Lone Eagle Peak — Moose Encounter

Crater Lake at sunrise, positioned at the base of Lone Eagle Peak.

We race and serpentine along a mountain road, the pipe-cleaner forest pines are sprinkled incoherent and rambunctiously among the mountain browns. We’re headed to Lone Eagle Peak, a demanding hike accessible from Monarch Lake Trailhead and a 7.2 mile blitz up a Rocky Mountain valley.

We’re starting late; it’s already after four when we arrive. My wild-man brother, Erik, has laser focus in his eyes and a drive to reach Crater Lake by nightfall — a pristine mountain lake, one of two, positioned majestically at the base of Lone Eagle Peak.

Lone Eagle Peak

I have stories of charging moose and bear on my mind, and as a precautionary measure, I purchased a “bear deterrent gun” prior to embarking on our journey. By nightfall the gun would nearly spark powder after an encounter with a moose.

Only 1.5 miles or so from our destination: after witnessing cascading falls, luscious landscape, and mountain wild flowers, Erik scampers gently back toward me, lagging behind.

He whispers, “Sean, there’s a moose ahead…blocking the trail. We must reach camp by nightfall.”

Erik moves delicately back up the trail, and I see him come to a frozen stop. He hurries back, this time weighted by fear in his eyes.

GET UP THE MOUNTAIN!”, he silently screams, gesturing toward a steep-graded gravel landscape about 50 meters high. I see a brown mass, about the size of a horse, begin trotting methodically toward us. It’s difficult to say if malice is on his mind — this looked far more akin to curiosity. Erik and I huddle near a short pine outcropping 30 feet up the side of the mountain, both of our hearts racing, mine probably more so. Erik seems a little calmer now, the moose’s affect leaning toward gentile — though my thoughts, the furthest thing from it.

I began loading my bear gun, the .22 shells shaking in my hand.

A moment later, my clumsy, nervous grasp allows one of the shells to writhe from my grasp, bouncing off the jagged rocks below and settling near the base of the pine. The ruffle at first startles the moose, who slowly and sheepishly takes one step back while aligning perpendicular to both Erik and I. He is about twenty yards or so away, now taking a closer look at whether or not we pose a threat to his existence.

We have a standoff there — he on the path — Erik and I stuck on this jagged edged cliff.

Moments turn to minutes: We stare down this moose as he fumbles along, grazing on mountain grass inter-meshed with evaluative glares toward these curious characters traversing along a mountain.

The light is slowly escaping behind us — “the sun,” I whisper to Erik. “We should probably think about camping nearby.” He has nothing of this.

My gun, now loaded, is fixed on the lungs of the moose. He has taken to moving again, walking ninety degrees to our perch. He begins to bear left, heading toward a cluster of mountain pines and tall grass. He peacefully and slowly puts one moose hoof in front of the other, then escapes into the dimly lit wilderness.

I look to Erik, knowing we may be in the clear: “Let’s go,” he says — almost stoic.