By Claire Piech
A mountain biker was chased by a cougar down a trail near Lost Lake last weekend, following an intense standoff with the animal.
Steven Patterson was finishing up a five-hour mountain bike ride on Saturday evening when he came across the large predator along the Comfortably Numb Loop.
“It just popped out of the forest onto the bike trail. I guess it heard the bike coming and ran towards it. It came out to my left, just a bit beside me. I got off on the other side of my bike, and kept the bike between me and it the whole time as it slowly sauntered over,” said Patterson.
Patterson, who had stopped by Whistler for a bike ride on his way to see a friend in Pemberton, described the animal to be about two or three years old and “young, curious, playful, and really unpredictable”.
“It was pretty scary, but you’ve got to keep your wits about you. The cougar was just hunkered down low, and that is what worried me. It was unusual how close it was. I’ve worked in bush camps for years, and I’ve seen a number of other cougars, but they are usually up in trees and hissing. This one wasn’t,” said Patterson of the confrontation.
Patterson and the cougar held the intense standoff for a few moments, at times only 10 feet apart. All the while, Patterson continued to keep the bike between him and the cat, while slowly talking and maintaining eye contact.
“When it finally seemed like I could maybe descend again and gain some ground, I whirled around, got back on my bike, and road as fast as possible. I yelled to a couple of hikers I met on the way out of the trail, but wasn’t about to stop,” he said.
The cougar chased Patterson along the trail until the disc golf course, where it finally lost interest.
According to Conservation Officer Chris Doyle this is not the first cougar spotted this summer in Whistler, with sporadic sightings reported from all over the area.
“This is normal. You have to expect there to be a few cougar sightings each year,” said Doyle. “However, people do need to be aware that cougars are out on the trail and take the proper precautions.”
These precautions include traveling in small groups and being watchful over household pets and children, which are easy prey for cougars.
“If you do encounter a cougar in the wild, never turn your back on them. Never run or flee. Make yourself as big as possible and try to intimidate the cougar. Pick up a stick and wave it in the air and back away slowly,” warned Doyle.
According to Doyle, there has never been a cougar attack on a human in Whistler. Cougar attacks in general are extremely rare, and most often come from small animals that are desperate for food.
Whistler’s most recent incident with a cougar happened three years ago, when a mountain biker was chased near Alpine Meadows.
“It does happen once in a while that a cougar chases after a mountain biker,” Doyle said. “I don’t really know why this happens. I guess when people flee, it causes the cougar to instinctually pursue them.”
Doyle is not sure if last weekend’s cougar will be seen again this summer.
“I know that with the mountain biker incident a few years back, we didn’t get any other reports of the cougar afterwards. So it could easily just be a one off thing,” he said.
To report a cougar sighting, contact the local Conservation Office at 1-800-663-WILD (9453).