The last part of this section took us along Hat Creek to Old Station. It is a famously hot, dry portion of the trail, and it lived up to its reputation. Just outside Old Station, in a previous burn area, there were lots of wildflowers blooming, which added some beauty to the scenery to distract from the difficult, rocky terrain.
However, that beauty comes with some risk. Since starting at Castle Crags, I have encountered four rattlesnakes, including one that was hiding in my cache of food at Rock Creek. It was dark when I arrived, and I went marching into the bushes where I had so cleverly stashed hay and other feed for the horses a few days earlier, only to stop in my tracks at a warning buzz. I could tell it was a small snake by the sound of the rattle, but I couldn't tell where it was, so I froze until I could determine that it was somewhere right in front of me, in the cache of food. I retreated and got my headlamp and came back when I could see, and there it was under the branches I had used to hide the bags from sight (and hopefully from other hungry critters!). I had on my boots and long pants and half-chaps, and the snake was a juvenile, probably from last year; they usually hatch in August and get only one or two feedings before they hibernate for the winter, so this guy had a couple buttons to rattle with but his fangs would not have penetrated my leather leggings if he had struck.
But my mom had an even closer, scarier run-in today as she was waiting for me to arrive. She got to the trailhead before me, so she decided to walk out to meet me, admiring the wildflowers along the way. When she first heard the whirring sound beside her, she thought it was grasshoppers clacking their wings when they took off. But it kept going, so then she thought she had snagged a dry stalk and it was rattling as it dragged in the brush behind her. Then she took a step and felt something hit the bottom of her shoe and looked down to see the rattlesnake under her feet that had just struck at her! She had only shorts and tennis shoes on and definitely would have been bit if that snake had slightly better aim, so she felt really, really lucky that it missed.