Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Should I keep moving if I'm bit by a rattlesnake?

That was the question asked of Buck Tilton, a.k.a. the "Medicine Man" in the Ask the Expert section of Backpacker Magazine.

Given that the Great Smoky Mountains are home to timber rattlesnakes and northern copperheads, Tilton's response is probably good advice to know before heading out onto the trail. However, please remember that the likelihood of being bitten, or even seeing a venomous snake in the Smokies, is extremely small. Furthermore, there is no record of any human fatalities due to snakebite in the park’s history.

Q.} I recently came off trail in the night and nearly stepped on a rattlesnake in the Smokies. If bitten and you are an hour or two out, would you recommend to keep moving to get out?

Submitted by: Tom, Cincinnati, OH

A.} Hi Tom,

There's not much scientific evidence to cite here, but experts generally agree, yep, keep moving when you're only a couple of hours out.

Once you're to a vehicle, head for the nearest hospital where antivenin should be available if you need it. But, take it easy while you're hiking. You want to keep your circulatory system as quiet as possible, preventing a rapid spread of venom, which is why the best response if you're way off the road is to hunker down, get still, keep the bite site about the same level as your heart, and wait for someone to come get you (which, of course, might not happen if you're alone and unable to call for help).

On the plus side, snakebites in the U. S. seldom cause human fatalities. In fact, one bite out of every four to five does not induce venom. Rapid onset of pain and swelling would be indicators that you are not one of the venom-free bitten humans.


While 23 species of snakes live in the Great Smokies, some of the places your most likely to encounter one are near old buildings and around stone fences.

HikingintheSmokys.com Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, and more.

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