When I lived in Colorado I hiked year round. Summer, winter – it didn’t matter. As long as I dressed appropriately and was careful, I had no problems.
On one occasion, I went to a state park in the Rockies in late winter. It had well marked trails so I wasn’t worried about getting lost. As it turned out, looking down from a bird’s eye view, as the trail ascended, it made a huge ‘U’ shape. I could see my car the whole time. I felt very comforted. There were patches of snow and mud along the way. At the end of the trail there was an authentic old miner’s cabin from the 1800s. It was really cool. I explored the whole area. Then I had a snack and something to drink. Time to get back. It was getting late in the day so I moved along.
Hey, there were tracks in the mud and snow going in the same direction I was when I came up the trail. They were very clear. They were also very large. I don’t remember seeing those tracks on the way up. No, they were definitely not there then! Whatever it was, it was going in the same direction as me and was right behind me. Very interesting. Hm. Four pad impressions in front of a triangular pad impression. Dog? No dogs up here. Coyote? Don’t know. Let me check in my Handy Dandy Animal Tracking Book. I took it out of my day pack and leafed through it. There was the Coyote page. One triangular pad impression with four grape like pad impressions in front of it and four small claw impressions in front of them. The coyote claws are not retractable so they make small imprints. The pad prints are arranged geometrically. Two side by side, then two a little further back and wider apart with the smaller claw imprints in front of them, then the triangle pad in the middle. I compared the tracks I saw with those in the book and they were nothing like that. It’s definitely not a coyote. So what was it? I leafed through the book and finally found my prints. Four grape like pad imprints arranged lopsidedly in front of a large triangular pad print. And no claw imprints! It was a MOUNTAIN LION!!! And it was following me! From behind! That’s how they attack! In the Rockies! In the winter! Not much food up here then! And it was dusk! Feeding time! I’m pretty good sized so I would be more than a morsel for a Mountain Lion. I’d be a whole Banquet! It could have it’s friends over!!! Yikes. I’m big, maybe I could fight it off. Hmm – but do I really want to do that? They’re extremely strong and I bet it’s REALLY hungry. DESPERATELY hungry. It’s probably looking at me right now wondering how many meals I’ll make.
You know? I love clichés. And there’s one that says – Discretion is the better part of valor. Yep.
I never bushwhack in the woods – that’s going off trail – especially in the Rockies but – another cliché – rules are made to be broken. I could see my car the whole time so I crashed into the woods, dodging rocks, avoiding drop offs, knocking down bushes until I got back to my car. Woof – I made it.
I’m not a chicken but having spent a lot of time in the woods and the Rockies I have tons of respect for Nature!
I’d rather go home and have a meal than follow the rules and BE a meal.