FRESNO, Calif. — A nerve-rattling encounter with a mountain lion started with a fleeting glimpse of the big cat’s tail on a High Sierra trail in California’s wilderness.
Brian McKinney didn’t believe it was a puma that his hiking partner Sam Vonderheide had seen, so he got out his phone and hit record as they followed the lithe creature.
The hikers slowly rounded a turn to see it peering down on them from a rocky perch just feet away.
Its ears were perked up, head cocked and eyes locked on them.
“What are you supposed to do?” one hiker whispered. The other answered: “I don’t know. I don’t think you’re supposed to run.”
McKinney said his heart races now seeing the video.
“(I was) not only shocked, but alarmed that she had the advantage above me, which is what they do when they hunt,” he said.
Rangers at Sequoia National Park on Monday posted link to the two-minute video captured July 23.
The clip ends with the hikers slowly backing away. But they said the encounter didn’t end there.
They waited for the cat to leave and tried rousing it from the trail, so they could continue on to the place they wanted to set up camp. The lion didn’t budge.
“She just looked at us like she was entertained,” he said. “So we gave up.”
The two hikers then turned back and set up camp for a restless night’s sleep in another area, their first of a nearly two-week-long hike up Mount Whitney, armed with only an ice axe and a bear whistle.
The next day, they had to cross the path where they had the encounter.
The men were so shaken they had made goodbye videos for their loved ones. Vonderheide was armed with the ice axe, but the only traces they found of the mountain lion were the paw marks it left behind.
Wildlife biologist Daniel Gammons said the men did the right thing by staying calm. Biologists say you should make yourself appear big by waving your arms overhead and scare off the animal, as the men did.
“The big thing these visitors did right was that they didn’t panic and run,” Gammons said. “Probably the most important message to get out to visitors is not to act like prey if they encounter a mountain lion.”
While the encounter was terrifying, McKinney said he and Vonderheide had discussed spotting a puma.
“When we started the trip, we sort of jokingly said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we saw the trifecta of a rattlesnake, a bear and a mountain lion?’ “ he said. “And sure enough, we got our wish.”