I have been hiking in the Carolinas for over seven years and although we have seen plenty of snakes, we just recently had a snakebite on a hike. This is actually a very good result. On this particular hike, we were walking down a social trail as a cut to the Pinnacle Pass Trail in Jones Gap State Park in South Carolina. The person who was bit thought it was just a branch and ignored it. He did not realize until later in the day that he had been bitten because of the pain and swelling. This has given me occasion to think about snakes and snakebites and what we need to do if/when this ever happens again.
Most snakes will try to get off the trail when they feel you walking down the trail. But I have noticed that the few venomous snakes that we have seen don’t really seem to move much and will stay in place rather than move. We have come up on a rattlesnake on the bald at Drawbar Cliffs and a couple times in Pisgah Forest. None of them got off the trail and we had to go around them. My biggest worry on one of these occasions was my fellow hikers who wanted to get what I thought was too close to take a picture. Not worth it in my opinion.
I have read that most snakebites are caused by people themselves trying to pick them up which is not a good idea. I have heard stories about people killing them which I find to be wrong. If they are out in the woods, in their natural environment and don’t pose a threat to you, why kill them?
So what is the best way to prevent snakebite? Conventional wisdom says to always step up on logs in the trail before you cross and make sure there is not a snake tucked up on the other side. Watch where you put your hands and where you sit on the ground. I have actually seen a snake in a tree poking his head out of a knothole. Probably best not to bushwhack in seasons where the snakes are active. I have a few places I like to go that require a little bushwhack but I prefer to go to them in the winter (but I have seen a snake in February/March here so it’s not a given). Even though it is great to wear shorts in the summer, it might be good to continue to wear knee high hiking socks. If the snake just wants to strike at you, the socks may slow them down. Don’t try and pick up snakes and don’t be fooled that the smaller snakes are less dangerous. In fact, the young venomous snakes are more likely to inject their venom in you as I understand that they don’t have the same control as an older snake.
What do you do if you are bitten on a hike? I really likes this post from the Los Angeles meetup so I’m posting the link rather than repeat the advice. You might want to take a look at it with the hope you will never need it.
Overall I think the best advice is to stay calm and sit down and think about what you are going to do. Don’t panic. If you are in a place where you can get out of the woods within a couple hours, make your way slowly to the exit point and get to a hospital. If not, send for help. Here’s another reason not to hike alone (which I will talk about in another blog!).
Remember snakebites are rare so don’t let the potential keep you from getting out and enjoying the outdoors.