By Mark Sheets
Hiking and camping in wild places have been a big part of our family lore. There are many events that are referred to when we are together or on other outings. One memorable one is a wildlife encounter that happened to my youngest son. We took him with us on a backpack trip to Arrowhead Lake in the Cube-Iron Silcox roadless area when he was about a year and a half old. It seemed like a good thing to do for a Fourth of July weekend. My wife carried him with all of the supplies he would need and I carried everything else. I felt like a pack mule but at least my load stayed in one place.
We arrived at the lake and no one was there. Camp was set up very quickly and our son was turned loose to explore the area. Killer, the Wonder Dog, wandered around with him a bit then hit the tent for a nap. I went fishing and my wife just relaxed to enjoy the peace and quiet. It was just what one would have hoped for in getting away from the crowds on the Fourth. After a nice night, the next day would prove to be a bit eventful and make the trip memorable.
The morning was great and the fishing pretty good. At camp in the afternoon, I noticed that the boy was a little odiferous and in need of a diaper change. I called to him, but, as usual, he didn’t want to cooperate. He took off at a run directly away from me. He ran around a subalpine tree behind the tent with me after him, and then he gave out a yell. When I rounded the tree, he was nose to nose with a mountain lion — only about a foot away.
It looked like they scared each other about equally. He turned and ran back to me and the lion went in the other direction. My wife heard the commotion and came over and grabbed him while I tried to see where the cat went. It had only gone 20 yards, but did not seem aggressive. My wife came over and we threw rocks at the cat, but it still only went a short way and was soon joined by another one. They seemed to be yearlings, and probably siblings; mom had pushed them out on their own. After some more rock throwing, they finally moved off.
There did not seem to be any mental trauma suffered by the lions or the boy. Through the whole episode Killer stayed in the tent and did not make one little peep. For a yappy Chihuahua, it was an amazing show of self-preservation.
The rest of the day was uneventful but that changed in the night. It started to rain and that changed to snow. We woke up to a couple of inches on the ground. This was not mentioned on the weather report before we left home. We figured that it would quit soon and then dry out. It rained all day.
Spending a rainy day in a two person tent with a child and another adult was a bit challenging, needless to say. Naptime was good and there was time to relax and read, but it was too short. It rained all night. The next day, we knew something would have to be done, because diapers were almost all used up. My wife wrapped the boy in what we had that would keep him dry and headed out and I stuffed everything else in the pack and followed. It was a wet and miserable trip out for us but we survived just fine.
As we look back and reflect on that trip, the encounter with the mountain lions was really amazing. We were probably the first humans that they had encountered and it seemed like they were just curious. As to backpacking with a child, the next time, we would wait until he was a bit older, out of diapers and able to walk on his own. Weather seems to always add to the adventure and no matter how prepared you are, it always throws you a curve ball. Lastly, Killer is worthless as a guard dog. She would throw you under the bus to save herself.
Mark Sheets is mayor of Thompson Falls, a veteran trail dog and a FSPW volunteer. His Voices column appeared in the January 28, 2016, issue of the Sanders Count Ledger.