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Fear of Snakes

Freshly Shed Snake Skin in the Gunks

True confession here. When I was a teenager, I was deathly afraid of snakes. It was so bad that I couldn’t look at pictures of them or watch them on TV. I can even remember one road trip where my family drove through Monument Valley and I was too scared to venture far from the car and walk in the dessert.

I’ve gotten over it pretty much, mainly from experience and the fact that I see them so seldom, even with the amount of hiking I do. I’m not interested in touching or befriending them, but I can sleep in a floorless shelter at night and not worry about a visitation.

When I see a snake, I just give it a wide berth and make lots of noise with my walking poles to scare them off if they’re not slithering away already. I see lots of garter snakes, giant black snakes in New York State and a variety of much rarer snakes in New England.

Fear of snakes is perfectly normal and nothing to be ashamed of: even Indiana Jones suffers from it. The current theory is that it’s an innate reaction programmed into our brains, but I think I probably picked it up from my parents as a learned behavior. How else can you explain the fact that my fear has lessened as I’ve grown older?

How about you?


  1. I am not too happy about snakes. We always keep a good lookout for them, especially when in Tasmania as there are "rather large" tiger snakes down there.

  2. I don't mind snakes but had to be cautious in Africa especially when the area you are in is called Mamba Point. I had to trace cables which meant I had to open hand holes and long forgotton panels – places for wildlife.

    Spiders are my fear and it goes back to being bitten a number of times by different nasty spiders. I can look at them but the idea of having to kill a bigger spider requires implements or my wife.

    Nothing worse than realizing too late that you just took out a web across a trail and in the middle was some huge spider who is now crawling towards your jugular ready to sink it fangs into your clammy flesh.

    Well at least it happened that way in my nightmare

  3. I remember killing a big spider in Africa by spraying bug repellent on it until it just dissolved in front of me. My wife didn't help on that one. She was freaking out about the cheetah who was killing a dik-dik outside our tent.

  4. Snakes have never been a problem for me (don't know why as my mother was deathly scared of them), but what has been a shock is the number of biting & stinging creepy-crawlies here in the southern US. Scorpions, black widow spiders, & brown recluses top the list, but there are about 10x the kinds of stinging wasps and all of the ants (not just fire ants and mound builders) that pack a vicious bite. Quick absorption benadryl (diphenhydramine) has become a part of my first aid kit. The fall is a bit of a pain as the danged yellow jackets (wasps) are storing away food for the winter and very aggressive just in case you happen to be a bear! I've taken to keeping my used socks in my boots so I have to check them in the morning for critters, and we've taught the kids to always look over a log before just stepping there.

    On the other hand the few venomous snakes are relatively shy and don't want to mess with you. Even the "traditionally aggressive" water moccasins (an aquatic pit viper) don't really want to bother with you. (I've inadvertently swum with them). With a little common sense (like don't stick your hand where you haven't checked for a critter), it ain't that bad. (there is a reason that most snake bites in the US involve ~20 year old men and alcohol and are on the hands or face). Still I did get a long handled wrench to turn the water on in the country so I don't have to be as worried about the spiders.

  5. I'm afraid of heights, and I am always trying to conquer it but I think I focus on trying to get over it too much that it heightens my fear. My problem arises when I stop and think about what I am going to do. Two summers ago I went and did half dome, and I just charged at it, and didn't stop and until I got to the top. This only worked because I was one of the first people there for the day because I didn't want to share the cables with 200 other people, I couldn't handle sharing the cables with a crowd and then having to stop half way up and wait. But there are other times when I have to cross a river on a log bridge and my shins start to shake, usually because I stopped when I saw it and started analyzing the situation allowing my thoughts to kick in. When it comes down to it my biggest problem with heights is thinking about it too much.

  6. I got rattled at on the PCT a few times, and nearly peed my pants every time. One time I didn't realize it was happening until I was right on top of the snake… headphones are not always a good idea when hiking :)

    No shame in being freaked out by any kind of creepy crawlies, I say.

  7. Rattlesnakes have certainly given me a number of cussing/jumping episodes but I never understood people being terrified of harmless snakes. Too many people kill any snake on sight regardless of laws against it and I recall seeing vastly more snakes in my youth than now, and there's a good argument to be made that the explosion of deer ticks and lyme disease in PA is due to the reduction in snakes and subsequent increase in small rodents.

  8. I have to cast my lot with the spider gang. I grew up in the south and truly nasty spiders abounded along with some nasty snakes. I used to hang over foot bridges with long sticks and "tease" water moccasins so I could see them open their mouths. Crazy and foolish childhood. I was lucky I never fell into the water. The funny thing is spiders make me run screaming.

    I also have a fear of heights. I rockclimbed through my 20's and retired. It just wasn't worth all the angst. I get shaky in the shins too when I get close to a cliff and allow my thoughts to engage.

  9. I've never been afraid of snakes–my brother and I caught them often and distributed "pets" to the neighbor children, only to be frantically searching for cover a half hour later when our parents started fielding irate phone calls. I recognize all the poisonous snakes in North America and have caught rattlesnakes and copperheads. I'm also not fearful of spiders and have captured tarantulas several times.

    My biggest fear in the back country is hurting my leg or foot and not being able to walk out. On a strenuous hike last month, I thought I'd blown out my knee after hooking my foot on a vine and taking a nasty uncontrolled tumble onto some rocks but fortunately I was fine after a few minutes.

  10. Snakes really don't bother me, not even the venomous ones. A thorough knowledge of the snakes in your area (or at least how to recognize the dangerous ones) goes a long way toward easing apprehensions about them. In south Texas we only have to worry about four kinds, but there are plenty of them. When I see them on the trail I just give them a enough room to keep either of us from being nervous. All that said, I'm a hammocker and not having to think about snakes and bugs getting at me while I sleep is one of my top reasons for hanging from trees.

  11. makes sense. it's all about comfort.

  12. I used to have two snakes as pets. They can be quite docile. Just don't go near them when they're hungry, or when your hands smell like mice…

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