Monday, April 15, 2013

Daniel in the Lion's Den, Again!

It's been warm in Idyllwild.  The lilacs, manzanita and oaks are blossoming.  The swallows, ants and lizards are back in abundance.  It's Easter Sunday, I wake up early, Juniper crawls out of bed shortly after me and we spend some time stretching and doing yoga before Margaret wakes up.  After a quick breakfast and a few cups of coffee I fill my pack and lace up my shoes.  I've got to get a move on if I'm going to make it back before the ladies are home from Church.  

A low pressure system is forecast along with exceptionally gusty winds and some passing clouds. Perfect weather for ascending Tahquitz Peak via its South Ridge.  The gate has been locked for most of the winter and today is no exception.  It's a relatively steep mile from pavement's end to the trailhead proper and I only encounter one other hiker.  We say hello and good morning as I pass him.

At the end of the dirt road, the trail is not nearly as steep so I begin a nice slow, easy jog up the switchbacks.  It's definitely windy, but the views are spectacular: To the southwest you can see the oceanside, and to the northwest, the San Gabriels, not to mention all of Strawberry and Garner Valleys to the north and south respectively.  It's been five months since I've been on this section of trail, and I briefly drift off to that fateful morning.  It was when I met a couple of runners that had signed up for the Beyond Limits Ultra-marathon and convinced me to do the same...

As I come around the last corner before the long straight stretch leading to the rock window in front of me, twenty yards and closing quickly, is a Mountain Lion.  I see her first and move over to the side of the trail and stop.  On my right is a ten-foot-high scrub oak, and on my left a steep bouldery hillside.  I'm not going anywhere.  Her tail is huge, longer and thicker than I would have expected. She stops dead center in the trail and we stand there, staring at each other.

I'm supposed to act dominant, bigger and louder to scare her off. I can't.  All I can do is stare.  I 'm transfixed by her sandy brown coat and deep eyes and the wild markings of her face.  I snap out of it, realizing this cougar is going nowhere without a little encouragement.  I raise my hands above my head and clap.  This seems to have no effect.  I look again at the steep bouldery hillside on my left and huge scrub oak on my right, contemplating my options.  I know that this cat could land on me with two swift and powerful jumps and that running would probably encourage that action.  I clap louder, in one fluid movement she crouches, turns and disappears up the trail.

I cautiously make may way back down the trail, constantly looking over my shoulder and scanning the terrain in front of me.  It's rarely felt like a "long" three miles home from this trail, but this morning it seems like forever.  I finally hit the pavement and reflect on the morning's experience. Encountering a Mountain Lion that high up in early April was the last thing on my mind when leaving the house. I am reminded of a thought by John Muir, "In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."

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