Not the kind that’s interested in younger men. Not my graduate school mascot. Cougar as in the kind that screech like actual demons in the night.

Cougar aka The Mountain Lion.

Let’s talk about manifestation for a second. Whether you believe in this stuff or not, that’s fine – keep reading. I have toyed with the idea that when a person is really in tune with their being and their surroundings, they have the ability to either predict coming events or will them into actuality.

On the other side of that, maybe a person’s knowledge about an event/experience creates a higher probability of them accurately guessing what will happen during said event. I like to believe it has been the former theory in this story but who knows.

Weeks before I left for the PCT I had a top 3 rotating fears category consistently on my mind. The top 3 leading up to my departure were rattlesnakes, dangerous snow conditions, and mountain lions. (If you read my last blog you know that the rattlesnakes came in full force already.) Camping alone was a close runner up, if not in the top 3 some weeks, and I faced that one as well.

They say the trail provides and I am starting to see how it does whether you want it to or not.

Here’s a list of some moments that felt too weird to be coincidences:

  • Sensing a rattlesnake and then finding one half an hour later, 10 steps before hitting mile 50.
  • Texting my sister that being on the PCT was like being in real life Animal Crossing. Also wishing I had a cold Gatorade. Then a couple hours later I happened upon trail magic providing ice cold Animal Crossing themed Capri-Suns and Gatorade.
  • Being lonely and jealous of the tramilies (trail families) I kept coming across to then staying in a hostel the next night and meeting my people.
  • Talking about birds and their significance for one to then immediately land in a tree and shit on my friend sitting next to me.

And then there’s the mountain lion incident.

Somewhere around mile 52, I started to feel spooked. I had not had this feeling out on trail yet but I knew something was not quite right. I found myself looking around at my surroundings more closely than I had before. It was going to be my longest day so far and I did not want to also be on high alert. I was hoping I’d end up in camp with some of the folks I had met the night before in the hostel. The closer I got to my intended campsite, the more uneasy I felt.

When I got there, it was a dried up river bed surrounded by tall brush without much open space, it felt claustrophobic. So I pushed on several more miles to Oriflamme Canyon – a ridge with huge rocks and an edge to look over at the view, or show off a king lion cub.

This spot was extremely windy and exposed so I went another half mile to a spot sloped down from trail. The comments on Far Out (a navigation app) said that tons of people camped there the previous night so I thought I’d surely get some neighbors.

It got later and I texted the women I met at the hostel to see if they wanted to camp with me and included a bit about how I was concerned about mountain lions. Unfortunately they had already set up camp a mile back. I then stood on top of a rock to get enough service to call my dad, hoping for some kind of reassurance that there would be no giant cats or that they at least wouldn’t bother me. He proceeded to tell me his story about being stalked by one at close range for over a mile once. Thanks dad.

No one showed up and I got in my tent before dark. As soon as the sun set, I heard a bird-like chirp followed by that undeniable screech.

Mountain lions use this chirp to locate one another and the screeching responses were likely either mating calls or mama calling out to cubs. The awful back and forth sounds pierced both sides of my tent at fairly close range for almost an hour. The screeching would go further up the mountain and I would think that ‘okay they’re moving away’. Then silence.

Then the horrifying screech right next to my tent.

I laid motionless clutching my Garmin (personal locator beacon) with my thumb on the SOS button and my 2 1/2” pocket knife in the other hand. ALL NIGHT. Even after the screeching stopped, I could hear crunching and sniffing around my tent from a large animal and whiffs of something musty. I knew that pushing the SOS was out of the question unless they actually tried to get into my tent but by then it would just be a coordinate location to my body. 

When I say I’ve never been so fucking scared in my life. I mean it. I was for sure going home when the sun came up, that was it, I was done. The fight or flight or actually the freeze had my body radiating with tingles and bouts of nausea. I watched the moon rise and set from a single position without moving, except to pee in a ziplock bag because do you really blame me?

Once the sun came up, I packed up my camp, scurried up to the trail, and lost it. The adrenaline wore off and I was exhausted and hysterical. A woman I met at the hostel walked up the trail and asked me if I needed a hug and boy did I. This was Susan (aka Shank) and we’ve basically been inseparable since.

We made our way down to the next water source where I was still trying to process the experience, when came along a guy that was camped on the Oriflamme Ridge. He proceeded to play down my experience by letting me know that those were foxes and didn’t seem to register the trauma I had been through. I don’t know about you but I definitely didn’t believe what a boy from the Midwest had to say over my upbringing in the Rocky Mountains. This sort of invalidating behavior continued from him for over a week until I had enough of his shit.

That’s a story for a different time.

The other two women from the hostel, a cool ass mother daughter duo, showed up to the creek. They generously made me an offer to camp with them that night but I would be needing to do 14 miles to get there. I did not give a shit if I had to crawl 20 miles to Julian that day, I was not about to be alone.

Within the next day or so, a kiwi woman proposed my trail name to be Cougar. I have reluctantly accepted it for now but I can’t decide if it’s a badge of honor or just a constant reminder of the terror I endured.

But for now, you can call me Cougar.

Next update I’ll get more into this lovely tramily I’ve become a part of, some trail updates, and who knows what.

Check out my instagram for more visual content.


Autumn aka Cougar

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Comments 3

  • Sharon Manjares : May 6th

    Autumn, in awe of you! We know you from bella luna.
    Liah gave us your post. You are an AMAZING young
    Woman!! I admire you and what you are doing.

  • Sharon Manjares : May 6th

    Autumn you are amazing!!

  • Jeff Greene : May 6th

    I have heard that bobcats make scarier noises than mountain lions, if that makes you feel any better? But staying close to others in mountain lion country is always a good idea. I won’t hike alone with my beagle in wilderness areas they frequent for that reason.


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