On a sunny Wednesday morning in late October, I knew it was time to get up for one last day in the high country. It hadn’t really snowed yet, I could see from my house, but snow was in the forecast. I knew there was no better place to go than Wild Basin. I had Finch and Pear Lake on the brain.
An hour and a half later I was happily walking through the woods. I heard some noise, and watched a large dark creature move into the trail ahead of me and stop. It was a moose – or should I say, she was a moose.
I’d seen plenty of moose from a distance over the previous months, even saw one grazing by the side of the highway. I’d gotten used to them either ignoring me or moving farther away. But this one stood in the middle of the trail, and then took a few steps toward me. She laid her ears back and licked her snout. “Uh oh,” I said.
I’ve never been much concerned about wildlife, safety-wise, and for good reason: in my lifetime of hiking I’ve had little occasion to worry. My first-ever encounter with a mountain lion was this past summer, in the very early morning, when one sprinted across the road while I was driving to a hike. I didn’t even have a chance to wake up my son to see it. The last time I saw a black bear was in the 1980s, in the Pacific Northwest, and mostly I saw its butt running away from me while I was trying to take a photo (see the blurry photo below). The summer before that, my buddy and I were coming down from climbing a peak in the North Cascades, and we saw two cute little black bear cubs in a tree. Then we heard hooting noises, looked behind us, and saw mom jumping around on her hind legs. We put our hands on our hats and skedaddled.
Nowadays in North America, if there is one mammal to be concerned about, it’s not a mountain lion or a black bear or even a grizzly. It’s a moose. They’re up there with hippos and rhinos as the most hazardous for humans, world-wide.
You used to never see moose in Colorado, but since successful reintroductions in the later 20th century, their numbers have increased to well over 1,000. The largest member of the deer family has no predators here, and shows little fear of humans. Much of the time they ignore us or stay obscured in wet shrub-lands; other times they act benignly curious, and even come up onto front porches and look in windows. Moose hate dogs, which they regard as wolves, and encounters with hikers with dogs can arouse their fight-or-flight instincts. At up to 1,000 pounds per charging, kicking adult, you don’t want the “fight.”
I didn’t have a dog, but it was October 25th: tail end of mating season. Both bulls and cows can be aggressive during this time. “Good morning,” I said to her calmly as I slowly backed away. “Nice to see you. No worries. There is plenty of room for both of us.”
She licked her snout again and didn’t budge. The hairs on her rump stood up.
I started to get a little annoyed too, but I tried not to show it. “Look,” I said, backing up some more. “I am trying to go to Finch Lake. I would like to use this trail. You, on the other hand, have a whole forest you can be in.”
She didn’t budge.
“Okay, you win.” I sighed, and slowly moved uphill into the dense trees. Staying well away from her, I began to make a big arc around her. While I was behind some trunks, I heard a crashing noise and off she dashed downhill.
That night it snowed in the high country. The next morning, I looked up to see Wild Basin coated in white. I thought of my moose friend, and wondered how she was doing.