Recently I traveled to Flagstaff, Arizona for work and found time one evening to take a hike in the mountains just north of the city. Not only is it great exercise to get in shape for elk hunting, but I never turn down a chance to get to the mountains. I did some research with my onX map app and found a trail that could take me away from the crowds and away from roads. Just the kind of hike I enjoy! While the trail I chose was over 10 miles long, I decided to hike out as far as I could and turn around to get back before dark.
I arrived to the trailhead a little later than I hoped but was thrilled to find a great trail with basically no foot traffic at all. While I was at 9,500 ft. elevation the trails was fairly level and so I made good time hiking out. I saw a muley doe out in one meadow, but I kept my eyes opened for other wildlife. I was hoping to see a couple elk or a nice muley buck or two. Little did I know what I was about to see.
I was just over 1.5 miles into my hike when the excitement happened. I turned a corner in the trail and found two college-aged girls standing up on in the middle of the trail. They were standing perfectly still and had a terrified look on their faces. They saw me and pointed down the hill into the woods. I thought that perhaps they saw some wildlife like a bear or elk and so I quietly stepped and and look down the hill. I was shocked to see that less that 40 yards down the hill was a mountain lion staring right back at me.
I immediately started to evaluate the situation. The mountain lion was not acting aggressively or threatening, but it also wasn’t running away. There were now three of us together so I wasn’t concerned about an attack. My first thought was to calm the girls down….they were visibly frightened and I took a moment or two to assure them that they were safe. I found that the lion had been less than 25 yards away from them as they came around the corner. I then tried to get a picture…..and was fairly unsuccessful as I was trying to be careful and the lion started to walk away. After staring at us for a minute, the mountain lion calmly turned and headed off down to where the trail continued.
I made the decision that my hike had reached the turning point. I didn’t think I wanted to continue on down the trail knowing that the lion was down there poking around. I walked a bit back with the two girls not only for their sake, but mine as well! It was an incredibly experience to see the lion and I was thankful that everyone remained safe.
On the hike back, I eventually let the girls go on ahead and took my time going back. With the sun going down, I saw more wildlife activity. I had the fun experience of playing around with a young buck muley that walked by 10 yards in front of me on the trail. After a number of pictures I continued on and ran across a couple muley does before I got back to the trailhead.
My hike was not as long as I initially planned, but it ended up being plenty exciting. I will never forget the experience of seeing a mountain lion out in the wild.