Steamboat Springs Mountain bike rider Dave Dietrich wasn't sure how he should feel Monday evening after coming across a full-grown mountain lion on Emerald Mountain.
"It was one of the neatest encounters of my life - it was also the most interesting and the most frightening," Dietrich said.
Dietrich, who works in sales for Moots Cycles, said he was riding on the new Quarry Mountain Trail when he came across the big cat walking along the trail, which bypasses the Lane of Pain to the top of the ridge.
"I got off my bike, picked it up and held it above my head to look bigger," Dietrich said. "I started yelling, and I slammed my bike down hoping that the cat would run away, but it was unfazed."
Dietrich even tried throwing a rock, but with no success. The biker and the big cat stood less than 50 yards apart, looking at one another, for two or three minutes.
Finally Dietrich, who didn't want to turn his back on the mountain lion, said he began to back down the trail while keeping his bike in front of him. He lost sight of the mountain lion, and when he felt he was a safe distance away, Dietrich said, he jumped on his bike and rode back down the trail.
"I think he was as surprised to see me as I was to see him," Dietrich said. "On my way down, I warned other riders that he was up there."
Jim Haskins, area wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said it's very unusual to have a face-to-face encounter with a mountain lion.
"From what I hear, the cyclist did just about everything right," Haskins said. "You don't want to run away because a mountain lion will see you as prey."
Dietrich, who has a degree in wildlife management and is an avid bow hunter, said he has seen signs of mountain lions on Emerald Mountain in the past, including tracks on the backside of a mountain lion kill. But this was his first encounter with the real deal.
Haskins said it would not be uncommon to see a mountain lion anywhere in the county and that most mountain bike trails and hiking trails lead into areas populated by mountain lions and bears. Haskins said anyone who ventures out on local trails might encounter wildlife.Haskins said bear encounters are more common, because bears come closer to human populations when scavenging for food in trash cans. Mountain lions tend to avoid human contact, he said.
Haskins recommends making a little noise when riding and hiking in the backcountry. People who encounter a mountain lion or bear, Haskins said, should try to look big.
If wearing a coat, open it up and stand tall. He said to avoid looking into a mountain lion's eyes, because the big cat might mistake the look as an act of aggression. Haskins also said people should never turn their back on the animal or try to run.
"The cat was beautiful, and I got to see it up close and personal," Dietrich said. "I just tried not to freak out, and I tried to keep my composure."