Out of the Fryin’ Pan
by Sean Cobourn
Several years ago I took a group of friends to North Cedar to show off one of my favorite cliffs. We were almost out of the forest and my shoe came untied. I halted the human caravan and bent over to re-tie it. As I was bent over, butt facing downhill, I heard the unmistakable buzzing of a nearby rattlesnake. I launched forward like Usain Bolt from the starting blocks and plowed into Ally Metts, knocking her to the ground!
As I recovered my composure I turned to see a big ol’ boy coiled up mere feet from the trail. We took pictures and played with him a bit then left him alone and had a fun day climbing.
The next day, Karen Peress (KP) and I sauntered back in to work on a new line. We warily tip-toed passed the snake spot from the day before. Whew! He was not there. A minute later the trail entered the clearing at the base of what is known as the Red Fern Wall due to the jungle of giant ferns that beautify this spot. The ferns sprout from amongst a floor of large rocks. I was hopping along when KP gasped and shouted
“Sean, look out!”
Beneath my outstretched right foot slithered not one, but two entwined rattlers! The larger of the two sported the distinguishing yellow color scheme exhibited by some timber rattlers in these parts. The other bore the more natural white/gray motif. I now imagine that they were making sweet, sweaty snake love to each other. Why else would two vipers be side by side? But at the time, without second thought, I hurtled over them, barely maintaining balance wearing a heavy pack on the uneven, downhill terrain.
They were now between KP and I, uphill of me at knee level. KP stood quivering on a rock a few feet behind and above them. I was stranded in a sea of waist high ferns, terrified that there were a dozen more buzzworms waiting to strike. I was afraid to wade through the thick foliage to go around them. There was no way KP was going to jump them to get to me. We stood still for an eternity when slowly, the serpents started to head my way. One went left, the other right in a classic pincher maneuver out of General Patton’s tank warfare handbook.
Being a quick witted heroine, KP took out her cordalette, untied it and tossed me the end 15 feet away. I wrapped it around my wrist and got on my own rock. She pulled with all her might as I summoned my inner Baryshnikov and leapt at the same time. I sailed over the advancing minions and was safely ensconced on her rocky oasis. We hugged. Tears were shed. We were safe!
After taking a minute to compose, we decided to leave. We turned to head back the way we came. Ten feet away sat the king of all timbers. He was as big around as KP’s muscular arm as he sat coiled, eyes fixed, tongue flicking at us. The malevolence emanated like a fog from his pits. Oh Shit. We were surrounded by three rattle snakes in a 20 foot diameter circle.
We talked to the brood, telling them we meant them no harm, but sternly informed them that IF they bit us, we would unleash a furious anger and eat them for lunch. The ferns were not as thick on this side of the clearing. I spied a stick and used it to beat a wide path around the sentinel snake. Once passed him, we ran.
I did not return to North Cedar for two years. It was my favorite cliff. I finally overcame my PTSD and did go back. The first time, Brian Gulden and I came across a big, dark copperhead in the same area. The second time Bryan Haslam and I spotted a huge rattler sunning at the base of Cedar Gem. I have become desensitized and now love North Cedar as I did before. It is obvious that this place is home to a large population of pit vipers. They are actually amazing animals. Despite our fears, they are not aggressive. They live here. Let them be, but certainly be aware and respectful.