A Hair-Raising New Years in Ouray

Colorado, Ouray, San Juan Mountains, fireworks, new years
Ouray New Years Fireworks : Prints Available

New Years 2020 fireworks celebration over the town of Ouray, Colorado, with Mount Abrams and the San Juan Mountains towering behind.

My last hours of 2019 ended with quite a hair-raising experience, and I have a crazy story to tell you from my outings last night to photograph the New Years fireworks.

I had an idea last night to snowshoe up to a cliff overlooking town to gain a unique perspective of the fireworks over the valley, so at 10:30pm I bundled up, strapped on my snowshoes and headlamp, and started trudging up through knee deep powder towards my destination. When I was only about ten minutes up from the road, I was alarmed when I saw three or four pairs of orange eyes reflecting at me from behind some bushes up ahead. My first thought was that they were probably just deer. But I was a bit concerned that the eyes were orange; typically I remember all the deer I’ve seen at night having greenish colored eyes in light of my headlamp. Even more alarming, though, was the fact that the eyes had a certain calm and confidence to them – the animals clearly were not afraid of me and had no intention of fleeing like deer normally would.

About 20-30 feet from the “eyes”, I could see that one of the animals was standing up while the other two or three were sitting or laying down. I took a few more steps closer to get a closer look when I got a clear view of the one that was standing. It was a massive mountain lion staring right at me! Along with two or three of his buddies* (I was too focussed on the big guy to count the others). Holy shit. I quietly turned around and retreated back down through the snow, trying not to seem panicked or rushed like prey, but constantly glancing over my shoulder while trying not to trip over my snowshoes. I got back to my truck without incident, got in as fast as I could, and got the hell out of there, with a bit of adrenaline pumping through my veins!

So, although I was scared away from my intended photo destination, at least I got a story to tell! I had enough time to drive to an old standby vantage point and take the photo above as a consolation shot.

Happy New Year! I hope 2020 is full of more excitement and adventure, though preferrably not involving close encounters with mountains lion gangs!

* P.S. – It’s possible it was a momma lion with her teenage cubs; I didn’t get a good look at the others, just the big one standing in front.

8 thoughts on “A Hair-Raising New Years in Ouray

  1. Man, that’s way too close for comfort. We see the track all around Ouray, but in daylight. They’re out there. Wouldn’t want to be wearing awkward snowshoes when encountering mountain lions…
    mark

    1. Yeah I felt like a sitting duck in the deep snow, especially with 3 or 4 of them. But, thankfully they were just chilling out, and also I had a super bright headlamp so probably they could only see the bright light and possibly just didn’t want to mess with what they couldn’t discern. Maybe? I don’t know…

  2. Hey, I’ve heard that if you encounter a mountain lion, DON’T turn around to retreat; retreat while still facing them. Is that correct?

    1. Yes, that is totally correct; however, I was wearing snowshoes, and in deep powder it’s impossible to walk backwards in snowshoes! So I had no choice but to turn around, but my neck was like Gumby I was looking back so much!

  3. Wow, sounds exciting. Even more so in that you couldn’t just walk backwards in snow shoes and instead had to turn around. That would have been the terrifying part even trying to look over your shoulder. I was lucky enough to see one in late afternoon light on an overnight Westwater trip. I was hiking up to the base of a cliff to have a look around and with about 20 feet of scrambling left I looked up and saw it standing there directly where I was heading, we locked eyes for a second, and then he/she took off.

    1. Wow that sounds intense too! I think one advantage I may have had was my bright headlamp at night; I think maybe it helped that they couldn’t see what I was or how big I was, perhaps. It’s really difficult to say how lucky I was or how much of a close call it was. At the time I was pretty calm and didn’t feel threatened (of course that would have changed had they moved towards me!). The lions were just chilling out and didn’t seem to me to be aggressive. So I’m not sure if they are the instant impulse killing machines that everybody talks about. But on the other hand, it could have gone bad very quickly. I don’t know what to think about it… my wife thinks I’m too casual in my reaction!

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