I have a kitty story. A few years ago, two of my buddies and I drove way back into a remote creek out on the Olympic Peninsula looking to find steelhead. It's a 25 or so minute drive through a maze of logging roads so not too many humans get back there. Once you park, you have another 3/4 mile hike down to the creek. On this winter trip, we brought along our third buddy, Mark, who was a bit of a steelhead newbie. We had struck out on the other more popular OP rivers so we were hoping to have a better chance of getting our newb hooked on steelie on this less pounded spot. When we got down to the creek where you have to cross, we spotted fresh kitty tacks in the frozen sand taking the same path we were going to take. These were perfect prints with smooth impression of the paw pads and sharp edge definition. Inside the prints was dark wet sand contrasted by the surrounding white morning frost. The tracks were very fresh indeed. I wish I took a picture. I remember we were amazed how big the tracks were, putting our hands next to the perfect prints comparing a similar size (with fingerless gloves on too!). Holy shit, that was one big kitty cat!
Well, we crossed and started to turn our focus on bagging a steelhead so soon forgot about the near encounter with Miss Kitty. We hopped-scotched about 2 miles or so and my newbie friend was lagging further and further behind. He had a twisted ankle that was nearly healed but was giving him trouble again. Seems all the river crossing and log jumping was making his ankle angry again. We kept egging him on positive we'll find at least one fish here. Many hours later and without so much as a single pull between us, his sore ankle and the cold had broken his spirit. Mark announced he was going to start heading back and that with his bum ankle we're likely to catch up to him soon anyway. Light was starting to fall and my other buddy and I would have to head back soon anyway. After fishing around the next bend, we turned around as well. It was easy to distinguish our buddies footprints making a straight beeline back up river from our river hugging tracks coming down. Being the joker that he is, he even took time carve big arrows in the sand with the words "CAR" and, "GOOD FOOD", "COLD BEER" and then, "GIRLS-GIRLS-GIRLS".
Our search for steelhead often results in us pushing daylight to the very end and beyond. True to form, it was pretty completely much pitch black when we got back up to the cars. I figured my other buddy would have had a beer cracked and wader off by the time we got there but everything was quiet, dark and cars un opened. Okay, I yelled out, "very funny , dude, quit hiding and let's get the hell out of here, c'mon!" Nothing. Cars opened, lights on, headlamps on scanning the area, it looked like the only fresh boot tracks were just the two of us. Oh-oh, it dawned on us that we'd been here many times before and knew where the crossing was but our newb probably missed it especially since it was so dark. My friend said, "oh shit, speaking of crossings, remember those big cougar tracks we saw down there?....." An icy chill and prickly hairs crawled up the back of my neck. We turned on our headlights, honked the horns, shouted his name and listened for a reply. Nothing. More honking, shouting and flashing of lights. Nothing, dead f-ing quiet. It's one hell of a bad feeling knowing you left your buddy back down in the dark ravine, lost and hobbling around like wounded prey with a hungry bad ass cat lurking around. The hike back down the trail to the crossing was the longest walk ever. I remember shouting as loud as we could and trying to make as much noise as possible. I also remember trying to find a big kitty club but it's the friggin rainforest and all the fallen limbs are pretty much mush. I dug into my fly vest and found my little swiss army knife. I thought about how outmatched I would be against a big cat. Images of raising and sacrificing my left arm to the cat's fangs so I can get a good shot at his body with my puny knife was going through my mind. Should I hold the knife blade down or up?....no, down - the blade is probably not long enough to hit the heart so gotta go for the jugular or an eye or anywhere and everywhere on the head, yep, blade down. And that was the preferable scenario to finding his half eaten corpse and then having to tell his wife and kids. You can't help but to think some pretty sick shit in situations like that.
Sure enough, he missed the crossing. It was too dark and he wasn't familiar enough with what to look for so he passed it. We had crossed behind him before he'd realized he'd gone too far. Then he backtracked looking for the crossing but it was just too damn dark to make anything out. The old boy scout training kicked in. He knew he was pretty close and we'd come back to look for him so he hunkered down in the freezing cold to wait. He remembered the kitty tracks so he found a driftwood club and big root ball to tuck into. He said that sitting in that root ball in the dark and mist with the little glints of the moonlight filtered by the thick old growth bouncing off the newly formed frost covered brushes, rocks and fallen logs made everything look like hundreds of cats slinking all around him. Everywhere he looked, it looked like a crouching back of a cat sneaking towards him or a peaking head and kitty ears staring at him.
So, it was such a huge relief when we got down to the river and saw his tiny headlamp heading up the river arms waving and shouting. He heard us and climbed out of the root ball and came up river to us almost running. We couldn't help but to jump up and down cheering as well. We never saw the actual cat but it sure played a big part that day. Sometimes your imagination is worse than reality. I'm often glad it is.
Unless you're a small child, or tiny woman, there's nothing to fear about mountain lions. You've all had them follow you, out of feline curiousity, but were completely unaware. The cat knew all you big lugs were more trouble than you're worth, and simply couldn't believe that a large animal would move through the woods like ungainly clueless doofus.