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When/How did you stop looking down?
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Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
When/How did you stop looking down? on 03/25/2009 22:20:51 MDT Print View

Walking along the snow pitted with post holes, I wondered when and how I had stopped looking down at my feet when I am in the forest or on the beach.

What about you? When and how did you stop looking at where you are, and instead focused on where you are going?
Evening on the Marsh, Juneau, Alaska

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: When/How did you stop looking down? on 03/25/2009 22:31:30 MDT Print View

Ah, that is an occupational hazzard. Almost every injury (luckily all minor), have occured when I am lost in the moment, instead of watching my feet.

Last summer I missed a rattle snake by inches, but my wife who was 20 feet behind me, saw it (too late). No warning rattle from the snake, and luckily the snake just ignored me.

This past December I was climbing a loose slope with my son, and because I was immersed in the blue sky just a few feet from us reaching the ridge, I slide several yards with my left leg in a position that should have broke it. It still hurts a little. And I have dozens of more stories :)

cary bertoncini
(cbert) - F

Locale: N. California
looking before leaping and such on 03/26/2009 00:09:27 MDT Print View

I have stepped on rattlesnakes twice - once barefoot and once in sandals while wearing shorts.

The prior was at the end of a long day of whitewater raft guiding & it was just after sunset. I was almost sleep walking to my tent, then stepped on a rather large snake. Did not get to sleep for a couple hours. Also, for months afterward, anytime I stepped on a stick or rope, I leaped out of my shoes and screamed like a little girl.

The latter was on a hasty end of the day fishing trip after working - was heading through grass to a small stream when time stopped. Not sure if I first heard the snake or felt my foot on it, maybe simultaneous, but I did catch my foot before putting all my weight down. Looking down, seemed like slow motion freeze frame time, it occurred to me that my foot was on a rattlesnake, right on its head! I jumped up & back & fortunately snake hurried off in other direction. Continued to fish until dusk, but was very, very noisy and more cautious moving through the grass afterward.

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
rattlesnakes, et al on 03/26/2009 00:14:42 MDT Print View

That's all very interesting. I recently read a science article that claimed that rattlesnakes aren't giving warning rattles very much any more, because of pressure from humans. Snakes that rattle have, historically, been easier to notice and were killed. So now- the genes of the "quiet" snakes have been passed on...

cary bertoncini
(cbert) - F

Locale: N. California
quiet rattlers on 03/26/2009 00:19:43 MDT Print View

I think there is some possible truth to that:

In areas frequented by hikers, hunters, fishermen & such, the snakes I've come across practically (perhaps literally) have to be stepped on to start rattling.

However, last year I was in a remote part of the Carson river that wouldn't have much human foot traffic, but a lot of cattle grazing. A snake about six feet away started rattling like a crazed lunatic - scared the hell out of me at first, then, when I realized how far he was from me, just surprised me.

This is the noisy guy - guess his genetics are the result of warding off stomping cattle.


(drown) - F - MLife

Locale: Shenandoah
Re: rattlesnakes, et al on 03/26/2009 06:35:30 MDT Print View


Do you recaall where you read this. Was it in Science? or somewhere else....

Jonathan Ryan
(Jkrew81) - F - M

Locale: White Mtns
Re: rattlesnakes, et al on 03/26/2009 08:41:05 MDT Print View

I saw this as well on some National Geographic program. As I remember the show was being filmed in a section of Texas where they do rattlesnake round-up's

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
When/How did you stop looking down? on 03/26/2009 08:45:31 MDT Print View

I look down almost every step, or every few for sure. Drilled into me as a child. I don't know about snakes not rattling due to pressure, most of them around here still rattle once they're aware of you. A spring reminder to be careful (Palo Duro Canyon, Texas)
Snake den

Snake den 2

Edited by skinewmexico on 03/26/2009 09:19:45 MDT.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: rattlesnakes, et al on 03/26/2009 09:15:17 MDT Print View


That theory does make sense. Although I wonder how it could be proven.

This particular snake was shading itself under a bush. The temperature was probably in the high 80's F. So its metabalism was not optimal. He did not want to be moved, but I used my hiking staff to get him off the trail, otherwise my wife was NOT going forward. :)

I am embarassed to note, that on our return trip an hour later, he had returned to the same spot, and I did not see him AGAIN. But my wife sure did. And I moved him for the 2nd time.


I live in the desert, but see many more snakes at 5,000' - 7,000' where food is more readily available. Normally it seems that snakes found on/near the trail happen when it is warmer, which could explain why no warning rattle. It seems that every time I hear a rattle, I can't see the snake, and it is far enough away, not to worry about it. Those non-warning snakes on the trail are difficult to move, because they just seem lethargic.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
When/How did you stop looking down? on 03/26/2009 09:22:30 MDT Print View

Nigel, I'm not surprised the snake was still there, we have a Scoutmaster that loves to play with snakes, and he told me that rattlesnakes are very territorial. In fact, I watched him pick one up and carry it about 300 yards away from some kids playing, and when he put it down, it immediately headed back for the same area.

John Haley
(Quoddy) - F

Locale: New York/Vermont Border
Re: When/How did you stop looking down? on 03/26/2009 10:13:17 MDT Print View

To answer the OP... for me it's almost an "effort" to look ahead and around me. Since using treking poles on a regular basis I've been able to take my eyes off the immediate trail and let the poles keep me from making an occasional mistake in footing, but I have to consciously remind myself to do it or I'll be staring just ahead of my feet. I suppose if I was in a section of the country that wasn't rock and root strewn it would be easy to gaze at the surrounding scenery. SO my answer, at least at present would be, I haven't done so completely.

Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
snakes and rocks on 03/26/2009 11:14:32 MDT Print View

Interesting responses. Its been a long time since I had to worry about snakes while hiking -- 30 years ago in West Africa. My purpose in asking the question may not have been stated adequately.

I want to be able to walk without looking at my feet and yesterday I caught myself doing so -- looking down, not looking ahead like I've been able to do for a couple of decades. That got me thinking about when others, and how others, have made the transition from head down to head up walking.

Damn, those are a lot of snakes; I hope global warming doesn't heat up enough so we get them in Alaska.

Edited by Umnak on 03/30/2009 12:08:35 MDT.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: snakes and rocks on 03/26/2009 12:29:02 MDT Print View


I think the problem is reverse for many of us. We start looking ahead most of the time, and forget to look down when we should. I guess it is just a habit. If you are looking down too often, just remind yourself every time to you do it. Perhaps tie a red ribbon on your shoe to remind you that you do not want your eyes looking at it. :)

NYC Hiker
(NYCHiker) - F

Locale: NYC
Re: snakes and rocks on 03/26/2009 13:49:57 MDT Print View

Timber Rattlesnake - New York

This guy let me know he was there when I was about 15 feet away. I normally look down to watch those ankle breakers we have in New York, but I was fiddling with my Lekis after a waterstop. If he hadn't let me know he was there, I would have stepped on him.

In New York, they are a protected species. Up until the 70s, the state paid people to kill them. I have no idea how low the population got in the Lower Hudson Valley, but I'm glad they aren't the silent type of rattlers.

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
rattlesnake evolution... on 03/27/2009 05:37:10 MDT Print View


I think it was in Nature. That's the only non-medical science rag to which I have a subscription. Or, of course, I could be mistaken and it could have been in Outside or Backpacker or something.

Sorry. I just don't remember.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re:never look at feet. on 03/29/2009 15:15:47 MDT Print View

This last weekend, on an overnight trip, I was very aware of my feet and where I was looking, thanks to this thread. What I discovered is that I would look 3-4 steps ahead of my feet, map out my next three steps in my head, then focus on the upcoming trail for those 3-4 steps, then back again in front of my feet for 3-4 steps, and so on. Not once did I look AT my feet, and half the time I was looking at what was ahead of me or around me. For me, three steps ahead is about the most that I can deal with before I have to look down again, but never, ever directly at mt feet.

James Dubendorf

Locale: CO, UT, MA, ME, NH, VT
Feet Looking on 03/29/2009 15:27:26 MDT Print View

I'll second John's comment concerning trekking poles. I find that trekking poles allow me to look up more, especially in canyons where the view often has me craning my neck skyward. They allow me to compensate for those moments of distraction where I am not being quite as attentive to my footfalls and lose a bit of balance as a result. As for their utility in hand to snake combat, I will leave that to others more experienced with such things. :-)


Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
Looking up on 03/29/2009 17:43:36 MDT Print View

I'm beginning to learn to balance looking ahead and being aware of foot placement instead of looking down all day. I disagree that looking down is the way to avoid injury and bodily harm, sure you need to know where you are stepping but who cares where you're going if you're looking at your feet missing the scenery around you? Trail running and just generally getting in better physical shape also has really seemed to aid me in looking up while on the trail, you'll kill yourself trail running and looking down, so it seems to naturally translate into hiking to look ahead, not down. I have very poor posture and tend to hunch over so I have to try very hard to maintain a proper upright position and looking up seems to be the only thing that keeps me from getting in the caveman position with my pack. Of course scrambling and talus/ scree fields require a certain amount of balance and awareness.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: When/How did you stop looking down? on 03/30/2009 11:48:13 MDT Print View

Joe, you were hiking and came across a giant pile of rattlesnakes? Is that normal down there? I think that is just crazy!! :)

Chris Morgan
(ChrisMorgan) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
Snakes in a Canyon on 03/30/2009 11:56:25 MDT Print View

Perhaps these were somewhere else?