Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Colorado is chock full of snakes on the roads and trails in the summer months. Granted, most of the snakes I’ve seen have been run over by cars, but I’ve had my fair share of live snake sightings as well. Last weekend, a friend of mine had an uncomfortably close call with a snake – while trail running he was struck in the leg by a rattler. Luckily, the rattlesnake’s bite did not break the skin – my friend merely suffered a deep bruise and a severe fright. He described the blow as feeling as though someone had punched him hard and fast in the leg, taking him completely by surprise.
I’m pretty much petrified of snakes, and I was taken aback by his experience. I often run those same trails, and following my friend’s scare I realized my awareness of what to do in the event of a snakebite was limited. Sure, Hollywood tells us to cut the skin and suck out the venom, but I had a feeling that approach might not be entirely accurate. A bit of research (culled from several online resources – I am by no means a medical expert but am simply hoping to share some helpful tips) confirmed my suspicion. Rather, the number one most important thing to do in case of a bite is to get emergency medical attention ASAP. It’s also important that the victim remains as calm as possible – a heightened heart rate can increase the spread of venom through the body. The wound should be kept below the heart, and ice should not be used in an attempt to decrease inflammation or discomfort. It can also be washed with warm water and soap, but again, most importantly, the bitten individual needs to receive emergency care first and foremost.
I don’t know how well I’d be able to remain calm if I experienced a snakebite, but I do know I’ll practice extra caution on my off-road runs and hikes. Some safety tactics are obvious, but worth repeating. Avoid stepping among rocks or brush where you cannot see clearly and detour around animal burrow holes. Consider leaving your headphones at home during snake season – rattlers will sometimes, though not always, rattle in warning (at times they’ll rattle in tandem with a strike, or at times they won’t rattle at all). Run with a cell phone or a training partner – or both – and know your location, should the need arise to call for help.
As scary as rattlesnakes might seem, they’re certainly more scared of humans. They strike as a defense mechanism if they feel threatened, so the best practice is to avoid startling them or stepping too close to begin with. More often than not, running on the trails is a safe and wonderful experience – one in which humans and critters go about their business without incidence. Still, it’s wise to know the basics of first aid in case an emergency situation does arise.