Add a mountain lion to the colorful lore connected to the Western States 100 ultramarathon that finished in Auburn this weekend.
Veteran European ultra competitor Ildiko Wermescher reported an encounter on the trail with a mountain lion Saturday, State Parks Supervising Ranger Scott Liske said Monday.
“She was running solo and was shaken up by it,” Liske said.
Wermescher, a professional distance runner sponsored by Swiss outdoor equipment maker Mammut, reported sighting the cougar in the dark on Western States Trail near Brown’s Bar, 10 miles from the Auburn finish line.
Wermescher, 52, ran back until she came into contact with two other runners and they proceeded together to Auburn without further incident, Liske said. Wermescher, who has also competed under the German flag, finished eighth among women entrants, completing the grueling run just before 3 a.m. Sunday in 21 hours 50 minutes and 32 seconds.
While sightings by Western States 100 runners of mountain lions during the early summer ultramarathon have not been reported in the past, the 2011 edition of the run included an encounter by eventual second-place finisher Kami Semick with three bears as she started the final uphill ascent from the American River canyon past Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge. In that incident, a mother bear jumped onto the trail from a tree and started hissing at Semick and her pacer.
More runners gathered on the trail and were able to gather enough courage to go around the mother and two cubs.
The Tevis Cup 100-mile horse ride – scheduled for Aug. 5 this summer – had a mountain lion sighting last year near the trail, but not close enough for ride officials to inform participants during the event. The sighting was in the Michigan Bluff area. A volunteer reported driving out of the veterinary aid station and seeing the cougar crossing the road.
Saturday’s sighting came eerily close to the location of a mountain lion attack that killed runner Barbara Schoener on a section of the Western States Trail near Auburn Lake Trails in El DoradoCounty in April 1994.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s count shows 14 mountain lion attacks on human in California since 1986, including three that were fatal. The department estimates there are 4,000 to 6,000 mountain lions roaming statewide.
To avoid mountain lion encounters and stay safe, authorities recommend never hiking, biking or running alone. Hikers and runners in mountain lion country should avoid trails when cougars are most active – dawn, dusk and at night. Children should be watched closely at all times and mountain lions should never be approached.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends facing the mountain lion during an encounter, not running. Instead, people should make noises, wave their arms and throw rocks or other objects. And, if attacked, fight back, Fish and Wildlife says.