Like many of us living in the mountains, we sometimes accept our morning walks into the surrounding foothills as being nothing more than a common, routine occurrence. At least three times a week I take a conditioning hike into our area mountains on various trails.
From the TV, newspapers and Internet we hear occasional stories of individuals describing encounters with wildlife. Having had a few encounters myself I have a habit of ignoring most stories because these encounters are often sensationalized.
In the past I have shared my wilderness encounters with you, some a little more exciting than others. I feel I have been lucky and walked away from each experience.
This past summer I planned to take a quick hike into the Thornberry Mountains off of Road 223. I was trying to loosen up a day before my planed five day hike into the Ansel Adams Wilderness.
The morning was hot and dry as most summer mornings are. I have hiked this three mile route many times in the past. The lower cross country section has many old growth pine and oak trees. During the summer from the shade of these giant sentinels, the temperature is much cooler than the exposed areas.
I was moving briskly along an old logging road when out of the shadows came a wrestling noise, followed by the cry of a mountain lion. Less than 30 feet in front of me was a full grown mountain lion who I just startled.
I believe it was just as confused as I was, so we both just stood there and stared at each other, which seemed like an eternity. Normally they are very skittish and would run-off from any similar encounter. But this mountain lion just held its ground and stared directly at me. I held up my arms with my walking stick in hand and yelled. The lion didn't flinch -- why? Maybe it's a female and has a small kitten concealed within the bushes.
Now I'm not stupid and I know she will protect her kitten and there is no way I'm going to win this staring contest. So I very slowly started backing out of the area, but keeping an eye on her just in case she decides to move aggressively toward me.
She never moved and I escaped back along this abandoned road a few hundred feet and waited five minutes. Then I continued back through the same location to complete my hike.
The mountain lion (cougar) departed from the area and I resumed my hike, but kept looking over my shoulder until reaching the safety of my Jeep. After 31 years of hiking our Sierra Nevada mountains, I finally can say I've seen my first mountain lion (cougar) in the wilderness.
A week later I read in the newspaper that a 90 to 100 pound cougar had been shot in North Fork. Reason being it was sighted a few times close to homes and a domestic pet had disappeared. I was saddened to think -- was this cat the same beautiful animal I encountered three weeks earlier? Up until a couple weeks after my mountain lion encounter, this mystery still lingered in the back of my mind. As I was hiking through the same general area where I first saw the cougar, looking down at the trail was a few huge five inch cougar tracks.
I was somewhat relieved that this story does have a happy ending. Maybe this was the same cougar I witnessed on the previous hike and is still alive and roaming the mountains of Madera County.