Camping Can Kill You – Predators

When I told folks about my hiking adventure and they learned that I was camping alone, many issued dire predictions of my imminent death.

But I was prepared to counter any threat by predators. Here was my scheme for coping with unwanted animalistic attention…


Last time I went camping alone, I slept with a hunting knife under my pillow. But since then, I’ve taken a self-defense class and I’ve learned that unless you’re well trained in how to use a weapon, the likelihood of it being taken from you and used against you are high. This caught my attention. Carved up by a hunting knife doesn’t sound like much fun.

This time, my friend Vanessa gave me a hatchet. Really—a hatchet? I tried to use it one night to make kindling, but it became pretty apparent within a stroke or two that I was about to lop of a finger. That thing was unwieldy.

So the hatchet was really just for protection. I protested to Vanessa and said I probably wouldn’t use it—that even if I was being attacked, I don’t think I’d have the huevos to hatchet someone in the face.

She told me that I didn’t even have to use it, that if I was seen walking around camp with a hatchet it would be enough of a deterrent to ward off would-be 2-legged predators. It was her “crazy chic” theory. You don’t have to be crazy or use the hatchet, just place enough doubt in people’s mind that you MIGHT be crazy and MAY use the hatchet and it’ll work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOk—hatchet as deterrent. This seemed like a valid strategy except there was no one around my campsite. (Remember I rented a site for 30 all by myself…). So nobody was there to see me carrying around the hatchet.

Nevertheless, the first night I slept with it next to me (it was far too big to go under my pillow). Even then I was afraid I’d get up during the night and kneel on it and slice my knee open. The hatchet went back in the car trunk after that.

Besides there were no men predators around and I was never once scared of being attacked by a human.

Mountain Lions

The only time I was truly afraid was an early morning hike in the Kolob Canyon area of Zion. Like every morning, I started out before daybreak to drive to the park, getting there before it even opened.

Originally I hatched the plan to hike before the sweltering heat came, but then it turned out that I was hoping to hike before the afternoon thunderstorms arrived.

Anyway, I was usually out on the trail before 7:30 am, which meant I was the only one out there since the parks didn’t even open until 8:00.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was great because no one was on the trail. It was not so great, since the rangers weren’t even on duty yet and I’d be a good half-hour / hour into the hike before they could even find me.

As I started on the trail, I noticed the mountain lion warning at the trailhead. Now, there are mountain lion attacks in Northern California where I’m staying now, and I often hike alone, so I’ve read up on their habits.

They tend to pounce on you from behind from a high perch—like a rock or tree. They jump on your back and claw your head, effectively scalping you. Which doesn’t kill you, just maims you so they can come back and finish you off later. So you’ll survive the initial attack, it just won’t be pretty.

It’s very important with a mountain lion that you fight back. At home (and in Patagonia where I was also hiking alone and I saw a puma), I usually walk carrying a big rock. The idea is that as the mountain lion is clawing my head, I’m going to hit it upside the head with the rock and knock it out. That is, if I haven’t lost too much blood…

I was pretty spooked that morning and decided to carry a rock and a stick. The stick I thought would give me some swinging power before he launched on me (if I saw him in time).

The other times I’ve been attacked, the predators have come from behind and in a split second before, I saw them with my peripheral vision, so I was semi-confident I could get in a least one good swipe at the beast before my scalping. As a kid, I used to play softball, so I thought: “Let’s go out swinging!”

So double armed, rock in my left hand, stick in my right, I continued on my beautiful walk for hours. In addition to carrying my small arsenal, I spun around every few steps to look up and behind me for those launching pads. Unfortunately in the canyon, there were lots of them. I started calling these my canyon pirouettes. I didn’t end up seeing a mountain lion, but I did get pretty dizzy by the end of the hike.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Note: Later I stopped to talk to a ranger on my way out of the canyon and he said there had been a mountain lion sighting just a few months before in this very area. I’m sure she was out there. My Spidey-sense told me she was watching and waiting. I actually think it was the constant spinning that might have put off. She too was probably getting dizzy just watching me twirl.


I was told before my camping trip began that bears weren’t a worry since they don’t come down into Southwest Utah, so I was a little surprised to see the “Beware of Bears” warning signs.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t too concerned about bears. They don’t want to kill you, they just want to eat your food. And since I didn’t really have any open food at my campsite (camping calamity #1 – no stove), I was pretty sure they wouldn’t be coming my way.

But just to be safe, each night I pulled all my squirrel snacks and toiletries (toothpaste, suntan lotions, etc.) out of my tent and into my car.

Even if a bear came to the camp at night, I didn’t think I’d see a black bear in the darkness, but probably hear one sniffing around my tent or smell one (they’re supposed to smell pretty bad). Although thinking of my camping calamity #2 – no shower, maybe I’d be a rival for the bear in the off-putting smelliness department.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo my approach to bear invasion was simple. I’d rely on my whistle. If I smelled or heard a bear, I’d simply blow my whistle and scare him away. That was my grand plan.

In fact, that was pretty much my plan for dealing with all predators—blow my whistle. Which considering how my hot air I can blow, it’s actually a pretty good one.

Sleeping Like the Dead

Despite these thoughts of campsite murder, mountain lion scalping and becoming bear food, I slept soundly at night. Except for that one morning hike in Kolob, I was confident that I wouldn’t be harmed by a predator.

But I think my calmness was because I was more concerned with other hostilities, mainly natural disasters that seemed to be looming. In my mind, those seemed like a more realistic threat at the time. (Next up: Camping Can Kill You: Part 2 – Paradise)

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 15th, 2015 and is filed under On the Road.

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