The researcher was adjusting the camera mounted on a tree just off the ski trail as the picture was taken. The time was imprinted on the photo. She picked up her pack and skied off. The camera lens closed again. This photo caught the image of a long black-tipped tail. Less than four minutes after the researcher had left, a cougar – a.k.a. mountain lion – moved down the same trail.
We’re not all lucky enough to have wildlife cameras strapped to trees to witness the movement of animals on the same paths we travel, but that shouldn’t stop us from appreciated the wealth of wildlife in an area. I can’t begin to count how many times we’ve come back from a backcountry ski or winter walk and not seen a single animal – but still “saw” a moose, coyote and raven. Learning to read animal tracks can add depth to winter walks and backcountry ski trips.
Last winter we hiked into Grotto Canyon (about an hour west of Calgary, AB), and followed a set of indistinct tracks for a kilometer or so until the tail drag and clawless cat print became visible. Heads up we quickly backtracked and left the feline to enjoy the views.
We took a popular cross-country ski trail past the Nakiska ski hill in Kananaskis Country one weekend and started noticing the abundance of snowshoe hare tracks just off the trail. A short ways up we noticed different tracks. They weren’t dog tracks. Not a member of the cloven-hooved deer family. Nope, they were cat tracks – big, almost round, fuzzy-edged tracks belonging to the lynx.
Along with all of the gear you’d normally take in your winter pack, consider adding a small track guidebook. I like the Stokes Guide to Animal Tracking & Behaviour. The stories in the snow tell tales of wildlife adventure that can another element of interest to your backcountry adventures!