Close encounter with cougars in Palo Alto

Big cats get within feet of Greenmeadow resident Warren Storkman

Warren Storkman, 89, has had a lifetime of adventure, traveling to remote corners of the world on treks to some of the world's highest peaks. But perhaps the biggest rush the Palo Alto resident has had in a long time occurred recently in his hometown.

Storkman, a vigorous hiker who walks about 2.5 hours at a time in the foothills, was taken by surprise recently by not one, but two young male mountain lions along a stretch of trail in Foothills Park. The first lion came within reach of him; the second sat down and made eye contact, he said.

"They were beautiful, just beautiful. It was a real thrill," he said on Monday afternoon.

But then, he recalled, he thought about his situation.

"I could've been in a lot of trouble," he said.

Storkman was walking up a trail in Wildhorse Valley around 9:53 a.m. on May 23. The Los Trancos Trail took him up the canyon and over a bridge, crossing a tributary of Buckeye Creek. He came to a cliff of hard rock -- the hottest part of Foothills, he said -- and as he walked down a hill, the land turned increasingly barren.

Suddenly, the first cougar bounded out of the brush. He was quickly followed by the second in a feline game of tag.

"The first guy, he was going lickity split. The other one enjoyed chasing him. The first one came around a curve. He came within a foot or two of me, then he went off the trail over the cliff. The other one stopped within 8 feet of me. He sat down and looked at me," he said.

The young cougar locked eyes with Storkman.

"After I got over my happiness, my joy turned to fear. I could see him thinking: 'Should I take this dude or not?' I threw up my arms and started screaming and yelling," he said, and the cougar ran off.

As to why they didn't attack, Storkman said the lions were distracted by each other.

"They were having a fun day. That's my observation."

The element of surprise probably saved Storkman from being mauled by the first lion, he said. As the large, graceful animal bounded across the trail, it turned and looked at him, but it kept going.

"If the first one had thought about it, I might've been the one to go over the cliff. In that 19- to 15-second encounter, I had to think fast," he said.

Storkman said he feels privileged to have seen two mountain lions. For all of the years he has spent in nature, he only saw his first cougar at age 82. At the time, he was walking on Black Mountain Trail.

Two youths came running toward him after spotting the lion. It was a female that had killed a deer and had a cub somewhere nearby that was feeding on the carcass, a ranger later told him.

As Storkman and a passing couple went up the trail, he first glimpsed the lion's long, tawny tail, then the lion, which had just consumed its catch.

"She was stuffed and lethargic as hell," he recalled.

Storkman, who lives in the Greenmeadow neighborhood, is no novice with wildlands hiking. He has organized many peak-climbing trips for the Sierra Club's Loma Prieta Chapter, and he made 41 visits to Nepal, he said. He has climbed four of the Seven Summits, the tallest peaks in the world, Mera and Island peaks in Nepal, Aconcagua in Argentina and Elbrus in Russia, each near or exceeding 20,000 to 21,000 feet. He twice climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, he said.

A native Californian, Storkman was born in Woodland. His father, a pool hall owner, was shot by robbers and died while Storkman was an infant, he said. As a boy, he moved to San Francisco in 1931 with his mother. His stepfather was in the cigar and liquor store business, and Storkman followed suit, owning several liquor stores in the city, he said.

Losing his natural father had a large impact on his life, he said. He has served as a mentor to young people for many decades, first as a Boy Scout leader in Menlo Park and Atherton, until age 83, then as a philanthropist. Six years ago, he and a friend from Los Altos raised $70,000 to remodel a school building in Nepal. The school has educated 24 orphaned girls, with one becoming a nurse and another planning to attend medical school. His next project will raise money to put lights into homes in a remote region of Nepal, he said.

Though Storkman has given up the long Nepalese treks with his wife, Dixie, at high elevations -- at age 72, he climbed up to 22,000 feet -- he hasn't given up on his adventures.

"My next thrill is to fly into remote airports and have a Tibetan pony carry me where I want to go. There are lots of great things in store for me," he said.


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18 people like this
Posted by Grumpy old guy
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jun 24, 2016 at 9:58 am

To stay safe, walk with a friend. If attacked, remember you don't have to outrun the mountain lion. You just have to outrun your 'friend'. 😁

7 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2016 at 11:19 am

[Post removed.]

22 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 24, 2016 at 11:23 am

Annette is a registered user.

Great article - thanks for providing not only the alert re the big cats but also the inspirational profile of an interesting Palo Altan. It was a pleasure to read something uncontroversial for a change!

12 people like this
Posted by Sandra Farrell
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2016 at 11:34 am

Warren, you are an inspiration. I wish you many years of hiking our beautiful hills, spotting cougars, badgers, foxes and maybe someday, wolves and grizzlies. My encounters were years ago, us on a Vespa and a tawny and a black cougar running by the side of the road to Portola State Park. Saw them on several occasions over a couple of years.
My friend who lives up there has a resident cougar who shows up from time to time.

16 people like this
Posted by Hanoverian
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 24, 2016 at 12:00 pm

At a training stable in the Calaveras Hills, where I once worked, I saw a cougar--very large, probably a male--resting quietly just below the peak of the hill the stable-owner's house was on.

The stable owner walked out of his back door, spotted the cougar, and rushed back inside. From previous experience with coyotes, snakes, wild pigs, turkeys, even ground squirrels, I KNEW he was going to come back out with his rifle! I had my students create a ruckus of whistles and cat-calls (no pun intended) to alert the cougar and scare him off.

Sure enough, less than 60seconds later, the stable owner walks out of his house with his rifle loaded and aimed--at the cougar who was no longer there! Foiled again!

Don't kill apex predators!

2 people like this
Posted by Aaron Schuman
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 25, 2016 at 4:25 am

Warren scared those poor mountain lions half to death!

1 person likes this
Posted by nereader
a resident of Escondido School
on Jun 25, 2016 at 8:51 am

Warran was 83 right? But then how did the news reporter get his future?

Like this comment
Posted by nereader
a resident of Escondido School
on Jun 25, 2016 at 9:07 am

Oops. He was 89. I thought he was 83.

Like this comment
Posted by Thorstein Veblen
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 25, 2016 at 10:01 am

Am I the only one who thought this was going to be about Thursday nights at the Rosewood Sand Hill?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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