Slightly more harrowing than usual

This morning, Stephanie, The Kid and I decided to go on a hike. We had already blocked out a chunk of the afternoon for sitting in front of the TV watching the Kentucky Derby and (for two of us, at least) having some mint juleps, so an afternoon out in the mountains seemed like a good counterbalance.

We drove up to Big Santa Anica Canyon and decided on the trail up to Hogee’s camp. The way up was fine. The weather was perfect. The trail was in good condition. Good times. We made it maybe two thirds of the way up before we had to start heading back in order to make it home before post time.

About a mile from the trail head The Kid stepped right over a rattlesnake. Literally. The snake must have been crossing the trail just as we were coming down, because another couple coming up had passed that point not two minutes before we got there. I seriously doubt that the snake was, you know, hanging out on the moderately busy trail sunning itself.

As it turns out, even people who have never heard a rattlesnake before know exactly what one sounds like. The Kid heard the hiss and the rattle and took the hell off down the trail. I’ve never seen him — or anybody, for that matter — move so fast. This was a good thing, because it got him out of the way of the snake, which was absolutely the appropriate thing to do. However, it did put me and Stephanie in an awkward position, as The Kid was down the trail and around the bend, we didn’t know if the snake actually bit him, and chasing after him was made difficult on account of the pissed off rattlesnake sitting in front of us on the trial.

Being a lifelong suburbanite, I’m not nearly as up on my animal kingdom language as I should be. There was a troop of boy scouts maybe a quarter mile up the trail from us, and I’m sure they could have accurately intrepreted what the snake was trying to tell us. Left to our own devices, all Stephanie and I could come up with was “stay back there or I’ll bite you.” I think we were probably right, or close enough at any rate.

Wanting very much to find out if The Kid was ok — we could hear him yelling at us from around the bend, which was promising — I did my best to communicate to the snake that it should get off the trail. There was a good sized stick by the side of the trail, so I grabbed it, broke a little chunck off and threw it at the snake. The message I wanted to send was “my species got to where it is in large part because of its ability to use improvised tools. So piss off before I get that big rock over there and crush your skull.” I don’t know if this was a good idea at all or even necessary — the snake probably would have taken off on its own had we left it alone, just like the other couple rattle snakes I’ve run in to have done — but I was in a hurry, and it worked, so oh well.

We trotted down the trail a bit and found The Kid just around the corner. He was a little shaken and all the way adrenaline-tastic, but the snake didn’t get him and he didn’t go tumbling down the side of the hill, so we were happy.

What did strike me as silly is that while we had water and first aid kits and whistles (well, most of us. While Stephanie and The Kid were well prepared for the hike and had whistles on them, I choose to not bother with probably the most important piece of gear you can have out in the woods. Smart.) and what have you, I don’t think we had anything for snake bites. And honestly, aside from “keep the bitten bits lower than the heart, stay calm, etc etc.,” I don’t at all remember what to do with snake bites. Had he been bitten, our only real save would have been the boy scout troop with all their gear up the trail from us (It looked like they were doing a shakedown hike for a trip this summer), as most of the looked to be the right age for having somewhat recently earned their first aid merit badge. I think that covers snake bites. Either way, I feel silly for not having a better idea of what to do in that situation.

It wasn’t too far from there to the trail head. I picked the winner for the race and probably won’t hike in shorts next time.

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2 responses to “Slightly more harrowing than usual”

  1. nlo
    May 7, 2007 at 7:34 pm |

    Man, that’s some crazy stuff. Wow. This is a good reminder for us too that we should bring a whistle and first aid kit when we go hiking, we’re so not prepared for this. One of the things I remembered from “snake training” at the zoo was that the striking distance was 1/2 the body length (not as helpful when they’re, you know, moving towards you) but it buys you a little bit of time. Then again, zookeepers have the fridge full of antidotes so they have a leg up there.

  2. clynne
    May 14, 2007 at 7:26 pm |

    Steph told me this story when we went to dinner … DAMN. Sounds like Fletch handled it pretty well, which has to be a little reassuring to you as a parent.

    When we were kids, my parents always took a snake bite kit with them when we went camping or hiking. I always thought it was them being overcautious and annoying, because we never saw a snake (except once when I was in my late 20s, and far more worrisome on that trip was the old tree the rest of my family refused to believe was a beehive UNTIL THE BEES CAME OUT).

    Now I’m glad they did.

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