Standing your ground in the presence of a predator takes some moxie, but a pair of hikers in California handled that situation admirably when a recent trek in Sequoia National Park brought them face to face with a large mountain lion. 

The encounter was filmed by local residents Brian McKinney and Sam Vonderheid on the first day of a lengthy hike along the park's High Sierra Trail. Wildlife officials have commended the duo for keeping calm during the incident.

"The big thing these visitors did right was that they didn't panic and run, even after they were surprised by seeing the mountain lion perched above them," National Parks Service wildlife biologist Daniel Gammons said in a press release. "Probably the most important message to get out to visitors is not to act like prey if they encounter a mountain lion."

According to Vonderheid, the pair were headed towards their designated campsite when the cougar's long tail flicked into view in their path – and while it might look like the men went in for a closer look, he clarifies that the second sighting was unexpected (it's best practice, however, to keep your hands free during such surprise encounters, even though it means forgoing that tempting video footage). 

"We didn't know it was still on the trail when we came around [the corner]," he told KSBW News Channel 8. "And it was. We weren't trying to mess with it... believe me. I'm very risk-averse and did not want to mess with a mountain lion that day."

Mountain lions, also known as pumas or cougars, are known to roam this area, but it's rare to find yourself face to face with one: the cats are famously elusive and tend to stay far out of view. Behind the scenes, however, these predators are fulfilling an important role in local ecosystems by keeping the numbers of other mammals, especially deer, in check.

Experts speculate that this individual may have been hanging out near the trail to guard or finish off a recent kill. 

"We both knew, 'Don't run and try to make loud noises', but when you're actually in the situation, instinct can take over and it's hard to follow what you know is the right thing to do," added McKinney. "I think we did an OK job with just standing our ground and slowly backing up."

A bit shaken by the experience, the men decided to return to another campsite, and after a night's sleep, they continued along the trail the following day – this time without incident.  

"National Parks are wild places, and visitors should always be mindful of their surroundings," says NPS. "For your safety and theirs, do not approach animals, regardless of size. Observe wildlife from a distance, avoid hiking alone, and be sure to tell friends or family your plans and when you plan to return." 

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Top header image: Kristen Ortwerth-Jewell, Flickr