Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Encountering Rattlesnakes in the Wichita Mountains

I made another trip back to the Wichita Mountains on Monday May 17 in order to hike to the top of a peak named Granite Mountain. I arrived at around noon, and angled northwest toward the base of the peak. After moving off trail, I found a buffalo path that led to a slab of rock...after scrambling up the rock slab, I started moving through scattered brush and boulders. Twenty minutes later, it suddenly occurred to me that any one of the rocks I was walking on could be harboring a rattlesnake. A burst of adrenaline shot through my body as I further realized that I couldn't remember the way back to the rock slab that would lead me out of the hazard zone. I decided to go north along the edge of a canyon, hoping there would be a clear path back to the trail. Instead, I only encountered rock cliffs (just another potential rattlesnake community) with thick brush at the bottom, which probably would have sliced me to pieces if I attempted to bush whack through.

So, I turned around and headed back south. Then it happened, I heard a quick rattle just a few feet ahead of me. I looked down to the next rock, and there was a rattlesnake. Luckily, it sensed my approach, and slid under a rock. Tragedy was avoided for the time being. It took another 30 minutes before I found my way off the mountain, reconnected with the buffalo trail, and then found the safety of the primary hiking trail. I then spent the rest of the day hiking north through Charons Garden. The highlight of this trail was a large boulder field that required a fun scramble in order to continue north on the trail. After finishing the trail, I headed back south, and encountered my second rattlesnake of the day. Luckily, I was walking across a small boulder, above the trail where the snake was located. It quickly moved off the trail under a bush, but I could still see its black outline as it continued to rattle at me. The rest of the hike back to my car was relatively uneventful, but I felt lucky not to have been bit, and also somewhat un-nerved that I was stupid enough to hike off trail into an area inhabbited by rattlesnakes. The worst part of this whole experience was the mental stress that accompanied each step, wondering if a snake was around the next rock. Regardless, I don't plan to hike through this area again until winter, when hopefully the snakes will be hibernating.

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