Sharing the hiking trail with rattlesnakes

SLHC members and guests enjoying this year’s Winter Social at Poolside

SLHC members and guests enjoying this year’s Winter Social at Poolside

Judith Kuse

Rattlesnakes are a fact of life in the Arizona desert. And now that it is spring, rattlesnakes are coming out of their winter sanctuaries and seeking the warmth of the sun. So in keeping with the Sun Lakes Hiking Club’s emphasis on safety while hiking, here is information (courtesy of a presentation by SLHC hiker Doug Chirhart) to help you if you encounter a rattlesnake on the trail.

Arizona is home to 13 species of rattlesnakes, more species than any other state. Rattlesnakes are identified by their triangular heads and instantly-recognizable rattling/hissing warning sound. Rattlers move at a pace of 2-3 m.p.h., compared to humans, who move at a pace of 28 m.p.h., especially after seeing a rattlesnake! Young rattlesnakes may not yet have rattles, but are dangerous from birth and more pugnacious than adults.

As a first defense against rattlesnakes, take these precautionary steps. Don’t wear flip-flops or sandals on the trail. Look off to the sides of the trail while hiking, as rattlesnakes may be resting underneath brush or bushes. Snakes like to sun on rocks, so don’t put your hands where your eyes can’t see them, like on surfaces above your head. And check for snakes before you sit down to rest.

If you spot a rattlesnake, don’t make sudden movements. Slowly back away at least 8 to 10 feet. Remember, if you see one rattlesnake, there may be others nearby. Never try to kill a rattlesnake. According to one Regional Parks employee, most serious rattlesnake accidents occur when a hiker says to a fellow hiker, “Here, hold my beer while I get rid of this snake!”

Eight thousand venomous snakebites are reported in the U.S. annually. Of those, 8 to 15 result in death. And no one on a Sun Lakes Hiking Club hike has ever been bitten a rattlesnake. But toss out what you thought you knew about treating a rattlesnake bite. Do not apply a tourniquet to the victim, and don’t try to suction the venom. Don’t ice the wound. Don’t wait for symptoms to appear, and don’t try to capture the perpetrator snake. The best defense is car keys and a cell phone. Get to a medical facility as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence. From anywhere in the U.S., you can be connected to the local poison control center by calling 800-222-1222.

Armed with this knowledge, you will be ready to hike in Arizona this spring! The list of the Sun Lakes Hiking Club’s March hikes follows below. For all hikes, except as noted, meet at the Cottonwood parking lot at 6:45 a.m. to carpool to the trailhead. Those who are new to the club should choose a Mellow or Motivated hike and must contact the hike leader prior to the hike. A more complete description of the hikes and updated information can be found at the club’s website at

Monday Hikes

March 6 (Mellow) TBA

(Moderate) Parker Canyon in the Salome Wilderness. Leader Mike Josephson 248-496-5369.

(Motivated) Black Canyon Loop. Leader Mike Foerster 480-895-0905.

March 13 (Mellow) Cave Creek Trail at Cave Creek Regional Park. Leader Bonnie Tasch 303-868-7360.

(Moderate+) Barnhardt Trail. Leader Barb Smith 970-241-0838.

(Motivated+) Twin Peaks Challenge Hike, Phoenix. Leader Mei-Mei Ahlskog 480-883-2013.

March 20 (Mellow) TBA.

(Moderate) TBA. Leader Stan Krasucki 480-207-3683.

(Motivated) Picacho Peak. Leader Brian Hill 480-802-1050.

March 27 (Mellow) Lost Goldmine Trail Out and Back from Peralta Trailhead Road. Leader Rick Urwiler 402-450-9168.

(Moderate) Bursera and Gila Loop at South Mountain. Leader Tracy Nilsen 918-944-9261.

(Motivated+) Six-Shooter Trail at Pinal Peak. Leader Marilyn Harkins 480-883-7173.

Wednesday Hikes

March 1 (Moderate) TBA

March 8 (Moderate) Sunrise Trail Crossover (Key Exchange) McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Leaders Dennis and Marilyn Harkins 480-883-7173.

March 15 (Moderate) Pass Mountain at Usery Mountain Regional Park. Leader Kathy Ivesdahl 480-883-8957.

March 22 (Moderate) Leaders Al and Ginny Metz 480-895-1868.

March 30 (Moderate) Holbert Trail at South Mountain. Leader Marilyn Harkins 480-883-7173.

For more information about the SLHC, visit the club’s website listed above or contact club President Cheryl Verlander at 480-883-2766.