Night of the Cougar
Starting the PCT was one of the most surreal moments of my life. It’s strange when a long-standing dream becomes reality in a matter of moments. You try your best to soak it all in, but the task that lies ahead quickly consumes the mind.
A Brief Recap
My first day on trail was pretty sweet. I gave my family a salute and started hiking upon the drop of the song Busman’s Holiday by the Allah-Las. It was a moment that I had imagined for months during training and it felt as epic as I had envisioned it would.
I started the trail with a guy by the name of Skillet at mile 2 and would proceed to cruise the first few miles with him. Along the way, I would end up crossing over a few different groups of people before eventually setting up camp for the night in Hauser Creek at mile 15.5.
A small group of us prepared dinner and had a communal circle while munching some grub. After dinner, I pitched camp and got everything set up for the night. My routine involves some music, writing, and scouting out the next day on Guthook (navigation app).
Shortly after falling asleep, I was awoken by some ballistic yelling coming from roughly 50 meters to the south. I immediately heard a guy yelling at the top of his lungs to “get the f*** away.” His voice echoed up the canyon walls and all throughout camp. I could hear a satellite phone ringing and hours of conversation on a speaker. He was having a full-blown marathon of a panic attack and was claiming that a mountain lion was outside of his tent.
This was a strange series of events that just didn’t add up. We weren’t really sure what was going on. Nobody else witnessed anything and there had been quite a few people camped out in the area. Regardless, chaos ensued for hours on end. This dude kept calling someone and had them on speaker as he was freaking out. He would even rapidly say, “please pick-up, please pick-up,” abetting the phone would jingle. At one point he even claimed to have lost motor control of his body.
Things would get loud for a bit, then go quiet. I’d fall back asleep and then be woken again by more yelling and phone calls. It was a constant cycle all night long. I almost yelled out of frustration, but I couldn’t get a solid read on the situation. Not enough to potentially put myself at risk. Even though I felt bad for the guy, the unpredictable nature of his behavior signaled a bit of danger.
In the morning everyone consulted with each other about what the heck had happened. Piecing together this five-hour episode that was the ultimate audible. It was my first night on trail and I was in disbelief at how it all went down. It was quite the introduction to thru-hiking and the talk of the town in the morning.
Hours later we would stop in Lake Morena to wait out the heat after our summit in the morning. About two hours later, a dude in a felt fedora comes walking into the area we were all occupying. One of my mates asked him if he had seen a cougar last night and his eyes got big as he immediately said, “yes.” He said some other explicit words, but you get it. Upon this response, we collectively deemed him as “Cougar”.
With much laughter, he took the name with pride. To this day, he still goes by the name. Nobody knows if there was actually a cougar in the canyon that night, but the legend will survive regardless. Cougar will always be what comes to mind when I think about my first night on the PCT. If anything, it was a sign of what was to come. What an electric introduction to the trail.
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