Monday, July 18, 2011

Sunday July 17, 2011 Old Rag tunnel/cave Rattlesnake

On Sunday July 17, 2011 there was a good sized Timber Rattlesnake  Crotalus horridus located in what some call the cave and some call the tunnel.      As you entered the cave from downhill there is a spot where you make a sharp right hand turn.   The snake was located on the far left on a rock shelf and was being very good about issuing a warning rattle whenever folks got within about 20 feet.    (I am not sure why there are funny alien sounding background noises with the video they did not exist in the wild.)   

I started getting reports about this snake over an hour before I got to it.    It stayed were it was for at least 2 to three hours and lots of hikers got the wonderful opportunity to see it and perhaps get some pictures.   I am really happy to say that there was no hiker mis-behaviour in regards to this  animal.

All of the Rattlesnakes I have seen close to the trails on Old Rag I have seen during the day and in every case they were good about alerting me to their presence with loud rattling.    All of the Copperheads I have seen near the trail on Old Rag (except a dead one on the road near the parking lot) I have seen between 18:00 and 24:00.   Copperheads can not warn you with a rattle. 

While it is unlikely that an adult human who has been envenomed will die it would not be unheard of to lose a digit, hand, or major functionality of a limb for the rest of your life.   Anti-venom is very expensive with a full course of treatment costing over $15K-$20K.   It is possible to receive a dry bite.   If one is bitten the best thing to do is move deliberately towards the closest emergency medical facility.   Do not run.  Try to keep your heart rate as low as possible while still minimizing your time to emergency medical facilities.  If extra hikers are available you can send runners out to the nearest place where they can contact the Park's emergency dispatcher.    Unless you have had specific training do not try "cutting and sucking" "tourniquets" or other first aid since there is a good chance anything you might do will cause more harm than good. 

Sometimes you need to gracefully enjoy life's ironies.   Like participating in a relationship with a wonderfully gifted  person who also has tragic flaws, snakes are just the way they are by nature's, the universe's  or God's design (depending on your leanings).   My sense is the best thing to do is skillfully stylistically, artfully, ethically commit to the tumult, flirt, dance, conversation, amble, ride, meal, performance, ... taking advantage and appreciating the fun fascinating good things while avoiding the curiously bad.    Witness, learn, play, celebrate what Nature, God, the Universe have provided.

The most dangerous risk for visitors to the park are tick bites that transmit a disease.    The natural reservoir from which ticks become infected are small mammals like mice, voles, chipmunks, squirrels.   To the extent that snakes can keep the small mammal population down it will lower the number of ticks which are carrying human diseases.     Except for the obvious situations where a snake is a clear danger to humans please do not hurt, harass, or bother them in anyway.     They lead a very tenuous life and even disturbing them could potential lead to a cascade of events that would cause their death.  


Just like the Catskills we have both Timber Rattlesnakes and Copperheads.   The following link has a lot of useful information but expect that any of the date related entries to be potentially different for our area.

Viginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries:


  1. Might have been the same one we saw in the "tunnel/cave" on the 18th. We're from Sweden and we have no dangerously and or lethal snakes so hearing that rattle and seeing that wonderful animal was quite a thrill. The thrill was enhanced by the fact that we did not know how the trail went on or that we could have gone around the cave... I do regret not having my DSLR camera with me so this pic is not as good as it could have been.
    We survived with yet another wonderful memory of Old Rag. Seeing it in fall colours here on your blog makes wanna come back even more :-)

  2. In late June, we ran into a 4' rattlesnake as we descended the less intense backside of Old Rag Mountain. Had I not noticed it at the last moment, one of the three people in my group would likely have been bitten. The snake was not intimidated my the few pebbles and sticks I tossed its way to coerce it away so we could pass. It left when it was good and ready.

    It occurred to me that a bite at this point on the hike could be quite dangerous as we were easily a good hour or more from a cell signal to call from help. Not sure what we would have done, as I was hiking with two teenagers and would have been hesitant to send them down for help alone, if I had been the one bitten. The advice for a venomous snake bite is for the victim to stay still, so as not to spread the venom faster. Not sure that would be possible in this spot.

    So, keep your eyes open as you climb Old Rag.