A hiker says a cougar lunged at him twice during a “terrifying” encounter with the big cat on a trail near Nelson, B.C., that lasted almost an hour.
Cody McLachlan, 30, said he ultimately had to hit the animal with a large stick to stop it from attacking him before it left him alone.
He said he was three hours into a solo hike up to a CBC transmitter tower along the Flagpole Trail on Wednesday afternoon when the animal suddenly pounced at him from behind a tree.
McLachlan, who said he often uses trails in the area, said he hadn’t heard any noises that would have acted as a warning that a cougar was nearby.
But all of a sudden the animal was right in front of him, hissing at him, he said.
WATCH | A cougar silently watches Cody McLachlan from the trees along a popular trail near Nelson, B.C.:
“Then we both backed away from each other. And then we had to stare down for about 10 minutes,” McLachlan said.
“And I picked up a rock and it finally went away.”
But as McLachlan began on his way down the trail, he noticed the cougar was following him.
After about 10 or 20 minutes, he said he stopped to record a video of the animal spying on him from between the trees.
‘It started to run toward me’
McLachlan said immediately after he stopped filming, the cougar began creeping downhill toward him, staying low to the ground.
This time, it didn’t back down.
“It started to run toward me and I had a rock in my hand already. And so I threw the rock at it when I was, like, 10 feet [three metres] away from me,” McLachlan said.
As the animal continued to charge, McLachlan said he picked up a big stick.
“I whacked it in the head with it and then it ran away again. And then I continued down the trail again and I kept having to look around and make sure it wasn’t following me,” he said.
McLachlan said the animal was about as big as a large mastiff dog and was displaying aggressive behaviour, including growling, and wouldn’t back off despite repeated attempts at warding it away.
“I was yelling and screaming at it and waving my arms up in the air and it didn’t care at all. It just kept coming toward me. I just … I felt hopeless, and it was terrifying for sure,” McLachlan said.
After chasing the cougar away for a second time, McLachlan said he hoped he wouldn’t see it again — but he did, 10 or 20 minutes later. However, this time, the cougar didn’t come close to him, he said.
McLachlan said he called 911 to report the encounter, and about halfway down the trail he met conservation officers and told them what had happened.
Flagpole Trail closed for 2 weeks
The B.C. Conservation Officer Service (BCCOS) said it has recommended that regional park staff close the upper trail where the encounter occurred for at least two weeks before reassessing.
The service said it had received information that a similar cougar encounter occurred in the same area three days before McLachlan’s experience. It urged anyone who experiences an aggressive cougar to report it to them.
“In the unlikely event that you encounter a cougar, stop, remain calm, do not turn your back and run, maintain eye contact, look big and be assertive. If attacked, fight back,” BCCOS said in a statement.
The Regional District of West Kootenay confirmed signage has been posted saying the Flagpole Trail is closed, but the lower Pulpit Rock Trail, one of the most popular in the Nelson area, is still open to the public.
McLachlan, who is training to fight wildfires in the Kootenay region, said the experience left him shaken and gave him a sleepless night.
He said he left his bear spray in his car before the hike, but would definitely remember to take it next time.