far.
The men get me to the trail, moving me to the uphill side. I’m immensely indebted but I am still unable to speak. This was really an intense screw-up on my part! I know better than to step to the outside edge of the trail. One of the men asks if I’m alright and I nod my response. I need a moment, maybe a few hours actually, to collect myself. The Voice is now sitting on the trail, taking in big gulps of air, he’s a big guy. Tears well in my eyes at the sight of him and the men who had the challenging rope duty. Finally I am able to speak my gratitude, wondering at the fortuitous timing of their arrival. After full inspection for broken bones or bad sprains from the initial fall, the “rope team” has bandaged me in just about every exposed part of my body, blood is already soaking through a two of them. I can already feel the bruising, but I’m grateful that I will be able to descend under my own power; nothing is broken, thank You God. I then inventory lost equipment.
I assure them that I am recovered. I’ve been poked, stabbed, abraded, bruised, flung, slammed, slashed .… most likely a few stitches here and there. . . and scraped but I’m not beaten. The equipment lost are non-essential. I decline their offer to escort me back to my vehicle and wave good-bye; smiling like I haven’t smiled in months as I watch these “good Samaritans” continue their journey. I notice that The Voice is still shaking his head in a can-you-believe-what-just-happened and I nod to myself in an amazed “no-kidding!”
Lord, thank You! I am alive to thank You … oh, Lord! I’m battered, but alive!
I decide to sit and rest a while longer; my hands are still shaking, and my heart rate hasn’t gotten quite back to normal yet. Wow. Look at what the Lord has done for me today! I thank Him for sending the men at that particular time, this particular trail with the particular equipment that they had. Belatedly, I realize that it didn’t make sense, their having climbing equipment for this trail. I look again at the trail ahead, to call out to them. I haven’t even asked their names and I want to ask why they had climbing gear but I can no longer see them, yet I can see quite a distance up the trail. I blink several times, maybe there’s dirt in my eyes. No, they simply aren’t there.
Were these good Samaritans or were they angels? Bottom line is, I’m extremely grateful that miracles still happen!
NOTE: Always, ALWAYS step to the inside edge of the trail! The outer edge is unpredictable and unreliable. Do not hike solo! You never know when you will need a hand. 🙂
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Strolling along, enjoying the quiet tranquility of the forest stepping among mild weather, highlighted with a perfect breeze, I duck under a low-lying tree that has slid down the rain-softened mountainside, toppling it across the trail. I check the section that is obscured; I’m ever-snake-aware these days, watchful of my footing, particularly over a larger rock or a felled tree, who knows what’s on the other side? I note that I am sweating profusely as I check for snakes. I don’t like this fear I’ve developed, it’s unhealthy.
As I pass a few piles of bear scat, I’m reminded that I have bear bells in my pack. I’ve never felt the need to use them before but the bells are relentlessly drawing my attention. Finding scat and tracks along this trail is certainly not unusual, why this change of attitude? The impression is intense enough for me to stop and dig deep into my pack for the bells. I strap them to my trekking poles and continue my most-enjoyable morning trek.
Step jingle, step jingle.
There is sudden, chaotic movement ahead, my heart beats violently; I’m instantly alarmed. Something is just not right, there is an outright panic in the air! My ears are straining to distinguish the sounds that I hear. I recognize the sound of several hoof beats, at a gallop at that, but there is something far more fearsome, deep, heavy, and threatening. Three panicked deer are charging down the trail, oh man! Do they see me?! These animals are fast! I jump to the uphill side of the trail, plastering myself against the rough mountainside. A huge flying leap from the trail and they swiftly, gracefully disappear deep into the downhill brush.
Then a flat, deep noise that challenges my bladder control. This noise completely rattles my insides, weakens my bones and muscles. Undoubtedly this is a large animal making this noise; the air is motionless and thick with fear.
Then what sounds like a smaller animal, makes a sort of baying sound, almost a sheep-like “ba”, but not. Maybe it’s “ma, maw”. It sounds confused, if that’s possible, maybe frightened. I can’t explain it. Oh snap! More hard, deep and yet with an odd hollowness, chomping. Now I hear oruff, errhh, then a deep, heavy growl similar to the warning growl from a dog. The kind of growl you hear right before it attacks.
I’m suddenly drowning in a whirlpool of fear and panic.
It sounds like a large animal, panting with angry, heavy stomping and scraping against the earth. The snorting sounds like a charging bull that terrifies me beyond reason. Huff, pant, eerrhh. The noise is a psychological stun gun, keeps me from moving. I’m literally frozen in place. There’s chaotic noises among the brush, a different growl, then a howl, almost a yip, like it was injured, definitely a different animal. Are there two animals fighting? Now there’s heavy stomping, scraping, it’s the larger animal. Instinctive fear envelopes me. I feel as though I’m made of jig-saw puzzle pieces and each piece is about to unhinge from one another.
Silence. Heavy silence. Intimidating silence. Scary silence. Silence that is LOUD.
I look down at my chest to see if I am still breathing because i’m really not sure. Then I close my eyes, I’m trying really hard to refocus, to center myself, to trust my Savior. I’m afraid to look up or to look in any direction. My knees are buckling, an insane thought flashes through my mind: camera. I immediately dismiss it. I need to preserve myself first! Not exactly a Kodak moment here…
The forest is very, very still. Not a single squirrel stirred, not a single bird chirped, even the lizards sunning their selves have simply vanished. I think even the ants are frozen in their tracks. It’s as if a mega pause button has been pressed throughout the woods, with the entire world in slow motion.
Frantic, bizarre thoughts swirl: I think about the sound of crashing ocean waves, about the thrill of riding horseback at a smooth canter, about the stupid mending pile at my home … I need new tires for my car soon … HAVE I LOST MY MIND?
I don’t know how long I stayed plastered against the mountain. It seems as though I am waking up from a deep coma, my mind a little foggy, taking a bit to orient, I don’t trust my legs to support my walking much less standing. Standing still as though I’m part of this rough mountainside seems to be all that I can muster. I need to feel camouflaged. I am rock and leaves and dirt. I am the mountain.
Seeing nothing swing out from the bushes, no horrified deer charging my way, no more nerve-shattering dinosaur-level snapping sound, just the usual bit of small animal activity. Once again, the world around me is back to normal. Oh, the joy of the “little things” in life! I realize the threat is gone. Deep breath. Loosen the tight neck, swirling my head slowly. I reach for my fallen trekking poles. They jingle.
The bells that I have never used before. Until today. Thank God for giving me a heads up, for causing me to step aside momentarily. Who knows what the timing would have been, how this “encounter” may have changed if I had not stopped for a few minutes to strap on the bells?
“All those who know Your mercy, Lord, will count on You for help. For You have never forsaken those who trust in You.” Psalm 9:10
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1
Lord, I want others to know just how accessible You are!
Todays Lesson Learned: The importance of being bear aware and never negotiate a blind trail-corner quietly. You never want to surprise a wild animal, much less a mother bear and cub. Whether you use bear bells (not my favorite) or chat with your partner, lightly clap your hands as you approach a bind corner, or simply sing softly as you relish your environment, these are all good methods to prevent a surprise for you or the animal. Pay attention to “warning signs” such as fresh bear scat, a fresh kill, etc. and adjust your trip accordingly. DO NOT HIKE QUIETLY.
Wondering why I (temporarily) developed a fear of snakes? See my post The Day I Stood On A Western Diamondback Rattler here at http://ow.ly/j3LdM Enjoy!
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