A power company worker scrambled up a pinyon pine tree to get away from a young cougar here on Monday, but he soon was surrounded by three of the mountain lions.

Shane Coleman was not hurt by the cats but was shaken. "It was near heart failure for me," said the father of four, who lives in Kanarraville.Coleman maintains two hydropower units for the Garkane Power Association and was walking through dense trees near Boulder when he heard a sound behind him.

He spun around and thought he was being chased by a big yellow dog.

"It was only eight feet away when I realized it was a young mountain lion. I started running and headed up a tree when it was only five feet behind me and closing fast," Coleman said.

The cougar lay down under nearby brush.

He shouted at the animal, then jumped from the tree and threw rocks at it. But instead of being frightened, the animal began playing with the stones and then chased Coleman back up the tree.

After about 45 minutes, Coleman dropped to the ground again to try to scare the cat off. Instead, two more mountain lions approached, sending him back up the tree a third time.

Because one animal was larger than the others, he deduced the cougars were a mother with two large cubs, one of which first sent him up the tree.

He used a hand-held radio to call a co-worker 30 miles away, and that lineman alerted others nearer to Coleman. When Boulder resident Art Lyman, carrying a rifle, and Jack Pollock, an Anasazi Indian Village State Park employee approached, the cougars fled.

Jim Lamb, the state Division of Wildlife Resource conservation officer for the area said the only time a mountain lion can be killed is if it threatens people or their horses. The elk hunt on Boulder Mountain begins Wednesday.

Lamb said it was the first time he has heard of a cougar threatening a human since he began working in the area in 1992.

Maurice Hornocker, director of the Hornocker Wildlife Institute at the University of Idaho in Moscow, said curiosity probably compelled the young cougar to run after Cole-man.

"Cougars are excellent tree climbers and it could have climbed the tree in a flash," said Hornocker whose institute has conducted extensive research on cougars.

If a person is confronted with a mountain lion and it appears a "claw and fang attack" is imminent, Hornocker has one word of advice: Fight.

He suggests throwing rocks, swinging a branch or anything available as a weapon.