Saturday, April 9, 2011

This One Could Happen To Me

I love reading survival stories, true life adventures with a life threatening twist. I especially love it when the people survive to tell about it.

Most of the stuff will never happen to me. I don't see myself snowmobiling down an ice covered river in Wisconsin. Everest holds no lure, or bushwhacking through the Amazon.
But, a cougar attack out west? Yes, this one could happen to me.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, we went through a lot of country where cougars roam. Near the Hat Creek Rim in northern California, the prints were enormous, larger than my foot. Of course I was backpacking with my partner.

So was this couple. The avid hikers, Mr. and Mrs. Hamm, age 71 and 66 were on a trail when he let out a scream. Nell Hamm turned to see him on the ground with a cougar on his back while engulfing the guys head in his mouth.
She picks up a large branch and attacks the cougar, mostly body blows to avoid hitting her husband. He tells her, "get the pen from my pocket and jam it into the cat's eye."
She tries, but the pen buckles, the cat hangs on.
Note to self: a tent stake would not buckle.
He grabs the cats tongue, the cats shakes him furiously.

Personally, by this time, you'd think the cat would realize two against one is too much. Not so. Not until the wife shoves a large jagged "log" into the cat's snout.
Personal note: the snout!

The cat lets go and prepares to attack her. She responds by yelling, raising her arms while holding a huge stick to appear larger. It works, the cat walks away.
Note to self: a backpack makes me look larger, hiking poles help, but these cats are serious stuff!

I am so impressed that this couple not only survived this attack, but continue to hike together even after he spent three weeks in the hospital,recovered from a life threatening infection and four surgeries.

Jim Banks, a wildlife pathologist with the California Department of Fish and Game says he wouldn't hike in lion country alone without pepper spray or a knife. I think both are in order. Use the spray first, then cut if necessary.
He noted that the lion in question was just 68 pounds, a lightweight female. Female lions reach 100 pounds and males can be more formidable.

While I prefer to trail with a compatible hiker, its not always possible. Rather than not go at all, I will go well prepared, face the risks of such an encounter, and thank the trail gods every time I return unscathed.


  1. I often wonder how a big cat would react if it were squirted in the face with a water bottle.

  2. Good Question, Devon. I wonder how well pepper spray would work?