FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Travis Kauffman was 6 miles into an uphill run through ice-covered trails when he heard a rustling behind him.
Then the mountain lion lunged at him.
In the frantic minutes that followed, Kauffman screamed like a “barbarian,” struck the animal with anything he could reach and finally twisted his 150-pound frame atop the lion and choked it to death with his foot.
As the lion’s mouth lost its grip of his wrist, Kauffman, 31, prepared to run back down to civilization, where his tale of survival has captivated an international audience since the Feb. 4 attack.
On that day, Kauffman planned to do a 12- to 15-mile run from Lory State Park to Horsetooth Rock west of Fort Collins, he said in a prerecorded video interview from Colorado Parks and Wildlife that played during a Thursday news conference.
Icy conditions caused him to take a different route, one he had never run and only biked before. That’s when he heard pine needles rustling behind him. He turned his head and spotted a young mountain lion about 10 feet from him.
“One of my worst fears was confirmed,” Kauffman said.
The lion crept closer and lunged. Kauffman put his hands up to cover his face and started yelling.
“I was just kind of screaming the whole time, doing my barbarian yell,” Kauffman said.
The young lion latched on to his right wrist. He tried to throw the animal off of him, and the two fell off the trail in what became a thrashing wrestling match, he said.
Kauffman was wary of the mountain lion’s hind legs thrashing like a rabbit once the animal was on its back — something he’s seen his house cat do.
He knew he had to get the mountain lion’s hind legs pinned to protect his “guts” and groin, so he maneuvered himself on top of the cat to pin its back legs with his leg.
Kauffman tried stabbing the animal with sticks, but they kept breaking. He picked up a rock and hit the animal in the head, but it refused to release his wrist.
“After I hit it on the head with a rock, it started grinding it’s teeth,” Kauffman said, adding he could feel one tooth puncture his palm and hit a nerve “over and over again.”
Kauffman said he realized he would likely have to kill the animal to get away.
“There was a point where I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it out of there,” Kauffman said.
With his right wrist still trapped in the lion’s mouth and his left leg holding its back legs down, Kauffman positioned his right leg over the animal’s throat and stepped on its neck until he suffocated it and it released his wrist.
He doesn’t remember specific sounds or smells during the attack, but said it was “visually intense,” and recalled seeing the cat’s claws retract before it swatted at him.
“I was surprised by the silence of it all,” he said.
Kauffman took off back down the trial. He recalled being hyper-aware of his surroundings, his head on a swivel in case more cats appeared. He could tell the mountain lion that attacked him was young, and he was concerned its mother was nearby.
On the way down, he passed another trail runner, who accompanied him down the trail. Closer to the trailhead parking lot, Kauffman said the two runners passed a couple who gave him a ride to a hospital.
Kauffman said he arrived at the hospital “a bloody mess.” He received more than 20 stitches on his face, plus stitches on his wrist and contusions and puncture wounds on his neck — but no broken bones or tendon damage.
During an interview with Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Feb. 11, Kauffman said “I’m about a week out and I feel great. I feel like I should go buy a bunch of lottery tickets.”
The “modern day man versus nature scenario,” as Kauffman described it, has captured international attention, but Kauffman hasn’t paid much attention to the internet craze.
“It is weird getting all this attention,” he said. “It’s kind of weird to feel kind of famous for an unearned reason.”
This situation feels more like a “wrong place, wrong time” situation, and not something that should give him celebrity status, Kauffman said.
When wildlife officials found the mountain lion on the trail after the attack, it had already been “scavenged” on by other animals, likely other felines. Officials estimated the animal was 35-40 pounds and likely a male. Tissue indicated the animal was hungry, but not starving.
The animal suffered blunt force trauma to the head and had hemorrhages in the area near its larynx and trachea. There was no evidence of underlying disease, according to the report, but most of the internal organs had been scavenged.
After the attack, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Larimer County natural resources officials closed Horsetooth Mountain Open Space to assess mountain lion activity in the area.
Cameras placed on the trail captured two young mountain lions officials believe to be siblings of the lion killed in the Feb. 4 attack. The two young lions were caught and moved to a wildlife rehabilitation facility, and officials plan to later release them back into the wild.
During their surveillance of the area, officials did not find any trace or evidence of a larger female lion, Colorado Parks and Wildlife area wildlife manager Ty Petersburg said.
This experience won’t deter Kauffman from enjoying the outdoorsy activities that he moved to Colorado for five years ago, but he said it will make him a little less confident next time he hits the trail.
In the future, Kauffman plans to run with others when he does long or remote runs. Because he wasn’t wearing earbuds on his run Feb. 4, he said he was able to hear the mountain lion and recommends that others ditch the music to be more aware of their surroundings.
“Be aware that you are sharing that space with wildlife. … Fully appreciate the sights and sounds of nature,” he said.
More: Trail runner suffocated mountain lion to death in self-defense, officials say