Lions and rattlers and bears, oh my!

Last week, in the town next to mine, a mountain lion killed (and ate) a deer. It wasn’t in the forests, it wasn’t in the hills or in a state park where I am psyched for mountain lions. Nope, it was basically in my town, half a mile from my church, in a residential neighbourhood and a block away from the route I’d planned for Thursday’s early morning long run.

I changed my route. And then I got me thinking that if I came up against any of California’s biggest trail running menaces, I would have NO idea how to handle it so I’m putting this post together primarily for my own benefit but hopefully also for yours. I suspect that if I ran round a corner and found any of these beasts, I would freeze in fear and all my knowledge would go straight out of my head…but just in case I hold it together, this is what to do.

As ever, bear in mind that I’m a stay-at-home mum who googled all this content. I’m not Bear Grylls, a doctor, a survival skills expert or anything significant in the field!!

Mountain Lions

Not the kind of cat I like to cross my path.
Not the kind of cat I like to cross my path.

What to remember: Look big, make noise, back away, keep eye contact!

A great website I found said this:

If you do see a mountain lion, no matter how thrilled you are to be one of the very few who gets such an opportunity, stay well back, and take the encounter seriously.

Thrilled? I would POO MY PANTS!!

Apart from involuntary defecation, this is what to do:

  • Stop. Stay well back.
  • Make yourself as large as possible. Never easy when you’re 5’1.
  • Pick up small children without bending down. (This is actually impossible).
  • Open your jacket, raise your arms, wave your arms slowly.
  • Make a lot of noise. Bang, shout. Speak firmly, slowly and loudly.
  • Maintain eye contact with the lion.Never go past it.
  • Throw stones or branches at it without bending down. (!)
  • Back slowly to a spot that gives the lion a chance to get away, without looking away from it for a second. Never turn away.
  • If attacked, fight back. Protect your neck and throat.


Not a rattlesnake, thank goodness!
Not a rattlesnake, thank goodness!

What to remember: Freeze, listen, retreat.

I can’t decide if I’m more scared of  rattlesnakes than mountain lions, but this is how to handle an encounter.

  • Be aware that they’re there. There are often signs up at trail-heads but basically if it’s hot, dry and scrubby, they’re probably there.
  • As such, always look ahead at the trail. Keep your eyes out and not immediately ahead but several feet ahead.
  • If you encounter one…FREEZE, LISTEN, RETREAT!
  • Freeze – stop immediately.
  • Listen – try to work out where the snake is so you don’t accidentally get closer.
  • Retreat – back off the way you came.
  • If possible, give it a wide berth and walk around it. Give it as much space as you can.
  • If they rattle, it’s a warning and you’re too close. Stand stock still and wait till the snake slithers off, which is what they want to do.
  • Warn other people and protect children and pets.

And if it goes wrong and you get bitten?

  • Roughly 25% of bites are dry and non-venemous. But a venomous bite HURTS!
  • Stay calm and seek medical help immediately. Ideally, make your friends carry you to safety. If you have to walk, walk slowly and rest often. An increased heart rate speeds the venom round the body.
  • Immobilise the wound and keep it below heart level.
  • Clean the wound with antiseptic wipes or soap.
  • Don’t cut the wound or suck the poison out. That makes it worse.
  • Remove anything that could restrict swelling – jewellery, watches etc. Don’t use a tourniquet.
  • Rattlesnake bites are curable with medical treatment but you’d die in the next 24 – 48 hours without help. Just so you know.


There are two types of bears you may come across…the Black Bear and the Grizzly. You deal with them very differently.Thank goodness this is not something we have to deal with in the Bay Area but in the California mountains, there are black bears in them there hills.

Not all bears wear bright red jackets to alert you to their presence.
Not all bears wear bright red jackets to alert you to their presence.

Black Bears

What to remember:  Calm voice, plenty of space, back away. If it goes tits up, play dead.

If you see a black bear:

  • Avoid bears as much as possible by travelling in groups and making plenty of noise as you go. I’m getting bear bells for my Colorado relay in August! Also carry bear spray.
  • Assume the bear is as freaked out as you are and wants to get away. Give him plenty of space to do just that.
  • Don’t climb a tree. Black bears can out-climb you.
  • Stick with your friends to make the group seem larger if possible.
  • Speak in a calm ‘appeasing’ tone. Back away slowly, ideally in the direction you came from. Walk and don’t run, keep watching the bear to see how he reacts. He will probably run off.
  • If attacked, use bear spray when the bear is 20 – 30 feet off. That should work as a deterrent. If not…spray the bear’s eyes, nose and mouth.
  • If the bear attacks,  play dead. Roll onto your stomach, protect your neck and the back of the head with your hands. Keep arms and legs out so the bear can’t flip you. Lie there until you are VERY sure he’s gone. That might be a long time. It will feel much longer.
  • If all else fails, fight. Go for the eyes, nose and face. Hit the bear with whatever’s around.

Info from here.

Grizzly Bears

What to remember: Avoid eye contact, speak calmly, don’t run, climb a tree

  • Avoid encounters by wearing bear bells and making noise.
  • Do not run.
  • Avoid direct eye contact.
  • Back away slowly if the bear is not approaching you.
  • Do not scream or yell. Speak calmly in a ‘monotone’ voice. Get your pepper spray out.
  • If he charges within 25 feet, use your spray.
  • You can climb a tree against a grizzly! They’re not good climbers.
  • If he attacks you, curl into a ball on your side or lie on your stomach.
  • Remain as quiet as possible during the attack.

Info from here.



What to remember: Kick the shins hard, fingernails to the face, go for the nose, run like hell.

Alas, probably the biggest danger to female runners is the predatory male. I’m basically going to refer you to a fantastic post that Angela wrote about how to deal with an attack from which I got the summary above. You should read the whole post now. Do it.

Now I’m totally freaked out. But I feel I am a little less clueless. Hope this is useful.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Liz Cairns says:

    That’s Scary – you take care and it makes me very glad I run in the Uk where the latter applies but the worst animals are stray dogs!

    1. Cathryn says:

      I know…I felt so safe running in the UK. However…stinging nettles and cows. None of that here 🙂

  2. Amy says:

    Scary, but very useful information. Thank you! We live very close to the mountains so these are all very real threats where we reside and run! Especially right now with a severe drought, we always have bears and cougars well into the city looking for food (as is probably the case where you are). Luckily, the only thing I’ve run into by myself has been a coyote. He had no interest in me whatsoever, but my instinctual response was to stay very still. Good to know that making lots of noise is better in other situations.

  3. And now, I am scared! A mountain lion around your place??!! That’s so scary. I think about the rattlesnakes every time I go hiking or trail running, but, honestly, I don’t think about mountain lions (I don’t think there are ones around my town… I think it is too dry for them… but not for the rattlesnakes). Anyways, thanks for the tips. I’ll make sure to remember those.

    1. Cathryn says:

      He was a few miles from my place but near a regular running route! Yeah, the snakes are probably more of a danger for you guys. Hope the info is useful!

  4. Angela says:

    Eek, this takes me back to running the Dish at Stanford & in the canyon behind my apartment when I lived in Belmont! There were lots of signs there about mountain lions & snakes but thankfully I never encountered any in person. (All the advice I ever heard about what to do is pretty much the same as you described.) There are some advantages to urban running! 😉

    1. Cathryn says:

      Yes! I quite like my suburbs too – no mountain lions here! I think I know your Belmont canyon – I’ve run there in the past and love it, but I was always a little edgy!

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