Stalked: A Mountain Encounter

The Day

Things got put into perspective for me this weekend in a big way. The kind that makes you realize that you're not invincible. The kind that makes you think, "maybe I should grow up, and take shit a little more seriously". The kind that shows you how fragile life it".

It all started with what is usually the most active day of the year, the Coloradothon - an event designed to encapsulate all things Colorado. The day starts at 5:30am with 9 holes of golf, followed by a late morning of wake boarding, hiking/riding St. Mary's Glacier in the afternoon, and mountain biking in the evening. Then for those who still have it in them, a little casino action in Blackhawk and bars downtown. The event officially goes from 5:45am to 2am the next day.

The weather in Colorado has been relentless this month with thunderstorms almost every afternoon - this day was no exception. Soon after arriving at the St. Mary's parking lot it started raining. It let up a bit an the group was feeling good so we decided to hike up to the glacier. And right on queue - almost as soon as we got there - the thunder and lightning began rumbling in the distance. We knew that if we didn't get to the top soon we wouldn't make it at all, so we trucked it to the top. We got to the top and the lightning started cracking off overhead. It was way too close for comfort so we all booked it to the bottom. Luckily we all had snowboards and skis. Once off the glacier we walked/ran back the car getting completely soaked in the process. (6.5/10, will most likely repeat.)

The Ride

Despite this downpour we decided to drive over to Evergreen where we were planning on mountain biking at a place called Elk Meadows Park. We were lucky to have beat the storm there so the trails were still dry. We could feel the cold winds moving in fast but decided on riding anyways figuring we'd ride out as far as we felt comfortable and just downhill it if the storm got too close.

The group split into two; the more advanced riders took the longer - higher elevation loop, while the more intermediate riders took the shorter - lower loop. For those who don't know my girlfriend Becca, this girl prides herself on keeping up with the boys and pushing herself to the limit. It was her first time on that particular trail (which can be quite technical) and we ended up in the back of the pack. That's was OK with me though, I like that she pushes herself.

The Encounter

We didn't realize that the group decided to cut their ride short and take a different route than we had planned, so we continued to ascend while the rest of the group (unknowingly) headed back to the parking lot. Eventually the weather caught up with us and we weren't sure where everyone was, so we decided to turn around instead of finishing the loop.

As we were descending, a mountain lion no more than 20ft away, bounded across the trail in front of me. At first I thought it was really cool because I'd never seen one in the wild before and it appeared, at least at that moment, that I had spooked him into fleeing.

That was not the case.

As I looked around in the cat's general direction, I noticed him on high ground, staring back at me. I'll never forget the look of those black eyes staring straight back into mine. So deliberate. So focused.

"Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back." - Marcus Aurelius

Like a Gladiator in the ring, I knew that one wrong move and I could be done for.

I immediately started yelling at Becca to get off her bike and slowly walk over to me. "There's a fucking cat!", I said as my pupils filled my eyes. I knew if anyone freaked out and ran he would pounce.

He stood in between us and our way out, and there was no way we were going to put ourselves any closer to him.

We were yelling, barking, howling, and flailing our arms, in an attempt to scare it off - to no avail. The cat just sat there, staring back.

In a hasty decision, we decided to ever-so-slowly make our way down the side of the mountain, making sure not to make any sudden movements. I was constantly looking behind us to see where he was and behind each rock we dropped below, up popped a large pair of cat ears. It was the most scared I think I've ever been and one of only two times I can remember ever thinking, "this could be it". In my mind I had almost already accepted that I going to share an end with Liam Neeson in The Grey. We'd die there together on the ground, me using the cat as my pillow.

This cat was more than a little curious and followed us hundreds of feet down the site of the mountain. As the brush thickened our bikes became cumbersome, so we decided it would be easier to trade them in for large sticks. That way we'd be more agile and still have some sort of weapon.

"Why'd I leave my hatchet in the car???"

A photo posted by Justin Gibbs (@gibbsjml) on

After a while we didn't see him any more. "Was he hiding in the bushes? Did he stop following us? Where'd he go?" I'm not exactly sure when he gave up on his pursuit, but we never saw him again.

Eventually we popped out into an open field at the bottom, which we had to cross to get to the car. The thunder and lighting was extremely active directly overhead, it was a terrible situation all around. I didn't want to run through the field, and I really didn't want to run back into the forest.

We figured we'd just run as fast as possible through the field. There were several large trees so we thought as long as we stayed a good distance from them, we'd be ok. And we were, thankfully.

We finally got back to the parking lot soaking wet, sans the bikes, and completely shaken up. And even though we had just gone through that ordeal, I was already talking about going back to get the bikes in the morning. "Fuck the bikes!", Becca said, "I'll just buy you a new one."

After spending some time in the car trying to calm down, reliving the situation over and over in our heads, we decided to finish out the day at Blackhawk. Really, we just wanted some of that sweet, sweet buffet.

A photo posted by Justin Gibbs (@gibbsjml) on

The next morning I called the rangers office and reported the siting. We then drove back up to the park and retrieved our bikes. All in all, it was a successful day, but not one I'd like to repeat any time soon.