Last year, a woman and her dog encountered a cow and calf moose while hiking in Millcreek Canyon. The moose attacked them after the dog got too close. I discussed it on the WasatchHiker.com Facebook page. Meeting a cow and calf moose on the trail can be one of the more dangerous encounters in the wild. A cow moose will fiercely defend the calf when she feels threatened. On the Facebook page discussion, I gave the recommendation to leave the trail and skirt around the moose giving them a 50 feet of clearance, and then continue on your way.
I hike solo quite a bit, and have often wondered what to do when encountering a moose right on the trail. I usually hike in the evenings after work, and when I do, I race the sun to see how far I can go and still get back to the truck before sunset (I try to leave a 30 minute cushion). That doesn’t leave a lot of time for delays.
Last week while hiking the Timpooneke Trail, some friends and I got to experience the scenario mentioned above with a moose encounter of our own. We saw a lone moose earlier in the day in the Giant Staircase area, but it was a few hundred yards away. Coming back down, we could see the moose from a quarter mile away, and could see it was near the trail we were about to cross. We got down to the bottom of the big switchback near the Giant Staircase and saw 2 other hikers about 100 feet in front of us. They were looking at something on the hillside, out of our view, and had a look of shock on their faces. I hollered at them asking if they had seen the moose. They said yes and pointed. Apparently they didn’t see the moose until they actually passed it. We continued walking a bit and spotted the moose grazing on some willows just a few feet off the trail, about 50 feet from where we were.
We stopped and considered our options. There was no way to skirt around the moose. Downhill would have taken us through a ravine that would have resulted in some serious bushwhacking. Uphill was not an option because of cliff bands in the area. We decided that since the other hikers made it ok, perhaps we would try just walking past her. We lined up about 5 feet apart and started walking. I was in the lead, and kept an eye on the moose, watching for any reaction to our approach. We were about 20 feet away when she turned her head to look at me. In another step or two, she made a slight movement in my direction. I stopped immediately and backed up a bit. It was at that point I noticed another moose in the brush about 10 feet from her. Up to this point, we had no indication she had a calf with her.
We backed off to consider our options again. The sun would be setting in less than 30 minutes, and we didn’t want to be walking in the dark. While we were talking, the calf moved across the trail, so now the cow was above the trail and the calf was below the trail. This, of course eliminated all options except one. We just stayed back and watched. After about 5 minutes, the cow moved onto the trail and just glared at us (see picture below – the calf can be seen hiding in the brush in the lower left corner).
We considered the possibility the cow wanted to moved up the trail past us and decided to just move out of the way for now. We climbed a steep little hill above the trail and just sat down. Meanwhile, the calf moved further down the ravine. After another 5 minutes, the cow followed. Once both were about 50 feet off the trail, we continued our hike.
I’m not sure if we made the best decisions, but everything worked out ok. We warned other hikers on our way down. With moose, I still think the best thing you can do is stay 50-100 feet away, and don’t do anything that might seem threatening. Moose will usually just look at you and continue eating.