Big Kitty on the PCT (Cascade-Siskiyou NM) 09-Apr-2022

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.

Cold, windy, and frosty at the start

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. 😲

Big Kitty (3x – I was NOT this close)

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.

Big Kitty (10x)

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.

Where the PCT meets the use trail out to Rhyolite Ridge
Totally flocked
Every twig was adorned with frost
On along the PCT
Hoarfrost

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.

Pilot Rock
The east face of Pilot Rock with dissipating clouds
Pilot Rock with Mount Shasta on the far horizon
Mount Shasta

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.

Looking north from Porcupine’s summit
Yellow Fritillary
Peeking at Mount Shasta from Porcupine

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.

Pilot Rock from Rhyolite Ridge
Pilot Rock
To the south from Rhyolite Ridge: (1) Goosenest, (2) Mount Shasta, (3) Black Mountain, (4) Black Butte, (5) Mount Eddy, (6) Cottonwood Peak
To the west, Mount Ashland (1)
To the east, Soda Mountain (arrow)

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.

Oregon Fawn Lily
A last look at still frosty Pilot Rock

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. 🥺

My route to Porcupine and back (Big Kitty was just below Point 5241)
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18 thoughts on “Big Kitty on the PCT (Cascade-Siskiyou NM) 09-Apr-2022

  1. I’d been watching the snow layer on Gaia and it was indeed sad to see the fast melt. I haven’t hiked that section and knew if I had a weather window it would be a great time. But mother nature had other plans and I’m glad to postpone. We are finally getting more than a few drops of rain here in the Redding area. I’m doing the happy dance!

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  2. Big cat aside, my hike was entirely on bare ground surrounded by more bare ground. Now it looks like there’s 2 feet or so of snow up there. After 3 months with little or no snow or rain, we get a winter’s worth in a week! 😲 Wild times, weather-wise.

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  3. WOW WOW WOW! I’d planned to hike the PCT between I-5 and Hyatt Lake when that warning spell hit but the storm that came through changed my mind. It’s planned to include Pilot Rock and Hobart Bluff. I’ve yet to see a kitty in the wild and am happy to skip that experience. I’m thrilled you were able to grab the photo. I’d have wanted to do the same.

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  4. We’ve seen cougars (and bobcats) crossing the road ahead of us before. Pretty neat, but not nearly as neat (and spine tingling) as finding one in the middle of a major trail. 🐱😲

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  5. Whoa! Frightening but also neat. I saw my first mountain lion in January, but it was along the road on our way to the trailhead… much less scary. But I did still find myself on high alert that day.

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  6. I always thought that most cougars and bears around here were prowling the streets of Ashland. I was a surprise to actually find one in the wild. 😉

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  7. That’s both exciting and really scary! In all of our years of hiking, we’ve seen every wild critter imaginable, except for a cougar. And honestly, I don’t want to see one in the wild. But wow, your photos are gorgeous! Ha, I’m not surprised you had an “odd tingle” in the back of your neck!

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  8. Yes, this is one of those outdoor experiences I’ll long remember. I was just fortunate that Big Kitty didn’t have issues (e.g., cubs nearby, a fresh kill, hunger, etc.) and was willing to move on. After that, yes, the rest of the hike was good too. 😃

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  9. Lucky you!

    On Sun, Apr 10, 2022 at 8:11 AM BOOTS on the TRAIL wrote:

    > Boots on the Trail posted: ” 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 ” >

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  10. Wow glad the encounter ended safely. That’s the one we haven’t seen yet and hope if we ever do it turns out similarly.

    We’re planning on heading down to the Medford/Ashland area a couple times in the coming months, good to hear there might be some moisture on the way.

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