One Dirty Magazine

Trouble Underfoot

How to deal with poisonous snakes.

Alex Kurt January 29th, 2019

Trouble Underfoot iStock photo

I was running a remote section of the Cold Spring trail last summer, deeper into Los Padres National Forest (just outside Santa Barbara, California) than I’d ever ventured, when an unmistakable slither undulated laterally across the singletrack at the very bottom of my peripheral vision.

SNAKE! I did my best Evan Jager impression, hurdling over the reptile before I had time to think. As I beelined to the road, it occurred to me: what if it was poisonous and I had gotten bitten? I needed to brush up on the subject.

Snakes 101

The local trail-running group directed me to Howard Cohen, 58, of Hood River, Oregon. In addition to being an avid amateur herpetologist and snake expert for much of his life, Cohen is a two-time finisher of both the Hardrock 100 and Western States 100. Cohen, formerly of Santa Barbara, has certainly had his share of run-ins with poisonous snakes.

“It’s good to familiarize yourself with common poisonous snakes and their patterns in your locale, and it helps to understand some basic body styles,” says Cohen. “For instance, a large, diamond-shaped head usually means it’s a viper.” But, he adds, it can be difficult to be comprehensively ready to identify—and assess the risk of—every snake you might encounter.

In other words, assume the snake is poisonous if there is any doubt. If you and a snake surprise each other around a corner or in the tall grass, there likely won’t be time to examine it too closely before you need to react.

Avoiding snakes

Cohen recommends moving slowly in tall grass and brush, where it can be more difficult to see a snake ahead of time; he recommends the same if you run at dawn or dusk, when the visibility is low. By and large, he does not recommend jumping over snakes if you can avoid it. “There is some truth that it’s safer to jump over a stretched-out snake than a coiled one, because the coiled one can strike farther,” he says. “And if it’s warm out, and the snake is warm, they can be very fast and aggressive no matter their position.”

If you see the snake in time to stop, go backward or ease your way around it if there is room and the snake isn’t acting aggressively (e.g. rattling or coiled).

If you carry your phone on the trail, the app, SnakeBite911, has information on which snakes you might encounter in a given region.

If you’re bitten

First of all, don’t panic. Cohen says many bites are “dry bites” and some of the most venomous snakes can be stymied by a poor venom delivery system. The placement of a bite can also affect its severity—bites closer to an artery or vein are more serious.

Still, assume the worst. “If you’re in a remote area and have a phone, call 911,” Cohen advises. “Do what you can to reduce your heart rate (since an elevated heart rate can spread venom through the body more quickly) and, if you are with someone, send them to get help.”

If you start to experience neurological symptoms—shortness of breath, swelling or edema among them—your situation is more severe. Get to a hospital as quickly as possible. Many snake bite deaths in the U.S. result when the victim refused to seek medical care. The longer you wait to seek treatment, the more severe potential complications can become.

This article originally appeared in the December issue of Trail Runner magazine. For great content delivered straight to your door, subscribe here

 

8
Leave A Comment

avatar
8 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
1 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
8 Comment authors
Bethany L HillsPatrick GallagherJ. R.DaleJason Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Kurt A
Guest
Kurt A

The Precautions text box says to carry a venom extractor. I thought those were dismissed long ago as ineffective (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14747805) Do you have more recent info saying otherwise?

Scott
Guest
Scott

Snakes are venomous not poisonous.

Brooks Mitchell
Guest
Brooks Mitchell

Venomous, not poisonous!

Jason
Guest
Jason

Should if you are several miles into the woods or trail should you lay down on the trail? Or should you walk slowly back to the trail head and wait?

Dale
Guest
Dale

Sound like you need to be more careful of venomous snakes unless you somehow miss the last aid station. 😂

J. R.
Guest
J. R.

If a snake bites you and you die, it is venomous. If you bite a snake and you die, it is poisonous.

Patrick Gallagher
Guest
Patrick Gallagher

I know it is pedantic, but it would be *venomous snakes, not poisonous. Thank you for good advice for when spring comes around.

Bethany L Hills
Guest
Bethany L Hills

Do not try to extract venom. Walk back to your vehicle and seek medical treatment. This is the standard of treatment in wilderness medicine.

 

HELP US KEEP OUR WEBSITE FREE

trailrunnermag.com is completely free. We don’t have a paywall and you don’t have to be a member to access thousands of articles, photos and videos. Our editorial and design team—and all of our contributors—are trail runners just like you who love the sport and want to share all the great things it has to offer. 

But we can’t do it without you. Your support is critical for keeping our website free and delivering the most current news, the most in-depth stories and the best photography in the running world.

For 20 years Trail Runner has committed to excellence and authenticity. Your subscription to our print magazine or donation will help us continue down a path that is uncompromised, and keep the website free for trail runners like you.