Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Cougar Attack, Watch your Back: Hiking Safety Tips

Seattle is famous for its close connections to nature.

Gorgeous waterways such as Puget Sound, Lake Washington and Lake Union surround the city on all sides. Parks line the expanse of Washington’s largest metropolis as do trails for joggers, hikers and bikers alike. Scenic vistas like Snoqualmie Falls and Golden Gardens Park are within an hour’s driving distance. For outdoor enthusiasts, Seattle offers an array of options that most other cities cannot boast.

Now that many of the highly anticipated “May Flowers” have finally made an appearance and the climate has shifted from the typical Seattle gloom to warmer weather, many students will be venturing off to explore what the Emerald City’s surrounding wilderness has to offer. But everyone should be aware of certain safety precautions to take before going on an outdoor excursion, especially after a recent local tragedy that left one man dead.

On May 19, two bikers were attacked by a cougar on a hiking trail east of Seattle near North Bend. The bikers, Isaac Sederbaum and S.J. Brooks, made loud noises and intimidating arm gestures, typical self defense techniques that are effective with cougars, which are usually skittish when confronted by humans. Although the animal originally ran, it returned and pounced on Sederbaum, clutching his head between its jaws as it shook vigorously. He suffered gruesome cuts to his head and upper body.

Brooks attempted to run, at which point the cougar abandoned Sederbaum for his fleeting friend. It dragged him into the woods while Sederbaum managed to escape, ran a few miles up the road to get reception on his phone and immediately called 911. By the time that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife tracked the cougar to its den, Brooks was already dead and badly disfigured. The cougar initially escaped capture, but was eventually tracked down and killed.

“You never know what you are going to encounter when camping or hiking,” said Quinn Porter, a first year Business and Law major who regularly explores the forests around campus. “Take every precaution necessary.”

The Washington Post received confirmation from DFW Capt. Allen that the cougar’s behavior was not normal by any account. Cougars are nocturnal hunters, but the attack occurred during the day. Additionally, he reported that the cougar was noticeably underweight. Adult male cougars weigh around 140 to 180 pounds, whereas this cougar weighed approximately 100.

It is unclear as to what—if anything—caused the animal’s unusual behavior and clear physical deterioration. The attack is remarkable in that it is only the second fatal cougar attack recorded in Washington State in the last century.

“You are in the natural habitat of wild animals,” said Lily Roussel, a first year photography major who went camping with a group of friends recently at Diablo Lake. “You are taking a risk stepping out into the wild. However, I did not feel threatened in the safety of the campsite where we were staying. Cougars would not try to attack more than three or four people collectively.”

Roussel, whose father was a scoutmaster for the boy scouts, was introduced to adventuring nature at a young age. He helped her foster a certain confidence to be comfortable living outside of her normal home, something that allowed her to develop a passion for exploring.

“Something my dad taught me was a trick referred to as the ‘Bear-muda Triangle.’ It is a certain guide for setting up your campsite,” Roussel said. “Imagine three points of a triangle all at 100 yards from one another. At one point you set up your bed, at another you hang your food, and at the last you have a cooking or kitchen area. That way, if a bear enters your campsite it will go for your food or the cooking station first, giving you a chance to escape.”

Although the cougar attack was an atypical occurrence, students should be increasingly aware of their surroundings when exploring the great outdoors.

“Cougars are usually uninterested in attacking humans. This time was an exception”, said Ben Rossi, a first year Biology major who has camped with Roussel and has enjoyed camping since he began during his summers as a preteen. “You have to be aware of your surroundings. If you go wandering into the woods with your headphones blasting music being completely oblivious then you are just asking for trouble. Just because something [like an animal attack] is unlikely does not make it any less real of a threat.”

Something Rossi views as more threatening to a successful camping trip than cougars is not packing adequate rations.

“You have to make sure you pack enough food and water. Not enough of either is a recipe for disaster,” Rossi said.

The attack serves as a reminder for students to always stay alert and prepare adequately when exploring the great outdoors.

Jordan may be reached at
[email protected]

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