After two days of warm, almost summer-like weather, it’s beginning to look as though a late season, multi-day rain and snow extravaganza is heading toward us. This atmospheric excitement is supposed to start tomorrow and continue well into next week. It won’t be shorts weather for awhile, but we can sure use the water. 😂
The LovedOne had plans at the library for most of today, but I wanted to grab one more hike before the weather closed in. Today’s partially sunny forecast suggested that there might be good views from along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) between Rhyolite Ridge and Porcupine Mountain. Thus armed with a plan and undisciplined by pessimism, I headed out.
What my plan lacked was some appreciation for timing. 🙄 The partially sunny part was actually scheduled for later in the day. So I arrived in the morning at where the PCT crosses the access road to Pilot Rock to find swirling clouds, a brisk breeze, a temperature below freezing, and trees thickly festooned with fresh white hoarfrost. 🥶 Quite beautiful but also quite cold. So, multiple layers were donned and the hike commenced.
I was bustling along – trying to warm up – and was barely a half-mile from the trailhead when I looked up and saw something staring at me. It wasn’t obviously a bear – of which we’d seen a few while hiking around here. No, it was Big Kitty – an adult cougar – crouched in the middle of the PCT. About 100 feet ahead. I came to an abrupt halt and stared at it. It stared at me. We both stared. 😲
In all my years of hiking, I’d never seen a cougar in the wild this close-up. An odd mix of fear and amazement washed through me. Where is another
victim hiker when you need one? I tried to look big and threatening (ha!) as I backed down the trail keeping an eye on Big Kitty. Just out of sight, I stopped and waited. Gave it five minutes and then slowly went back. And Big Kitty was – gone! Simply disappeared without a sound. So I kept going – no longer cold but a lot more paranoid.
The rest of this hike was anti-climatic to say the least. But the hoarfrost was divertingly beautiful, as was the play between the sun and the clouds streaming over the ridge. My Big Kitty induced hot flash started to subside, so I forged ahead to stay warm.
Past the junction with the trail up to Pilot Rock, the PCT crosses from the north side of the ridge to its south side. This is a particularly good spot to see Pilot Rock and out across the valley to Mount Shasta. By now, the winds had eased, the clouds were beginning to break-up, and it was getting almost pleasantly warm. Almost.
Porcupine Mountain is a good destination, but not as good a view point as some places along the PCT. The view from Porcupine of Mount McLoughlin to the north was blocked by clouds, so I contented myself with other views and the huge number of Yellow Fritillaria that are blooming on its broad summit.
From Porcupine, it was back along the PCT, and then a short ways down the Lone Pilot Trail, to the open slope leading to Rhyolite Ridge. This “ridge” (William Sullivan’s name for it) is actually a bench below Point 5401 that affords an expansive view to the south of Mount Shasta and assorted other, lesser peaks.
By now, the day had warmed considerably and layers had been shed. Other hikers began to appear, as did two bear hunters (the Spring controlled hunt is April 1 to May 31), so I was beginning to worry less about Big Kitty. I found a small patch of Oregon Fawn Lilies just off the PCT and then continued on to the trailhead.
So, this unexpectedly exciting sightseeing hike came to 7.9 miles (12.6 km) with 1,300 feet (396 m) of gain on what ultimately became a pretty nice day weather-wise. The views were great! As for Big Kitty – that was simply amazing (and a bit scary). I wouldn’t have expected to actually see a cougar on this well-trafficked section of the PCT. But there it was. Cougar attacks on humans are exceedingly rare (and always get BIG play in the news) but they do happen. So, if it had held its ground or looked menacing, I would have turned back, carefully. But it apparently had other plans and just vanished into the landscape, leaving me to hike on – with an odd tingle in the back of my neck. 🥺