It’s Robby season. And the mountain lion is out prowling
December 16, 2005
If my husband Jeffrey hadn’t seen the mountain lion on Peak 6, I probably wouldn’t have these horrible images stuck in my head. But Robby, my delectable cairn terrier had been missing for an hour, and I was in the heart of lion habitat – a few hundred feet below Peak 6 on the Peaks Trail, and also adjacent to the frequent sightings which made last week’s headlines.I couldn’t get it out of my head. Lion sees Robby trotting down the trail, he crouches behind a fat spruce,and then jumps out, clamping his jaws around Robby’s tasty neck, the little guy screeching a gurgled plea for help, which I wouldn’t have heard because I was listening to my stupid iPod. My terrified little pooch’s last vision was of those sharp long teeth and one victorious, soon to be satiated, mountain lion.A few days ago, Jeffrey and I had skied the gully of Peak 6 and were cruising through the gladed section below the cabin, when I scared the lion out from under a tree as I telemarked past. I actually didn’t see it, but Jeffrey did. He yelled at me, but of course I had on my foolish tunes so I couldn’t hear him. (Although this time listening to music was a blessing; if I had heard Jeffrey’s panicked screams and then looked over my shoulder to see a lion, I’m sure the fear would’ve taken several years off my life, and I would’ve hit a tree.) My brave husband tried to follow it for a bit, scaring the lion’s dinner out from under a bush – a snowshoe hare – but the cat was long gone. He told me later how it moved with such powerful grace, bounding across the snow from one tree to the next.Why I was here skiing the Peaks Trail with a terrier appetizer, I do not know. Plus, it was sunset, dinner time for our local lion. I called Robby’s name over and over. He had never been gone this long; something must have happened. My voice was hoarse from yelling in the cold air and I decided to head back to the car, hoping maybe he was waiting there for me, something I knew other dogs would do.And there he was. Licking his chops, looking guilty. When I tried to get near him, the little punk ran from me; he knew I was mad. I searched around the parking area for the source of food that I assumed had possessed him for the past hour, but couldn’t find anything. (That night, when he puked his dinner on my bed, I turned on the lights and saw it filled with wild animal hairs; I figured that there must have been some carcass in the woods nearby.) I know the statistics prove how rare it is for mountain lions to attack humans, but that hasn’t really helped appease me. Moose, of which I’ve seen quite a few, don’t really scare me. I’m not too worried about bears either – they always run away. But mountain lions, well, they’re sneaky, fast and toothy, and I’m not a cat person. But how can they find enough food at 11,000 feet? What are they doing up here anyway? This exceptionally snowy and cold winter must mean they’re especially hungry, and since humans or pets would be fair game for a lion, why not? For as much time as I’ve spent in our backcountry, I’ve only come close one other time to seeing a mountain lion in Summit County. It was a decade or so ago. A group of us were Nordic skiing the trails between Keystone and Tiger Road, which is also prime winter elk and deer habitat, a lion’s favorite meal. Sara had stopped to pee, and while she squatted, a lion flew across the trail, glanced at her and then launched off the road into the dark forest. It could’ve easily killed her, especially in such a vulnerable position. There was also a sighting a few years ago on Imperial Bowl; supposedly the cat was caught in an avalanche but escaped as folks watched from below. Good chance that the Peak 6 lion is the same one.It is their instinct to hunt and kill, and ours to build resorts in their habitat. I wouldn’t blame them for getting mad. If they ate my dog, I’d fight hard to save him, but I wouldn’t resent the lion one bit. Maybe, though, it is time for a break from the Peaks Trail – Robby’s favorite. And I’ll turn down the volume on my iPod. Longtime Breckenridge resident Ellen Hollinshead writes a biweekly column on the outdoors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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