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Decision Time at Rattlesnake Junction

Decision Time at Rattlesnake Junction

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
2 min read

Today I went on a hike with my wife and dog to the appropriately-named Dog Mountain in Washington state. It was beautiful, and (hopefully) I’ll incorporate some of the trip in a video soon.

At the top of the mountain is hills covered in wildflowers, and it’s wildflower season now. The flowers are in bloom, and there’s only a month or two every year when you can see them.

Naturally the trail was quite busy.

As we hiked down, we encountered a pretty large group of hikers who warned us of a rattlesnake up ahead on the trail. As we approached, we confirmed that, yes, there was pretty large rattlesnake there, perhaps 3-4 feet long.

The rattlesnake we saw is *crotalus oreganus*, or the Northern Pacific rattlesnake. Here’s a photo I found on Wikipedia:

We were uphill from it along with 4 other people. Downhill were two groups of 3 or 4, who were “stuck” waiting for the snake to leave the trail.

My wife promptly starting throwing rocks at it, and the snake retreated into the bushes briefly until it began to rattle as a warning. We ran past with our dog, unharmed.

Snakes are scary. They’re unfamiliar and they’re poisonous, and they present a real risk. What was interesting, though, is that the risk is low, and the rewards for the hikers to pass the snake and see the wildflowers were pretty large.

They saw the snake, decided it was too risky, and gave up. The downhill hikers never saw the top of the mountain. This begs two questions: 1) how much risk are you willing to accept, and 2) how much do you value the reward?

What’s most interesting to me is that the risk wasn’t that great. The rattlesnake was hiding in dense bushes, which means it probably couldn’t strike if it wanted to. And if it did want to strike, it could only strike about half the distance of its body, give or take. It was easy to keep 5 or more feet between us and the snake, so I wasn’t worried.

What’s more, most people mistake a rattle for a snake wanting to bite them. Not really. The snake prefers to not engage in self-defense at all, hence the rattle. If it wanted to bite someone or something, it wouldn’t announce its presence.

These are questions you’ll have to answer in your business. Next time you’re on a path and a rattlesnake presents itself, what will you do?