Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Snakebite Precautions and First Aid

Timber Rattlesnake--notice the wide head
In light of a recent run-in my husband and I had hiking on the Little Bottoms trail in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I thought I'd share an article I just read in Backpacker Magazine.  Our encounter was not quite as close, nor as potentially deadly, but it could have been.  A couple seconds later coming up that trail, and my husband could easily have stepped on that snake instead of hearing it rattle first.  Our timber rattler might not have been able to inject the neurotoxin that this unfortunate woman had to deal with in addition to the venom, but we were also much further away from help when our encounter occurred.  I have since wondered what we would do if one of us were struck by a timber rattler while hiking in these hills.  This article is one woman's encounter with a snake that could have had a different ending if she had not done the right things at the right time.

Out Alive: Bitten by a Rattlesnake

Through researching the internet, I have concluded that if I or one of my hiking companions is struck by either of the two poisonous snakes found in the Smokies, I need to remember to do the following:

*Remain calm.  Yeah, right!  However, this will slow the spread of the venom through the body if we can pull it off.
*Remove all jewelry that may be difficult to remove after the area swells.
*Try to immobilize the area as much as possible.  For instance, make a splint or sling if the bite is on the arm.
*Keep the affected area at or below the level of the heart.
*One of my hiking partners carries a snake bite kit.  Although there is some confusion on the web as to the effectiveness, National Institutes of Health does recommend using one like the ones made by Sawyer.  I may look into buying one of those.
*If it is possible, the victim can be carried out.  However, if it means a major delay in getting help, it is better that the victim walk out.

*Do not cut the bite wound with a knife or anything else.
*Do not attempt to suck the poison out of the wound.
*Do not waste time trying to kill and catch the snake.  (I wouldn't be tempted to do this anyway, but that is the advice I've found on the web.)  But do try to remember the color and shape (especially of the head) to help rescue personnel identify the snake.
*Do not apply ice packs to the wound.
*Do not apply a tourniquet.  There is some confusion here, so I suggest you do your own reading on this one.  I, personally, will be afraid to apply one with my limited knowledge of first aid.

Important recommendations:
*Consider taking a Wilderness First Aid Course--something I would love to do soon!
*Pay close attention to the area in which you hike.  Be aware of where snakes might be and be on the lookout for them.
*Never reach into crevices in rocks or under piles of rocks or brush where snakes may be hiding.
*If you have to walk through an area where you cannot see your feet, use your hiking pole in front of you to give the snake time to get out of your way.
*As a caveat, I am not a medical professional.  I simply tried to gather information for my own use on the trails.  I did use information from what I consider to be professional sites, primarily the Mayo Clinic and National Institutes of Health.
Copperhead--the only other poisonous snake in the Smokies

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Stress Relief of the Greenway Kind

A restful fountain in Springbrook Park on Maryville-Alcoa Greenway
After having left work today stressed and a little bit beaten up by a drama queen trying to stir up trouble, I sorely needed some serious unwind time. I found my respite during what has become a weekly Wednesday evening bike ride with my husband. Our venue of choice tonight was the Maryville-Alcoa Greenway. When we first arrived and parked the truck at the duck pond near the park, we were awestruck by the number of mallards on the pond. There must have been 50 or 60 females and young green heads on the water. The odd thing was I didn't see one mature green head. But It was relaxing to watch them skim effortlessly across the water or to fly around a bit, then cup their wings and drift onto the surface of the water with such flair.

After watching for a few minutes we mounted our bikes and entered the greenway. This trail is a wide, probably 8-foot in most places, paved asphalt trail with only a few minor grade changes. The path gently twists and turns, following for quite a ways along a creek, meandering through woods and wetlands, crossing some nicely maintained bridges, and finally taking a break at another small body of water in downtown Maryville populated by another group of ducks and geese. The trail goes on beyond this spot, but we turned around here. I've only been on the other end of this greenway one time before and that was with a couple who are very familiar with the greenway. I remember it being more difficult to find and follow after that point, so tonight we turned back. I hope to ride it again on Saturday with another friend who will want to do more miles, so we may try the other end then. Tonight however, we began at Springbrook Park and rode about 10 miles along the greenway to downtown Maryville, around some side trails, and back to the truck.

I don't know what it is about biking, but it is one of my favorite activities when I've had a stress-filled day. Nothing relaxes me quite as thoroughly as cruising along on my Cannondale Quick, especially when surrounded by beautiful scenery like that found on the greenways here in Knoxville and Alcoa. I do wish that the powers that be would approve and build enough greenways so that you could ride 15-20 miles at a time without having to travel the narrow and heavily trafficked roads of this area. Riding on the road still makes me nervous, although I am beginning to do a little more if it. I much prefer the greenways, complete with their green grass fields; wildlife such as birds, rabbits, and squirrels; and stream crossings. To me, that is the perfect recipe for stress relief--stress relief of the greenway kind!

Monday, August 6, 2012

One Month Later--Great Smoky Mountains Storm

I finally got up the nerve this weekend to visit my beloved Cade's Cove region of the Smokies, something I had not done since the storm passed through almost a month ago, downing thousands of trees and killing two people and injuring others. I still pray for those folks and their families and hope for the best for all of those affected. I had been to the park, but only to the Newfound Gap area which was untouched. Honestly, I was not prepared for what I saw!

One of my favorite trails, especially in the spring when the early wildflowers are blooming, Chestnut Top Trail, was the first severely damaged area I came to as I passed through and beyond Townsend. In early spring, the first half mile of this trail is covered in blood root, trillium, Solomon's seal, spring beauty and many other varieties of the tiny blessings that wait for the observant hiker or photographer.

As of right now, this trail is closed, and with good reason! I have heard that parts of the trail are well under way in the reconstruction process, but I wonder what they will do to this bank that has virtually been sheered off, leaving almost none of the original trail intact for 30 yards or so that I could see from the road. I also wonder how long the remaining part of the trail can withstand rains and weather that the fall and winter will bring with no tree roots to hold that bank in place.

Another of my favorite trails is affected by the damage too, and that is the Scott Mountain Trail that runs along the ridge line down from the Cade's Cove area back toward Townsend. Somewhere on that trail was one of the largest trees I have ever seen in these mountains. I believe it is a tulip poplar, but I could be mistaken about that. Trees are not my forte when it comes to identification of the flora of my mountains. However, this tree is one that makes you stand at its base in awe of its girth and the length of its life standing on that slope.

I stopped four different park rangers while I was there to see if anyone knows the fate of that tree up on Scott Mountain. Sadly, I got the idea that none of the four of them had ever seen that tree. None of them could tell me of its fate in the wake of the storm. I sincerely hope it is still standing. It would be a shame if it was among the casualties. I just hope that the winds hit somewhere else along that ridge because I cannot imagine that old man of the forest being vey flexible, something I would imagine it would have to be to survive such force of nature.

As I made my way up Laurel Creek Road, there were times when you would never have thought such a storm had ripped through the area. Whole regions seemed untouched. Then, seemingly at random, entire hillsides were littered with the carcasses of what once were beautiful deciduous and evergreen trees reaching to the sky. No more! Now they lay askew, reminding me of the game I once played when I was a child. These hillsides looked like children had begun a game of Pick Up Sticks and had left their pieces scattered amongst the laurels and the rhododendron. Many of the trunks that remained standing were stripped of foliage, broken, or bent.

Somewhere underneath all of the debris lies what used to be a pretty fair trout stream. I had not taken the time to fish it yet, but I had been told that it was a great place for a woman to fish by herself and my plans were to do just that when the weather cooled. The stream runs alongside the road on the way to Cades Cove, and if you wait until the waters are too cool for folks to swim in them, they are easily accessible and also provide enough nearby road traffic to get help if one should fall and get hurt. When you get my age and want to fish while hubby is at work, that's something to think about. However, I'm not sure what all this debris will do to the trout waters. I know it will have made whole stretches of it difficult to access at best.

The good news is that once I crested the top of Laurel Creek Road and began to drop down into the Cade's Cove area, I saw very few newly fallen trees. This part of the park seems to be largely unscathed. I saw no damage to the structures at the picnic area or the store and amphitheater at the campground. I did not go around the loop road or through the campground but all seemed to be very normal there. By the way, there was no damage to the ice cream machine in the shop there at the campground. I had to make sure that it was unaffected, and I am pleased to report that the ice cream is still creamy and piled high atop those cones!

Let me just say that kudos need to go out to all those workers who helped clear the roads through the park in those first few days. I cannot imagine how many trees must have littered and blocked both Laurel Creek Road and Little River Road. I understand that many nearby private contractors and just everyday folks came out bearing construction vehicles and chainsaws to help clear the debris and restore access to what remains as one of the most spectacular places in America. It remains impressive in every way, but now, in addition to its beauty, there is staggering evidence of the power of nature.