Stock landscape and outdoor adventure photos from Oregon, Washington, and the Pacific Northwest

North Sister Adventure: Mountain Lions, Pure Panic, and the Attack of “Wer Sprecht That?”

Sometimes, strange things pop into my head when I think I’m about to die.  On one recent close encounter, I muttered the words “Wer sprecht that,” which was a phrase I had not used in more than a decade.  This poorly composed German-English hybrid-of-a-phrase was originally coined many years earlier by Eric Poynter–one of my very best friends in college. 

Eric was just shy of 6’3.”  He had curly red hair and freckles, and he almost always had a big giant smile draped across his face.  When I first met him, he was wearing a somewhat undersized baby blue sweatshirt with bright yellow iron-on letters arching across its chest that read “Yo Mamma!”  He was the unique kind of guy who could wear a shirt like that through the inner city neighborhoods where our school was located, and actually get away with it.  He was also one of those crazy college kids who would chew and swallow plastic beer cups, press his tongue against frozen flag poles, or put a mound of mousse on his head and light it on fire just for laughs.  Eric had a ton of hilarious one-liners and in many socially awkward moments (e.g., when certain bodily sounds escaped anonymously from a crowd), I remember him just openly and honestly asking “Wer sprecht that?”  Loosely translated, it means “Who said that?”

 

After graduating as a pharmacist, Eric began to miss his days on the catwalk, and he eventually chose to go back into modeling.

After graduating as a pharmacist, Eric began to miss his days on the catwalk, and he eventually chose to go back into modeling.

 

Before attempting to explain the attack that I survived near North Sister in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness Area, I feel like I should warn you upfront that this frightening experience is going to be somewhat difficult for me to put into words.  Not for emotional reasons, but mostly because I’m not exactly sure which letters best represent the sound of a huge mountain lion.  To adequately follow this story, you will need to do your best to imagine the meanest growl you’ve ever heard in your life every time that I type the letters “GRRROOOOWWWWL.”

OK, now that we’ve established the rules for reading, I’ll get on with it.  This experience started late one winter when my wife made the mistake of leaving me home alone for a week while she visited family in St Louis.  After a few days of living like a drunken bachelor, I decided that I was ready for a little winter photo adventure.  I have always had a hefty dose of affection (some might call it an affliction) for North Sister, and so I decided that I would try to do some exploring around the Millican Crater area.  I had been off trail in this area once before, and I remembered thinking that there were some pretty wide open views of North Sister along one of the ridges to the East.  I figured I could probably find my way back to that general area and get some nice stock photos of the mountain around sunset.  It was still wintertime up in the higher elevations of the Cascade Mountains, so I packed up the camera and snowshoes and headed out for a solo exploration. 

 

 Photo of Oregon's Three Sisters Mountains reflecting in Scott Lake.  From left to right: North Sister, Middle Sister, and South Sister.

Photo of Oregon's Three Sisters Mountains reflecting in Scott Lake. From left to right: North Sister, Middle Sister, and South Sister.

 

Not long after leaving the Jeep on snowshoes, I found the ridge line and started trekking cross-country into the forest of Ponderosa and Lodge Pole pines.  I climbed along the cliff band, zigzagging over downed trees and in and out of snow for about an hour or so before I was finally forced to admit that the mountain views were not as open as I had remembered.  I was very close to the mountain, but I couldn’t find a photo composition that wasn’t at least partially obstructed by tree branches.  Determined to find an open spot along the ridgeline, I continued deeper into the woods until I realized that the weather was beginning to turn on me. 

The light was fading quickly and the wind had started to pick up.  As the wind whispered through the trees, it would occasionally release an eerie, screeching sound as the taller pine tops rubbed against one another. The screeching sounds were kind of creeping me out, and the farther I went into the forest, the more nervous I got about whether or not I was going to be able to find my way back to the Jeep in the dark because the patchy snow melt meant that I was not going to be able to simply follow my snowshoe tracks out of the woods as I had originally planned.  With darkness settling into the trees and the air getting noticeably colder, I decided that it was probably safest for me to abandon my photo expedition and head back home.

 

Photo of North Sister in Central Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness Area.

Photo of North Sister in Central Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness Area.

 

Just then, as I started to reverse direction, I heard the loud “GRRROOOOWWWWL” of a mountain lion standing directly behind me.  I spun around as quickly as I could, and with eyes the size of ping pong balls, I began frantically scanning the woods for the source of the sound.  Finding no hairy beasts behind me, my mind jolted to a story that I had recently heard about some people who spotted a cougar perched in the trees while hiking on Pilot Butte.  I jerked my neck toward the sky, focusing my gaze from branch to branch in the trees overhead but I still couldn’t make eye contact with whatever it was that had just growled at me.  The fear was now pulsing through my bloodstream, and as I started mentally re-tracing my actions, I came to the realization that I had made several fatal mistakes.  With my wife out of town, I had gone into the woods alone without telling anyone where I was going or when to expect me back.  Even if I was to survive the imminent attack, I figured there was very little chance for rescue. 

I decided there was no time to waste.  I picked up my hiking poles and held them like two aluminum spears as I started making my way back to the truck.  Panicked, and panting very loudly, I moved slowly through the dark woods using a sort of spinning motion every few steps to make sure that nothing could sneak up on me from behind.  Unfortunately, with all of the spinning, I didn’t notice that I was approaching the edge of a nearby embankment.  My snowshoe slipped off of its edge, and in a split second, I was sliding helplessly down the slope.  To make matters worse, the lion let out another fierce “GRRROOOOWWWWL” at the exact moment that my weight slid out from under me.  I rolled to the bottom of the hill and landed in a fetal position.  Laying there, curled up in the snow, I knew that I probably looked like a small child to whatever huge creature was stalking me, and having just heard the second ““GRRROOOOWWWWL,” I fully expected to feel the weight of the cougar pouncing onto my back at any moment.  I quickly rolled over, and as I fought to get back onto my feet, my snowshoe broke through the crusty snow below me releasing an eerily familiar “growling” sound.  I paused for a second, and then I twisted my other snowshoe through the crust . . . again simulating a “growl.”   

And that’s when it occurred to me that there never was a mountain lion. It was simply my mind playing tricks on me.   The entire episode was just a by-product of my imagination, and probably at least partially related to the fact that subconsciously, I must have been a little panicked about being so far back in the woods alone after dark without any back up disaster plan.  As I re-played the episode in my head, I realized that the first growl occurred as I shifted directions in the snow and the second happened as my foot slipped down the slope.  Convinced that the all of the sounds had simply come from my snowshoes breaking though the crusty snow (and not from a huge hungry cat), I let out a nervous chuckle and thought to myself, “Wer sprecht that?”

Posted by Troy McMullin

NOTE: If you want to see additional pictures of North Sister, you can browse the Mountain gallery on Pacific Crest Stock or search the site for “Three Sisters.”  If you want to see pictures of the stalking mountain lion, you can visit the Atlas Snowshoe site.

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  1. Greg

    LMAO!!! Your momma must not have brought you up right, boy!;-)

    Great site guys! I finally got connected again so thought I’d check it out. Very impressive and entertaining!!

    Feb 19, 2009 @ 7:02 am


  2. Gordon Bunting

    A little too much information. A better story striving to achieve the “look how silly I was while walking in the woods” gold star might have started with the strange noises and ended with “after leveling every lodgepole pine around me with the barrage from my AA12 automatic shotgun (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhstuvzMiB0) I could just barely see through the cordite haze the small woodchuck that was making the noise I had heard. (Note- any references to self created fears are edited out.) As I had emptied the magazine on the AA12 and a small fire was now developing from the incendiary rounds, I had to vaporize him with my 454 casull as I walked back down the mountain. What a silly day to walk in the woods. I made a note to myself not to drink the second fifth of scotch before heading out to take photos again. I had just made it down the mountain as the fire vehicles passed me on their way up to put out the blaze.
    The end.

    Mar 10, 2009 @ 9:47 pm


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