As any member of the military can tell you, every good story begins with the phrase, “No shit, there I was”. So, “No shit, there I was!” in the Snowmass Wilderness Area of Colorado near Aspen. My Dad and I had attempted to summit West Maroon Pass, the first of four passes on the Maroon Bells Four Loop Trail. We had abandoned the idea at about 12,000 feet as a combination of snow, ice and poor weather began to get the better of us. After making it back below the tree line, we set up camp and began to make plans for the following few day as we now had more time to spend exploring the beautiful valley that surrounds Crater Lake at the foot of the Maroon Bell Mountains.
The next morning we awoke, broke down camp and began to head down the valley towards Crater Lake. The hike was one unlike any I have ever done before. On the way up the pass all my concentration had been on breathing and staying upright. Now, as we descended further and further into the valley the full scale of what we had been hiking through began to sink in. It was a landscape that can't be accurately described other than to say truly breathtaking.
All was going quite well. It was a bright and sun filled day. We were making great time descending towards Crater Lake via the West Maroon Trail. This trail follows the West Maroon Creek and it was where the creek runs into Crater Lake that I first saw something out of the corner of my right eye. I stopped in my tracks and looked quickly to my right to get a better view. It was at that moment I locked eyes with a giant Moose complete with a magnificent set of antlers. I knew instantly that we were much too close to the beast. I looked at my Dad and said "Dad, we have a problem." No sooner had I gotten the words out of my mouth than I noticed that the Moose was bounding, leaping, and splashing through the water at a rather high rate of speed in our direction. Not since my first deployment to Afghanistan in 2012 had I felt such a feeling of absolute terror come over me. Surely this was my last moment on earth!
Dad and I both took off at a dead sprint towards the trees to our left. Nothing in the world was going to slow us down. In fact, as I write this I still have the scrapes, cuts, and bruises on my legs to prove it. We eventually found a giant bolder and dove behind it and began to look around us, but there was no Moose. Perhaps the Moose didn't follow us into to woods, but only chased us until we reached the tree line. At the time, I thought, “He was but one antler length away from the back of my head.” the whole time I was running.
After about 10 minutes of hiding behind the giant boulder we decided that maybe all the movement we were seeing around us was not a giant horde of Moose waiting to take us out, but only shadows. We moved out and began making our way up the hill behind us. Much to mine and my Dad's relief the trail was waiting for us at the top of the hill, and so was the best camping site in the entire valley, campsite #9 for those of you planning on hiking the loop.
Throughout that entire evening and most of the night I was on edge. I know Moose don't actively seek out humans in order to kill them, but what I knew and what I was thinking were not in agreement. After everything had calmed down, Dad and I had some pretty good laughs as we replayed the event in our minds over and over again. I told my Dad, Even if the Moose had a 50 Cal. machine gun mounted on its back and was leading an army of demons, I don't think I could have felt more panicked.”
We had been told by the bus driver who dropped us off at the trail head that there were about nine Moose living in the valley and that “We should keep an eye open for them as they can be rather territorial”. I had never seen a Moose in my life and while I did take the warning seriously I could have never imagined that I would stumble upon one so close to the trail.
The rule of thumb is, no pun intended that if you see a Moose, try and cover the Moose with you thumb extended away from you at arm’s length. If the Moose's head or rear end poke out from the thumb you are probably to close. I can tell you from experience; however, that if the Moose is within 200 meters of you don't waste your time to stick out your thumb – you RUN!