Nevada Fall Rattlesnake Bite

August 01, 2015 Posted by: Yosemite Search and Rescue
On June 29, 2015, sometime around 4 pm, a 49-year-old day hiker at the top of Nevada Fall experienced what many people would consider their worst nightmare: being bitten, and envenomated, by a rattlesnake. He was an experienced hiker and had come across rattlesnakes in the wild before. 

The top of Nevada Fall was the objective for the subject and his family. Upon reaching the footbridge at the top of the fall, they decided to do what many hikers feel the need to do after walking in the afternoon heat: take off their shoes and cool their feet at a safe spot in the river. As the subject made his way back onto the granite shoreline, he stepped down into a shallow recess between several rocks and was immediately bitten on the right foot. Moments later, another member of the subject’s family dialed 911 and reported the incident, at which time Yosemite Search and Rescue began to mobilize their response.  

A rescue team began hiking to the patient's location as park helicopter 551 mobilized. Approximately one hour after being bitten, 551 airlifted the subject from the top of Nevada Fall and flown to the valley floor, where medical care was waiting. The clinic staff administered antivenom medication to the subject, stabilized him, and readied him for transport to a regional hospital via a medical helicopter.
Yosemite Search and Rescue prepares to transport a patient via medical helicopter.
During a follow-up interview with the patient two weeks after the incident, several details came to light that could prove to be beneficial to other hikers. First, the snake was well hidden under a rock and was not visible.  And second, the rushing Merced River would have obscured any warning rattle. 

Many people see rattlesnakes while hiking in Yosemite. Snake bites are rare (only one person has apparently died in Yosemite due to a snake bite), but it is important to know that they do occur and that the resulting injuries can be serious: this subject spent several days in the hospital recovering from his bite. Snakes are generally very shy and will avoid contact with humans. In this particular case, the snake was probably trying to hide and stay cool when the subject surprised it by stepping next to it. It is understandable that the patient was barefoot while wading, but for the rest of the hike, a pair of sturdy shoes can protect against many snakebites. An important lesson to learn from this incident is to always be aware of where you place your hands and feet—in addition to snakes, crevices can hide scorpions, spiders, and yellow jacket nests. In this case it wasn’t the obvious hazards of the quickly flowing river, the granite cliffs, or the midday heat that proved most dangerous.

If you are bitten by a snake, try to identify the snake (or have someone else do so), if it's safe to do so. Stay calm and avoid unnecessary physical exertion. The most effective treatment for snakebites is to seek medical care at a hospital or emergency room as quickly as possible. Gone are the days when snakebite first aid involved cutting into the bite and sucking the venom out of the body. 

Finally, always treat wildlife with respect and give them the space they need to stay wild. Never approach wildlife to feed, pet, or photograph them. No matter how tame the animal appears, it is wild and could spook easily.

9 Comments Comments icon

  1. Ron
    May 17, 2018 at 05:02
     

    Be careful of the pit latrines as well. I saw one in the pit of a latrine on the trail to Half Dome. A good rule to follow: always look first before placing your hands, feet, face or behind anywhere in rattlesnake country!

     
  2. Ian
    September 11, 2016 at 09:00
     

     
  3. August 17, 2015 at 02:46
     

    Protect yourself against snake bite while in the desert or woods! Don't take a chance.... snake gaiters or snake boots will protect you against venomous snakes.

     
  4. August 16, 2015 at 08:49
     

    With Sequoia and Kings Canyon NPs right behind me and Yosemite just next door, I've spent many days hiking the trails in all 3 parks. I learned years ago the key to help avoid being bitten is awareness. Before I stop to photograph or just enjoy the view, I look closely around me before settling in. 45 years of hiking these parks, dozens of encounters, zero bites. Hopefully the trend can stay true.

     
  5. August 16, 2015 at 08:40
     

    Largest rattlesnake I ever saw was at the base of trail to north dome, before going up on the dome. It was huge & angry (struck out at leader), lying behind log cut thru for trail. We had to go around thru bear clover, trail was blocked. Camo on these guys is amazing.

     
  6. August 16, 2015 at 08:31
     

    My friend and I encountered a rattler sitting in the hollow part of a standing tree when we hiked to Half Dome about 5 years ago. We took a wide berth, and I pointed it out to the hikers coming down the trail, suggesting they, too, give it some space. I'll be darned if they didn't walk right up to it and put their faces about two feet away! I can't even... I can completely understand how this hiker got bitten; I'm just shocked that the snakes are so accommodating to us stupid humans.

     
  7. August 16, 2015 at 07:09
     

    Thank God they had a cell phone and could get reception.

     
  8. August 16, 2015 at 06:42
     

    The folks of Yosemite search and rescue are amazing people. Recently my son experienced difficulties while far into the Half Dome hike. Luckily the rangers and medical personnel were there to help. They were nothing but reassuring, professional and thorough, turning what could have been a bad memory into a memorable experience! Thank you all so much!!!

     
  9. J
    August 07, 2015 at 05:27
     

    A couple years ago while camping at Little Yosemite, my wife and I encountered a baby rattler at the beach by the river. We were both barefoot and walking back from one of the good spots to dive in. There was about a 5ft log on the ground with football size hole through in the middle down to the sand. We both stepped over the log/opening and my wife said she thought she saw something in the hole. I put my shoes back on, cautiously walked back to the log, and from a few feet away i could definitely see a baby rattler coiled in the opening. You never know where these guys are and we're pretty lucky we didn't get bit accidentally like this hiker. The year after that, we encountered a full grown adult just meandering its way right across the middle of the half dome trail.. out in the open.... in the exposed area before the base of sub dome. Someone from YOSAR happened to be there, with a very large stick, keeping an eye on the guy. There were about 20 hikers going to/from sub-dome when this guy just lazily made his way across the trail mid-day, from a log on one side to a log on the other, right in front of everyone. Last year, a young rattler was wedged vertically in-between a piece of granite and the base of a trail sign on the mist trail, right around where the junction is with the JMT. People were crouching down and holding their cameras for photos from just a foot or two away, not even an arm's length (the especially 'touristy' people seemed very excited to see one and all the cellphones and cameras came out.....) Seriously people, don't be dumb. This is why accidents happen all the time at the park.

     
 
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Last updated: August 1, 2015

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