Bubble in the desert

A blog I started whilst on a GE "Bubble" assignment in Nevada. I'm back in Cambridge (UK) now but still miss the desert and my friends out there.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Mountain Lion!

I decided to go for a little run today on the little trail that stands behind the local store up here at Heavenly. The trail has lots of 'No Trespassing' signs up but I'm not sure if that is for the land next to the trail or for the trail itself.

My attempt at running was unwise since the snow was still quite deep. I hopped from one snow-shoe print to the next until they ran out and I was forced to break trail. Thankfully, after a while, the snow got shallower.

Erin had told me that she and Isaac had seen mountain lion prints down here. I didn't worry about it too much, especially since lots of other animals have prints similar to mountain lions, like big dogs and coyotes.

After a while all signs of human activity were gone and the trail was completely unbroken. I soon saw some large prints crossing the trail, too small for a bear but too big for almost anything else, with front and back paws a similar size. I don't think they could have been anything but a Mountain Lion's prints. No fresh snow had fallen for a while and such animals have a huge range so I explored the prints in wonder and tried to see where they came from and where they went. Snow cover was not complete so I couldn't deduce much.

Looking back I could see a nice view of my condo high on the mountain side with thin forest cover below. It's easy to see why the bears hang out there since there is often easy access to food in frequently insecure garbade bins and a nice escape route through the forest.

my condo from trail below

I continued down the trail, faintly aware of the local wildlife and that this was a path little travelled. I reached a juntion with the obvious route steeply descending right in front of me and a quieter track to the left towards the main highway. The way ahead seemed a little treacherous given the conditions so I opted to head back towards the highway on a narrower trail through slightly thicker forest.

Before long I was out of site of both Heavenly Summit Village and the Road. It was then I noticed more animal tracks along the edge of the trail, similar to those I had seen before. Then more tracks crossing the trail, and some diagonally across the trail. I stopped and looked down at the tracks I was making with my wet trail shoes. They were fairly indistinct but seemed a bit more fresh than the animal tracks I was looking at. Having previously concluded that Mountain Lions have a wide range I was now starting to think I was jogging through a frequent haunt of this one. That's not so surprising for an area with lots of deer and few people and indeed Mountain Lions are seen here at times.

A no-nonsense friend of mine recently told me that you shouldn't run the nearby Faye-Luther canyon on your own without a gun because of the Mountain Lions there. But attacks are extremely rare (6 per year in North America and Canada with around 1 fatality). We talked about it and thought that we should at least carry a knife. In a recent attack in Northern California the wife of the person pinned to the ground by a Mountain Lion (by the throat) tried to stick a pen in the eye of the cougar (it broke). So, I reasoned a knife is better than a pen! I also had a couple of trekking poles with me, though they didn't inspire a lot of confidence.

So I was pretty much spooked and proceeded quickly towards the main road, keeping a good eye above me in the trees. After about a mile of jogging through slushy snow and getting my trail shoes soaked I came upon a little clearing with fewer trees above me, which was a bit less stressful and beyond that, the old Kingsbury Highway lurking there alongside the current highway though all but invisible from anywhere else. For some reason the sight of man-made pavement was of some comfort though I was still acutely aware that this was a spot not often frequented by people so I hurried along to meet the actual main road.

old kingsbury road

Scrambling up the bank to the Highway and being greeted by the sight of traffic and an uphill run for a mile or so was delightful.

It is a real treat to find some wilderness with awe inspiring inhabitants but I'm still not completely relaxed about such bush-whacking on my own. The old Kingsbury Highway is something of a curiousity to me now though. A nice swath of pavement down the mountainside with no traffic - what's the catch?


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