Mountain Lion Cubs (Actually Bobcats) on the Burkhart Trail

[After receiving both public and private feedback on this post, I think I actually saw bobcats.  I assumed they were mountain lion cubs because there were warning signs at the trailhead for bears, rattlesnakes, and mountain lions.  I’m going to leave the remainder of this post as originally written because my belief that they were mountain lions impacted my experience and reactions to our encounter.]  

I haven’t been on the Burkhart Trail for well over a decade.  It used to be my “go to” hike which I did numerous times with my brother and many other times with friends and other family.  Last year, when I started hiking again in earnest, I couldn’t hike this trail because it was closed to allow frogs to breed.

Hiking it felt like catching up with an old friend.  My experience was one of instant familiarity combined with the discovery of notable changes. Enjoying my “reunion”, I was hiking slower and more quietly than I normally would stopping often to take pictures or simply pausing a while trying to remember how things were in the past.  While attempting to take a good photo looking up a tree I eventually noticed I was being watched from above.

Mountain lion cubs watching me try to photograph a tree.

Taking my hand off the tree and making about a 90 degree turn around it, I started to look back down.  I then noticed a mountain lion cub looking down on me from its spot on the high point of a rock formation touching the tree I just had my hand on.  It took a few moments for me to process what I was seeing.  We looked at one another and neither of us moved.  Soon I noticed the second cub further down the rock.  Since I still had my camera in my hands, I reflexively and quickly snapped the cropped photo shown above without even looking at the LCD screen as I thought through what I should be doing.

I really did not want to meet their mother who I fortunately never saw.  I knew not to run. From below, I really couldn’t make myself look taller. The cubs were quiet and they didn’t move. Making loud noises and/or banging my trekking poles together to try to scare them didn’t make much sense as it seemed just as likely that would bring their mother.  Still, I was ridiculously close to them and felt precious time slipping away before their mother might arrive.  Our stare down that probably only lasted between one and two minutes felt unending as my mind raced through options.  For all I knew, mom could be right behind me.  I decided to slowly take one step back.  This caused no response from the cubs.  Apparently I need to practice stepping back because my second step back resulted in a trip that landed me on my butt.  Still, no response from the cubs though–phew!  I got up and continued to move back facing the cubs until I was able to turn the corner and no longer be in their view.  I then stared hiking out looking back every few steps to make sure I wasn’t being followed.