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Rattlesnakes: When hiking, always watch your step

By Gary Bogue
Monday, October 3rd, 2011 at 8:02 am in Rattlesnake.

Western rattlesnake in defensive position. Photo by Don Smith, Fairfield, CA.
1rattler don smith

Gary:
I always enjoy reading your column in the CC times.
I thought I would share with you my rattlesnake experience and offer some advise based on that experience.  This photo was taken soon after this fellow tried to defend himself against a perceived threat by striking without (or very little) warning.

Western rattlesnake in defensive position. Photo by Don Smith, Fairfield, CA.
1rattler don smith

I was crossing a stream in NW Yosemite Park on a floating log.  Upon reaching the far bank, I tossed my fly rod on to the bank and looked for vegetation to grab on to since it was a fairly steep bank.  I identified some brush that I could grab and proceeded to jump to shore with both arms outstretched.  From the snakes perspective, I looked very threatening and he responded by striking to within 6-inches of my chest.  He may have rattled a split second before striking since I recoiled as my foot touched the bank but before I saw him.  He struck straight out 4 to 5 feet and fell into the creek after he was fully extended.  Once in the creek, he got in the defensive position as seen above.  I retreated back across the log and found an alternative crossing.  I was happy to leave him in good health since I never kill a snake (I had also had enough contact with him for that day.)

This experience produced an unprecedented adrenaline rush and the image is forever etched in my memory.  I also used some profanities that I reserved for such events.

Now for my conclusions:
1) – Even very large snakes are hard to spot when they are not moving.  I looked at the bank from a distance of 5 feet and did not see him even thought he was directly in front of me.
2) – I believe that snakes position themselves where rodents leave an order trail.
3) – The log that I crossed was one of the few places that a small animal could use to cross that stream.
4) – Therefore it is a very good idea not to use a rodent friendly stream crossing in snake country.

Other considerations:
This event occurred about 3 p.m. approximately 13 miles from the nearest phone.  Had I been struck, my backpacking partner would have gone for help and I would have waited at least until the next morning for medical help (16 hours while the venom digested my sternum).  Following this experiences, I purchased a “Spot Personal Tracker” and keep it with me for the “911″ option.  A satellite phone would provide the same security.

I continue to make trips to this part of the Park but I spend a lot more time looking for snakes than I used to.
Don Smith, Fairfield, California

Don:
Thanks for relating your story and sending it to me. My readers who do a lot of hiking should take careful note. Glad it all worked out for you! The Spot Personal Tracker is a good idea. Readers who want to learn more about this device (you can request emergency assistance on varying levels and send out your GPS location at the push of a button) can go to:
http://www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=101
Always watch your step.  /Gary

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4 Responses to “Rattlesnakes: When hiking, always watch your step”

  1. Dave Says:

    Climbing through brushy areas is particularly risky. I had a similar experience in the Chiricauhas. I was fortunate that the rattlesnake (banded rock rattlesnake) I met almost face to face decided to continue his climbing vine imitation rather than striking. Or maybe he just wasn’t in a good position to strike. A very sobering experience.

  2. Gary Bogue Says:

    Dave: Fortunately, most rattlesnake species feel the same way about us humans as we do about them — they’d rather not have to deal with us. They usually won’t try to bite us unless we push the issue by stepping on them, or frighten them with a sudden encounter. Even then, the stats I’ve read suggest rattlesnakes will “bluff bite” a small percentage of the time by (10-15 percent?) by bumping you with their noses rather than opening their mouths and trying to nail you with their fangs. Whatever happens, as you say, these kinds of surprise encounters are ALWAYS a sobering experience. When you’re in the field, ALWAYS watch your step. /Gary

  3. kaaren Smith Says:

    I encountered a rattlesnake, which I often do, while walking my horse in Portola Valley, near and on boarding facility which is on Stanford property. Also, they are in Arastraderp Park. What a bite does to horses is terrible and I have seen it first hand. Luckily I spotted and heard the rustle about 2 feet ahead of me as I am always aware. I just stopped and waited and gently through some twigs to send it on it’s way before we proceeded on the trail. It coiled and rattled and then slithered off. I have also encountered them while riding and always watch and never go off trail. Please be careful with your dogs in Arasterdero park. One day while trotting fast on the wide road in the park one was stretched clear across, a big one, and I had to make a quick decision and went widely around it as we didn’t have time to stop for it was around a curve. Whew. We were fine. Be aware!

  4. Ruthe Purdie Says:

    Bolt cutters,,,that was a good one, well done.

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