"Since 1980, there's been only one death from a snakebite here (12
last year in the entire United States). Unfortunately, a man was bitten
where it seems the venom hit an artery. He got a large dose (of the
But back to the odds: Only 30 percent of snakebites deliver venom. A
snake could have just used it up on a rabbit dinner, for instance, and
hasn't yet produced a new supply.
But what if you're bitten, you're alone, and you're two miles from the trailhead?
Solution: Avoid reaching into places where snakes
live, such as beneath rocks, into holes and other possible dens. If you
are bitten, expect symptoms to appear within 15 minutes to an hour
(most common) or two. If you have been hiking with another person, sit
still and send for help. If you have a cell phone and it works, call
But if you're alone, two miles from the trailhead, with no phone?
First, Alsop said, do not pull out your 20th century snakebite kit with
a razor blade. Nor should you unsheath the syringe-style venom
extractor you got from the sporting goods store. And don't apply a
"You could cut off blood flow and end up with gangrene, resulting in
amputation," Alsop said. "We don't want any of these treatments to be
worse than the snakebite itself."
If you have an Ace-type bandage, cover up the wound, which could
keep the venom from circulating. Slowly head for the trailhead and seek
help from the nearest person, farm or ranch with a working cell phone.
What if you have to walk all the way back? Would you survive? "I
believe so," Alsop said. "You should be able to make two miles in an
When you find a phone, call 911. Chances are, poison specialists
will be patched in to the call. You could be flown out, at some
expense. Expect a hospital stay of three to five days. Most victims
Problem: Spider Bites
Of all the spiders in Northern California, the one to be most wary of
is the black widow. The Poison Control System gets about 800 calls per
year statewide. Though you're just as likely to encounter them around
your home as out on the trail, the black widow has the most potent bite.
To differentiate, they're about a half-inch to 1 1/2 inches in
diameter and shiny black with a big, round belly. Their telltale
identifier is an orange or red mark that looks like an hourglass on the
underbelly. They like quiet, dark places: woodpiles, weed piles, attics
or nesting spots under the eaves of a roof.
"They'd prefer not to have their webs interrupted," Alsop said.
"They don't seek out humans, but if you molest their nest, they will
You might be bitten gathering wood for a campfire or cleaning out a cabin.
Danger zone: As with snakes, some black widow bites
do not transmit venom. If you are bitten, you'll know within an hour if
venom is in your system. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and severe
muscle cramping in the back, shoulder, belly and thighs.
"Very painful; often the callers are crying," Alsop said.
The good news: She knows of no fatalities from black widow bites.
Solution: Patrol the campsite or cabin well before
bedding down. In the morning, shake those shoes before putting them on.
Spiders may have moved in. Be especially careful when disturbing
woodpiles, weed piles and dark areas known to be occupied by spiders.
If you are bitten, plan on a trip to a hospital emergency room for treatment, probably painkillers and muscle relaxers.
Problem: Mountain Lions
Sightings of mountain lions, particularly closer to urban areas, have
increased in recent years. The animals are looking for more food
sources; humans are increasingly residing and exercising in the big
cats' habitat. The mountain lion population hasn't increased
substantially, but sightings and the infrequent attacks on humans have
been reported more frequently, and have been more widely publicized.
Mountain lions, also known as cougars, are shy animals and prefer
avoiding contact with humans.
Danger zone: Encounters are so rare, there are no
statistical trends to analyze. But mountain lions have attacked and
killed humans, including several varying scenarios in California in the
past decade. One well-known case occurred in Auburn.
Solution: Mountain lions see and smell humans
before we see them. Exercising alone in cougar-populated areas is
discouraged. Mountain runners and hikers often carry bells or other
noisemakers to scare off wild animals. Exercising with a dog or dogs is
not a deterrent to potential mountain lion sightings. Experts suggest
"making yourself as large as possible" if you see a mountain lion.
Chances are, a cougar sighting will be brief and the animal will vanish