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Monday, December 5, 2011

two snakes

I guess it’s snake season. Funny because just a few weeks ago I was mentioning to someone that we shouldn’t expect to see any snakes up on the trail since it’s winter and they’re less likely to be out. I’m not sure where I got that impression – probably because that’s likely the case in colder climes. But here in the San Gabriel Mountains, at least at this stage of early winter, there are snakes out. They’re moving pretty slow. It’s been fairly cold overnight in the mountains. Probably approaching freezing. I imagine it takes all morning lying in the sun to warm up.

I saw the first of these two snakes on the Mt. Wilson Trail above Sierra Madre. It was stretched out across the path, slowly ascending the mountain, straight up, no need for switchbacks. I stopped my own ascent of the mountain (using the switchbacks provided) to let snaky pass. He was in no hurry. I waited about 30 seconds until most of his length was in the low brush on the side of the trail and just his rattle was dangling over the edge of the trail. He was a good-sized snake – medium, I’d say – with several links on his rattle. I believe they get an extra link on their rattle for each year of life, or something like that. I didn’t feel like waiting forever, though, so I continued along within a few inches of his tail. It seemed safe as he was all stretched out in the opposite direction, seemingly in a difficult position to whip around and strike on a cold morning. I heard one little tat of his rattle as I passed. Just sort of a “hi.” Or maybe it wasn’t even that, but just some accidental rattle as he moved a little further – one shift, one settling.

There was also a couple of hikers waiting on the up-trail side of the snake. They were a little more tentative about passing Snake on the way down. Eventually they did. I was a little ways up the trail already but heard them screaming and running for about a hundred yards down the trail. I imagine they got a bit more of a rattle from him. And I don’t blame them for running and screaming – it is a very scary sound – triggering a deeper fear response than we’re generally accustomed to feeling in the urban world.

Another day – another snake – this time on the route to Brown Mountain. Again just stretched straight across the path. But not going anywhere this time. Just enjoying a morning sun in no hurry – and why should she be? This snake was a California Glossy(?)– not dangerous, as far as I believe/hope. After waiting the standard 30-second-snake-count, I proceeded, stepping right over her (bike shouldered). I didn’t want to disturb her morning sun but as I was half way over she slithered back around toward her tail. Oh well, sorry. Hope you got warm anyway.

Thanks for sharing the mountains with me, my snake friends.

Of note: Neither of these two snakes turned into sticks as so many of the snakes I encounter on the trail do.

Also of note: I’m no snake charmer and you shouldn’t listen to any of my advice about safely passing snakes in the wilderness.


JustinM said...

The only snakes you need to worry about from a venomous standpoint are the rattler and the sea snake, and the latter stays in the ocean.

I once blew apart a rattlesnake with a shotgun. I didn't want to but I was protecting a baby cow. I had picked up the snake with a shovel and thrown it out of the pen, but it came back. It forced my hand.

mindful mule said...

That’s very Old Westy of you, Justin.

Thanks for the rattler and sea snake info. And by sea snake, I assume you mean great white shark.

Kristina said...

Good to know about the rattlers on the trails. I think that might encourage me to turn right back around to
"safer" ground!

mindful mule said...

Kristina: Yes, but it can also give you a nice adrenaline boost to push you further back up into “hallower” ground.

A Midnight Rider said...

No snakes to worry about here. Some big Black Snakes that are scary looking but in season all we see are 4-8 inch garden snakes.

mindful mule said...

Midnight: Yeah, snakes are scary but they’re also pretty cool. The wilds just wouldn’t be the same without a few here and there – even if they’re the small and harmless variety.