A video-recording on a cell phone of a wildlife sighting went viral this week as news agencies widely shared the footage. The two-minute video of a mountain lion encounter was taken in the vicinity of Little Blue Dome on the High Sierra Trail in Sequoia National Park.
On Sunday, July 23, two San Luis Obispo County men were on the first day of an 11-day outing that would take them from the Wolverton trailhead in Sequoia to Mount Whitney and back on the popular, well-traveled trail. The experienced backpackers, Sam Vonderheide and Brian McKinney, were about seven miles into their journey when Sam noticed a mountain lion up ahead on the trail.
McKinney was skeptical but turned on his cell phone’s video camera. Sure enough, they got a glimpse of the big cat before it rounded a bend and was out of sight.
The hikers, on full alert now, continued cautiously up the trail. They turned the corner and scanned the landscape.
What they discovered was that the mountain lion had left the trail and climbed up the slope and onto a boulder. It was now sitting directly above them, intently watching their every move.
Just before shutting down the video and paying attention to the task at hand, the two discussed the safety protocol when meeting up with a mountain lion.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to run,” said one of the hikers, which is the correct protocol.
The backpackers later related that this was only part of the encounter that lasted more than 15 minutes. Eventually, the cat sprawled on the trail and showed no inclination to move, so the pair backed away and left the area the way they had come.
They hiked a couple miles back down the trail to Mehrten Creek, where there are established campsites and a bear-proof food locker. It was a restless night for them both.
The next morning, the hikers set out again and were on high alert when they returned to the vicinity where the sighting had occurred. But they continued their journey without incident.
This was an out-and-back hike, however, which meant they traveled through the same area on the final day of their trip. Again, no mountain lion. At least that they saw.
When they returned home the first week of August, they posted the video. Since then, that two-minute video has made the rounds. In 48 hours, Vonderheide and McKinney were interviewed by at least 50 media outlets — print and television — from throughout the U.S. and around the world.
Interestingly, they also have videos of a coiled, buzzing rattlesnake and a bear. But it’s the mountain lion footage that has stolen the spotlight.
It’s possible this feline had a kill that she was protecting or, perhaps, a cub, which made the cat reluctant to leave. Mountain lions, by nature, are reclusive and would prefer to avoid humans.
Mountain lion habitat is wherever deer habitat is, which is pretty much all of California. If you encounter a mountain lion do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise, and try to appear as large as possible. And if attacked, fight back.
The two-minute video may be viewed here.