A Close Wildlife Encounter in the Grand Canyon

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It’s strange how a long string of seemingly unconnected decisions over a period of time can lead us to a singular memorable event in our life.

In retrospect all the choices we made on the three-day trek appear to be very connected to one another. The decision to skip our final camp near Thunder Falls and finish the stout hike back to the Bill Hall Trailhead was the clincher. That was the one that put us on a steep series of switchbacks leading 2,000 feet up to the North Rim in the dark  -- and face-to-face with a mountain lion.

grand canyon

We had spent the couple days before mesmerized by the narrows of Deer Creek, some of the tightest, deepest in Grand Canyon National Park. These are what attracted us to this 27-mile-loop hike in the first place. At first they’re ”pretty cool” as the creek begins its cut into the sandstone. Within a mile, you are down in a dizzying chasm hundreds of feet deep on a trail that pinches down to a foot wide in places. The creek’s finale is a gushing hundred-foot waterfall that creates a pool that just might be the best swimming hole along the entire Colorado River. Needless to say, it was hard to pack up our camp on the sand nearby.

But who would have thought that two days in the lush Shangri-La of Deer Creek would have led us to skip the “sub par” camp on Tapeats Creek only to find ourselves benighted on the 4,750-foot, 10-mile climb out of the canyon? Working up the final switchbacks by headlamp, we were startled by what we assumed were two other hikers in a similar situation. That was until the two ”headlamps” looked away.

The realization that those were the reflecting eyes of a pretty big critter stopped us in our tracks. Powering up our lights, we got a very good look at a very large cat, about six feet from nose to tail, perched on a boulder only a stone’s throw away. The wind blew hard in our faces, carrying our scent downwind away from the curious feline. It was an uncomfortable standoff as the mountain lion tried to see past our blinding headlamps, its long tail twitching in agitation.Tired of the stalemate, it slinked off after about ten minutes. We would have been fools to think that it wasn’t prowling in the shadows, trying to determine if we were a dinner option or if we’d put up too much of a fight. Our suspicions were later confirmed by a park ranger who offered up some friendly advice: It’s not smart to hike after dark in cat country.

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