Russell Thomas had logged hundreds of previous miles in the back country without so much as a glimpse of a cougar. Included in that distance were a number of hikes to Sol Duc Lake.
So it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that as he shouldered a backpack full of fish, any thought of seeing an aggressive predator on his way down the steep slope ahead never entered his mind.
As he soon began to make that descent along the eastern side of Seven Lakes Creek, he switched back and forth on an obvious deer trail. When I passed through this route, it was only on very short stretches of steep ground that scuff marks of tiny (compared to elk) hooves were readily seen on this surface-compacted terrain. (Last winter’s snowpack had made that silver fir needle surface extremely slick on steep sections wherever it was undisturbed.)
Russ wasted no time in reaching the bench where the outlet of Long Lake joined Seven Lakes Creek. After crossing that tributary, he had to again plow through those tall blueberry bushes. After about 100 yards he broke through this barrier. The terrain here allowed for some fairly unobstructed open field running. There was a serious problem with that though. The ground suddenly tilted. Putting on the brakes instead of running was called for here.
I’ve given it some thought as to why I never see cougars. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because I’m so slow (walking). But Russ never had this problem. Especially on this particular day many years ago, for Russ was in a hurry to reach the maintained trail well before dark. But had he unknowingly triggered the prey pursuit instinct of an unseen nearby cougar with his haste? Or was it because of the odor of fish in his pack? Probably it was neither of these things. For what soon happened points clearly to only one thing; that cat was hungry.
In the telling of this story, Russ describes the location where he first became aware of that cougar as being between rock outcroppings. To the best of my reckoning, that is precisely where Russ is now located in this borrowed version of his traumatic experience.
Regrettably, I’m now going to leave Russ at that location for another week. This shouldn’t bother him in the least. For he surely has become accustomed to being ignored while the rest of us have been hiking all over the country with pioneers naming lakes and whatnot!
May light for your feet guide you on the path of life until we meet again.