Aurora Chasing with North Bend Local Photographer Travis Wetherbee (Part Two)

When we last left Travis in part one, he had successfully climbed to a high vantage point on Rattlesnake Ridge to photograph the Aurora Borealis. Now he had to navigate his way down the trail while being followed by forest resident who may have been curious or may have had nefarious intentions. Read on to find out how he escaped the woods alive…

The bushes rustled, and the eyes disappeared behind a tree. I had now ruled out an owl, but deer, elk, bobcat and cougar are still real possibilities. I holstered my sidearm but left the safety off, grabbed a handful of rocks, and threw them! I hit the tree, the eyes came back around and stayed locked onto me! I threw more rocks and heard a small audible hiss! At this point, my heart dropped, and I realized I was in a stand-off with a big cat! 

This isn’t my first encounter with a cougar. Bartending I Fall City back in the ’90s taught me survival skills. Now, I had some snacks and enough water to be ok. So, I figure I’ll head back up the trail and wait this out till the morning. I pull my sidearm and start to move back up the trail.

The cat came up the hillside to cut me off and is above me now. So down the path, I go, with haste!!! At this point, I remembered that my nephew Austin bailed on this trip to play Magic The Gathering. Five minutes before, I thought he had made a terrible decision, now I was rethinking that position as I started back down the trail away from the mountain lion.

Running isn’t an option for a middle-aged man with a bad back and hip. Still, neither is killing this animal and, I didn’t want to discharge my weapon unless I had to. My choice is to keep moving and try and scare the cat enough so I can get out safely.

After the encounter, I bolted down the trail about 100ft to the first switchback. The cat is on the trail above me at this point, still coming down at me. I listen, as I’ve lost sight of her, and I can hear her landing somewhere close. She is above me, so I moved quickly, not waiting for her to make another move.

As I passed the second switchback, I caught a glimpse of tan fur on my left. It’s her jumping ahead and cutting me off from below this time. She’s trying to push me into the woods by coming around the 3rd switchback and onto the trail. That’s when I decided this game had to have a conclusion, so I ran at her, screaming with my weapon pointed at her! I saw her bounce up the hill a bit, and I didn’t hesitate to hit the hole coming around that third switchback.

At this point, the underbrush was getting thick, so I could hear her very well even though I was still moving and breathing heavily. The fog was settling in, and I had very little visibility! She was back above me on the trail, so I kept my light trained on the sounds in the woods and backed my way out until I got down past the washouts and the newly fallen trees. Finally, I can’t hear her or pick up any trace she follows.

I got to the bottom of the trail and realized I hurt my knee, but I could jog my tired old rear to the edge of the lake by the parking lot. My adrenaline was wearing off at this point, so I needed to get back to the car to get some snacks. I stayed vigilant on the walk to the car, but at this point, I felt I was out of danger.

I finally get my backpack and gear off and throw them in the back of the car. As I shut the back, come around the driver’s side, and as I am about to grab the door handle, a hawk comes flying over me, screeching, and I literally yelped and ducked down like it was going to attack me.

Thor was there, after all, I thought, as I took a nice slow drive home to let what happened to me sink in! 

[Travis Wetherbee runs Last Lite Photography. He is a landscape, nightscape and Rock n Roll photographer. You may spot him at a show or on the side of our local roads around the valley, camera in hand, ready to capture the perfect scene]

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  • Wow … we were among the dozen or so people along the lake looking for a dark spot to see the lights. I saw a headlamp on the trail going up the mountain, and thought, Sheesh, we really should have thought about that. Amazing story and amazing photos.

  • Living Snoqualmie