Last week's piece concerned the checklist that my outdoors buddy Steven Steelrod and I use before every backpack or camping trip. I also mentioned a sans Steelrod backpack into the Yolla Bolly wilderness. When I mentioned that to a local attorney he voiced concern about marijuana grows and men with guns.
The trip lasted four days and the six of us who backpacked in from the Green Springs trailhead did not see another human nor any sign of anyone in the area below Hammerhorn Mt. as far north as Soldier Ridge. It appeared that one or two people with a horse had been the only other users of the trails this spring. We camped near the only available water for miles, with no evidence that anyone had stopped there since 2013 or earlier. The whole trek would have proved relatively uneventful except for the last two hundred yards of the trail. I was in the lead of five other backpackers, returning to the trailhead. The hiker behind hollered, “Do you see the car?”
I pivoted onto the final downhill switchback and spotted the vehicle. “There it is.” A stride or two farther I got the adrenaline rush of the year when a thick rattlesnake slithered from the hillside above the trail directly into my path. Whatever the current hop, skip and jump record is, I can attest that I approached that mark in the next few milliseconds. I spun around, a seemingly safe distance down the trail from where the three to four foot long rattler slid behind a chunk of pine bark. Seconds later he reappeared, nearly coiled, rattles hoisted against a downed log less than a foot from the trail. I called out to my closest companion who took a wide detour to my side. Calling out to each subsequent hiker got us all around the rattler, including the two miniature donkeys who packed in with one of our fellow hikers.
The reptile was most likely a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus oreganus. Crotalus comes from the Greek krotolon, meaning rattle. These snakes are commonly called timber rattlers. The taxonomy is still somewhat unsettled, so readers may also see it identified as Crotalus viridis oreganus. Whatever the name, they can be found in the inland parts of California as far south as Santa Barbara County and as far north as Siskiyou County, though their patterns may vary slightly in different locales. They can be called pit vipers because in winter they den in burrows or caves, often in large numbers.
Rattlesnakes are essentially defensive rather than offensive creatures. The one who slithered onto my path probably could have struck me if it had wanted before my hop, skip and leap away. Humans are not part of their prey. The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake dines on lizards, frogs, mice, some birds, rabbits, and squirrels. However, adult California Ground Squirrels are immune to this rattler's venom and will stand their ground against a rattler they deem a threat.
Though the bite of a timber rattler may not be the deadliest among snakes, it should always be considered potentially lethal. If the unforeseen does happen, here's what the California Poison Control Center advises in the case of a rattlesnake bite: stay calm; wash the bite area gently with soap and water; remove watches and rings that can constrict swelling; immobilize the affected area, keeping the bite below the heart; and transport to the nearest medical facility. In our part of the Yolla Bollys that would have meant a three hour or more car ride!
On a more positive note, let's go back to the final categories in the Steelrod/Macdonald backpacking checklist. Under the Entertainment section, our list includes: frisbee, playing cards, pen/pencil, Sudoku, book/reading material, writing tablet, fishing gear, and an inflatable raft. Truth be told I think Steelrod has given up on lugging the raft to distant lakes, but he still swims across them.
The Food section is left up to the individual, but fresh food is a great luxury even a day or two into the wild. Kiwi fruit is a surprisingly good traveler if you start with fairly firm ones. Avocados follow the same rule and provide healthy oils. Packaged tuna or salmon (not cans!) makes for a tasty dinner. We've had lip smacking results combining the lightweight packaged tuna with a product called Bear Creek Country Kitchens creamy potato soup mix. Always bring apples, carrots or oranges for fresh produce. This year will see us take our last packets of Swiss Miss cocoa in the backpack food pouch. I finally looked at the packaging long enough to discover that Swiss Miss is a Con Agra product. In the last decade Con Agra has spent millions in attempts to defeat county and statewide ballot initiatives aimed at product labeling and GMO bans.