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#52954 - 06/14/06 06:46 AM talk me out of my fear
tarbubble Offline

Registered: 04/18/03
Posts: 996
Loc: ca-li-for-ni-a
i confess, i'm afraid. it isn't rational, i know, but the fear is there anyway. i leave tomorrow on my first solo in WAY over 2 years, and i'm scared. of what? don't laugh.

i'm afraid i'll be eaten by a cougar. why do i have such a silly fear, you ask? because i live (and will be hiking) within 10 or so miles of where that mountain biker was eaten by a cougar a few years ago. i know, they killed the cougar that did it. i know that i'll primarily be on a ridgeline for this trip and that cougars will mostly be down in the canyons, where the deer are.

but i can't help it. ever since that poor fellow was eaten, i have been cougar paranoid in my own backyard. i have this nightmare that i'll be laying in my sleeping bag, alone, and i'll hear a huge animal pad into my camp. it'll break my neck and start eating my guts while i'm still alive! i know it's only a psychological barrier, but i've actually opted for an enclosed shelter instead of a tarp for just this reason.

so c'mon, do your old pal tarbubble a favor. tell her she has a better chance of dying in a car crash on the way to the trailhead. tell her cougar-human predation is ridiculously rare. tell her something!

#52955 - 06/14/06 07:24 AM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
Earthling Offline

Registered: 02/22/03
Posts: 3228
Loc: USA

Ok, your concern is appreciated as a person who goes solo often myself.

First, if California has a Mountain Lion hunting season, then you'll probably have a hard time seeing one; as they'll be predisposed to avoiding any contact with humans.

The afore-mentioned incident was an anomaly in that the biker was mistaken for other fast moving prey,deer, rabbit, that is a normal part of a M'Lion's diet. The ML probably saw fast movement, biker, out of the corner of it's eye, and it's natural predator instinct (to chase) kicked in, and it nailed the biker. A case of mistaken identity on the part of the ML most likely caused this tradgedy. The fact that critters like to move through areas on paths of least resistance has me believing that deer and other critters frequent the same bike/hike trails that we do. Hence, the ML could have just been lying in wait for a deer to pass and the bike flew by, causing the attack.

I don't know if this was an injured or old ML either, as both situations would've predisposed the ML to preying on whatever it could get.

Wearing a bearbell, and hiking along making enough 'human noise' to be audible within 50 ft of you should have you seeing nothing but wildflowers along the trails. As you mentioned, you'll be above, on the ridgeline, where the ML does'nt waste the effort to get to, since it's prey is at lower elevations.

You could alos take along a stronger light than you normally carry and leave it on all night. bright light and a small pocket radio will keep away most critters, though it might attract a curious bear.

Best you can do is just be aware of your surroundings, and if you see a ML, RUSH IT! Nothing confuses predators like unrational behavior! It'll skee daddle!

Have a fun trip!


#52956 - 06/14/06 07:45 AM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: Earthling]
tarbubble Offline

Registered: 04/18/03
Posts: 996
Loc: ca-li-for-ni-a
thanks, earthling.

nope, no huntin' season for cougar. i'm a bit of the opinion that a very limited season might be helpful. our bighorn sheep are disappearing and i believe it's a combination of habitat loss and a too-large cougar population. but that's a discussion for another thread!

the cougar was very young. theory was it was pushed out of its parents' ranges once it was old enough, and thus headed into "human territory." our wild areas are VERY heavily infringed on here - the attack took place within 3 miles of a large housing tract. the poor biker had actually stopped to fix his tire - the cougar pounced on him as he was kneeling.

good idea about the noise. no bears where i'm going (although i think the largest CA grizzly ever recorded was shot in this mountain range), they're all long dead. ah, the hand of man. i'm going to try to turn my nervous energy toward figuring out the PCT food hanging method. i'm only worried about raccoons & other vermin getting into my food.

#52957 - 06/14/06 07:58 AM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
Paddy_Crow Offline

Registered: 11/08/04
Posts: 2285
Loc: Michigan
If you know how to tie a clove hitch, the PCT method is pretty simple.

The chances of a bad encounter with a mountain lion is very small. I know that doesn't help, I still think about the possibility of a crash every time I get on an airplane. It can and does happen. I like to carry a method of fighting back, even if it's only pepper spray or a knife. Of course, mountain lions are likely to hit from behind, so it's entirely possible you won't get a chance to use the weapon. But it does provide some small peace of mind.

#52958 - 06/14/06 10:12 AM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
dkramalc Offline

Registered: 09/19/03
Posts: 1070
Loc: California
Tarbubble -

I, too, can understand your fear - but yes, you are more likely to be involved in an auto accident (or zillions of other things that won't happen either) than be attacked by a cougar. Have there EVER been mountain lion attacks on backpackers, that we know of? You will be fine, I am sure, other than suffering from occasional heart-pounding and the like. The odds are so overwhelmingly in your favor that I would laugh at your fear did I not sometimes share it... <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" />

I think in your situation I would carry some pepper spray clipped to my waist, and I might even try what I've heard suggested: wear a hat with a face on the back (or a mask attached). The reasoning - since mountain lions prefer to attack from the back, they'll see a face on both sides and will be less likely to surprise you from behind, or for that matter from the front, and be too confused to seriously pursue you. I can't remember if there were actual studies carried out on this (I seem to recall so) or if this is just extrapolation from their habits, but it might add a little peace of mind (and another reason to laugh at oneself?).

The other thing that just occurred to me is that if you're wearing a pack that rises high enough in back to protect your neck, you might be less attractive also to a hungry predator since you're protecting your vulnerable spot. So maybe now's the time to load up that LL pack real HIGH and wear it!

Earplugs might help keep out those spooky sounds at night, too. It generally works for me. (Of course, there was the time baby bear sniffed at my feet through the tent - I FELT that and woke up yelling! Found the prints in the morning in the snow outside the tent - mom and baby)

Hope all my rambling is reassuring at least a little. I wish you peace of mind on this trip, and a permanent banishing of your cougar fears when you come home safely! I'm looking forward to hearing your tale.

#52959 - 06/14/06 10:29 AM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
drembo Offline

Registered: 06/27/04
Posts: 69
Loc: Orange, California
Are you going to be backpacking in the Santa Ana mountains? If so, where? I can't think of any where within 10 miles of that cougar attack site, Whiting Ranch, that would be suitable.

#52960 - 06/14/06 10:59 AM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: dkramalc]
Paddy_Crow Offline

Registered: 11/08/04
Posts: 2285
Loc: Michigan
This may or may not help:

Mountain Lion Attacks 2001 - 2004

#52961 - 06/14/06 12:27 PM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
PKH Offline

Registered: 07/23/02
Posts: 206
Loc: Nova Scotia, Canada
Well, there hasn't been a "confirmed" cougar sighting in my neck of the woods (Nova Scotia) for many long years - so I can't give you much helpful advice. But at least now I understand why you hate your own cats.


Youth is wasted on the young.

#52962 - 06/14/06 12:59 PM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
leadfoot Offline

Registered: 07/16/03
Posts: 954
Loc: Virginia
just curious, and I certainly do understand your reason for fear, but...why not go solo elsewhere in a spot you know cougars don't attack humans?

#52963 - 06/14/06 01:10 PM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
aimless Offline

Registered: 02/05/03
Posts: 2938
Loc: Portland, OR
Perhaps the solution to an irrational fear should be an irrational solution - something like wearing a studded collar. Or wearing your shirt backwards so it won't know which way you are turned. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/laugh.gif" alt="" />

Or maybe you could hike with one of those high-pitched sonic devices they used to sell as dog repellents.

Anyway, the very fact of wearing a pack should baffle a cougar, which normally attacks by leaping on the back of its prey, where, on you, it would find this strange inert mass of backpack. This should slow down the efficiency of any attack and allow you more time to react and fight back. (Which , of course won't be necessary because an attack just isn't going to happen. Period.)

#52964 - 06/14/06 02:46 PM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
Dryer Offline

Registered: 12/05/02
Posts: 3581
Loc: Texas
Personal confession time:
I'm NEVER not afraid when I go solo. For me, that's part of the hiking experience....there is a heightened awareness that comes with healthy fear. A rush, if you will. As the hike progresses that fear settles down to more rational thought as I get use to my surroundings. That fear is a large part of the personal challenge of backpacking and very likely why you are doing what you are doing, Tarbubble! It certainly keeps me coming back. After a day and a night on the trail, your fear will melt away into healthy respect and you'll probably find yourself disappointed you didn't see a cat! Sightings are rare which is why rangers want to know about 'em. Attacks, even more so. 1 attack makes world news and those attacks are usually circumstantial.

My favorite backpacking/camping place on Earth (my ashes will be scattered there <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />) is Big Bend National Park. There are over 2 dozen known lions in the park and more the point they don't track them with radio collars any more. I go there twice a year and have been doing so since 1974.
There are cat "attacks" reported there almost every year. I've car camped all night long peering through telescopes, solo hiked and camped for days, hiked the river, mountains, etc. My park cat sighting count over thirty years.
In fact, my last solo trip there I specifically asked the ranger for a back country campsite where the last cat sightings were, hoping to see one. No luck.....but, I'm still very cautious.

One stress reliever I find works is to loudly call out "Here kitty kitty kitty...." when the trail gets curvy and you find yourself frightened. You'll likely start feeling goofy and start laughing. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif" alt="" /> Especially if another hiker hears you and says "meeeooooowwwww" back. (happened! felt like a dork)
Most 'attacks' in the park were because of kids startling a sleeping animal or surprise encounters. Stalkings have been reported by trail workers using burros to haul equipment. Animals were easily chased away. Rare sighting all the same. If they weren't rare, we wouldn't hear about them, inverse of what you might think.

I consider cats and bears the same as sharks and alligators. Not dangerous unless provoked and a treat to see in the wild. Sure, be afraid, but try and be rational and look at the 'big picture'. Those critters are rare. Dangerous people are a lot less rare and bad drivers even more so.

By day two, you'll wonder if you'll ever get to see a beautiful cat! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />
paul, texas KD5IVP

#52965 - 06/14/06 07:57 PM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: Dryer]
Tango61 Offline

Registered: 12/27/05
Posts: 931
Loc: East Texas Piney Woods
Has anyone thought of making a walking stick with a built in cattle prod? That'd take care of them little-bitty kitties.

#52966 - 06/14/06 09:05 PM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
Noel Offline

Registered: 02/19/06
Posts: 634
Loc: Calgary
You'd be nuts NOT to have some sense of fear - but there is a massive difference between paralyzing terror and a recognition of risk.

In 'real life' I apply various forms of risk management in the information security realm. What that means in english is I spend a lot of time between various levels of business management and information technology departments 'negotiating' their fear levels below paralysis, and back into productive space. What this means in trail lingo is that a risk unrecognized is something you'll never even know to be prepared for - to me this is the worst kind of situation. In your case you are in the middle ground - you suspect a risk, but your imagination has run away with the possibilities and is causing a fear paralysis response. In fairness to history, this has served us pretty well. But it sucks if all you want to do is enjoy your vacation <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />

In your case you have recognized, at quite a visceral level, that you have some fear - which means you perceive a risk but you do not know if you are managing the risk correctly. The concern that you do not know enough about the risk becomes all-consuming, and eventually all-destroying. Yecch! This is fixable!

This is an awesome state of mind, so take advantage of the boosted motivation - because you can now count yourself in the very narrow group that 'knows what they don't know'. You know you are afraid, you know some rational info, but you are still worried. To me this means that your subconcious is telling you 'Hey, this doesn't 100% compute - I don't have enough info - please learn more!'. So lets feed your brain....

With just a little reading - probably most of it via google searches - that you can learn 'what you know you don't know'. Specifically, search out all the US and Canadian parks services sites that deal with cats (use both cougars & mountain lions as search terms), and what to do. You will find that your fear decreases because as you integrate the new information, you get less 'chaff' from your subconcious. Once you learn that one key bit of information that you don't know now, your mind will quiet itself, because it will be satisified that it has that missing bit of info.

For example, check this old page I just found with a quick google:

Banff Wildlife

Once you learn the basic parameters from here, use this info to do more searches of what they are saying - eventually, and in fairly short order, you will be 'book smart' beyond most of us, and should you be lucky enough to see one of these cats in the wild, you'll be among a rare group indeed.


#52967 - 06/15/06 08:30 AM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
azcanyon Offline

Registered: 07/12/04
Posts: 264
i have this nightmare that i'll be laying in my sleeping bag, alone, and i'll hear a huge animal pad into my camp. it'll break my neck and start eating my guts while i'm still alive!

tarbubble, you're being so irrational about this. In all likelihood, you'll die immediately the instant the lion breaks your neck. So by the time it eats your guts, you won't feel or experience anything.

Feel better now?

<img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />

#52968 - 06/15/06 09:35 AM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
ringtail Offline

Registered: 08/22/02
Posts: 2296
Loc: Colorado Rockies
After reading the tread about Jack the attack cat maybe you should take your cats.
<img src="/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif" alt="" />
"In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not."
Yogi Berra

#52969 - 06/17/06 07:44 PM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]

Just don't think about it. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> Just focus on the beutiful scenery, flowers, what your going to make for dinner, how much better it is than being at work....or clear your mind altogether. As many have said including yourself, your more likely to get in a car wreck anytime you get behind the wheel. We don't all think we are going to die everytime we drive somewhere or no one would drive. We just clear our mind to that realization.

That probably doesn' help, but that's what I do. If i'm worried about bears(when I lived in Montana) I would just focus on other things, otherwise I would have never enjoyed my backpacking trips. Then again, I have no trouble clearing my mind. (not much to clear) <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />

Have fun!

If all else fails, as others have mentioned, cougars usually break their preys neck instantly. It should be a quick and painless death. Seems so natural to die in that manner...much better than slipping in the bathtub, or a carwreck or something.

#52970 - 06/18/06 04:41 AM Re: talk me out of my fear
WyoBob Offline

Registered: 05/04/04
Posts: 204
Loc: Buffalo, WY
If all else fails, as others have mentioned, cougars usually break their preys neck instantly. It should be a quick and painless death. Seems so natural to die in that manner...much better than slipping in the bathtub, or a carwreck or something.

When I die, I want to go quietly in my sleep like my father did.

---not screaming like his passengers.


#52971 - 06/18/06 06:51 PM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: WyoBob]

<img src="/forums/images/graemlins/laugh.gif" alt="" />

#52972 - 06/20/06 10:13 AM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
tarbubble Offline

Registered: 04/18/03
Posts: 996
Loc: ca-li-for-ni-a
thanks, everybody. the thought that i would likely die instantly was very reassuring.

i ended up changing my plans at the last minute, for more reasons than just the cougar paranoia. then, my problem became loneliness, not fear. i just don't think i'm cut out to go solo at this phase of my life. i missed my kids & husband terribly. i ended up finishing early because i just plain old wasn't enjoying it.

#52973 - 06/20/06 10:16 AM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
aimless Offline

Registered: 02/05/03
Posts: 2938
Loc: Portland, OR
Well, at least now you know.

#52974 - 06/20/06 11:04 AM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
davidson Offline

Registered: 12/12/04
Posts: 577
Loc: deepest,darkest Oregon
You sound like a good candidate for having a traildog for company IF you continue to pursue solo trips. A well behaved and trained dog can be a wonderful companion and could also make you feel a little better about venturing alone into cougar, bear and 2footed country.
Best of luck and drive carefully (statistically speaking...). <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />
< = >

#52975 - 06/20/06 12:14 PM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
Bearpaw Offline

Registered: 07/25/04
Posts: 1732
Loc: Tennessee
Don't feel bad. It took me a good four or five days to get over the lonely funk I hit when I started my Colorado Trail through-hike a couple of weeks ago. I'd spent a week with my girlfriend touring the Yellowstone and Teton area (also to help me get acclimated), and when I started hiking, especially with the discomfort of the heat, I just kept thinking life would be so much better with her around. I've managed to work through it and I'm having a great trip now, but this was a new sensation for me with nearly 4000 miles of solo trekking. I totally understand what what you mean by "this phase in life".

#52976 - 06/20/06 01:25 PM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
oregoncarver Offline

Registered: 10/06/05
Posts: 129
Your trip may not have gone as planned but you have learned something very valuable as a result. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />

#52977 - 06/20/06 03:51 PM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: tarbubble]
PerryMK Offline

Registered: 01/18/02
Posts: 1168
Loc: Florida panhandle
A slow hiking partner would solve two problems for you.

1. You would have company
2. You would have someone to outrun when the cougar came calling

Someone had to say it (smile).

#52978 - 06/21/06 06:30 PM Re: talk me out of my fear [Re: azcanyon]
Jimshaw Offline

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3938
Loc: Bend, Oregon
azcanyon et all,
I have to agree, you won't feel anything...

I have been challenged by a mountain lion and it almost pounced on us but I always go for the pre-emptive attack and it ran when I attacked it first.

I spend a lot of time solo in lion country and have had 2 come to my camp - I now live in lion country - my backyard is someones territory... if it makes you feel anybetter - you won't see it, even if its stalking you, or especially... I do feel comforted sitting up watching the stars with my .44 mag nestled with the butt against my chest... BUT I've never had to use it and its heavy...

I think a hiking stick is about as good a weapon as any... unless its titanium...
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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