On the Trail 1161 near Polar Spring.
James A. McNutt Copyright 2002
Coral Snake, Not.
I call it a Coral snake. I always do. Then I tell myself it is not, just a King snake. Then I try to remember what my friend Jerry told me. Red next to black is friend to jack; Red next to Yellow can hurt a fellow. Then I get confused and say it does not matter I live out west, no Coral snakes here. It is just a King snake. Quite nice.
I hear voices. I look around, I hear mumbling and cries that are not understandable. I hear them on the wind and look to see if the dog has heard them. She sees me look at her and she looks to see what I see. She lifts her nose and sniffs the air. Finding nothing of interest she lets her head fall back down to the ground to rest. Hiking, swimming, and guard duty is a tiring job.
I was coming down the trail at a slope of about 20 degrees on a hill that was every bit of 50 degrees when it happened. I found that last winter dropped a lot of trees that looked healthy and good. Some times they fall up hill. I found that most of them had fallen down hill for some reason. With 80 pounds plus on my back I am not very agile. After 6 hours on the trail my legs do not work very well. Some of these trees I have to crawl under. They have broken limbs the are turned into spikes that make this difficult. Some of them are so low and that I have to take the pack off and crawl under and drag the pack through. Some of the trees I climb over. Getting my legs up without losing my balance is not easy. I get stuck sometimes and have to pull my legs up with my hands. On top of the log I sit like on a horse and rest. I came to a Golden Chinquapin tree that came down across the trail with its branches pointed down hill. The trail went right through the middle of the brushy part. I thought to myself, this will be easy. I will push some down with my feet and some up with my hands and go right on through. I stepped on some branches, and grabbed a pretty good size one to push up and over the pack. I had it in my right hand and shoved it up and to my left as I turned to face the hill putting my pack to the downhill. I then moved my hand clockwise to raise it over the pack. At about 12 o’clock on the sweep of my motion with my hand at the top of my head, the branch broke. Some 40 or 50 pounds of pressure on the limb, it broke like a dagger. I held this sharp stick in my hand over my head and its mirror image was going for my throat. In less that a second it was over. I deflected it with my elbow and shoulder. I missed being cut. It was only a brushy tree, only a second in time. One I will not forget.
Packing enough is always a problem for me. I remember what I should have taken last time. What broke and what would be good to have. And so it goes, then I have way too much to take. This last trip I took over 80 pounds to my favorite spot. Some 12.2 miles up and down a very difficult trail. Admittedly it was a bit much for me at 58 yrs old. I had decided to take some stuff to cache. All in all I had some 80 pounds for seven days in the wilderness. I made two lifts to 4000 ft and back down to 350. When you get there you are very happy. When you pack up to leave after the week you settle the account in your mind. I did not need this, or this or etc. You say I could have left this at home. Then it happens and it rains cats and dogs or something breaks and... well you have what you need to fix it and keep yourself dry and warm
The ritual of Backpacking is something hard to explain. I go through the pack. Over and over again. Before I go, I know every thing, every item by name and in which pocket or stuff sack it lives. I plan every day. I plan every meal. I practice with any new gear. Over and over again. Your comfort and safety demand these rituals, they depend on it. But you don’t think of it like that when you’re doing it. When I stop, I take the pack off a certain way each time so I do not hurt myself. I set it down so it can not roll or fall. When I put it on I get into it the same way; I get up the same way. Stand and go through the checklist. I look at the ground and turn around, making sure I have not left something, anything has fallen. Better to find it now then 10 miles down the trail find it missing. To set something down and walk away could mean your survival. When I am by myself the simple thing take on a special meaning. Setting camp. Getting water. Building a fire. Cooking food. They are done over and over again in the same way. They become a kind of silent Mantra. The simplicity, the basic function on living close to the ground calms you. You do it over and over again the same way because it is right for you, it works for you. The ritual of backpacking is like a living prayer.