Kevin goes on a huge hike, finds an enormous snake, watches another snake eat a frog, carries a snake for 45 minutes in his hands, gets bitten by a pseudocobra, drinks five liters of stream water and gets sick….all in great detail under the fold….
Today the plan was to travel to Bancang for a couple of days. The station is a lower elevation station and we were warned that it was very hot. I need to get a few mid-summer observations in, so I felt we should still go. We took the refuge SUV, which I think unless things change, I will not take again. When we arrived, Linsen told me that it was 150 Yuan. I think Linsen saw the surprise on my face as I fished for the money. As we were walking he commented that the price was not his decision (as the reserve staff doesn’t pay anything) and that Mr. Yang set the price. He said a normal taxi (which we would take back to Muyu) would cost around 35 Yuan. I have no idea why the reserve vehicle is so expensive, but from now on I will take a regular taxi whenever I have the option. Linsen said he would talk to Mr. Yang about dropping the price. The way I see it is the reserve vehicle should be at the most the same price as a normal taxi. I kind of hoped as a guest I would be given the same courtesy as one of the reserve staff, but I guess not.
The weather forecast was right. It was hot, about 96º hot. We went walking anyway, to look at habitat and such. I saw one lizard that escaped my clutches as well as my eyes, pretty sure it was Eumeces capito though. Bancang was very much like KS. Lots of crops, corn that was maybe 7ft tall, hot as hell. We walked through the cornfields until we made it to a bridge crossing the river. Remembering all the water snakes I would see at the base of the bridge in KS, I found a way down to the riverbed. No water snakes. I did find a shed skin of some kind of snake, no pattern, so no positive ID (though I have a suspicion of Ptyas). Not far downstream was a dead, dried, black snake. This snake was positively IDed as Ptyas (the Chinese “Black Racer”). It was far too hot to continue looking, so we retired to the station and waited until after dinner when it was cooler.
After dinner I wanted to walk basically the same circuit. We had walked along some wonderful looking riverbed. Unfortunately, the evening hike didn’t reveal much either; a Paa boulengeri (Frog B), Rana chinensis (Frog A), and a gigantic leech crossing the road.
Wow, not sure how to start this day. Today was by far the most strenuous hike I have ever had in my life. We hit the road early, by 9am we were on the beginning of the trail. The goal was to walk down to where the two rivers converged and continue upstream to the ghost town, Yinyuhe. Details are sketchy, but basically Linsen said the people there had to be moved out because the “situation was bad” – whatever that means. He said some were sent to Bancang, others sent to Muyu.
We followed a trail that bordered the river. At the beginning of the hike my hopes of finding a decent area to hunt were low. The day before I had not seen any shaded areas, and I knew that unless we were in the shade that by 10 or 11am it would be too hot. Lucky for us, nearly the entire trail was in the shade. Another good sign was the fact that we were heading to a ghost town, which means the trail we were on is no longer used. The trail used to be the main (the only) route from Yinyuhe to Bancang. After hiking for about two and half hours, Linsen said we were entering the core area of the reserve. We still hadn’t seen any herp life.
I don’t know if it was some sort of premonition or what, but after awhile Linsen asked me for my camera bag so I could move faster in case we saw a snake, and he also said I should go first on the trail. I can’t remember if I had mentioned this in a previous report or not. But shortly after taking the lead I think I knew why I was in the lead, I was in charge of clearing all the spider webs draped across the trail and getting all the thorns out of the way. Trading places would not help the situation either as Linsen’s stature didn’t do much in the way of clearing spider webs that were say… six feet tall. I remember hunting in Uwharrie, Dad and I would argue over who should go first. Whoever was first would see the snake first, but they would also be a walking spider web collection. Small price to pay.
As we rounded a stone pass overlooking the river, to my left I see a long black snake. My Chinese IDs are getting better as I have found myself reacting rather than hesitating. I grabbed the snake without saying a word and turned to wait for Linsen and Leo Tang to break out a bag. We continued along, and I would stop occasionally to flip a rock or log. Linsen eventually passed me and took the lead. It had only been 11 minutes since the Ptyas mucosus and up on the trail another very large individual was taking off down the huge slope. These racers are fast enough on their own, but the snake was flying down a loose dirt slope of about 45º. I watched for a couple seconds to see if it would stop when it reached the bottom – it did not, so I took off after it, sliding nearly the entire way down to the bottom, but the snake was long gone, disappearing somewhere among the rocks bordering the river.
I took the lead again, and to my surprise, another nine minutes down the trail was another Ptyas, an 81″ (206 cm for metric people) male foraging around some rocks, I do not even know if he knew of my presence. I grabbed him mid-body and of course he started flailing about, spraying a foul smelling musk everywhere. Of course at the moment I didn’t know how big he was, just that he was big, so we bagged him so I could measure him later back at the station. Ptyas musk is pretty weird as far as snake mush goes; it basically looks like some kind of metallic grease, or graphite. The metallic shavings I get every time I change my transmission fluid, that’s the most similar in color, certainly not smell.
It had been so long since I had seen so many Ptyas, I thought about where the last place was that we had seen so many – Xiagu. Xiagu was also very popular with Elaphe carinata (King ratsnakes), and this trail ran right beside a river. At Xiagu I had caught two king rats beside a river. I was missing king rats…
Further down the trail, this time a whole 14 minutes, we walked up on a yellow phase Pseudoxenodon macrops (the false cobra) that had just captured a Rana chinensis by the legs. The frog’s legs were positioned to the rear of the snake’s mouth, right where the rear fangs are. Now whether or not this was intentional or just the way the snake happened to catch the frog, who knows, but it’s interesting nonetheless. The frog was still alive, but not fighting at all. I took several shots and told Linsen and Leo Tang we’d just sit and wait for the snake to finish its meal. After about 10 minutes, Linsen said he did not think he had the patience. He’s a botanist, I thought about making a joke and asking him if he had never sat to watch the grass grow, but given the language barrier, I do not think it would have made it across – I think he would have taken me seriously.
I wanted to continue sitting but Linsen was pacing up and down the trail, constantly sitting and then standing, or shifting his weight. I told him the more we move the longer it would take the snake to eat, but it was a futile suggestion. I eventually just grabbed the snake, which promptly released the frog (which bounded away) and went into the hood display. The snake was beautiful, yellow and brown. This species is really very much like eastern hognose snakes, except they are not afraid to bite. Lots of variation within the species, of the three I have seen, each one has been different, a red phase, black phase, and now yellow phase. As I was photographing the snake and holding it in one place it promptly sank its teeth into my thumb. When it pulled away you could see the two little punctures from the rear fangs. I had told Linsen that the species was rear-fanged venomous, so of course he was asking if I was ok or if I needed medicine, etc, etc. I told him I didn’t and that the venom didn’t affect humans. This comment didn’t reach him until about 30 minutes down the trail when we said “the poison of that snake, is not dangerous to people?” “No, not dangerous.” “Doesn’t do anything?” “No.”
Onward we went, I was going through my 500 ml of iced tea drink (kind of like Nestea) very fast. I had already gone through my liter of water I left the station with. Though we were hiking in the shade, the temperature was still in the mid-80s. The trail opened up into a small, grassy area littered with rock piles and old rock walls. Among the grass, right beside the trail was the familiar Florida king-like pattern of a huge king rat! Again, the snake was minding his own business and didn’t even know I was there. I reached down and grabbed him mid-body and was immediately welcomed with a loud hiss and several strikes to the body, none of which connected. The snake was very large, but not quite as large as the one at Xiagu, this one was two inches shy measuring 76.5″ total. We were running low on bags. I had only brought two. The two Ptyas were in the parachute bag, and the Pseudoxenodon was in a normal bag. Not knowing how much further we were walking I just said I would carry the snake. For the next 45 mins I hiked with the massive snake in my hand, never once receiving a bite – just goes to show you don’t have to restrain a nonvenomous by the head in order to keep from getting bit.
Around 1:30pm we stopped for lunch. The first “field lunch” since coming to China. Lunch consisted of crackers and stream water. At least we had three different types of crackers – one was horrible, which tasted like fish-rhynes (like pork rhynes except with fish), another was a weak version of a gram cracker, and the third was some sort of bland cookie. We all had run out of our bottled water long ago and were all drinking water from the stream by this time. A slight concern of mine later on.
After lunch we kept on, we were about four hours out from Bancang. We came to a field where the trail was lost in the pasture, after searching for a few minutes we found it and continued on. The heat was skyrocketing in the open field. Not far from the field was a gorgeous stream. I wanted to go swimming, so I proposed the idea, and at first Linsen and Leo Tang seemed all for it, but I guess when they felt the water they thought it was too cold. Leo Tang was pulling a leech from his sock. I checked mine and saw a big blood spot; one had gotten me at some point during the hike. Linsen started taking off his watch by the time I was wading waist deep. He said it is too cold and that he should cool off before getting in the water. I do not completely understand this. I know it’s bad to go from pouring sweat to jumping into ice water, but I was inching my way in, not flat out jumping. I eventually just sat on a shallow rock, the cold water around my waist was plenty. Linsen went somewhere else, further up the trail maybe, looking at plants probably. Leo Tang would motion for me to go to the deep part of the river, where the current was, and also the colder water. I told him that it was cold, but then thought to myself how often will I have a chance to do this? So I went ahead and dove into the deeper water. It was very cold, but in a few minutes I was accustomed to it. After a quick dip, it was time to dry off and hit the trail again. The water was so refreshing.
Linsen said we were about 30 minutes away from the town, but after walking for another hour I got the impression it was further than he thought. It was starting to get somewhat late, about 3:30pm, roughly six hours from our starting point. We walked up to a bend in the river and Linsen said the town was around the bend. Having seen many other dilapidated houses overgrown with weeds and trees I suggested we turn back, even though I did want to see this ghost town, I figured there was a likely possibility it would not be what I imagine when I think of “ghost town.”
So we turned around and headed back. At this point I had drank about 2.5 liters of stream water (I was keeping count, because my little tea bottle would hold 500 ml). I knew we had a lot of ground to cover. I checked the GPS to see how far Bancang was, and as the crow flies, it was 4.6 miles. But we were following a river, and rivers seldom move in a straight line, and unfortunately for us, the trail bordering the river was not flat, nor were there any defined high or low points. Often times when you go on a hike, the uphill portion is horrible, and by the time you’re tired, it is time to turn around and go downhill, which is a bit easier – this was not the case for us. The entire stretch of the trail was up and down, up and down. Not only were we roughly 5 hours out (when you subtract the time spent eating lunch and swimming), but that is 5 hours of “fresh” hiking. I knew the more we hiked, the more tired we’d get, and the more tired we’d get, the slower we’d be moving.
After about two hours back towards home I was starting to feel “uncomfortable.” It wasn’t quite to the point of nausea, but I felt like nausea would be coming soon. The sun had set behind the mountains and I started getting cold chills and goose bumps but was still sweating plenty. I thought this was odd, but attributed it to the fact the sun was down and that when water evaporates it is endothermic, meaning I should be getting cooler. This effect is exaggerated if you ever put alcohol on your skin. It is very cold, because it evaporates almost immediately and takes heat from your skin with it.
After another hour and a half we had made it to a small field station, uninhabited, but we stopped to rest and picked some cucumbers from the garden. Up to this point I had drank four liters of stream water and was starting to feel nauseous. As we continued I didn’t know if the nausea was from the water (something in the water), or from a lack of water, or from the cucumber, or maybe something else from the weak lunch. The idea of the water causing the problem probably kept me from drinking more earlier on. Linsen had said that the water here is very cool, very clear, and very clean. It is a comforting statement, but it isn’t necessarily a fact. As we continued walking I tried to think of symptoms. I wasn’t dizzy (yet). I had goose bumps, and when I checked my forearms I noticed they were dry, but I was still sweating plenty from my head. I was cold. Something didn’t add up. At the next stream crossing I had determined I was simply way too hot and was not drinking enough. I spent the next 15 minutes pouring stream water over my head and down my neck and topped it off with drinking another liter of water. I figure if the water was causing the problem I could deal with that later, but if the water wasn’t the problem, then that meant I was overheating, which is a far worse problem than diarrhea, so for the time being I felt it was more important to drink all I could.
I have never really been worried before during a hike, but this was certainly one of those times. I had three reflex reactions where I felt like throwing up, but nothing came. Sunlight was fading, and I knew we were close. What made it worse is the fact that the last leg of the trail was almost entirely uphill.
When we finally reached the southern portion of town, my nausea had improved, though not completely dissipated. We finally arrived back in town after our 11 hour and 12 minute hike. My legs were rubber, my feet were aching, but my stomach was improving. Linsen asked if I wanted dinner. My first thought was when Dad and I were hiking in Big Bend (as well as Ken Dellinger) and went out for a hike in mid-day, where we had neglected to bring water, or at least a water filter. Later that night Ken had tossed his entire dinner. I knew eating immediately would be a big shock to my stomach and was not a good idea. I told Linsen I’d wait for awhile. Dinner was excellent that night. The potatoes were incredible, but I unfortunately had to refrain from eating too much. So I just ate a bit and left it at that.
The day was certainly incredible. We had found five snakes, three different species, had an incredible and tough hike. All in all, an awesome day. As I was thinking about what consists of an efficient survey of a location, the hike made me think quality over quantity. It is hard to improve on the quality of an 11-hour hike.
It has been over 24 hours since I drank over 5 liters of stream water and still no problems. I am guessing the illness was due to a lack of water. Surprisingly my legs were not sore this morning, though I was really expecting it. We laid back most of the day, satisfied with the day before. I photographed and released some of the snakes. The afternoon high was 104.7º. Once the sun started to go behind the clouds and the temperatures dipped into the 80s we walked around the river bank a bit but didn’t see anything. I was still recuperating from the day before, my stomach still not back to 100% and my throat was raw for some reason. The next morning we were leaving around 6am, so we had an early bedtime. This day was basically how I felt, slow and spent. The halfway point is about to be reached…
Not terribly sure what the next plan is. I want to hit the highest elevation soon, followed by another station we haven’t been to, and towards the end of July hit Xiagu. Somewhere in between I am going to try and see if Vanessa and I can make it up to Qianjiaping. Then come the first of August we will revisit Jiuchong.
To add some more fluff, I will list all the herps we have found, since in some of the reports they were listed as Frog A-E or what have you.
18 Species of Snakes
6 Species of Lizards
5 Species of Frogs
Rana chinensis = Frog A
Paa boulengeri = Frog B
Odorrana schmackeri = Frog C
Fejervarya limnocharis = Frog D
Rana nigromaculata = Frog E
2 Species of Toads
Bufo andrewsi = Toad B, ID still not 100%
2 Species of Salamanders
Hynobius chinensis = Salamander A
Ranodon shihi = Salamander B
Previously in this series:
Snakes On The Plain: Kevin in China
Kevin in China, part 2: Three Kinds of Natural Beauty in Jiuchong
Kevin in China, part 3 – The First Westerner in Town
Kevin in China, part 4 – Snakebites as a Daily Hobby
Kevin in China, part 5 – His Legend Preceeds Him!
Kevin in China, part 6 – The Mystery Snake
Kevin in China, part 7 – Bit By Snakes? Get Used To It!
Kevin in China, part 8 – The Dance and The Snakes
Kevin in China, part 9 – What Really Happened That Night, or, The Night Of Too Many Toasts!