Reptiles and Amphibians of the PCT

I’ve been researching everything about the flora and fauna of Arizona. This is something I do and have been doing since I was a kid before I go anywhere new. Everyone knows what I’m all about. The critters, the plants, THE MUSHROOMS! Unfortunately I don’t expect to find many fungi in the dry conditions. But holy crap the reptiles… The deserts are reptile heaven. What I have to look forward to in Arizona are desert tortoises, Gila monsters, whiptails, collard lizards, chuckwallas, and dozens more species of lizard, 52 species of snakes including THIRTEEN different rattlesnake species. I love rattlesnakes. Let me help ease the fear of them. They are probably the most compromising dangerous animals in the United States. Think about it. They have good camouflage and will try to stay still, not rattling and go unnoticed if possible. I can attest to this because on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania I walked right past a big fat timber rattler that was not even a yard off the trail and then did a double take because that big stick looked odd. I walked back and got a good look at him. I couldn’t believe it! Just right there by the trail and he didn’t curl up or rattle at all! Turns out Buzz Lightyear walked right past it a few minutes earlier and it didn’t move either! He thought it was just another Rat snake. It wasn’t until I got close taking pictures that this fella coiled up and the started rattling. After camouflage fails or they get nervous that you’re too close they have a freaking rattle that they use to say, “Hey, uh yea your getting kind of close brah and it’s making me nervous. But I’ll keep rattling so you know right where I’m at and you can go around me. Kthxbye.” What other animal warns you of it’s presence for they good of both parties? And guess what… Snakes don’t have ears! They can’t even hear their own rattle! So all if you who carry bear bells in the desert to alert the rattlesnakes you’re coming, bad news. They can’t hear them.
Rattlers aren’t looking for a fight. A rattlesnake is no match for a human at all. Any person that can pick up a rock or stick has a massive advantage over an animal that can’t defend itself by any other means than biting. And then you hear the stories of rattlesnakes chasing after people. I just laugh at this. If you’ve ever met a rattlesnake, you know that they’re a fat short snake compared to most. And although they can strike amazingly fast, they really aren’t quick to move across the ground compared to other snake species. No contest at all for any person who can run more than a few miles an hour. The fastest snake on earth is the black mamba and they clock in at a top speed of 12 miles an hour which is hardly a sprint for the average person. Don’t even get me started on all the Mojave green rattlesnake crap we heard from locals on the PCT. One guy we were hitching with gave us some weird papers talking about how sinister they are and that a boy just sitting on his porch had a Mojave latch on to his leg and he couldn’t get it off until his brother pried it’s jaws off and then venom was spraying all over. I’m not even kidding about this. Anyways… I digress.
Here are some of the AWESOME reptiles and amphibians I came across on the Pacific Crest Trail!

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Day 1 I came across this speckled rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii) just a few miles before Lake Morena.

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This guy was on eagle rock! It’s one of the many species of Sceloporus lizards. Not sure which one.

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Here’s another Sceloporus I found in Idyllwild. Check out his blue belly!

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A western patch nosed snake (Salvadora hexalepis) that was cruising around looking for lizards to chow on!

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This striped racer (Masticophis lateralis) was checking us out from under a bush next to Deep Creek!

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Twinkle’s most favorite lizard of all time. The horny toad! Phrynosoma blainvillii I think.

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This big guy started rattling at Twinkle, McButter and I heading up Mission Creek.

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While postholing in the high Sierra, I saw something in the bottom of a previous posthole. It’s was a freaking living frog! In this world of ice and rock this little guy was alive and well! Not too sure what he is other than cute.

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This garter snake was chowing down on a salamander when I crossed paths with it in Northern California!

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A California mountain kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata!!!) I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to find one and she was so precious and gentle. Never tried to bite or struggle or musk, just calmly chilled with me until I put her down and she went on her way looking for snakes, rodents other tasty things.

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I went nuts when I found this widdle baby rubber boa (Charina bottae) in Oregon! Another snake I really wanted to see on the trail and it’s a precious baby! I bet you didn’t know there were boas in the US! In fact there are two! The rubber boa can be found all the way into Canada even. The other is the rosy boa and it’s found in Southern California and western Arizona.

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Caught this big Alligator Lizard (elgaria coerulea principis) in Ashland, Oregon with Mitra and Guthrie next to some “fairy ponds.” Though the common name sounds menacing, he was pretty chill as you can see!

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And then there was this guy… Big northern pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus) I found him right on the trail about 3 miles north of Ashland and it was still pretty early in the morning so he was slow and chilly. I pinned his head (gently) with one of my trekking poles and picked up his head right behind those big venom glands. I held him just firmly enough so he couldn’t wiggle is head around and get me. I held him for a bit in one hand and was taking pictures on my phone with the other hand because I was alone at the time. He was very calm and never even rattled his tail. I set him a little ways up the hill from the trail so he won’t be stepped on and put him down and he just slowly crawled towards some rocks! No aggression at all. One of the biggest adrenaline rushes of my life. To get up close and personal with wildlife, especially the ones less loved. Just like my hero Steve Irwin. Disclaimer… Don’t do this. Haha. I’ve been catching snakes my whole life and caught my first venomous one at 13 years old. I love them. I’m crazy about them. Don’t fear the snakes!
-Sheriff Woody
I wish there was a snake in my boot!

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You Know You’re a Thru Hiker When…

I’ve been recently recalling many of the little things that occur on a thru hike that you don’t get to experience back here in the “normal” world. The small daily trail life things make me chuckle in hindsight. Here are some “you know you’re a thru hiker when…”

You wash your shirt and end up with some sort of salty human flavored tea… Extra strong.

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But you were proud of your salt lines!!!

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All abandon structures are fair game as home for the night.

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You’re not the only one at the top of the food chain.

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And feet always come out looking like this!

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And hell, you eat with these hands all day. My grandma would faint if she knew I ate without washing my hands out there.

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When sitting on an old couch next to a dumpster full of delicious food is something to celebrate! Another sentence grandma won’t understand.

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Bath time was certainly more scenic.

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Bridges are… Different…

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Hitch hiking is a common practice and you get to meet all sorts of interesting people… nurses, doctors, firefighters, tourists, semi drivers, Sketchy McSketcherton, trail angels, and lots of other outdoor enthusiast!

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Every meal is a picnic!

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You’ve witnessed or experienced catastrophic toe/foot damage. And then kept on hiking hundreds of miles anyway.

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Your shoes and socks freeze solid over night and you have to put them back on and melt them with your feet.

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One of the things about towns that excites you is being able to shit while sitting down. Yes, excited to use a port-a-potty.

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Anywhere it’s flat for 6′ x 3′ is fair game for camping.

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You become ravenous…

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And the trail magic… Thanks so much to all you trail angels out there!!!

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There are so many other things but this post is getting huge! 😄

Food!!!

Yesterday I went out and bought the bulk of the food I’ll eat along the trail. This time around I just bought whatever I thought I’d like to eat for a somewhat extended period of time. Last year I was much more scientific about my purchases and even made an excel spreadsheet comparing calories per dollar because well, I don’t have much money, I’m a poor smelly thru hiker! This info if you’re interested is back near the beginning of this blog around April 2014!
So people often ask me, “don’t you just crave nutritious food? Like when you’re out there is fruit and veggies all you want?” Well… If by fruit you mean peach rings, jelly beans and sour patch kids then yes! And by veggies you mean Pringles then also yes!

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I mean just look at all the different fruits in there. Orange, juicy pear, tutti fruity, etc.

Once hiker hunger sets in all I want is meat and candy and fat. I’ll eat veggies and fruit when I’m in town but they’re too heavy to carry around and I really don’t crave them. This is not really a common sentiment with thru hikers however. I know some of my buddies like Guthrie loved him some blueberries and carrot was always down for a salad.
I craved protein and pure energy. I needed to grow those disproportionate calf muscles all thru hikers cultivate and then give the them raw energy to run those bad boys for months on end. So that’s the kind of food I bought. High calorie, high fat and some high protein in the mix. Oh and lots of salty stuff. Pretty much everything that is bad for you in civilization is what I want while hiking.

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Snickers are a well know food source for wild hikers.

I guess the staple food of mine however is the usual bars, granola bars, powerbars and cereal. I hate trail mix with a passion so that is not on the menu. I like straight up Cheerios and Special K in place of it. I’ll also carry along some multivitamins and electrolyte pills since salt lost is rampant in the desert environment.

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Rice krispes treats are cereal right?!

Also for the first time I got some crystal light flavoring packets because I was very jealous of Twinkle’s squirrel blood juice and other powdered drinks. Some even have caffeine just in case I need a real boost.

AZT Gear List

So this hike is a little bit different from my other two thru hikes because it is vastly shorter and there is no time constraint. I need to go 800 miles from March 7th to anytime before April 23rd or so. That’s only 17 miles a day if I used my full time allotment. This means I am going to be “ultra light” but I’m also bringing some luxury items such as my 2 lbs camera and my go pro with harnesses to capture and share the experience in pictures and video. Something I wish I did more on the PCT but my iPhone’s memory got full so fast. I also have a lot more time to stop and take pictures of the little things so I’m hoping this trip results in some spectacular macros of all critters Arizona.

I’ll be using another pair of tried and true Brooks Cascadia 8 trail running shoes.

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Got these bad boys for Christmas and fully expect them to last the 800 mile trail considering my first pair took me over 1700 miles and my second pair took me the next 1000 on the PCT and I still use them frequently for day hikes and weekend trips. Check out the tread on my first pair compared to my second pair after I got them in Ashland, Oregon!

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I’ll also be using the trekking poles I used on my Appalachian Trail 2012 since they are still useable, unlike my tortured pair from the PCT. If I have extra money before the trip I may buy I new pair but I’m broke at the moment.

There is some amount of clothes that I’ll always be wearing and so I won’t include that in the base weight. Typically my light shirt, zip off pants, cotton boxers and a pair of socks and a hat.

So here’s the rundown:

Backpack and Water Treatment and Storage:
Gossamer Gear Gorilla Ultralight Backpack 28 oz (793 grams)
Sawyer squeeze mini 1.7 oz (49 grams)
4 1 liter smart water bottles 6 oz (170 grams)
Subtotal 35.7 oz( 1012 grams)

Sleep system
Six Moon Designs Wild Oasis tarp tent with insect netting 13 oz (400 grams)
6 Aluminum tent stakes 3 oz (87 grams)
Z Lite sleeping pad 10 oz (290 grams)
REI Radiant 19 degree down sleeping bag 39.9 oz (1130 grams)
Subtotal 65.9 oz (1907 grams)

Clothing in Backpack
Undershirt 7.2 oz (206 grams)
Long johns 6.9 oz (196 grams)
Go lite down jacket 7.5 oz (214 grams)
Wind Jacket 18 oz (510 grams)
Subtotal 39.6 oz (1126 grams)

Miscellaneous Items
Head light with batteries 2.8 oz (81 grams)
Sunglasses .7 oz (20 grams)
Small bic lighter .4 oz (11 grams)
Mosquito head net .7 oz (20 grams)
Toothbrush and toothpaste 1 oz (29 grams)
Subtotal 5.6 oz (160 grams)

Electronics

Canon PowerShot SX50 HS Camera, 2 batteries, lens cleaning cloth, mini tripod, Raynox DCR 250 Macro lens 32 oz (906 grams)
GoPro Hero 3 White 4.8 oz (136 grams)
Chargers 3.1 oz (88 grams)
Anker battery 15000 mwh 11 oz (315 grams)
Subtotal 50.9 oz (1517 grams)

Total Base Weight
201.84 oz or 12.61 lbs (5772 grams)

I weighed all the smaller gear with a gram scale to get the most accurate weight and the larger gear I used the company’s given weight so there is a tiny discrepancy in the in grams vs oz on some items which were only given in one unit or the other so bear with me that the math isn’t exact.

12.6 lbs is a pretty acceptable number for me considering I’m carrying 3.2 lbs of non essential camera gear and extra batteries. If I were on one if the big trails my base weight would be under 10 lbs!
Edit: I forgot a few pairs of extra socks so add a few ounces on this. I don’t feel like recalculating everything 🙂

The Arizona Trail

So a few days ago I committed to an idea I’ve had for the past several months by buying a plane ticket to Tucson, Arizona. I am going to attempt a thru hike of the Arizona Trail starting March 7th! The reason I chose to hike this trail is because I have a time limit. I have the opportunity of going to graduate school for forest pathology at West Virginia University where I got my bachelors in horticulture, at no cost to me. This is simply something I can’t pass up. I will begin field work May 1st so this prevents me from thru hiking the CDT which is what I would have done this year otherwise.

Anyway! The freaking Arizona Trail. 800 miles from the Mexican border to the Utah border. The full length of the state. The trail goes through the Saguaro “forest,” the Superstition Mountains, Mogollon Rim, Flagstaff, the San Francisco Peaks, and then on to the crown jewel of the trail, the Grand Canyon. All of this is extra exciting to me because not only have I never been to the Grand Canyon, Arizona is the only state west of the Rockies I’ve never been to. I am starting the trail with my friend Bill Fucking Muarry who I met in New Hampshire on the Appalachian Trail back in 2012. She will be with me for the first two weeks and then her spring break will be over. I also plan on meeting up with several of my PCT friends along different sections of this trail.

The desert of Arizona is home to many of the animals I really really want to see and photograph. Here is a list of the top critters I want to see.

1. Scorpions. I think they’re awesome and we have none in Ohio. This is good news to most of my fellow Ohioans.

2. Tarantulas. Come on! Its a giant freaking spider! That is amazing!

3. Rattlesnakes. Lots of them. Arizona is home to 11 different species of rattlesnake!!!

4. Arizona Coral Snake. Extremely venomous, extremely beautiful.

5. All the other snakes. I love snakes. You who know me know this. I was so stoked on the PCT when I found my top 2 snakes I wanted to see there, the rubber boa and the California mountain kingsnake.

6. Gila Monster. One of two venomous lizard in the world.

7. Desert Tortoise. Slow, chunky and cute.

8. Mountain Lion. In the day time and far away. Of all the animals in the United States the mountain lion is the only one that freaks me out. Though I know attacks are extremely rare, they are watching you, and I’ve had friends that were stalked for hours at night time. I do NOT want experience that. Give me rattlesnakes everywhere, tarantulas and scorpions crawling over me but no lion stalking please.

I’ll do a rundown of the gear I’m taking when my new backpack comes in! Until then, happy trails!

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