Monday, September 17, 2012

Adventures in Gator Country

A couple weeks ago my buddy and I spent an evening on the kayaks half-heartedly casting despite less than ideal conditions.  We stupidly launched in the Sound only to realize it was quite rough and fishing would be just about impossible, especially for me with my skinny kayak and fly rod.  So we took shelter in the closest bayou where I've never had any luck catching anything, but at least we could cast without being in danger of capsizing.  We cruised through the bayou and my buddy pulled up next to the mouth of a tiny creek or ditch, really just a gap in the marsh grass with a couple inches of water over some mud.  After making a few casts from that spot he snagged a tree and paddled over to retrieve his lure; I pulled up to where he had been.  It was then that I heard something move.  Something back in that tiny creek.  Something large.  Something very close.  It was almost like a twitch.  I had about one second to analyze the sound when all hell broke loose.

Now, learning the sounds of spooked animals here in Mississippi has been a slow progression.  I can remember the first few times I spooked small mullet in shallow water.  There must be redfish here!  Then I actually spooked a good-sized redfish and just about jumped out of my kayak.  Never content to make a mistake only once, I once stated that a spooked redfish can be so explosive, it sounds more like a gator.  I need to stop saying things like that!

It was like a grenade exploded back in that little ditch (here I go again).  A 3 ft high wall of mud was headed my way as strange sounds came out my mouth and I paddled backwards like a madman.  In a matter of seconds, it was over, with only a wave sloshing back and forth indicating the craziness that just occurred.  But then I heard my buddy freaking out, and he snapped his line out of the bush and paddled back to me as the water boiled beneath him.  Neither of us actually saw an alligator the whole time.

After taking a few moments to settle down, we realized what had happened.  I startled an alligator who was chilling in the small creek.  Realizing he was nearly cornered, he freaked out and ran/swam out of there as fast as he could, probably going underneath the bow of my kayak.  His hasty exit resulted in a lot of mud being flung into the air.  He then searched for another usual hang-out spot.  Coincidentally, the bush my buddy was snagged on was right next to another small creek and, even more telling, an area of matted down grass.  So the alligator headed over to his usual hang-out only to find another kayak, and he freaked out again.  Frightening for us, certainly, but the alligator probably thought he was being hunted! 

The lesson learned here is to know alligator habitat and keep close watch when paddling through alligator territory, avoiding likely hide-outs such as matted grass and small creeks.  I've noticed that I see the most alligators in small bayous that have trees or shrubs bordering them and are out of the way of boat traffic.  Kayaks are great for fishing because they are very stealthy, but that also allows kayakers to sneak up on alligators unnoticed.  If you really want to avoid alligators, make a lot of noise; they'll get out of your way.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Yellowstone - Part 2 (Avalanche Peak)

We did a lot of hiking on our trip out west, and my favorite hike was a climb to the summit of Avalanche Peak, near the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park.  Only 2 miles from the trailhead to the summit, this is one of the easier mountains to conquer, but there are 2,000 vertical feet in those 2 miles, making it more strenuous than you might think.

The hike began in a somewhat haunting forest around 8,500 ft above sea level.  The trail was steep from the very beginning and remained so throughout the entire climb.  We crossed a small but beautiful meadow, and from there the vegetation gradually thinned leaving sick looking pine trees and grasses. 

 Eventually it opened up onto bare rocks and scree, where we saw a marmot scurrying around, apparently not too concerned about our presence.


A false summit loomed ahead with scraggly looking trees holding on for dear life.  The trail wound around the edge of the mountain, the steep drop on our left making my partner quite uneasy.  After reaching what we thought was the summit, we discovered that we still had a long way to go.  From there it was all rocks; the trail was simply a long trench carved out of the scree.  Each step was treacherous as the stones have a habit of shifting.

The final stretch was a 5 ft wide ridge leading to a small peak inhabited by a ground squirrel(!) and covered with sharp rocks.  The view from the top was glorious.  There was actually another peak 50 yards further down another narrow ridge.  I couldn't tell if it was higher or shorter than the first peak, but I decided to go check it out anyway.  Mrs. Michissippi stayed glued to the first spot, satisfied that she had completed the climb, and not wanting to move until she absolutely had to.

On the way down we saw a pika, which I was actually quite excited to see.  I remember seeing one in Rocky Mountain National Park as a kid, and I thought it was a very cool animal.

I highly recommend this trail for its views, challenge, and nice length.