It all started out of fear.
At first I would be paranoid about bears while on my solo hikes. Sure, I carry bear spray, and I know that black bears around here are essentially big raccoons who just want to eat the trash that people leave out at their campsites. I’ve come across bears from a safe distance at Rocky Mountain National Park, and I’ve come upon them on the trail in Oregon, close enough to see the hair around their eyeballs (talk about a heart attack). So it’s not like I haven’t had the experience before with my imagination running wild at the possibilities.
It took a while for me to somewhat relax about bears on solo hikes, even though I knew they would likely be manageable (as much as a wild animal can be) with the right actions. But then, that irrational fear was replaced by mountain lion encounters.
These fears don’t rear their ugly heads while I’m on hikes with friends. In fact, last year I hiked with a friend in active mountain lion territory that had warning signs about fresh territorial markings and cautioned to be aware. There was scratches, hair, and scat everywhere.
There is safety in numbers and comfort in companionship. But there is also something exceptionally special about solo hikes that I can’t, and won’t, give it up.
Women are constantly fed the illusions of nightmare-fueled fears when it comes to being in the wilderness alone. If it’s not wildlife to be afraid of, it’s the elements, fellow hikers, or the potential for accidents. As an avid outdoors woman who has been solo hiking for years, who has come upon bears on trails, been chased out of the woods by moose, outrun high alpine lightning storms, and jumped over rattlesnakes – I know the only thing we really need to fear is ourselves and our decision making process in outdoor predicaments. It’s the know-how and the quick thinking that will keep us safe in the Great Outdoors and we shouldn’t give up a life of adventure because of the “what if” that is often magnified because of gender.
Still, logically knowing this, I get irrationally spooked about mountain lions while I’m alone in the high country. It feels terrifying at times on the trail, and absolutely ridiculous when I’m back at the car at the end of a hike. I don’t want to kill that survivalist instinct in me because it keeps me alive in dangerous situations, but I certainly need to tone it down a notch when I’m not really in danger. There’s a thing called balance.
I find that the preparation and studying for something quells my irrational fears and often empowers me in the process. This is why I’m a writer, I suppose. In an effort to chill the hell out about the statistically rare mountain lion encounter, I decided to switch from a defensive mindset to offense and become a mountain lion hunter.
Elk hunting was a profound life-changing experience for me. The preparation for the hunt in studying the terrain in our GMU (game management unit), scouting, tracking, and the actual hunt was both exhilarating and exasperating. It was a life lesson in wilderness reality. By becoming a mountain lion hunter, my goal certainly isn’t to snag a trophy to hang on our wall, but to learn the firsthand truth of a beautiful wild animal that commands a tremendous amount of respect, and to face my fear head-on.
Going on a mountain lion hunt has become an outdoor bucket list experience for me, and this week I passed my Colorado Parks and Wildlife mountain lion hunting exam. I plan on writing a three-part series while working towards that achievement – why I’m going (this post), all you need to know about mountain lions in Northern Colorado, and finally (and hopefully), the hunt this winter or April 2016.
Here’s to going on crazy adventures that make life worth living.