We went for a hike one day while at Hot Springs National Park, one of the summit trails that leads from the Gulpha Gorge campground to the Observation Tower atop Hot Springs Mountain. We’d spent too many days in Red Bay by this time so we decided to make our hike a bit more challenging by connecting a couple of trails together to add some distance and a little more climbing. Of course, this also got us to be in a somewhat more remote location on the mountain.
It was a beautiful day, about 80 degrees and not too humid. The wind was blowing just enough to keep the bugs at bay and the sun was able to shine through the trees in enough spots to keep us just warm enough. The trail started with a quick climb from the creek bed to the first trail junction. From here, we took the “path least followed” to extend the hike. Sounded like a good idea at the time.
After about thirty minutes of hiking, we began to feel comfortable with our surroundings and I started to let my guard down just a bit. We had been warned to alert for wildlife and from the jump I was on high alert. However, thirty minutes into the two hour hike, I was feeling pretty comfortable. The sun was keeping us warm and the breeze was doing its job too. The path was two to three feet wide in most places and generally stoney too. The trees were marked with various colors of paint spots to indicate which trail you were on. This specific trail meandered along just below a ridge line, maybe 50 feet below the ridge with a steep drop off through the woods down to the river below on our right.
The trail alternated between open spaces and more densely wooded sections. Just as we came out of one of those wooded sections into a clearing, the sun shining brightly on the trail, I heard leaves rustle on my left, the uphill side of the trail and then almost simultaneously noticed a sudden quick movement of a three to four foot long snake coming right at me!
I instinctively jumped back away from the high-side of the trail, not thinking about the drop-off just a foot or two away but of the snake coming toward me.
This is where Nature’s Health Check comes in. In that moment, probably about 3 to 5 seconds, I learned that my adrenaline production is fine and my reaction time under extreme stress is still super fast. I was outta there in a heart beat. Oh yeah, my heart was working just fine too!
Now remember I said the trail was two to three feet wide. Well, I was walking in the middle of the trail when this occurred so there could not have been more than a couple of feet from where I was standing to the edge of that steep drop off the other side of the trail. When I got startled (read that as scared), I jumped back and started falling off the trail down ledge. Good thing for me that Siohan’s reflexes are really quick too. She was only a step or two behind me and saw what was going on. She grabbed the shoulder strap on my Camelbak and pulled me back onto the trail and away from the snake.
I told her it was a good thing I went first so I could protect her from whatever we may encounter out there. She smiled and said, yeah, I got you. (Good thing for me!)
So, nature has a way of testing us and I’ve gotten all the natural physical exams I’ll need for the rest of this trip. We’ll see.
We all have our fears. For some, its heights. For others, its speaking in front of large groups of people. For me, its snakes…