Saturday, January 9, 2010

More Tracks: Was It a Mountain Lion?

Emma and I headed out just before noon today for our regular snowshoe up the TV Tower (referring to outdated signal equipment on the summit). The skies were a Colorado blue and the air thankfully not as bitter as the last few arctic days: the temperature was a reasonable 20 degrees when we left the house.

When Emma and I go alone, our hike is usually quiet. She runs on up ahead and from time to time looks back to see where I am. Today, she runs much further ahead of me and I can only think her energy has built up from being housebound so much these last few frigid days. I’m tempted to remain quiet but sometimes I think it’s a good idea to make some noise if there is any wildlife that might not be so friendly also in the neighborhood. But I felt peaceful and opted to watch for elk on the hillside above our trail. I didn’t see any, but noticed that they were traveling up higher than I had seen their tracks before.

As we headed up from the year-round spring on the last steep pitch, I began to see a number of new tracks: plentiful sage grouse walking from scrub oak to scrub oak, a wily coyote making his way up the hillside in my snowshoe track, and teeny footprints that could only come from a mini-mouse or rodent. As soon as I made my last few steps to the summit, I quickly realized I’d come upon something new. There at the top was a set of footprints that were clearly not elk, bear, or coyote. Approximately three inches wide by four inches long and counting four toes, they sent a chill down my back.

Before I left the house, I’d grabbed my camera even though I didn’t think I’d find anything of interest today. I’ve taken many wintertime pictures on the hillside while exploring with Emma. Little did I know today that I would be shooting the evidence of my find.

All I could think of was a recent conversation with an old friend who asked me how my winter was going. In reply I said, “You know, I just love to go out my backdoor and go snowshoeing on the hillside.”

He inquired instantly, “Do you carry a gun?” He knows the landscape and terrain because he rides here in the summertime.

“I’m not very fond of guns, but I do carry a mini-can of mace.”
He laughed, “You’ll be too close if you’re shooting a bear or lion with mace. You need my 9 mm.”

I left our conversation still comfortable with my past approach to safety on the hillside with my canister of mace. That is until today.

Once I took a couple of pictures of the clear and relatively fresh set of tracks, I turned on a dime, snowshoes and all, looked briefly at inspiring Zirkel Wilderness, and told Emma we were headed home. Every so often down the trail I looked back wondering, if I they were mountain lion tracks, could the cat still be around? I watched to my left most of the way down where the scrub oak are spaced further apart and where Emma on two occasions had been interested in something beyond her reach in the deep snow. We’d each heard something there several days ago, but I couldn’t identify it at the time. I’m still not sure what it was. But today, I wonder what was it?

I will give my photo to a friend who is also a long-time mountain lion hunter and hunts every fall just over the ridge from the TV Tower. If he verfies my suspicions, I will disappointed to think I could be at risk on the hillside where I go to be renewed and inspired each time Emma and I make our way to the top.

To be continued…

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