Fear on The Colorado Trail, real and imagined

Until a few nights ago, I hadn’t thought about mountain lions much as I walked The Colorado Trail.

I’m always looking for signs left by my forest neighbors — tracks and scat in the trail and around watering places. I’m always listening and looking for what the squirrels and jays are gossiping about, but usually it’s about me. I’ve seen one bear track in 2½ months and heard one bawling out in the woods. I did have a bear in camp one night, although by the time I got out of the sleeping bag, put my headlamp on and unzipped the tent door, that bear was gone.

Lions I’ve not seen or heard. Two hikers I talked to saw mountain lions, and both times it was in the Cochetopa Hills. And both times, the cat was lazily stretched out across the trail and took off the minute it became aware of humans.

Finally topping out on the ridge, I saw a nice-looking campsite, but you know how it is: Hey, there may be something better around the next bend. So, I sauntered on down the trail. Then I stopped cold.

I had the weirdest sensation that I was being shadowed. My senses were tingling and the hair on the back of my neck was prickling. There was fresh bear scat full of berries in the trail at my feet, but that didn’t bother me at all. Bears are curious, but black bears aren’t stalkers.

No. Not a bear. Something else. That was when my mind screamed, Lion! Nothing attracts the attention of a predator like a weak or injured animal. And it was late evening, dinner time. I did a rapid-fire review of everything I knew about a lion confrontation: I couldn’t raise my arms overhead to make myself appear bigger. I couldn’t easily drop my pack and yank out the umbrella, my strongest defense. My Swiss army knife was buried somewhere inside the pack. Running wouldn’t be an option.

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