My Rattlesnake Story

Just Like the One I Encountered

It was about twenty years ago. I was hiking by myself at Point Mugu State Park. I approached the park from the north and parked near the Satwiwa Interpretive Center. Unfortunately, I started a bit too late, so this turned out to be a hike that I had to abort in the middle. I was walking along the Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail, which eventually merged with Sycamore Canyon Road, which was a level walk back to the parking lot. As it was late afternoon, I got a little anxious because the junction was farther along than I thought, and the parking lot gate was closed at 5 pm.

So I had to walk down one of the narrow paths that connected the trail with the road. I didn’t like the look of any of these paths, because some of them seem to disappear midway down. Finally I chose one and was halfway down before I noticed a rattlesnake coiled up beneath a bush that pretty much hogged the trail. To the left of the bush was a cliff down; to the right, a cliff up. I had to get past that rattler without sustaining a load of its venom.

I was wearing thick leather hiking boots that went up above my ankles, so I was safe if the snake went low. But what if it went high? I also had with me a sturdy ash hiking staff. I noticed that the path along the edge of the cliff gave me about six inches to walk around, so I started to plunge the staff down hard every few inches to encourage the snake the bite the staff while I edged around the bush. It did make a feint at the staff, but did not bite. I managed to circle around the bush and resume my hike, returning to the parking lot with only a few minutes to spare.


A Death in the Mountains

Tahquitz Peak Near Palm Springs

Tahquitz Peak Near Palm Springs

I used to have a good friend named Alex (or Iskander) Toubia, a Arab Christian from Nabatiyah, Lebanon. He married a cute blonde nurse from Cincinnati and had a daughter by her. Then something happened to the marriage, and the wife left with the daughter.

Then began a period of depression for my friend. He was in business for a while with his brothers in a manufacturing company that made parts for the auto industry. He bought a big house in Orange County. One year, he went to Rio for Carnival and engaged in some dissipation, bringing back some soft core porn videos.

Somewhere around this time, I lost track of Alex. One day, I decided to do an Internet search for his name and found out what happened with him: He had gone hiking on Tahquitz Peak in Riverside County wearing crampons (for the first time). He slipped and fell—fell quite a long way, striking his head against a tree, killing him instantly.

The website from the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit that describes the attempt to recover his body is still up on the Internet and is well worth reading. One of the rescuers suffered a similar fate, hit his head against a tree, and went into a coma—from which, fortunately, he recovered.

The whole story sounded very much like Alex. He loved to go hiking, and he had become something of a loner. That’s not the best combination. I love to hike, too, but would not venture on a difficult trail on my own, especially in the mountains. Life is fragile enough as it is.

Back from the Desert

Me on the Randall Henderson Trail in Palm Desert

Me on the Randall Henderson Trail in Palm Desert

I had a great time in Palm Desert with my brother and sister-in-law. While Lori worked on Saturday, Dan and I hiked the Randall Henderson Trail off Highway 74 in Palm Desert. My brother took the picture with his cell phone.

Fortunately, my legs were in the picture. As my Dad always used to say, if you don’t include the legs in the picture, people will think that I have no legs. Well, now you know…. And my Dad, looking down on us from the heavens, will be gratified.

In my right hand, I am holding my own digital camera against the belt holster I use for carrying it.

After the hike, Dan took me to a great Mexican place on Date Palm Drive in Cathedral City. It had the best tacos el pastor that I have ever tasted. I loaded it down with pickled jalapeño chiles and a hot green salsa. The burning stopped only when I took a sip from a giant cup of horchata. If you are in the area and want to try it, look up El Tarasco at 34481 Date Palm Drive. It’s a bit of a dive, and you are not likely to run into any gringos there. Be sure to order the tacos al pastor.

Inspiration Point


At Will Rogers State Historical Park’s Inspiration Point

At Will Rogers State Historic Park’s Inspiration Point

Tomorrow is the 134th anniversary of Will Rogers’ birth. In commemoration, the Will Rogers Ranch Foundation had a birthday party for him, complete with music, an art show, and free cupcakes. After the music, which was mostly 1930s vintage (Will died in a 1935 plane crash in Alaska), Martine and I hiked up to the top of Inspiration Point. The trail is along a relatively easy fire road with a 116-foot gain, about 1.25 miles in length. From up top, you can see a broad swath of Los Angeles extending from downtown to Westwood to Santa Monica and south along Santa Monica Bay to the Palos Verdes Peninsula. You can see the bay behind me and a piece of Will’s polo field just to my right.

Will Rogers State Historic Park is the nicest stretch of greenery near where I live. For a $12.00 day use fee per car, one could watch a polo match (the season is over for now), barbecue some hamburgers, tour Will’s ranch house with a docent, loll aound on the lawn, or take a hike. The Inspiration Point hike is more in the nature of a stroll, but branching out from it is the Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail, linking Will Rogers with Topanga State Park, Malibu Creek State Park, and ultimately Point Mugu State Park in Ventura County—some forty miles up and down the ridge line of the Santa Monica Range.

Martine and I usually wind up visiting the Park three or four times a year. Even on the hottest days of summer, its proximity to the ocean usually means there is an occasional breeze. (Farther inland, there is no such relief.)

It was a good day.


The Man Who Walked Through Time


Colin Fletcher (1922-2007)

Today I got into a conversation with my co-workers on the subject of footwear. It’s not something I talk about very much, so I surprised myself how much I was influenced by the thinking of one man some thirty years ago. The man was Colin Fletcher, an indefatigable hiker who wrote several books about his long walks, most notably:

  • The Thousand Mile Summer (1964) about a walk from Southern California by the Mexican border all the way to the Oregon border—along the ridge line of the Sierras.
  • The Man Who Walked Through Time (1968) about his hike along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.
  • The Complete Walker (several editions) in which he talks about the gear you need (and what you don’t need) to walk long distances.
  • The Man from the Cave (1981), about his researches tracking down a man who lived in a cave in the Desert Southwest and left many of his belongings behind.

From Fletcher, I learned to wear only socks that have wool content, the more the better. And I learned to buy only those shoes whose soles and heels would wear like iron—which is why I am partial to Rockport walking shoes and various well designed hiking boots and shoes.

For many years, shoe salesman lied to me about my size. At best, I wear a size 9-1/2 shoe (American) EEE, though I can wear a 10 EE. Most shoe stores, however, stock only D-width shoes. Rather than lose the sale, they will sell me a size 10-1/2 D or even an 11 D, which leaves about two inches of storage space between my toes and the leading edge of the shoe or boot. Needless to say, I avoid shoe stores like the plague. It’s L.L. Bean or OnlineShoes.Com for me.

Being reminded of Colin Fletcher, whom I had forgotten for so long, I remember the happy hours I spent reading his books and paying close attention to his advice. Much of his hiking advice is now a bit dated because of the recent influx of new materials that have revolutionized the gear situation for camping and hiking, but the basic information was solid; and Colin tested it all himself the hard way.

If you can find any of Fletcher’s books, you may well find yourself falling under the man’s spell. I particularly recommend the first, second, and fourth books I listed above. The Complete Walker needs to be substantially revised, though I have no plans to get rid of my fourth edition copy.