My Nose to Nose Wildlife EncounterPosted: October 12, 2011
In Girdwood this weekend, after the conference wrapped up one evening, all the participants were going to go for a quick hike on the Winner Creek Trail, and I was tagging along. The conference got out later than expected, but we decided to take a short hike anyways. It is starting to get dark in Alaska around 7 now, a big change from this summer. At the main fork in the trail crossing over the creek, where most people turned around, we decided to continue hiking to the hand tram. The hand tram is a metal box on a rope pulley system used to move people and supplies across a huge valley. It was a pretty valley, with the creek rushing through the center, but the tram was scary. It swayed in the wind and was difficult to keep moving. Needless to say, I did not give it a try. Two folks from the group crossed about 3/4 the way and then came back while two of us stayed behind to watch and help pull the ropes.
The trail itself was nice, mostly flat, in thick, damp woods with lots of moss and ferns covering the ground between trees. The creek (much larger than what I would consider a creek) was a blue-green color like the water in Seward, AK because it is from glacial run-off. The silt in the river is black. The color contrasts of the moss green woods, the black bottom of the creek, huge rocks, and gem-colored water made it feel a little like a fairytale. I half expected to see little dwarfs peaking out from behind trees. I enjoyed taking it all in on the way out, but on the way home we needed to hike fast as it was quickly getting dark, and we were less than prepared for a night hike (no flash lights or extra layers of clothing). But I don’t mind fast hiking.
We were all in the zone, talking and moving quickly through the woods. The resort was about ten minutes away; we could see spots of light from the chair lift. I was on the left and Lucas was on the right. We were facing each other to talk when he grabbed my arm, pulling me towards him. I turned just in time to see a HUGE mamma moose about a foot away. She lifted her head from eating, and we just looked at each other. In the dusky light it seemed almost impossible that I was this close to such a large wild animal. Then we all noticed a baby moose across the trail. Bad news. Moose are very dangerous. They account for more deaths in Alaska each year than bears. And one of the big things to avoid, like with most wild animals, is to separate or get to close to a mamma and baby. We backed up slowly. Then we noticed two more moose deeper in the woods. We were now officially blocked by four moose. It was too dark to safely bushwhack around the moose and there was no way we could walk between the mother and her baby on either side of the trail. Ten minutes from the hotel we were stuck.
A few minutes later we got a good reminder of why we backed up and gave the moose their space. A group of people came from the other side of the trail, we couldn’t see them until their flashlights turned the corner, the same time the mamma moose saw them and she charged. We could see flashlights skipping through the air as they yelled and ran. Fortunately, moose are not predators so running is the best thing to do. They just want you out of their space and the other group all got away. We on the other hand were still stuck.
A few minutes later another small hiking group caught up to us. They had a dog and we tried to get the dog to scare the moose away but it didn’t work. The dog went crazy barking but the moose didn’t budge. So, we decided to turn around and hike back to a service road we had seen about a half a mile back. One the way we picked up another lone hiker and then two more hikers, our band up to ten. We had three flashlights for the whole group. The one hour hike turned into almost a three hour hike, but we made it.We kept joking that it was a little like Gilligan’s Island without the boat.
This was my closest encounter with wildlife since we have been in Alaska and it made us celebrities at the Physical Therapy Conference. That night and the next day people would come up and say, “Where you in the moose hiking group?” Yep. That was us.