Give rattlers a wide berth on the trail

The venomous snakes are shy and retiring — unless you blunder into one.

Here’s a tip for hikers in Central Washington: don’t poke the Western (Northern Pacific) rattlesnake, the state’s only poisonous snake. If you don’t disturb them, they won’t slither after you.

And if you’re scrambling up a hill, be careful where you put your hand.

The fear of rattlesnakes is not totally unfounded. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 8,000 people are bitten every year, and an average of five people die. In our state, only two deaths have been reported since 1979, none since 1999, according to the Washington Poison Center.

Generally, they’re a mellow species. They hunt for rodents (80 percent of their diet) and ground-dwelling birds and mammals. During the day, they’re sunning on rocks or in crevices exposed to the sun, perhaps along your hiking trail.

At that time, they’re more lethargic. Again, don’t poke.

Rattlesnake fangs are hollow and when they bite into a meal, the fangs inject venom that stuns or kills their prey. The fangs are shed or lost several times.

They can also spit venom but it’s only a problem if it gets into an open wound.

All joking aside, a rattlesnake bite should be considered life-threatening. Do not dally. Take the bitten one to the emergency room where anti-venom can be injected to counter the very strong hemotoxic venom that destroys blood cells and blood vessels.

Meanwhile, keep the victim calm, restrict movement, and keep the bite marks below the heart level, which reduces the flow of venom to the heart. That’s easier said than done during a hike. Try to carry the victim to the vehicle.

Since the bite will swell, remove any constricting items, such as tight clothing. Wash the bite area with soap and water, and cover with a moist dressing.

Do not suck the wound (the venom is too deep, and you might introduce bacteria). Nor should you apply cold packs, use a tourniquet or give pain medications — or anything else by mouth.

Let’s lighten the mood with some cool rattlesnake facts.

A rattle is added each time it sheds its skin, which can be two or three times a year. Over time, the outer rattles break off as they wear out. They’re made of keratin (think fingernails).

Rattlesnakes have a heat-sensitive structure (loreal gland) between their eyes and nostrils. They use this gland to locate warm-blooded prey.

If it cannot escape your presence, it will coil in a defensive posture and may warn you with its rattle. If that doesn’t encourage you to leave, and you remain too close, it can strike.

Snakes have hinged jaws, enabling them to eat food wider than their bodies.

Rattlesnakes are not very colorful because they like to camouflage with their environment.

Don’t let the presence of our rattlesnakes keep you away from a good trail. Just be smart.

Don’t go. The Pacific Crest Trail and Glacier Peak access via the North Fork Sauk Trail will not be available Aug. 8-15. It is closed between Mackinaw Shelter and the junction with the PCT. Trail workers will be using explosives for trail reconstruction. For more information, call 360-436-1155.

Unwanted. Mountain goats have again worn out their welcome in the Hurricane Ridge area of Olympic National Park, and this time it could affect your September plans.

Too many goats do serious damage to alpine meadows, and, having grown accustomed to visitors, can lead to interactions that can turn ugly.

The goats on Klahhane Ridge are a top priority. They will be captured and transported to a less-fragile area not close to human activity. Capture activities are set for Sept. 10-21 on Hurricane Ridge Road.

Some trails near the Visitor Center will remain open. But Hurricane Hill Road will be closed past Picnic Area A. Trail rehabilitation work will also close areas until Sept. 26.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or

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