My Mountain Lion Encounter, January 27, 2006

I camped at Boot Canyon 1 on Thursday night. I woke up Friday morning about 7:30 a.m., exited the tent. I returned to the tent, and laid down on my sleeping pad, and pulled my sleeping bag over me, and began looking at my maps to plan my day.

My tent was about as near to the trail as possible, at the first area one comes to in the Boot Canyon 1 camp site that is both free from rocks and roots, under a large tree, and is level-- thus the door was generally facing towards Emory Peak. With the screen down, and the door down, I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye.

And thus, on Friday, January 27, 2006, at precisely 7:45 a.m., a mountain lion was walking by, at a point that was almost exactly 24 feet from my tent door. I sat up in my tent, and hollered "GET OUT OF HERE, MOUNTAIN LION," in an extremely loud voice, OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN, until he ran out of sight. At first, he (or she--I have no idea of the sex of the feline, but for some reason I find myself referring to the big cat as "he") looked at me--it appeared he was as surprised to see me, as I was to see him. I kept hollering from my tent, and he immediately --within 2 seconds-- turned and ran back uphill in the direction he came from for about 15 feet, and then began running away from me, down into the small canyon that my tent faced. I watched him travel from within my tent, running downhill, into the canyon. out of sight, into the trees and brush. I immediately wrote an entry in my journal.

The best I can tell, the mountain lion was initially walking downhill, into Boot Canyon 1, either from, or parallel, to the trail that leads to the Boot Canyon campsites. I was laying with my head pointed towards the composting toilet (which, if you are familiar with this campsite, you will realize is across the trail, and slightly up the trail from Boot Canyon 1).

I then got dressed, then looked outside the tent to make sure the cat was gone. I saw no sight of the cat.

I got out of the tent at probably about 7:52, fully dressed in my boots, ready to hike, with camera in hand. I add that I am 6' 2", 250 pounds--I would think a bit imposing to interest a mountain lion. I walked up to the trail near the toilet, to look around for mountains to photograph, and snapped some photos of the sun shining on the rock walls towards Emory Peak.

I then walked back toward my tent, and thought, maybe there will be a paw print in the dirt where the cat turned and ran. And I stepped off the distance of where I first saw the cat from the tent, and sure enough, in the dirt by that tree was a paw print. I took a photo of the print, although I've found it is blurry, and does not show much. Then, I turned around, and noticed an even better photo of the rock faces towards Emory Peak.

As I turned towards Emory Peak, something caught my eye-and it was that cat, crouched 20-30 feet from me, looking at me. his tail raised in the air. He was at about the location that was 15 feet down towards the canyon from where he had turned down into the canyon about 20 minutes earlier. I believe that he sneaked back up from the canyon, stalking me. In any event, I am 100% certain he was stalking me, and was intending to make me his prey. I've watched predators stalk prey many times.

I started raising Hell. I shouted loudly words filled with hate, and anger, and threats, peppered with profanity, and descriptions of what I would do to him with my two trekking poles, and my knife, if he did not leave me alone. I told him to get off of my mountain, and out of my campsite. I blew my emergency whistle with a vengeance, for lengthy periods of time, and then began shouting again. And then blowing the whistle again. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins. After 5 minutes of raising Hell, I began thinking that I had been moments away from death. If I had not raised up from taking that photo, and turned around, in his direction, that huge feline predator would have pounced on me, knocking me down with his brute force, grasping my throat in his sharp teeth, cutting my arteries and ripping out my esophagus. And I would have made the news. Great.

When I began shouting the cat ran back into the canyon, and I think kept running. He blends in so well, that I was not certain.

I am relatively certain I saw the same cat twice. The cat was about 3 feet tall at the shoulder. The cat did not appear fat. Its tail seemed to be about 3 feet long. It never bared its teeth. It never made a sound. It was crouched, looking at me, ready to eat me, it's tail slightly waving back and forth..

If I had to make a guess, I would consider the cat younger, as opposed to older. I would bet the cat was around 120 or so pounds. He was bigger than my 100 pound yellow lab, longer but not as thick.. Having never "guestimatted" mountain lions, my estimates may be inaccurate. I have, however, had a pretty good eye for estimated weights of sheep and cattle.

I did feel that I must get away, and not in his direction--but I also must make sure the cat did not return. First, I walked to Boot Spring, to see if it was running, and found it was dry. If it had been running, I would have packed up, and camped at NE 4 that night. Since Boot Spring was not running, I carefully returned to camp again, packed a day pack, and left at 8:58 to hike the loop up to the Northeast Rim, to the Southeast Rim, returning to Boot Canyon 1 at 12:23.

As I neared my campsite, I began blowing my whistle again. I packed up, and broke camp at 1:00 p.m., being careful and on the lookout as I packed up.

I hiked back toward the Basin. The first people I saw were two guys at the Emory Peak bear boxes. I warned them of what happened, and they proceeded to the Southwest Rim. I then hiked up Emory Peak, seeing one pair of guys, and two solo guys, warning them of what happened. One of those solo guys was camped at the Emory Peak campsite, and told me he had heard the whistle blowing that morning, and wondered what it was. He said I blew the whistle so long, he thought it must be a machine instead of a person.

I then returned to the Basin about 5:43. I never saw the cat again after 8:08, when it was running into the small canyon.

Some Background

I have been backpacking since being a Boy Scout in the early 70's, when I became an Eagle Scout. We backpacked as scouts to the South Rim, as well as a 2 week trek to Philmont. I grew up 20 miles from everywhere in central Texas on a ranch. I have been around domesticated and wild animals all of my life. I have hunted, trapped and been an outdoorsman all of my life. I'm reasonably good at "reading" animals. While this is the first time I've encountered a mountain lion, I have--at least until now--felt very comfortable by myself, unarmed, in the wilderness.

My recent wilderness experiences includes several trips to Big Bend, a trip into the Guadalupe Mountains National Park staying at the Tejas campsite up past the Bowl, and camping 20 miles past the 4 wheel drive point at Padre Island National Seashore in the past 2 years. And also, many, many overnight backpacking trips, by myself, to state parks like Lost Maples, Garner, Guadalupe, and Hill Country natural areas.

Relevant History

...when my wife and I were hiking the Laguna Meadows/South Rim/Boot Canyon/Pinnacles loop on November 12, 2005, a guy who was about 20 minutes ahead of us on the Laguna Meadows Trail came back, ashen faced, describing how he had seen a mountain lion just after he had left the Laguna Meadows trail and going up the Colima Trail. He tried to persuade us to return to the Chisos Basin with him--but after my wife and I had spent 3 hours trekking up 2500' to the point we were at--and figuring the cat could as likely be headed toward the Basin as toward the South Rim--I declined his advice to turn around (and, to my humor, he looked at Mary with the seriousness of a man having stared death in the face and said, "Maam, I am so sorry your husband is such an a**h***, and will not turn around and return to the Basin." For the next hour, my wife agreed with this gentleman, as she fearfully walked up the trail with me, continuing toward the south Rim. However, she grew more comfortable as we would visit with oncoming hikers about "the mountain lion someone had encountered down the trail," and their eyes would light up, with responses similar to "Wow, great photo op!" By the time we made it to the South Rim, and she saw for the very first time in her life the incredible, incredible vistas into Mexico from the South Rim, Mary concluded that she was glad that we journeyed on.

What was different that day? Well, there were tons of people on the trail (you would see someone every 20 minutes, including some "fools" who were dong "trail" running, which even then I thought--and now I am certain--should be renamed "I am prey" running if you are in mountain lion country).

Here is the : NPS site for wildlife sightings You can find recent Bear and Mountain Lion Sightings from a link on that page.

You'll notice the November 12 [2005] event on that site, as well as a report of a sighting in December 2005 in the 1 mile area between BC 1 and Emory Pass.

Finally, a friend of mine told me he heard from a guide that an almost identical incident to mine had occurred in early January. I'm waiting to learn more, and will pass that information along as I learn more.



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