Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hiking or Biking Alone In California Can Be Dangerous

When my son was visiting back at Christmas, he and I biked up to the North end of Aliso Canyon on the new Diamondbacks, and as we sat and enjoyed some Marcona almonds, dried apricots, and Nalgene bottle water, we spotted this lovely sign:
Now that's pretty explicit.  That's also about a mile from where Dr Desert Flower works.  There's a primary school that borders this canyon and a high school that is actually IN the canyon farther south.

At my high school, there was the occasional possum (opossum?), raccoon, stray dog, and (from time to time) skunk, but never did we have a mountain lion or need to warn of any apex predator.

Here in Orange County, humans have encouraged upon the edge of the desert where all the critters used to live.  Many of those critters still have canyons, drainage tunnels, dense landscaping, and mountain ranges Very Nearby, where they can sleep, live, raise their young, and thrive.  Mountain lions, bobcats coyotes, red tail hawks, raccoons, rattle snakes, road runners, and of course multiple murders of crows upon crows upon crows all reside here.   The little barking dogs and "outdoor cats" of humans the new comers leave in their back yards over-night become easy-pickings protein supplements for the indigenous predators, helping to keep the predators and their young well fed with sustained populations.

I looked up the recorded attacks of mountain lions on Humans in California (they're all over the web) and they are real.  The more humans hike and bike out in the remote countryside, the more often they get attacked, and sometimes killed.  I don't want to become a protein supplement to a den of hungry mountain lion cubs.   What appears to happen, is that lone hikers, or lone bikers, are attacked by hungry mountain lions.  Rarely do the felines attack a group of 2 or 3 together.  But if one biker or hiker is 100 yards or more ahead of or behind the rest, then they're a prime target to become prime rib.  There's been multiple instances of hikers or bikers getting separated from their group, mauled, and their screams bringing other hikers or bikers to their aid.   Likewise, sometimes a lone hiker or biker is killed, but because of the American obesity epidemic, is too heavy to be carried back to the den by the cougar and instead, is dragged just a few yards off the beaten path into a thicket or patch of bamboo.  Then a 2nd group of hikers or bikers stumbles by (clumsy bipeds that we are) and the mountain lion - not yet done with eating their first kill - defends itself, instinctively thinking the 2nd group is coming to take away all that fat and protein it just brought down.

While I would love to bike all over the remote wilderness here, the mountain lion density is Much Much higher in Southern California than it was anywhere in Maricopa County AZ.  I don't want to become lunch, and while I think I am in pretty good shape, the American Mountain Lion has a strength to weight ratio in her claws, jaws, arms and legs that is 8 to 12 times more powerful the average human.  As all big cats tend to do, the Mountain Lion goes for the back of the head (severe the spine with incisor bites), the eyes (disable & blind your prey), and the throat (bleed it out) preferentially before going for arms, legs, thorax or genitalia while the prey is still able to fight back.  Once the prey is subdued... well... let the highest amounts of protein and fat be eaten first, before any other competitors approach to try and take your lunch away.

One of my Apple Trainers (Joan) last month told me she saw a Mountain Lion at Crystal Cove State Park - the same park where DDF and I hiked last weekend!  I asked Joan if she was alone or in group when she saw the lion, and she said she was alone - I told her she was lucky, and recommended to her to not hike alone in the future.

Links to:
Mountain Lion Sightings in Aliso Canyon
National Geographic Accounts and Recommendations to survive California Mountain Lion attacks
Recorded CA Mountain Lion Attacks through 2007
Orange Trail Safety Tips
North American Mountain Lion attacks, 2001-2010


  1. I wouldn't worry too much. Considering how few of CA's 38M people get attacked by mountain lions, I'd call it pretty damn rare - like not even shark-attack rare. There are on average less than one fatality per year in all of the US and Canada due to mountain lions. Your neighbor's dog is 100's times more likely to kill you.

  2. my neighbor's dog is much more likely to be eaten by a coyote =)

    I don't want to be one of the outliers....

    In your back-country boarding, have you seen mountain lion tracks? You've been WAY more remote than me, with way fewer homosapiens around as potential prey. Have you ever wondered "is a hungry lion looking at me?"

  3. and now that you mention it... California is the chronically Over-Warning state. "Caution, sidewalk is slippery" signs and cones go out all around the supermarket and store entrances. "Walk your bike rough pavement ahead" when there's a small crack in the sidewalk. It's the "VERY Ready to Sue" state, from first appearances. Much of this warning is probably from the park's department to avoid the CA government from being sued.

  4. Nobody wants to be an outlier... unless it's a Powerball lottery.

    I have seen mountain lion (and bear) tracks and scat a few times in the backcountry whilst by myself, in winter and summer. I am not saying don't be aware, but of all the things of which to be fearful it is pretty low on the list. It's like when I'm out in the surf near dusk and I'm by myself or just with one other person - yeah, it crosses my mind that I am shark bait, but we really are not on the menu in general. If we were, there would be hundreds or thousands of humans being eaten every year in the US alone.

    California may also be as worried about the animals themselves. Most bear or mountain lion that show active non-fear toward humans are relocated. Any that show aggression are put down.

    One nice thing about California is that despite the 38M population, I can park my car in many spots I know, hike a short ways, and never see another person all day. That comes with some risks, and people should be aware and accept that. Still I am much more likely to die in the car ride to/from the trailhead than the rest of the day.


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