Husband rescued: Wife fights off mountain lion with a pen
Published: January 26, 2007 | 5409th good news item since 2003
Nell Hamm first saw the mountain lion when it had her husband’s head in its jaws.
The lion pounced on Jim Hamm at the tail end of the Hamm’s 10-mile hike in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Wednesday. The 70-year-old man was trailing behind Nell when the big cat attacked, pinning him face down on the trail.
His 65-year-old wife did all the right things. She approached and screamed at the lion. Then she grabbed a branch and began beating it on its back.
“It wouldn’t let go, no matter how hard I hit it,” Nell said in an interview at Mad River Community Hospital Thursday, where her husband was in intensive care recovering from surgery.
Jim, who was trying to tear at the face of the cat, told Nell to grab a pen from his pocket and stab the cat in the eyes. She did, but the pen broke.
“That lion never flinched,” Nell said. “I just knew it was going to kill him.”
Nell picked up the branch again and this time slammed it butt-end into the cat’s snout.
The lion had ignored Nell until then. Finally, she had its attention. The cat stepped back, pinning his ears at her.
“I thought he was going to attack me,” Nell said.
Instead, the cat slipped into the ferns and disappeared.
Terrified that the cat might come back, Nell told her husband that he had to get up and try to walk from the Brown Creek Trail to the Newton B. Drury Parkway parallel to U.S. Highway 101 to find help. He was losing blood quickly. It was about 3 p.m.
“Somehow we made it out of there,” Nell said.
About a quarter-mile away, they came upon an inmate work crew with the California Department of Forestry. The four men went for help.
The California Department of Forestry dispatched an ambulance from Arcata, which took the couple to the hospital. Jim underwent surgery for serious lacerations to his scalp, mouth, ear, legs, arms and hands.
While that was happening, wardens with the California Department of Fish and Game, Redwood National and state park rangers closed the parkway and evacuated visitors from the area.
A warden showed up and spotted a pair of lions just off the parkway. He shot and wounded one, but the cats ran off. Blue Millsap and Jace Comfort with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services division showed up with lion hounds and began the chase.
At about 9 p.m., the hounds chased a lion up a tree. The female cat was shot dead with a rifle, then packaged up to be sent to Fish and Game’s Rancho Cordova wildlife lab.
The next morning, Millsap and Comfort let the dogs loose again, and at about 8:30 a.m. they treed another lion. The male cat was also killed, and it was discovered to be the one that was shot the night before. Both animals were sent by plane to the lab.
Nell and Jim are healthy, athletic people. They play sports, they scuba dive, they run. They’ve dived in shark-infested waters, but never had a run-in with an aggressive shark. But they learned from an expert to always respect the ocean.
Since they moved here from Camarillo two years ago, they have hiked the trails in Humboldt County, logging about 6 to 12 miles two to three times a week.
Neither of them is large, both under 5 feet 6 inches. But they had talked about what to do if a mountain lion ever were to attack: Scream, look big, fight back. And never hike alone.
“All the emergency people told me that Jim would not be alive if he were alone,” Nell said.
That much is almost certain. Nell said that Jim — who was conscious throughout and after the attack — described the animal as incredibly strong. He said he could feel her smashing the cat with the branch, but the cat never shuddered.
Jim still faces a struggle. Cat bites and scratches can lead to serious infections, and doctors are giving him intravenous antibiotics. He is stitched up all over. And physicians also have started him on a series of rabies shots in case the lion was rabid.
Nell was overwhelmingly thankful to the emergency personnel, rangers, wardens, doctors and nurses who helped them through the ordeal.
Despite their long history of hiking, it was too early for Nell to say if they’d ever venture out again.
“It’s not like Jim and I are saying, `Don’t go in the forest’,” Nell said. “Go in the forest like you’d go scuba diving in the ocean. Respect where you are.”