One snake in eastern WA has a venomous bite. What if you’re bitten without cell service?

Eastern Washington has an abundance of hiking trails to explore during the warmer months, but being prepared when exposed to wildlife and areas with no cell service will help you have a good time.

Hiking in the Columbia Basin can be exciting, but requires preparation before venturing out into the wilderness. There are around a dozen species of snakes native to Washington state, and one common species is the western rattlesnake, which is also the only species with a venomous bite, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

It’s possible you could end up in an area of Washington wilderness with no cell service and a rattlesnake population. The first snake sightings of the season have already been reported around Badger Mountain. What happens if you get bitten?

Below you’ll find tips on how to avoid the snake in the first place, how to prepare for your hike — and then, what to do if the worst happens:

How to avoid a snake bite

In the U.S., roughly 1,000 people get bitten by rattlesnakes each year. To prevent a rattlesnake bite from happening when you’re out on a hike, here are some tips to consider from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Washington Trails Association:

Prepare for your hike

  • Wear over-the ankle boots, thick socks, and loose-fitting long pants

  • Don’t go barefoot or use sandals

  • Consider bringing a trekking pole to move items blocking your view and alert snakes early that you’re coming

While on your trip

  • Stick to well-used trails when exploring

  • Avoid walking through tall grass and weeds

  • Watch where you step

  • Avoid wandering in the dark

  • When going over fallen trees or large rocks, inspect the surrounding areas to make sure there are no snakes

  • Be cautious when climbing rocks or gathering firewood

  • Shake out sleeping bags before using them and inspect logs before sitting down

Identify a western rattlesnake

A western rattlesnake basks in a terrarium.
A western rattlesnake basks in a terrarium.

Several other species are often mistaken for a Western Rattlesnake, but their bites won’t be venomous. To identify a western rattlesnake, ensure all criteria are met:

  • Broad triangle head (wider than the neck)

  • Rattle at the tip of the tail

  • Facial pits

  • Between 18 inches and four feet long

  • Pattern of near-square patches down the snake’s back and sides, darker than their body, which is usually a light brown or olive green depending on the environment

Prepare for your Washington hike

Hiking on a new trail can be exciting, which can make it easy to get lost or get hurt in a no cell service area. It is important to stay vigilant on designated trails.

Below are some tips from the National Park Service to prevent getting lost:

  • Review your route before you get on the trail

  • Pack a compass or handheld GPS or even a signal booster

  • Be aware of trail junctions

  • Watch out for information signs

  • Keep an eye out for landmarks throughout the trail

Call 911 if you have an emergency, like a rattlesnake bite. And remember, you don’t need a cell phone provider in order to use emergency services.

What to do if you don’t have cell signal

Let’s say a worst case scenario occurs, and you get hurt in an area with no service. Remember to stay calm.

Below are some tips to find help if you’re in this situation:

Calling for help

Self rescue

Calling for help when you’re deep in the wilderness can be tricky. If you’re hurt, it may be a good idea to stay where you are and form shelter, then try to get someone’s attention.

Below are some general tips on finding help if you’re lost:

If you get bit by a snake, resist the urge to try and run to cell service. This will move the venom closer to your heart. Instead, send your hiking partner to run for help.

This is one of many reasons it is never suggested someone hike alone. Bring a partner with you, especially the further out you are. In case of emergency, it is much safer to have another person around on hikes.

When waiting for help follow these tips, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife:

  • Try to calm yourself or your friend if they get bitten

  • Restrict movement and keep the bite below heart level

  • Gently wash the area with soap and water

  • Apply a cold, wet cloth over bite

  • Remove any watches or rings that may constrict you and cause swelling

  • Immobilize the affected area