Here's What Hikers Need to Know About Treating Snake Bites

In an attempt to enjoy a lovely hike at Roxborough State Park, my day out was ruined and years were taken off my life when I encountered this guy: [caption id="attachment_39289" align="aligncenter" width="488"]nonvenomous great basin gopher snake Photo courtesy Laura Cromwell[/caption] I unwittingly walked past him as he was nestled on a bed of leaves adjacent to the trail path when he hissed and coiled up to get me away from his comfort zone. Somehow, in a split second, I managed to bolt about ten feet and then I turned around to see him violently flicking his tail in my direction. I frantically patted down my legs just in case he bit me, remembering how fast a snake can bite a human without them realizing it right away. I was too close to the summit of Carpenter Peak to turn back, but all I wanted to do was go home. I knew there were snakes in the area and, being raised in the south, I knew to avoid going off-trail and was mindful when moving over logs and rocks in case a snake was resting on one. Even with this knowledge, nothing prepares you for seeing a snake within spitting distance. Maybe we both scared each other. Maybe we both overreacted. Either way, we both wanted nothing to do with one another and that was just fine by me.
On the way back down the trail, I was left wondering what I would have done if I had gotten bitten. I had nothing more than water, snacks, and a cell phone in my bag and only one of these items would have proved useful. With this fresh fear dominating my mind I began to read up on what to do when bitten by a snake on a trail.
  1. Remain calm. Had I been bitten I would have totally blown this one.
  2. Sit down. Your blood pressure is likely to drop low enough to cause you to faint.
  3. Don’t apply a tourniquet. Cutting off circulation allows the venom to become more concentrated and will result in more cell damage.
  4. Call for help. Dial 911 or the Snake Bite Poison Line at 1-800-222-1222.
  5. Keep affected area below heart level. Doing so slows the flow of venom.
  6. Remove anything constricting near the bite. Swelling is imminent and the last thing you want is a ring or watch cutting off circulation.  
  7. Let the bite bleed for 15-30 seconds.
  8. Don’t cut the area and don’t suck out the poison. These methods are outdated and actually make the situation worse.
  9. Don’t apply a cold compress. Cold prevents healthy blood circulation from getting to the bite.
  10. Slowly and calmly get yourself to safety. Running like hell to get help will do more harm than good. If you have a partner, lean on them or have them carry you if able.
To be quite honest, if the snake I met had been venomous and had, in fact, bit me, I probably would be dead. Sure, I knew how to avoid them but I didn’t know what to do when bitten. It seems the only time snake bite safety is discussed is after the encounter happens. While I put off hiking for a few weeks, I’m ready for the next time I meet a snake on the trail.

Warm weather brings out snakes, particularly Colorado's rattlesnakes.