“There is a moose on the trail!”
My sister is leading my dad and I up the Timpanogos trail. Bringing up the rear means my line of sight is limited. We all stop.
“Here it comes!”
I move to my right – the downhill side of the trail – and in a split second of dust and branches and confusion I tumble off the trail, head first into the steep embankment. Somehow my dad does the same thing, and he crashes down on top of me. I grab his arm, and hold tight to the small branches of the bushes that have swallowed us up. I listen for the expected thundering of hooves.
But all I hear is my sister laughing.
My dad and I crawl out of the brush, covered in dirt and leaves. I get my bearings and head for the uphill side of the trail, just in time to hear my sister once again announce the approach of the bull moose. This time the moose is moving fast. With each of us safely off the trail I pull out my camera with hopes of catching a great photo of the confused and possibly irate moose. I frame up the shot, and then just as I squeeze it off, I slip and fall in the loose soil.
I tumble onto the trail and scramble back into the brush just in time to watch the thundering beast gallop by not 24 inches from where I sit crouched in the dirt. He disappears down the trail, leaving a cloud of dust in his wake.
We brush ourselves off and start to feel the adrenalin from the encounter fade. But something tells me we have not seen the last of the moose. We are on a steep piece of narrow trail. Behind us are more parties making their way up the popular path. The moose has no place to go. And just as the thought processes, I turn around to see a pair of antlers moving rapidly in our direction.
We all take cover once again.
The moose stops. He is staring down my sister. I snap off a few photos. He wheels around and runs back down the trail. Another hiker comes into view. He has an ear to ear grin on his face. Oblivious to the danger. Again the moose turns around. It is running back and forth between us and the approaching hiker. At any moment its confusion is going to turn to rage and this one ton beast is going to find a way out of here, regardless of what or who stands in his way.
We retreat a little further into the bushes trying to clear his path. He sees the opening and bolts through it. And for the second time in 2 minutes the raging bull passes over me, just inches away. As he does so I can see the fear and anger in his eyes.
“Moose on the run!”
Luckily nobody else is nearby and the animal finds a suitable exit off the trail and into the thick brush covering the hillside. My dad and sister emerge, shocked grins on our faces. We are thrilled at our luck, both at having escaped unharmed, and at having had such an amazing wildlife encounter.
We spend the rest of the hike recounting the incident, each telling play by play details as we experienced them. And as we go other hikers recognize us and ask about the circus that they witnessed from the switchbacks above.
At the end of the day we arrive again at the scene, this time on our way down the mountain. We do not think it impossible that a repeat performance could easily happen. There are fresh moose tracks in the dust. We walk a little gingerly through the area, still smiling about the great day we have had. Still recounting having to dive to safety three times to avoid the same, confused and bewildered bull moose.
We successfully climbed Timpanogos. My sister has done it countless times. My dad also many times. But somehow, absurdly, I have never reached the summit of the iconic mountain.
I blame my bike.
I have passed up many opportunities to climb the mountain, in favor of a good bike ride. But having spent so much time gazing up at the peak, having had nearly every member of my family accomplish this feat, I knew that this was the time to go.
I love maps. On a map I can see where I have been and where I am going. I can also see where I want to go, places I want to see. Standing atop Timpanogos was like looking over a three dimensional map of my favorite mountains in the world. Stretching endlessly before me I could see the Ant Knolls, Catherine Pass, Mill Canyon Peak, and many other meadows and ridges and stands of pines and quakies. And I realized that I recognized them all.
I was naming the ridges and drainages, the peaks and hollows, the cirques and the trails that fell before me. I looked out at the familiar land and once again felt that quiet reassurance;
And then a troop of boy scouts stepped on my pack and ruined my moment.
As we descended off the mountain the sun started to sink. The light was perfect. The temperature cool, the colors vibrant. A herd of mountain goats stood above and grazed on an impossible ledge. Despite the vast numbers of people who climb this well trodden trail every day – we were 3 of nearly 400 who signed in at the summit that day – there are still moments of quiet and pristine solitude. Despite the boy scouts and the loud college kids on dates and the ornery dog that singled out my dad as someone to harass as he climbed, and despite the cigarette smoking rednecks I was able to enjoy the massive Mount Timpanogos nearly as much as I would have, had I been the only person on the hill.
The sheer size of the mountain dwarfs any human presence. And while the summit stands just 11,750 feet above sea level, the mountain acts like a much taller, much bigger peak. The timber melts away, glacier fed lakes shine in the sunlight, tundra stretches as far as one can see. Hours and days and lifetimes could be spent exploring the mountain, and still it would have its secrets.
Climb Timpanogos. Experience its mystique and grandeur. Wash your face in Emerald Lake, walk among the meadows of pensemon, see for eternity in every direction. Leave your name in that famous and ever growing book in the metal shack at the summit. Climb Timpanogos.
But when you do, watch out for moose.