Hiking

How a North Carolina man survived a rattlesnake bite after hiking alone in the Blue Ridge Mountains

HIGHLANDS, North Carolina (CNN) – Talk about a day in paradise: North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, temperatures in the 70s and low humidity.

Scott Vuncannon, a 58-year-old property developer and farmer, called his wife and told her he was going hiking and would be back around 4 p.m.

He packed his safety gear, including a gun, bear sterilizer, and enough food and water to last a few days, just in case.

He grew up crossing the Uwharrie Mountains in central North Carolina. Now he faced more formidable wilderness from his summer home in Highlands, a popular seaside resort. Still, he had decades of hiking experience.

With a 2-year-old Australian Shepherd and Blue Heeler mix named Boone by his side, he headed out to the Ellicott Rock Trail around 11 a.m. Wednesday in late August 2018.

Two hours later he was five miles away.

“My dog ​​went after a squirrel, and I stopped and took a sip of water,” Vuncannon recalled to CNN Travel. “I called my dog…and he came back. And as soon as I took a step, I saw movement.

Without warning, “I saw a snake head come up and hit me in the left calf. …My natural reaction was to jump back, and I bent over and pulled my pant leg up to see if it was actually penetrating my long pants.

Vuncannon saw two bite marks about 2 inches apart. Boone chased after the snake, and only then did Vuncannon hear a click.

He tied a tourniquet below the knee and above the bite. “As soon as I stood up, I could taste the poison in the back of my throat.”

Vuncannon knew he had to get out. “I slowly, methodically started up the mountain, quite a steep climb.”

He had only gone about a quarter of a mile when he lost his balance. He started crawling.

Vuncannon was vomiting about every 15 minutes. Then it started to move in and out of consciousness.

“My dog ​​stayed with me the whole time. He never left me. He was kicking me and licking my face to keep me awake.

About two hours after being bitten, he fired a pistol shot in the air to draw attention. Nothing.

Back in Highlands, his wife felt like something was wrong. She found her truck at the trailhead around 4:30 p.m. and drove back to town for help. Around 5:30 am, a rescue attempt is finally underway.

A helicopter could not be used because of the thick canopy. Vuncannon had gone too far to be executed slowly. He was therefore moved by motorbike, attached to a driver and restrained by paramedics walking on either side. It took three hours.

More than 11 hours after he was first bitten, he checked himself into Mission Hospital in Asheville, but he had already gone into cardiac arrest.

The doctors had bad news for his family. Vuncannon had less than a 5% chance of surviving.

His rescue was a miracle, and he needed a second one. He received a dozen antivenom treatments and other medical interventions.

Vuncannon was in a coma for three days but recovered. “It took me about three months in total to recover enough to be able to walk and have the energy to move around.”

For more on this story and snakebite safety, Click here.