The High Cliff Cougar

By HHA Member Tom Helmer

The “High Cliff Cougar” and it’s companion “The Man” are part of a remarkable “Monumental Sculpture”. Both are located on the same block of rock , which juts out from the top of a 22 ½ foot perfectly vertical cliff. The sculpted block is 6’ high and protrudes 4’ out of the cliff, overlooking a flat plain about 50 feet below the cliff top and it’s jumbled talus slope.

Throughout the book “Walking Together In Tomaquag Valley”, I stress the need to keep a “Wide Eye”. You have to make a conscious effort to get your eyes up off the ground and look 360° at your surroundings. The High Cliff Cougar discovery illustrates why. When I began mapping and collecting GPS data of Tomaquag Valley in 2003, I was at this cliff, one of at least six besides the “Indian Shelters” located off the rusty ‘bar way’ on Maxson Hill Road. The “Indian Shelters” are located near a road, the other 6 cliffs are much deeper in the valley, assessable only to hikers. I recall I ate lunch on a big stone block resting on the cliff top, and had been all around the cougar, even taking photographs of it, but never “saw” it.
The Cougar & The Man have a remarkable ability to disappear unless you are looking at the exact spot at the right time. In 2003, they were hidden from me, as I was intent on covering a large area for my maps. That is the sculpted block circled in red on the upper left. Do you see anything remarkable hiding in there? Nope, me neither.

High Cliff CougarIn 2004, when I was photographing various walls, locations and Colonial ruins as material for writing “Walking Together In Tomaquag Valley”, my eye was not locked to where I was placing my feet in the woods, I was looking around for “the good shot”.  Only then did I see the big guy. My photography training made me wait 90 minutes for the sun to move across the sky to give me the dramatic Shadows that make the High Cliff Cougar leap out from the lifeless rock and sink into your imagination. Give the picture some time for your eye to adapt, and then say hello to the nice kitty. So you have an idea of the scale, my brown walking stick resting on the tree is 5’ tall.

Hoo-Ray for zoom lenses, because if you look around in both of those two pictures, you can see the terrain is a large bolder talus slope jumble, and besides worrying about falling off the cliff, you can slip into a deep crack covered over with leaves and easily break an ankle. As 95%+ of my mapping was done alone, crawling out of the Valley is not an item on my bucket list, so I was very careful of my footing.

I got to a place for “the Good Shot”. It was mid April, and the tree buds were ready to burst with 2004’s new crop of leaves. There were no clouds, and the warm sun felt nice, even though there was still a chill in the air. If you stood around, you would say it was cold. But I was busy catching the Cougar on film.

Here’s the shot!

Leaving Tomaquag Valley that day in 04, I didn’t know The Man was lurking beneath the Cougar, and I believed it was a curiosity of weathering that formed the image. That changed eight years later. Please visit the drop down page below, the Text & Photo Page “Was The Cougar Shaped By The Hand Of Man?”