When we asked our hiking community what they were most worried about on their hiking adventures, the number one mention was snakes. At The Hike Collective, in 3 years of hiking with groups, and over 300 hikes completed in that time, we have only come across 3 snakes! The odds sound to be in our favour, but it is important that we feel safe, in control, and armed with the right knowledge and skills to handle a snake encounter.
Understanding the snake ecology
Knowing about snake ecology will help you take the guesswork out of where you may run into snakes. They depend on external sources for heat, as they are ectotherms. With this in mind, you are likely to find snakes stretched out across a trail in the early morning sun, as they gather energy for their day. As the day gets warmer, snakes will often seek shelter, and this is when they will be curled up under rocks, or leaf litter, or net to a creek or stream.
Understanding the snake psychology
No matter what type of snake, or how big or small they are, you can guarantee, they are more scared of you, than you are of them. You are bigger, warmer, and smarter after all. When faced with a predator, most snakes will flee, however if they coil up into an S shape, they are scared and are asking you to leave them alone. You may have heard a snake hiss before. The hiss is actually the snake making a startled inhalation, almost like us gasping for air when we are surprised, or shocked. Keep these things in mind if you do come face to face with a snake, and you are another step closer to a safe encounter.
Too close for comfort. Now what?
If you accidentally stumble too close to a snake, have no fear! You can still get out unscathed. The snakes striking range, is half of their body length in any direction. So, if you find yourself within half a body length distance from a snake, your best chance of getting away unscathed, is to remain standing exactly where you are, and letting the snake move away from you! This might sound absurd if you are crippled with fear, but movement can often startle the snake into ‘fight mode’ if they are worried for their own survival.
If you find yourself face to face with a snake, but further than striking distance away, the safest move is to slowly, and softly, move away from the snake without making noise and lots of vibrations. This will also let the snake know that you don’t mean to harm them.
So, let’s talk about the worst case scenario. You have been bitten by a snake. Here are some fun facts.
There are around 3,000 snakebites in Australia each year.
Recent figures show around 550 hospitalisations each year and an average of two deaths.
Only 100-200 snake bites are venomous per year ( require antivenom)
Without bandaging or correct first aid, an envenomated snake bite victim has 20 minutes to get medical attention.
With correct bandaging and post bite care, your time to reach hospital increases to 20 hours!
Like many of our hiking community, if you have a snake fear, or don’t like snakes, they are still important members of our ecosystem. Seeing a snake in its natural habitat is a rewarding experience, and if we remove the fear attached to snake sightings, you may just come to enjoy your snake encounters, as if they were kangaroos or koalas. Being snake-safe is just as important for you as it is to the snake, so instead of being nervous or fearful, be prepared and focus on the cool experience of seeing wildlife!
If you are hiking on a Hike Collective Tour, then you can rest your mind, knowing that your hike leaders are trained in snake bite first aid, carry snake bite first aid kits, and have gone through snake psychology training ( yep there is such a thing, learning the psychology of snakes, and humans in response to snakes!). Our guides are there to help keep you safe!
A special thanks goes to snake expert, Bob Cooper, who has trained our guides, and provided us with much of this information! He is locally based in the Perth Hills, and one of the world’s most knowledgeable snake experts. He runs snake courses throughout Western Australia, as well as survival courses for those more adventurous hikers.