Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Moose Among Us

Because I am insane, I think it's a pretty good time to go camping.

I am not talking about pulling a trailer up to the plugs at the KOA, and I'm not talking about throwing some lawn chairs and a cooler full of beer into the back of the truck and heading to the woods to make a giant bonfire.  Those things are fun and all, but when I say I like "camping", I am talking about putting everything I need to survive in a backpack and then heading for the hills.  Not in a car.  Using my feet.


Told you I was crazy.

Boyfriend and I decided it was time to take our first trip of the year on the 4th of July weekend.

We swaggered into the backcountry permit office and told the ranger we would take "whatever" if it was around 6 miles in and open.  It's a busy weekend and we didn't plan ahead.  We ended up getting a spot in a place called the Tonahutu Meadows on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park.

This was our first view of our home for the next two nights.

It was a relatively comfortable spot, even if the meadow was completely swampy and had more bugs than I would like.  Our camp was in the trees, so there was still a bit of snow here and there, but we managed to make ourselves a nice temporary home.   

The Incident happened on the second night of our stay.

It had been a lazy day.  I had been writing bits and pieces here and there, thinking I might have something worthwhile to say about the woods. It wasn't exactly a journal, more a record of some thoughts that crossed my mind and notes about things I wanted to make sure I would remember later.

While we drank our last little bit of hot cocoa before turning in for the evening, I wrote the following:

"If you're worried about wildlife, and think that even the deer and bunnies are out to get you, make sure you have your camera out and ready at all times.  It is the best wild animal repellent there is."

I wrote this because about a year ago I had run offtrail to pee at on another backpacking trip, and left my camera with my boyfriend.  Not 20 feet later, I almost walked into an elk.  We were maybe 5 feet apart when we noticed each other.  It was relatively young, so it didn't know what to do anymore than I did, and it looked at me with the stupidest expression I have ever seen on such a noble creature.  Its tongue was sticking out a little, it looked buck-toothed, and it's eyes looked crossed in startlement.

I slowly backed away and I vowed to never ever set down my camera ever again while in the backcountry for any reason.  Ever.

Anyway.  The Incident...

If I hadn't written that bit about the camera, would the moose have avoided us?

If I'd brought my camera, would they have steered clear?

Am I just being superstitious?

Bed time is relatively early while backpacking.  After all, what are you going to do after dark?  We couldn't even have a campfire at this particular site, so there was no reason to stay up.

Since you can't risk leaving dirty dishes around for fear of attracting bears, we were walking to our dish-washing spot in the meadow a couple hundred feet from camp to clean up after cocoa.

A moose wandered into the other end of the clearing, maybe 100 yards away.

Boyfriend and I laughed a little that I didn't have my camera (I had brought it with me to the privy earlier in the day just in case.  And now I didn't have it.

I set everything down on the ground, thinking I would go to retrieve my camera, when Boyfriend said, "There's a calf."

My heartrate spiked a little.  I did NOT want to be around a mama moose and a calf.  I glanced back, but  continued on for my camera.

Things got a bit chaotic for me at this point.

Something, maybe us, maybe the mama moose that had entered the scene, spooked the first moose, and it took off running.  It charged through our dishwashing spot and disappeared into the woods behind our camp. It then popped out moments later after crashing through the undergrowth,  and charging through the trees, snapping branches and making a racket.

It was like some kind of monster, and I swear I saw fangs as it veered towards me.  I did the only thing I could think of doing, and dodged behind a large tree.  Somewhere in my brain came the thought that this was a young moose, maybe a yearling, and that we were lucky it wasn't some huge male with antlers bigger than my car.

The moose passed within 15 feet of me, and turned again in it's pounding run towards the creek.

Here's a map I drew of the incident in my little notebook (not to scale).  And yes.  Everything I know about drawing maps I learned from J.R.R.Tolkien.  What of it?

We were between our camp and the small stream to the west, although we completely lost track of each other while the moose was running.

Once it was going away instead of towards me, I hurried back to camp for my camera like it was some kind of magic talisman.

Boyfriend asked me to pick up his trekking poles while I was there.   He was still on the edge of the clearing watching the moose (Mooses?  Meeces?  Multiple Moosi?) and I asked him what good they would do, what was he going to smack at it while it pushed him into the ground?  But I picked them up and handed them to him.

What were we going to do?  What if they bedded down nearby? What if they stomped on our tent?

Holy crap, adrenaline.

I could still see the no longer running moose stopped and flipping its ears around a couple hundred feet away.  Mama and baby were slowly exiting the meadow on the far side.

Maybe the camera WAS a talisman.  Those huge animals faded into the darkening meadow before I could turn on my camera.

No, seriously, there is a moose mama and calf out there, about dead center in this photo.  I am totally not making this up.  It was mostly dark, and they were pretty far away.

And THIS is why I will never be a wildlife photographer.  Wildlife scares the shit out of me.  That little dark spot in the middle is the running moose after it stopped.  I think it was pleased that it scared us.

We were up pretty late after that.

Yeah, I will stick to taking pictures of trees and mountains and rainbows, and leave the animals to someone braver than me.


Julia said...

I totally see the Moosi in the trees! And I think I would have been freaked but glad it wasn't a grizzly those fuckers eat you!!

LeeAnn said...

I camped out the other day. That's what I call it when I fall asleep on the couch.
You, my deah, are as you say, crazy.
I'm glad the moose didn't eat you. They do that, you know.
Baby Moose:"Why do we run around and around them before we finally stomp and eat them?"
Mama Moose: "To empty them out, sweetheart."
Baby Moose: "Ew. Okay."

wagthedad said...

Yeah, better a moose than a bear. Although my uncle, who is a hunter, mentioned something about more people being killed by moose than by bears. Or was that hippos vs. lions? Anyway, it's true.

Glad you survived.

Leauxra said...

Julia: There are hardly any grizzlies here... mostly black bears and pumas. And yes. I freaked.

LeeAnn: I feel I choose the less crazy path when I shake free of my cubicle leash. Also hahahaha, ew.

wagthedad: Most of the time, a bear will leave you alone if it has the choice. Moose fear nothing. I am glad I survived, too.

Julia said...

Why do you think Native indians did that Pat your belly and mouth saying awwawwawww awwwawwaww... It wasn't because it looks so totally is because they were trying to survive the Moosi, puma, Grizzly, Black bear, beaver, mosquito attacks.

And it worked ... for a while...

Anonymous said...

I see the Meeses in the trees! Or was it Meeces? Whatever. I see them! I'm glad you weren't trampled.

StephanieC said...

I fucking love your pluralization of Moose.

Moosi. lol.

Sorry it was so scary, but you sound pretty effing tough. I would have been out of there without bug spray in an instant!

Love the map. THAR BE TROLLS. Love the INCIDENT.

Seriously?... Reeeally??... Seriously?

Leauxra said...

Thanks, Thoughtsy, I am glad I wasn't trampled either. I will admit that I kept wondering if my life flashed before my eyes but it was too boring to notice.

StephanieC: Seriously. SERIOUSLY. How can the plural of "moose" be "moose"? It just ain't right.

Fred Miller said...

I love your diagram of the area.

You are wise to be froghtened of moose but not of the trolls. Trolls are stupid.

PudMonkey said...

Moose are stupid, too. Seriously! We have a bunch of them around here and they don't see very well and aren't very bright, so what you're really supposed to do if one is charging you is to hide behind a tree. Not kidding.

James and I had ridden our bikes to the bus stop (not the one in Boulder) one time, but I realized after we got there (of course!) that I had completely forgotten my wallet with my awesome bus pass in it at home. So, I take the short cut through the woods and RUSH back home to get the wallet and get back to the bus stop before the bus gets there. Shouldn't have been too hard because the buses in Anchorage are pretty reliably late. I'm tearing down the path in the woods on my bike when I round a curve and almost plow straight into this GIANT moose (actually, I'm pretty convinced that GIANT is the only size they come in). I slammed on the brakes and stared at it for a minute, while it stared at me like, "where did you come from? and why did you interrupt my dinner?" I slllooooowwwlllyyy turned my bike around (easier said than done since it's a pretty narrow path) and headed back to the road at a more moderate speed. We totally missed the bus, but it was OK, we just rode our bikes to the movie theatre. :)

Angie said...

I see most of my wild life on the interstate, threatening to destroy my car and scaring the f*ck out of me. You want REAL scary? Sand Crane swooping down on you at dusk. I thought it was a damn pterodactyl! Might have peed myself a little... WHAT?!

Leauxra said...

Fred: I was protected by the creek from the trolls. That water was moving fast. But I agree. Moose are more agressive.

PudMonkey: Don't ever call a moose stupid to it's face. It's like making fun of the bully for that mole on his cheek. Bad move. Also, there were moose in Longmont last year, so seeing one on the bike trail in Boulder is no longer outside the realm of possibility. And I am glad the moose didn't eat you. Those suckers have FANGS, man. Fangs.

Angie: I am more afraid of large birds than mammals. Why? Because they ARE friggin dinosaurs. There is no getting around it. It's like trying to bargain with a velociraptor.

PudMonkey said...

Dude, it wasn't the bike trail in Boulder, it was a little track up here in Anchor-town. I think I would have done some serious freaking out if I had come across a moose on the bike path in Boulder.

Leauxra said...

PudMonkey: I think almost running into a moose while riding a bike is cause for a freakout no matter WHERE you are, honestly.

PudMonkey said...

True, but considering that I didn't even know Colorado HAD moosies (despite living there for 10 years) it would have been SERIOUSLY shocking, like running into a polar bear in Florida or something. Up here, I know they live here and expect to see them from time to time, out on the town, or playing in traffic, or what-have-you.

Martinezster said...

I loved the description of the encounter with the elk. The elk sounds pretty dumbfounded by your sudden appearance. ;)

Yeah, you are pretty hardcore! I am terrified of bears, probably because of reoccurring bear attack dreams. Seeing a moose, or moose, mooses? Meese? Big scary f*ckin things, at any rate... I pretty am sure I would probably pee myself. More power to you! :D

Leauxra said...

PudMonkey: Yeah, the moosi are a relatively new development. They were up in the Rawas Wilderness and kinda spread south through Grand Lake, but it's only recently that they made their way to this side. They really are just too big to be allowed, in my opinion.

Martinezster: I would have laughed at that elk if it wasn't big enough to kick my ass, I think.

And just because I didn't write about pissing myself doesn't mean it didn't happen. Um. Not that I am saying I pissed myself... Ah. Never mind.