It’s early—before daybreak—and we’re driving in the dark through the St. Vrain canyon. Rob and Lee are sitting up front, Lee driving us to the Long’s Peak trailhead parking lot. We think we have a fourteen-hour day ahead of us if all goes well on Dream Weaver, but it’s too early to talk about it. I’m groggy in the backseat, drinking coffee, when I see a fox cut across the road. The fox perks us all up, and just when I sit back in my seat, Lee shouts out: “Lion!”
I catch her shadow off to the right, but I don’t get a good look. “Turn around, man,” says Rob. I think we must’ve spooked her. She’ll be gone. But as soon as we flip around, I see her standing tall, ears pointed, behind a large boulder near the road. We creep slowly back down the road and pull up directly in front of the boulder. The cat refuses to leave her spot. She’s feeding on something, we think, crouched down and rustling in the brush. She stands up again, our lights silvering her glossy coat.
I’ve never seen a lion in the wild, and this is one of the most beautiful creatures I’ve ever seen. I hold my breath. She’s really big. We can only linger so long, and besides we’ve got some climbing to do. But after we get shut down climbing into a route on Mt. Meeker (post-holing in knee deep snow, getting tossed about in high winds and blowing snow…), we return to the spot.
We don’t see her there, so we get out of the car and walk right up to the boulder where we had seen her earlier, crouching in the shadows. The whole area stinks with the stench of lion piss and warm meat rotting in the sun. Deer guts are scattered around, and hooves are littered about the scene.
We look up into the hills. Is she up there hiding out in a den? Or looking down at us looking up there for her? Lions are sneaky, and I like to think of her sleeping soundly somewhere with a warm belly full of food while we were freezing our faces off on a route we couldn’t complete.
P.S. Don’t laugh at the first photo. Do you know how hard it is to get a photograph in the dark of a freaked out mountain lion? Anyway. She’s there. Believe me, and if you don’t, hopefully the dead deer guts will convince you.