The Deep Creek Porcupine
In the Inland Northwest there are predators – animals that will kill you and eat you and put you back in the earth. There are also animals here that are not – animals that like grass and celery and are not interested in any form of protein diet. There are also humans here who are dumb asses and some who are not. This story is about (E) or all of the above.
In 1997, fresh off my migration from Cedar Falls Iowa to Spokane Washington, my friend Joel and I headed out to the Deep Creek climbing area for the first time. What we found was a main wall similar to the Minimum wall at Maple Canyon. The routes were long, steep, over-hanging and amazingly fun. We had a phenomenal day climbing.
Our day ended as the sun set. Joel and I packed our gear for the hike out – a simple 15 minute trudge up a single track trail. Two thirds of the way out Joel stopped, stared hard forward, and asked, “What it that?” Looking over his shoulder I saw a short, squat, animal covered in a thick coat of sharp quills. It stared at us with the passive eyes of a fierce predator and it appeared to be eating cabbage. As it sat there it seemed indifferent to our approach and I remember thinking it had the best poker face I’d ever seen on an animal. I didn’t know if it would charge us immediately for its kill or track us through the night until we dropped of exhaustion and then devour us. I did know things were dire.
“I think that’s a North American Porcupine Joel. I think we need to go back.”
“We can’t go back.” Joel said. “There’s no way out that way.”
Quick seconds passed like long moments as we stared at each other. Joel and I both diverted our eyes so we wouldn’t make eye contact with the little monst3er, we didn’t want to challenge it.
“They shoot their quills don’t they?’ Joel asked and stated.
“Yup. They’re poisonous too.” I said. “I once saw a dog on TV that got hit by over a hundred.”
“Should we throw rocks at it and try and scare it.” Joel asked.
“Porcupines don’t feel fear.” I said, “And besides what if you piss it off and it charges? Then were dead.”
Daylight was almost gone and we had some hard choices to make. The decision was made too to throw a rock into the bushes to distract it and then run past it as fast as we could. So far the porcupine had just stood there, staring at us. Eating its cabbage and bark, and dreaming of eating our hearts I knew.
Taking off our packs we put on our climbing helmets and stuffed our climbing shoes down the front of our pants. Protection is tantamount in climbing and porcupine escapes. We Rock papered scissored to see who would go first and I lost. Mandated first, I took a deep breath and with my greatest war cry I charged forward, covering my eyes and sprinting past the beast. Quills zoomed by my head and ears, I felt them pierce my pack and legs. I thought I felt the fire poison begin to rush up my veins toward my heart. I feared Joel was down but knew better than to stop. If he was down, he was dead. Exhausted and scared half to death I crested the trail and surfaced onto the access road that signaled safety. I turned around and watched as Joel did the same.
“Were alive!” we cried in unison and amazingly, not one quill had hit us. Not one quill anywhere on us or our gear. Crazy lucky we thought as we ran/jogged out the rest of the way.
At our vehicles we hugged and thanked God for our lives. We drove home like warriors, proud we had survived the ordeal and had not had to fight the beast. When I got home I told my then girl friend/now wife what a bad ass I was. I told her how at least a thousand quills had flown around Joel and I and only our athleticism and sheer luck had saved our lives. When I was done she patted me on the shoulder and called me a dumb ass. She told me porcupines are herbivores, cannot shoot their quills and only use them in defense when attacked. She called them cute. Defeated I went to a encyclopedia (
We didn’t have Google then) and confirmed her statement.
Sitting here now, years later, you know what I can tell you I learned that day – when you’re attacked by a fierce man eating predator don’t tell your girl friend. It only confirms dumbassery.