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It has been a year and a half since I left my home in San Diego for an ‘extended’ holiday. For the most part, I have been off-road camping throughout the US and now Canada. I have experienced many adventures on the trip. One of the more frightening ones took place in Bryce Canyon, Utah. It happened a month into my journey, with a friend named Tom in Zion National Park.


Riding into Zion is a beautiful gradual climb in a vibrant green landscape scattered through yellow meadows, clear rivers and ponds. There are also a slew of wonderful hoodoos. Hoodoos are weathered canyons that occur because of special conditions allowing water to seep into rock faces, thawing and freezing to break apart the rock. This reaction forms strange wonderful weathered lines along the canyon walls- almost pseudo-realistic.

The first night, we wilderness camped near a beautiful meadow overlooking a still clear pond. Around 7:00 pm we hiked up the mountain to grab some seldom seen views of the canyon. The trail climbing up was no wider than 3 feet with a very sharp graded drop off following along the sides of the path; if you slipped, it would be a long, nasty slide down. At the top of the trail, we lost track of time, watching as the lowering sun brought out the vibrant reds of the hoodoo canyon around us. Suddenly, we realized it was getting very dark and faced a difficult 3-mile hike down.

On the way down I mentioned to Tom, “Aren’t there mountain lions around here?” Tom said “Yeah but they’re usually only out around dusk”. I began laughing nervously inside- it was dusk.

Halfway down the trail, Tom’s headlamp reflected off two gleaming yellow eyes staring at us, 20 yards ahead from a curve in the path. Tom said, “Did you see that…?”

He shined the light again, and our greatest fear revealed itself in Tom’s headlamp- a large, beastly mountain lion! It had situated itself in a corner spot where if we continued hiking, we surely would have been trapped. The lion probably followed us up the mountain during our hike. This killing machine was stalking us.

Tom starting shouting and clapping trying to get the beast to leave, but the lion was not startled at all and appeared ready to run at us. My heart started to race, I took a mental note of the anxiety within me, I felt that we were at our end.

Suddenly, time slowed. I remember thinking about the bizarreness of the situation and filing every emotion I was experiencing into memory: “If I’m going to die here, better to be at peace. If I survive, it is best to know how I was able to stop everything”. I truly took in the world and curiously, feel it was as close to bliss as I’ve ever been.

With seconds left to act before we were attacked. I grabbed Tom and we butt-slid down the sharp gravel slope with such speed it was a miracle we didn’t tumble into an out of control spin. Our gravel sleigh ride tore holes in our pants as we rocketed down to a lower part of the trail. With a bit of luck, heavy branches, and nosiness, we made it back to camp.

After a restless night, knowing the lion was somewhere near camp above us, we were able to joke about our experience in the morning.

The encounter is a holiday experience I will never forget!

[This story was submitted by Tony Santoloci. Thank you Tony and everyone who participated in this month’s contest. Happy storytelling!]

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