Before I get started with this piece I want to assure anyone reading this that I do not believe moose are ‘Bullwinkle’! Indeed, they are pretty much the opposite of the cartoon character in that they are smart, fast and extremely adept at traversing the thick boreal forest or open tundra. I learned this hard way back in June of 2000 while solo backpacking in Kachemak Bay State Park across Kachemak Bay from the town of Homer. I’d finished up a three day hiking/camping trip into the park and was heading back to the ranger station on Halibut Cove Lagoon via the China Poot Lake Trail to pick up my ride back to Homer with Bay Excursion’s water taxi service (highly recommended – Captain Karl Stoltzfus is the best!!). I was part way back and entered an open area around a couple of acres in size that was relatively flat with tall grass. Diagonal from me was a lone moose cow munching some willow bark. As this was an easy to hike area compared to the wet and muddy trail I availed myself of the grass and figured I was far enough away from the moose to not be an issue. Even so I watched her and I was puzzled by the fact the she stopped eating and was closely eying me; as I continued her ears went back against her head. I was wondering what the heck her problem was and started angling away from her but still moving forward. Then I realized what was happening when her spring calf stood up from the grass no more than ten feet in front of me. Time kinda stood still as I looked at the calf, immediately thought “OH SHIT!!!” and looked back at Mom to see this brown blur the size of a freight train bearing down on me. I jettisoned my backpack and ran to the tree line just beating her; we played ‘keep away’ with me hiding behind tree trunks for maybe a minute until she decided I wasn’t a threat, collected her calf and sauntered off. It was this experience which caused me to re-think the wisdom of solo backpacking in remote areas (the park is accessible only via air or water) and completely altered my opinion of moose.
With this said I learned the hard way a few days back that with snow conditions like we’re experiencing now – compressed snow about a foot in depth with a strong, icy covering atop which just a bit of new snow has fallen – one absolutely must watch where one steps! Even at my heavy bulk the icy snow cover is strong enough to allow me to walk atop it; however, moose do break through and leave a circular area that slants inward towards the actual hole where their hooves break through the icy surface. Normally this is easy to see but after just an inch of snow atop this the indentations become very difficult to see and this makes for hazardous walking. Not realizing this to be the case I wasn’t being careful as I was walking Anana and Qanuk a few days back and I paid for it. As I was in the swampy area just to the west of ‘Exercise Hill’ I inadvertently stepped into a moose track which caused my foot to slide into the actual hole and twisted my ankle. It was just enough to hurt and give me a slight limp. I started trying to watch where I was placing my feet after that but managed to step into another such track with the same foot and once again twist the same ankle. This time it really hurt to the point I sat down in the snow for a few minutes and cursed a blue streak while condemning my inability to recognize such dangers. Once the initial pain resided I managed to gimp up the hill and back to my place but even today the ankle remains sore and I’m staying off it as much as possible.
I’d never have imagined one could founder in a moose’s tracks but once again Alaska has shown me I have much to learn! Normally walking in moose tracks is no big deal; I’ve done it before to keep from having to break a fresh trail through 20 plus inches of snow but that was in more ‘typical’ snow conditions. The icy nature of Talkeetna’s snow cover which is due entirely to the warm winter has changed how one must handle walking in the snow; until last Monday I didn’t realize this was the case. I love learning more about ‘getting along’ in rural south central Alaska but I’d prefer my lessons be a bit less painful if possible. Still and all I know I won’t forget this hard won piece of knowledge; one must evaluate the snow conditions when expecting to walk in it and be aware that based on these conditions what one chooses to do must be weighed against those conditions and the influence of other factors like wildlife, temperature, sunlight and similar.