In the past few weeks, there have been two deaths in mountain areas of Southern California; a hiker on Mt. Baldy fell and is presumed death and a mountain biker was killed by a mountain lion, with another biker being mauled by the same animal.
The hiker (from a Jan 4 article)
An experienced 53-year-old hiker who tumbled 100 feet down a ridge near the summit of Mt. Baldy on New Year’s Day was still missing on the icy mountain late Saturday, authorities said.
Koh left his family and, with a male friend, began the long slog to Mt. Baldy’s peak on the Hut Trail. December storms had cloaked the top 2,000 feet of the mountain in snow.
For reasons that are unclear, Koh left his backpack behind before heading up the final stretch.
I winced when I read that. He probably dropped his backpack because it was heavy, he was getting tired and wanted to summit, and planned to pick it up on the way down. I’m an experienced backpacker. We’ve all done things like that. What he may not have done after dropping the pack is to bring a fanny pack with the 10 essentials in it, one of which is a whistle. In the back country, three blasts on a whistle is the universal signal for This Is An Emergency, I Need Help Immediately. Lives have been saved because someone had a whistle. The sound of a whistle travels far, and is unmistakably a whistle.
On the way down from the summit he stumbled on a treacherous trail and fell off a cliff. His companion went for help. When they returned, there was no body and it appeared he’d somehow survived the fall, gotten up, and walked away. But they never found him. I’m guessing he did not have a whistle, and maybe, just maybe, if he’d had one, they might have found him. This mistake, if indeed if that’s what happened, is the kind of mistake many hikers including me sometimes make. Oh, it’s a day hike and I know the area, what could go wrong.
Authorities confirmed Friday that a mountain lion killed 35-year-old cyclist Mark Reynolds, whose body was found shortly after another cougar attack along a popular trail in the rugged Orange County foothills.
Authorities now think Reynolds had been fixing a broken bike chain and was thus in a crouched position. To the cougar, crouched meant submissive, and it attacked, dragging Reynolds’ body away. Another biker was attacked hours later when she innocently rode her mountain bike near the kill. The mountain lion defended the kill by attacking her and tried to drag her away by the head. Other mountain bikers managed to rescue her. The lion has since been shot.
It occurs to me if the mountain bikers had fixed blade knifes, they might have stopped the attack faster. The animal was so focused on the woman that possibly one or more of the bikers could have stabbed the animal. I’m not saying this would be a sane thing to do, just a possible thing to do.
I have never seen anything like this Ã¢â‚¬” it was a tug of war between the mountain lion trying to drag her down the ravine by her face” and another cyclist “who had her by the legs,” said Mike Castellano, 41, of Dana Point.
Backpackers have learned to co-exist with bears. Perhaps what backpackers have learned; to travel in groups, to study how bears behave, to take serious precautions, to ask rangers if bears have been sighted, could help mountain bikers. (None of this is even slightly meant as a criticism of those who heroically saved the woman’s life, I’m asking what we can do to stop further attacks.)
Backpackers and mountain bikers go into wild country, as do increasing numbers of California homes. More and more we are in the territory of the big predators. “Kill them all” is not an answer. It’s barbaric, clueless, doesn’t really work because they will return, and has unforseen consequences. A while back, for example, a mountain lion attacked a human. Authorities killed every lion they could find. With no predators, the deer population exploded. they ate lots of undergrowth, including that on steep hills. The rains came, and with no ground cover, there were mudslides.
I went hiking today in Topanga State Park. There is at least one known adult male mountain lion there. This time I had a fixed blade knife on my belt. With a knife I figured, at least you have a chance should the one in a million mountain lion attack occur.
I’m sure mountain bikers are pondering all of this too. The best way to deal with critters is to understand their behavior and to take reasonable precautions. Rangers and biologists have much information on animal behavior. As mentioned, backpackers have co-existed with bears – and mountain lions – for decades, maybe what we know can somehow help mountain bikers now.