Just joking: An eye-opening assignment for Explore magazine taught me that tangling with a mountain lion is unlikely in the extreme. Statistics bear this out: The odds of being killed by a cougar in Canada are at least 32 million to one against, so it seems impossible that I'll be snuffed out the third time around. (Knock on wood.)
My recollection of my first cougar encounter, in Alberta's Waterton Lakes National Park, remains as vivid as ever. Our party of seven was spread out along the Bertha Lake trail on the sunny morning of August 20, 1982. My dad, brother and two cousins were leading the way, and my mother and sister were bringing up the rear. I was hiking alone in the middle, with approximately 20 metres separating me from each group.
Partway up a gentle rise, cries erupted behind me: “Adam, look out!” For a moment I mistook the golden animal for a Labrador retriever, but then shouts of “Cougar!” set me horribly straight. Barely an arm’s length from my incredulous eyes, it bared its fangs and emitted the distinctive snarl that, until then, I’d only heard in car commercials.
”Yell at it! Scream at it!” my parents called out. Not that I needed coaching: When the cougar reared up and jabbed one set of claws into my back and the other into my left leg, I shrieked as loudly as my nine-year-old lungs could muster.
The cat withdrew and looked me up and down. Then it lunged again, this time reversing its grip as it tried to pull me to the ground. I screamed and kicked its exposed belly, causing it to retreat and tilt its head quizzically.
Thanks to one of my cousins and to my father, the attack ended there. David charged down the hill, waving a piece of deadfall and screaming maniacally. Dad was close behind. The animal’s eyes widened, and just before I collapsed, it darted into the surrounding foliage.
The next thing I knew, I was in my father’s arms. Red rivulets covered my bare legs, and I could feel my tattered Muppets T-shirt sticking to my bleeding back. We made it to the one-room Waterton Medical Clinic in a matter of minutes -- Dad says he had never run so fast -- and after being assessed, bandaged and poked with various needles, I was discharged.
Park wardens weren’t taking any chances. My attacker, a healthy adolescent tom, had already been spotted regularly in and around the town and had approached hikers several times. Two days later, it was shot dead.
Read about my second (and hopefully final) cougar encounter in Reader's Digest.