The first day off after a work cycle is intentionally a relaxed day for us. Sleep in some and then hit the local snowfield for a couple laps. It's a nice way to get back into a good mental place and ramp up for the days to come.
High drama this morning up in the hills. Upon arriving at the local ski hill parking area, we were approached by grizzled, mountain-man type who informed us, with a distinctive Rocky Mountain twang in his voice, that he "saw a big cat up by snow line when he was out fishing for brookies." He also told us he only goes out in the woods with a pistol and recommended we do the same. Classic. Reminded me a of the time Meriwether and I headed up to Alaska to do the 24 Hours of Light Bike Race, and decided to shake out the epic road trip cobwebs at a dashed line we found on the Gazetteer called the Eagle Trail. Long and short of the story, some Alaskan's loaned us a gun – which neither of us had a clue how to fire – to handle bears. We sure looked bad ass riding our single speeds with a loaded gun, but if we actually had to use it, I'm not sure either us would've had a clue what to do.
Mountain lions do live up here, but except for about a nano-second glance of one on a late evening summer mountain bike ride on Coon Track about a decade ago, I've never encountered one. Apparently they attack from the back in a stealthy fashion. Makes me wonder how effective a pistol would be in such an event. I'd need Jesse James like quickness and skills to defend myself. No, I don't plan on carrying pistols around the woods.
When we got up to the snowfield, the evidence was fresh. There is a marmot hole up here that I've encountered the past three years on my spring skis. The hole was there today too, but no sign of the marmot. More telling, there was large predator scat around the hole, and it sure looked like some of it contained the remnants of brown fur. It could have been a bad past few days for the marmot.
Another sign – we saw quite a few deer up around snow line. Mountain lions tend to follow their food, and their food of choice is deer. I have no doubts that there is a mountain lion up there, and I have no problem with that. Personally, I like woods that have predators in them, and I'm not totally sold that the most natural experience is to be in a tame, zoo-like forest It's a small sacrifice on my part. I have to be more alert and keep Stella close. That's how it should be in the woods. If I wanted to go to the mall, I'd go to the mall.
I remember when Elaine and I went up to Denali a few years back. There were a couple kids in the ranger permit office from Idaho asking if they could pack fire arms in the park to defend themselves from bears and wolves. It was about all I had to not get in a debate with them. Fortunately, the ranger took care of it for me, and told them in no uncertain terms that while, yes, they could carry guns, they better have a damned good reason for unloading bullets on an animal in the park. Thing is, we saw a bear on that trip, and it was a rather close encounter. The bear was eating berries, about 50 feet from where we were hiking. It got up on it's legs to watch us, and went back to eating berries. No harm, no foul. I wonder what the Idaho boys would have done in the same situation?
We ran into a couple guys in their 50's or 60's doing the same ski as us this morning. We've encountered them three times this June. It's a real rush hour up there these days! It's their ritual, like ours…milking the last turns of the season before we move to a once-a-month ski schedule in the last half of the warm season. Showed 'em the secret bridge across the creek to keep the feet dry and enjoyed the company. This time of year is less about racing for first tracks, and more about celebrating snow, an awesome winter, the mountains and wild places where humans are not on the top of the food chain and humility and alertness are essential.