This story is a perfect example of why it is necessary to know how to handle moose and other wildlife encounters. Hiking may seem like a harmless fun way to spend the afternoon, but can quickly turn sour if you’re uninformed and unprepared. I like to think of myself as an avid hiker, and I have done my research and always come over-prepared. You never know when you are going to be in the face of danger, so plan ahead for all circumstances- its better to over prepared than underprepared. Your life could count on it. We ended up okay this time, but even being as prepared as I was we still were caught in a dangerous situation.
Here is the Story:
I woke up this morning and the sun was shining, skies were blue, and I had the whole day off to bask in it. I knew it would be an awesome day for snowboarding, but Sunday’s are always elbow to elbow, so I decided to pick up some shoe spikes and hike the day away. I being the 23 year old I am, I posted a Snapchat on my story to all of my friends in hopes of luring one along with me. I knew most people were already busy, so chances are i’d probably end up just hiking alone, but I thought it was worth a shot. Within the hour my buddy Breean excitedly “snapped” me back that she was already hoping to hike today too!
We left my house at about one in the afternoon, and stopped by REI to buy some shoe spikes. I don’t know why it took me so long to finally pick some up, but I had an inkling just our hiking shoes were inadequate for the high-altitude snow packed trail. We got to the trailhead and the last thing I needed was my Colombia jacket. It was gorgeous! This trail is 6.9 miles round trip, and gains 2,746 feet in elevation, so a good steady climb, made more difficult by the deep snow. The trail was pretty packed down in most of the parts. There were a few spots that my feet sunk in the snow thigh-deep, but for the most part our spikes were all we needed.
The final stretch was especially steep and unrelenting. It was apparent that not every hiker made it up, because the trail was less visible and not as packed down. It was tough! I would absolutely warn that this hike in the winter is not for the faint-hearted. Granted, it has been a long, cold winter, so neither one of us could say we were in exceptional shape! AllTrails does warn that it is a “demanding hike” and “difficult but satisfying to complete.” Plus, hiking on snow is significantly harder than hiking on land. So tread with caution!
When we started our descent the wind got vicious. I knew that it was supposed to snow later in the evening, but we were going to make it down in time to miss the snow storm. The clouds were rolling in thick and grey. We were making really good time and chatting about politics, our future plans, and the importance of wilderness and animal safety. Both of us had the same information.
- Bears and Mountain Lions- Stand your ground, scream, yell, look big, and hope they leave. If attacked use your backpack or any other items to cover your neck and pray to whatever you believe in.
- Rattlesnakes- Stay as far away as possible, but if bit, slow down your heart rate to slow the coursing of venom in your blood and get to a hospital as soon as possible. If possible at all, try to take a picture of the snake for faster antivenin identification. Honestly, if I were more than a mile into a hike, and especially alone I would strongly consider calling search and rescue.
- Moose- They really want nothing to do with you, but can quickly and viciously turn and charge. Fun fact: moose can run as fast in 6 feet of water as they can in dry land. They’re POWERFUL. If you see a moose stay as far away as you can. One-Hundred feet is the bare minimum. Back away from the moose and be quiet. If you do not seem like a threat they probably wont charge. Stay behind trees and wait for the moose to leave the area, always checking for signs of aggression. If a moose charges, get behind the thickest tree you can and protect your head and neck.
***THESE ARE GENERAL DIRECTIONS- DO YOUR RESEARCH AND BE INFORMED***
I know it sounds like I am jerking your chain, but we talked extensively about wildlife safety and wilderness safety. It is essential that every outdoor adventurer knows how to prepare for the unexpected.
We were probably 3/4ths of a mile from the trailhead, when I KID YOU NOT- a MASSIVE moose darts across the trail maybe 5 feet in front of Breean- who was leading the way. Naturally, we both about crapped our pants. I had been on alert, and like always, I was scanning our surroundings for wildlife. The problem was, there was a deep drop off heading down to the river where the moose must have been drinking. We were far enough away from the drop off to where we could not see anything down there. We hid behind the thickest trees we could find, but they were all pretty flimsy, and we waited. The moose was about 20 feet in front of us grazing next to the trail. We slowly backed away from tree to tree, and watched him. At one point, we could no longer see him. There were patches of thick trees and bushes, so we decided to keep heading down cautiously. We had already been set back about 20 minutes, and the storm was rolling in, and the sun was going down.
We only walked about 10 feet farther down he trail before we saw the majestic giant lurking behind the bushes- right on the trail. There was no other way down, so our only option was to wait for him to leave. Ten minutes went by, and he was still grazing. Twenty minutes, and there was no movement from our gigantic friend. Another fifteen minutes passed and the sun was almost all the way down and the snow was getting heavier. Breean was wearing a thin sweater and was starting to get really cold. I threw her my gloves, and one of my lights. She called her parents to let them know where we were and her Dad advised us to make noise to scare him off the trail. I was really hesitant to do this because I know moose can get aggressive really quick, and we were already so close to him. A couple yells, and the moose did nothing more than lock eye contact with both of us and start shaking his head. This was a sign of aggression. He then was adamant we walk down and stay as far from the moose as possible. Yes, the sun was setting, and the temperature was dropping quickly, but I was not about to get the curb stomping of a lifetime. This moose was relentless.
I looked around and behind us, I spotted a little hideout nestled between a cluster of trees where there wasn’t snow on the ground. We were hidden enough to where our ill-sighted friend could probably not see us anymore. I knew it was going to be awhile and my damp feet were going numb and poor jacket-less Breean was shaking and not feeling well. We tried to look up the number for search and rescue, but the internet wasn’t working very well (this is something I will now forever have in my phone,) so we called 911 in hopes that they would connect us to the right person. It was pitch dark and we could not see the moose. We hadn’t seen him trot in either direction, and we didn’t want to risk bumping straight into him. We had lights, but the snow was falling so thick, and it was so dark that we just didn’t feel comfortable risking it. Dispatch asked us about our location and other general information such as names, phone number, ages, what we were wearing. She then connected us to a local ranger who was on their way to the trailhead.
Officer: “Hello, where are you located?”
Me: “Not even a mile up the trail, we can even see lights from the cars on the road.”
Officer: “Great, we are on our way now, the roads are awful, but we will be there as soon as possible. Do you see the moose?”
Me: “No, last we saw him he was behind the trees, but its really dark and the snow is heavy.”
The officer flashed their lights and blared their sirens at the base of the hike, and we heard the sirens and saw the lights reflecting off the snow capped mountain ahead. We said we would shine our lights and make noises when they got closer. We had been on the phone with dispatch, and had waited about an hour for the officers. I had my snowboarding neck gaiter, which helped me stay a lot warmer, but boy was it cold. They finally arrived and were treading lightly. When they got closer I heard snapping branches move out toward the mountains away from the trail. I am almost positive this was the moose finally leaving. After the officers arrived, it only took us about 15 minutes from our location to the base of the hike after they found us.
We got back down to the car and gave them our information for their records, told us to drive safely and headed down. I blasted the heater and put the defroster on. I scraped the thick ice off my car and we set down the mountain. The drive down was awful. It was the thickest snow storm I had ever driven in, but luckily I have a Subaru (hurray all wheel drive!) and I also have good tires. We put the hazards on and carefully made it out.
Of course after being totally terrified, my next response was to evaluate. What could I have done to prevent this? Honestly, I don’t think there was anything we could have done to prevent it. Prevention is being informed and always scanning your surroundings. I am a cautious person, and am always keenly aware of my surroundings when I do anything outdoors. As far as being more prepared- of course, we could have packed thicker coats and extra socks. Of course Breean should have had a light, a thicker layer, gloves etc. But, I guess you live and you learn. I had my first aid kit which had an emergency blanket, whistle, compass and wound dressings and anticeptic. I also had three lights on me- my headlight, inflatable solar lantern, and a solar powered flashlight. We had high carb foods such as granola bars and mixed nuts. I had a rain cover for my backpack. I should have brought an extra pair of gloves. I almost did as extra insulation, I do this often on cold days snowboarding. But, on any average day I was still a pretty over-prepared hiker. See Whats in My Hiking Day Pack. I had even more in my backpack because of the snow.
I feel like we handled it the best way we could have. Maybe a braver adventurer would have just risked it and walked down, but I know just how powerful these creatures are. One blow to the head could be fatal. Many sources say that Moose encounters are more dangerous than even Bear encounters.What do you think? What would your tips be for myself and other adventures who find themselves in these situations? Have you ever had any dangerous wildlife encounters? Tell me about them!