It had to happen eventually. It was inevitable. I hike so much in the Santa Monica Mountains that I would have to meet a rattlesnake at some point. Statistically I was due.
Yesterday, I went to Zuma Canyon to do my favorite 12 mile loop. It's a mellow hike up and down and around the canyon. I've done it many times, so I know the terrain.
In the course of going around a ridge, I met two guys in their mid to late twenties playing hooky from the office. One was wearing jeans with white sport socks over the cuffs and carried a large machete. The other was pale with red hair and freckles on his arms and a big backpack. As I passed them on the trail, I realized they were more Indiana Jones wannabes than psycho machete murderers.
With the guys a few minutes behind me, I continued up the Zuma connector trail. The trail was lush and green from the recent rain. The morning mist had just burned away, and the sky was clear and sunny. I walked with my eyes on the trail a few feet ahead of me.
Sure enough, ten feet in front of me, I suddenly saw a big black mass just as I heard a hiss and then a rattle. A rattlesnake's rattle is a terrible sound and is proof that evolution works. The rattlers who sounded nice and soothing didn't last very long. However, the rattlers whose rattles sounded like high pitched chaos got to make baby rattlers, and thus the cycle of life continued.
‘HOLY SMOKE!' I shouted and backed away down the path. The snake continued to rattle, then stopped when I was far enough away. The snake had been perfectly content lying in the sun until big, loud human me showed up.
Let me just say that as a day hiker, I am Ms. Overcaution. I don't take unnecessary risks. I don't stop and pick the flowers. I definitely don't go off the trails. In this case, it would be impossible to go around because on either side of the trail was steep rugged overgrown terrain. I threw a few stones but heard nothing. Just then, the machete guys showed up.
‘Hey guys, there's a four foot rattler on the trail about twenty feet ahead.' I said.
‘Oh.' The guys said. They moved ahead of me on the path, so they were between the snake and me. They were ready for adventure. One blew the big orange whistle he had on a chord around his neck.
‘I don't think snakes are afraid of the whistle.' The other guy said.
I hung back and they advanced two or three more steps. Suddenly, the rattle started again. That is a terrible sound. Ohhh, I hate that sound.
I found a big rock next to the path and handed it to one of the guys who threw it. Of course, that did nothing.
I was prepared to just go back the way I came. No dayhike was worth a snakebite. Just as I was about to turn around, the snake slid off the path by its own initiative. It probably had enough of the too big and too stupid humans.
‘Okay, the path is clear. Let's go.' The machete guy said.
‘Wait, I have to tie my shoe.' I said and leaned down to tie my shoe.
We preceded single file down the path. The machete guy stood to the side where the snake had slithered away as we passed behind him. He was the alpha male.
We continued down the path, and I hiked with the guys for a little while. They had never hiked in Zuma Canyon before, but they had a map. A website had told them that the trails were overgrown, so they had brought the machete.
I showed them where they were in relation to their car and hiked with them down into the canyon. We stopped at the flowing creek on the canyon floor under a canopy of trees. I sat on my rock and ate my sandwich. The guys took their shoes off and waded in the water. After my rest break was over, I said goodbye to the guys and hiked up the other side of the canyon.
On the fire road about a mile and a half from my car, a big red fox ran across the path in front of me and scampered up the mountainside. It had beautiful red brown fur and was really fast and limber.
‘Holy Smoke!' I said once again as the fox ran away. I don't why ‘holy smoke' was my expression of choice when I'm shocked in the outdoors.
I will say this about the outdoors. There are a lot of animals in it.