Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Mountain Lion Attack

My mother just send out an e-mail saying one of my brother-in-law's was out bow-hunting in Colorado and killed a mountain lion.

I don't know any of the details except for the picture she sent of the dead lion, killed with an arrow, she says.  There's an obvious wound that goes through its heart.  Not the sort of shot that is made, in my unprofessional judgment, made as a lion attacks you.

Anyway,  I'm using this lead to tell about my encounter with a mountain lion, only my weapon of choice wasn't a bow or a rifle.

I didn't  have a handgun, or even a pocket knife.

What I did have, and this is an important part of the story, a camera, a pre-digital Nikon N-70,  unfortunately buried deep in the bottom of my daypack.

Here's how it happened.

This was a trip to San Francisco.

I think Wenonah was there on business and I was along for the tag-along.  Getting her to go out sightseeing with me when she wasn't in a meeting, or speaking, or whatever it is she does  when she is working.

This must have taken place on a weekend because we were north of town.  Across the Golden Gate bridge and looking for a trail we had hiked sometime a decade before.

We had parked the rental in a little town off of 101 where my seriously out of date hike book said there was the  trail head to a hike that went up  on one of those ridges that give you a view, to the west, of the ocean and occasionally, to the south, of San Francisco, or at least the golden gate bridge.

The trail began with a promising assent up into a forest, a trail pleasingly private, with no other hikers.  However as we reached the top of the first ridge our  trail joined another,  a sort of interstate highway of trails loaded with a steady stream of hikers and mountain bikers and mothers out for a jog with their babies in state of the art baby runners.

The sort of trail if we had been looking for this many people we would have stayed in the city and walked along warf with the tourists.

However,  since we had already committed to a hike and our car wasn't all that far behind we kept on with the bikes and Sunday strollers hoping that maybe there was a side trail, one without all the people that we could take.

And a couple miles away we found one.

A trail that wasn't used.

The trail with the mountain bikes and stream of hikers met a mountain, or a hill, and instead of going up, or down, it turned and went around to the right.

That's where there was a side trail that went to the left  and according to a side, down to a parking lot.

And this is where my seriously out of date  trail book came into use. 

If I was reading the map right, my book described a trail that went around the peak to the left criss-crossing up the far side, almost to the top of the rise before dropping down to the far side.

That was our trail.

We turned to the left, taking the trail that led down to the parking lot and then, after less than half a mile, after carefully following the map in our book, we found the  trail.  A trail that by the growth that made it hard to find, was only occasionally used.

We turned and started on our new trail as it switch baked through a forest up the side of the mountain.  pleasantly alone

No bikes, no strollers and no other hikers.

As we climbed, occasionally we would get a glimspe to the south, of the famous bridge,  and then at other times, to the west, the ocean.

A very pleasant, if not steep, hike.

I don't think we had been hiking an hour yet on our new trail when I noticed the scat.  Turds with hair or fur petrified along the trail.  If I had given it much thought, I would have known what it meant, a cat.  But we are from Virginia and to me, without giving it much serious thought, I saw it and thought, bobcat,  if I thought anythiing.  Maybe raccoon.

We continued hiking,  we were now getting towards the top of the hill, or mountain or whatever the peak could be called and while the trail was good,  open and easy to use, hadn't seen another hiker the entire time.

We stopped for a water break,  taking out our water bottles, and resting on a fallen tree, I snapped a picture of the bridge off in the distance and then putting my camera back in the pack, the water bottles,  I started back to the trail.

And that's when I almost walked over it.

A large, full grown, mountain lion, napping in the middle of the trail.  Not counting her tail,  which switching back and forth must have been three or four feet long in its self.

I stopped short, less than ten meters away.

A cat, longer than I was   tall  (and I'm six feet tall) blocking the trail.  Its head facing in the other direction.

My first reaction was to sling off my day pack  That's where my camera was an my first reaction was.  ' How many times to get a chance like this. The chance to take a picture of a mountain lion sitting in the trail right in front of you.

Unfortunately,I must have made a racket, taking off that pack. Either that or the lion was especially sensitive to the sound made by other creatures.

It sprang to its feet,  I remember seeing its tail slash back and forth,  And before I could react  it was gone.  Running down the trail away from me.

And there I was, without giving it a moments thought,  running behind it.

The trail turned to the left and for a moment it was out of sight.

But I was running  now.  As fast as I could with one hand in my daypack, trying to get a hold of that stupid camera

If only I had a little instamac type device.

That camera wouldn't come out of the pack.  We made a turn in the other direction and again the cat was out of sight for a few strides.  By now both of us were sprinting, going as fast as we could along a narrow, seriously over grown trail.

The cat in front and me in a sprint bring up the rear.    I'm thinking,  if I was thinking at all.  'if only it would slow down,  just enough, so I could stop,  get the camera out and take a picture.

Another bend in the trail was coming up. and I had my hand on the camera, slowed down enough to yank it out of the pack at the same time the cat disappeared around the bend in the trail.

holding the camera I dropped th pack  and started running.  up to the bend in the trail and around the  corner.

WHere I found myself standing on an empty trail.

Both sides seriously overgrown with a thick hedge like brush.  Maybe twenty yards of trail in front of me before it disappeared around another bend.

But no cat.

no cat.

I turned around in a circle.

Maybe it had stepped off the trail and was hiding in the brush somewhere behind me.

I realized it could be anywhere.  Two feet away in the brush. Around the bend in the trail,  circling back around, I wouldn't know it was there.  I wouldn't be able to see it.

I stopped and listened to the world around me, feeling amazingly exposed.

Down the hill to the west, several hundred yards away I could see beyond the brush,  there was a herd of deer.  Half a dozen,  browsing on the brush.  And then a buck broke cover.  Realizing I was there.  Or maybe it was the mountain lion it sensed.

The buck jumped  and then was gone.  The does were there for a moment longer,  and then they too started.  and were gone.

A few minutes later I heard Wenonah walking up the trail behind me.

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