Our first day on the Teton Crest Trail was a long and brutal 12.7 mile hike that brought us in and out of one canyon after another before finally arriving at Marion Lake just as dusk was settling over the lake and Granite Canyon below. We had only briefly met our camping neighbors, two friendly and enthusiastic couples hiking together from Seattle and Florida, before we all turned in for the night. I was a little extra exhausted from carrying both of my DSLR cameras in.
After a good night’s sleep, I woke up shortly after sunrise and in feeling refreshed for another day, began to poke around for some photographic opportunities. I caught a quick landscape over Granite Canyon practically right behind our tents before heading up to the lake to see if it still had a mirror reflection on it, but before I even got there, one of our neighbors was on his way back from the lake to get the rest of his party. He eagerly informed me that there was an entire family of moose at the other end of the lake. Thinking I was only going to be doing landscapes that morning, I ran back to my tent to grab my 7D which had my telephoto attached to it.
We all met back up at the lake’s shore under some trees. The lake was to our west with a grassy meadow that stretched from the lake to the south of us, into the east with the moose directly north. We silently watched the entire family, a bull, cow and calf, feeding as one of the neighbors pointed out how clear their reflection was and what a great shot it made before the moose began to meander around the perimeter of the lake in our direction. Before making it into it the trees where we were, they had wandered into the meadow just to our east.
We moved around the other end of the trees hoping that they would continue on their path, but after waiting, realized that they were happily snacking on the other end of the trees that we were. I went out to take a peek at their location and saw that they were just on the other side, very nearby, but out of sight for a good shot. After a short while, the bull and calf had wandered into visibility through some trees, and I watched them create a scene that rips at the heart of any nature photographer for witnessing and not capturing: the calf had walked up to the bull, and both of them raised their noses toward each other till they were touching, both moose baked in brilliant, golden backlighting.
Realizing that I was missing out on some potentially great shots, I grabbed my camera and headed out into the meadow, just a bit south so I wouldn’t be encroaching on them, but more into the open so I could at least capture them with the warm backlighting that made their coats glow. I noticed a couple of the others following me for the better view until I had finally found a suitable spot with a perfect angle to them, and even keeping a respectable 30 yard distance between myself and the moose. (I hadn’t checked recently, but I remember hearing from a friend that the recommended minimum safe distance from a moose according to Grand Teton National Park is 25 yards.)
I had only just lifted up my camera to compose a shot when all of a sudden their heads jerked up looking the opposite direction and in only a fraction of a second and had cut the distance between them and myself in half as they were in a full sprint headed right for me! Moose are already very large animals, yet when you’re looking at them headed right for you, they appear even twice as big as that. We all immediately ran back toward the trees where we had been waiting for them to come out and I wondered if my hiking partner, who was still asleep, would wake up to find my trampled body just one day into our four day trek. As my sprint wound down near the trees, I turned around, hearing the sound of a stampede moving slightly away from me. Their sprint brought them completely through the meadow, right over where we had been standing, and continued on to the south end of the lake until they reached the finish line at the water, splashing into a stop. Adrenaline was still coursing through every limb of each of us at what had just happened. The occasional laughter from relief was let out as we just stared at the family of moose now so calm at the water’s edge several dozen yards away.
The adrenaline eventually subsided, and as it did I found myself able to hold my camera steady again to capture the calf in some warm, morning light, as well as getting a bit of video. The moose eventually headed back into the trees and though still accessible, we didn’t want to push our luck. They deserved a little peace and quiet from us, and so that’s what they got. I got one or two more shots as they moved out of the light and into the shade, and finally got a few landscapes of the lake, which luckily still had a glassy reflection on it.