Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
Star the Wonderdog and I were recently hiking in an area new to us. It’s a tract of land not too far from our home. In the few times we’ve explored it, we’ve seen sign from deer, elk, moose, bear, wolf, and cougar. The area has had some extensive human activity, but there are still large pockets of semi-wild country within its borders.
Since it’s been rather warm, I try to hike near streams when possible so Star can have access to water whenever she wants. At this time of year, I also look for places that aren’t too steep, especially if it’s just a day hike and not a backpack trip. By the Lord’s grace, my health still allows me to hike the steep places, but I usually target those areas for when it’s cold. A brisk hike up a mountain warms me up in a hurry.
On this particular day, Star and I hiked up one branch of a stream, cut a path across the side of the mountain, and dropped down toward another branch of the same creek. It was about a five mile loop that we were hiking. I figured this would be about right for a morning trek before the heat of the day got to be too much. As we began to descend to the second branch of the stream, we had to push through a lot of brush and small downed trees. Although I don’t purposely try to make much noise when I hike, we were making a pretty good racket crashing through the brush and downed timber. I didn’t see much need to try to maintain stealth-mode; we were just going to find the stream and then head back down the mountain toward the rig.
We had been seeing a lot of predator sign, mostly bear and wolf. I can’t remember if we’d seen cougar tracks that day or not, but I knew they were there as well.
We reached the small stream and Star waded in for a drink. The sound of the water rolling over the black rocks and down the mountain filled my ears. Then I heard something crashing through the brush and tangled timber above us. It was walking very near where we had just hiked. I mean, just hiked. As in, within the last minute or two. It sounded as if it were coming straight toward us.
We were in a lot of thick brush and timber, and I couldn’t see very far in any direction. Even though Star was nearer the noisy stream than I, she too heard the crashing and stopped drinking to look up the mountain. Whatever was tromping through the brush, it was quite large.
My mind raced. Surely whatever this was could smell that we had just been there. A man and a dog, for crying out loud. And we were making a lot of noise during our descent. Why was it still coming at us? It seems a cougar is almost always in stealth-mode, it couldn’t be that. At least not if it was healthy. Probably not a wolf either. But once again, what if the thing was sick or something? A bear? Possibly. And as I’d mentioned, there was a lot of human activity nearby. Was it some kind of wacko escapee or something?
I’ve heard people say that they’ve been so scared that they felt the hair on the back of their necks rise up. I’ve been charged by elephants and lions when I lived in Africa. I’ve walked up on a sow bear and cubs before in the mountains, heard twigs snap outside my tent, etc. But I don’t ever recall feeling that particular sensation before. Until today.
By now the thing was fairly close and still coming.
“HEY,” I hollered.
It took a couple more steps.
“HEEEEEEYY,” I hollered again.
I shot a quick glance at Star. She looked at me, and then back up the mountain.
I waited a while longer but heard nothing. My view was so limited that it could have silently slipped away without me seeing or hearing it, especially with the stream making so much noise right next to us. Or it could be standing there, waiting. I had broadcast our location, so it knew right where we were.
I waited a while longer and heard nothing. As per usual, now my curiosity took over. I’d sure like to look around for a track or two so I could know what that was. If it had indeed gone, that is. And if it was indeed an animal and not a human.
Finally I caught a glimpse of an elk slipping silently through the trees. I felt my heart slow down and I started to breathe again. I never could get a good picture of it. The above photo was taken by my friend Bob, who has elk stop by his place quite often. It’s a far better picture than any I’ve taken.
I still don’t know what that elk was up to. Surely it had to have picked up our scent, heard our noise, and knew we were there.
I love the mountains.
Have a great day.