Duane and I have had some moose encounters over the years. Seeing them in the different contexts is at least one of the reasons why we visit and revisit Isle Royale. The most volatile encounters concern cows and their calves, but no moose should be taken lightly.
Thinking of the momma moose and her twins on the Greenstone Ridge Trail makes me smile. Duane and I were coming through a particularly dense forest with twisting trails that had tight curves around trees, mostly small fir trees. I lead, and Duane follows, mostly because it works best this way. We were walking at a leisurely pace and talking when I came around a corner and was in arm’s length from a cow who was followed by two calves.
I was so startled–and so was she. I could have reached out and touched her. She could have stomped the stuffing out of me. In my shock of meeting eyes with her, images of people being stomped by angry moose popped into my mind.
My brain said “get behind a tree,” which I did. Heart pounding audibly in my ears, I about-faced and tucked behind a tree, saying to Duane, “Moose!” She about-faced and ran into the bushes, twins close behind.
I don’t believe Duane saw any of the three, so fast the encounter happened.
Then there was the time when Duane woke me up when were in Windigo. He could hear a the sploosh of a moose in Washington Creek, and didn’t want me to miss seeing it. We both sat up and listened intently.
We were sure the moose was in the water just in front of our shelter. Duane was so excited. His new camera had night vision, so he hurriedly pulled on his pants and boots. Given it was midsummer, he didn’t bother with a shirt. He didn’t even tie his boots. He just jammed the laces inside so he wouldn’t trip on them.
There was a new moon, so the night was pitch black save the stars. No moonlight reflected on the water. The stars shone overhead, but not brightly enough to help.
I sat up in the tent, straining to hear, but I didn’t think I would see anything, so I stayed in the warmth of my sleeping bag. Quietly I heard the spring on the screen door open and close. Duane’s feet didn’t make a noise on the step.
He had grabbed up his camera from the railing and headed out the door.
I heard the sploosh of the moose’s head going into the water and then the water running as it pulled its head out.
A moment later, I heard him utter an involuntary gasp. The door opened and shut quietly. “The eye,” he whispered.
“The eye?” I asked.
“I turned on the camera, and I saw one eye.”
There was a moose in the water, but that was not the only one. Apparently, a second one stood in front of our shelter, and when Duane turned on the night vision, it was so close that he saw only the eye.
Occasionally, Duane and I get lucky and get a shelter in Washington Creek. I think it was in 2016 when we were set up in Shelter 1, which meant we had a little walk toward the trail to Windigo. One early morning, we were walking toward the trail across from Shelter 6, and we heard the soft footfalls of moose hooves on the path.
We stopped walking, keeping our distance, never wanting to distress any moose. In the midsummer, the cow may well have a calf or two about whom she will be very defensives. The footsteps, stopped, but we waited, knowing the cow might be reticent to pass with us standing there. We stepped back a few yards, and soon the cow appeared and walked across the trail that runs from campsite to campsite, parallel to the creek. She looked our way.
We stepped back some steps and each tucked behind a tree. The cow looked our way again and turned back the way she came, but stopped only a few feet beyond the junction, just out of our vision. Strange. Still we remained behind our trees, waiting. In a few minutes, she came back across the trail and stopped again. Then she went back the way she came.
By this time, we knew she had a good reason for going back and forth. I pulled out my phone and started filming as she reemerged. Once more she turned back. After a few minutes, she crossed the trail again, pausing near Shelter 6 and heading toward the creek. A few moments later, a small calf followed.
From the next campsite, we saw the two descend the bank and cross the creek. Near the opposite bank, the cow stopped to graze for a few minutes while the calf stood waiting in the creek. Then mom patiently waited as the calf took a couple of tries to climb the other bank.
Duane and I have hiked the Minong Ridge Trail many times. The first time we hiked it together helped us to learn about how we like to hike. In general, we stop at every campground because each has something to offer and we don’t like to rush. After the several days to hike from Rock Harbor to Windigo, we always feel a little push on that last day, coming into Windigo. After all, it’s nice to get a pizza or one of the best microwave hamburgers in the world.
After the hikes of anywhere from seven to nine miles per day each day for four days, the twelve-plus miles on that last day to get to Windigo stretches on, but the promise of non-dehydrated food and a cold beverage helps us to press on. As we crossed the up-and-down ridges part, we were upbeat, even though we were carrying an extra liter of water each because of the longer distance on this final leg.
While crossing the beaver dams and the swampy areas, we talked about the pizza and found our pace increasing. After all, you must make it to the store by 5:00 to be able to order pizza before the store closes. We were moving pretty quickly as we passed the Junction with the East Huginnin Trail Junction, but blocking the trail in front of us was a cow. She first seemed not to notice us, grazing next to the trail. It was 4:00, and we were still at least a half hour away from Washington Creek and Windigo is a half-mile past that.
Duane spoke to the moose, “Go on, moose. We want to get a pizza.”
The moose ignored him.
Duane got louder. She still ignored him.
He got behind a tree and spoke in a very loud voice. “Move along, Moose!”
She laid her ears back, snorted, and stomped at him.
He stopped talking to her. I was a few trees behind him, not wanting any part of the conversation.
He stayed silent for a few minutes, till peering from behind his tree.
The next time, Duane pleaded with her to please move on because we wanted to get our pizza. “Please, Moose. We just want a pizza.” His voice was sad, almost quavering.
She ignored him again.
After about 20 minutes, a calf stood up from beside the trail and looked our way. Together, they meandered into the woods.
At a near jog, we finished the last of the hike quickly, running down the boardwalk into the campground. We saw Campsite 15 open and shed our packs on the table. We made it to the store in time to order a pizza, but they were sold out, so we enjoyed burgers and chips.
Diet Coke is excellent when it’s cold.