Trip dates: Jan 19-20, 2020
Caltopo map here
This was a trip to Husted Lake and Lost Lake in northernmost region of RMNP. I started at the Dunraven TH on USFS land and passed through Comanche Peaks Wilderness before entering RMNP. This region of the park doesn't get nearly as much traffic, especially in the winter.
This was actually the second time I'd tried this trip. The first time I didn't make it above treeline. It's a moderate approach in the summer at 9 miles. In the winter the combination of fewer daylight hours and untracked snow, make this trip especially tough.
I don't know why I never take a picture of the zip-o-gage thermometer on my backpack at night, but it was around -10F that night. Down mittens to put on after tying guy-lines are critical. My Satellite GPS/messenger was beginning to get mad due to the temperature.
This was also the first time that I tried wearing a vapor barrier layer (VBL) to sleep in. It was just a rain shell so it wasn't a complete barrier, but I was shocked how well it worked. I wore the shell over two base layers and my sun hoodie. I put my down jacket over the rain shell before I got into my sleeping bag. For a multi-day trip, VBL's are important to prevent moisture coming from perspiration from comprosing the loft in the down. Since I was only out a single night, this was less relevant. I was mainly using the rain shell to minimize heat loss through perspiration via evaporative cooling.
From my camp, I still had about 1.75 miles to reach Lake Husted.
I had actually arrived at the Dunraven Trailhead the night before around 9pm, planning to sleep on the ground next to my car to get an early start the next morning. A hunter was camped out in his car and he told me he was waiting on a mountain lion to come back to a kill it had made earlier in the day (questionable ethics?). He pointed out a chirping sound which he said was from the lion. I hear this sound pretty often in that area and have always assumed it was a bird of some kind. He pointed out that it would be pretty for most birds to make much noise at night, which sounded reasonable.
Elk carcass from a mountain lion kill. The feeding pattern gives away that it was a lion kill as opposed to a natural death followed by carrion feeding by other animals. Mountain lions start feeding near the guts, while coyotes (and I think bears?) will start near the head. The head was intact but the belly had been ripped open.
I looked up some info about mountain lion kills in Paul Rezendes's Tracking and the Art of Seeing. It seemed to be consistent with a real mountain lion kill, since whatever had eaten on it had clearly started from the back behind the ribs, near the guts. He wrote that coyotes would instead start near the head.
As I was approached the car on the way out, I heard the chirp again. I made a recording with my camera.
He seemed pretty sure it was a mountain lion it just seemed so implausible. I looked up some videos and it definitely seems like mountain lions can make high pitched sounds (Examples #1, #2) but these seem different than what I heard. What I heard was very regular/periodic almost like a bird (what I had always assumed this sound was). I inquired with some other regional hunters afterwards and they all rejected the idea that this was a mountain lion.
Anyway, I've heard other people say that mountain lions make chirping sounds near in RMNP and surrounding areas and that it was a cause for alarm. That may be true, but if this is the sound you are hearing, then it seems it's not actually a lion.
If anyone knows what bird is making this sound, I'd love to know about it.