Camping hat (noun)- headwear sported while on a camping trip to conceal dirty and/or unkempt hair; usually a toboggan in winter and some sort of baseball cap in summer.
With the Jackson Hole weather forecast finally beginning to smile on us, Matt and I set out for a weekend camping trip with enough granola bars to last a week, backpacks capable of holding a small person (refer to the pictures- they’re enormous), and not the slightest idea of where we were headed. After a much-too-large breakfast at our favorite spot, Cowboy Coffee (where we aspire to become “regulars” but so far none of the employees have recognized us), we proceeded to seek the counsel of the supreme and all-knowing Park Rangers (because they know which trails are accessible and which are still covered in snow). We decided to hike into Granite Canyon to pitch our tent and hike back out the next day (about a 14-mile round trip). In order to do this we needed a backcountry permit, which is basically a permission slip saying that we are allowed to be camping in the national park. You may be thinking, “No big deal- people do it all the time,” which is true, but park rangers are technically federal officers and take their jobs very seriously. Backpackers are often required to take tests, watch safety videos, and basically hand over a kidney before receiving a permit (this, of course, is due to the astoundingly senseless things that people have previously done in the remote wilderness of the parks). Fortunately Matt and I were not subjected to these tribulations and were issued the permit and our bear canister without much opposition– a bear canister is a hollow cylinder about ten inches in diameter and a foot tall in which to store food so that a bear can’t smell it. It comes complete with two locks and extensive instructions such as: bury the canister at least 200 yards from your campsite, do not place near a cliff or water source, failure to return the canister may result in a lawsuit, etc.
And so we hike! Now, I feel like I should preface this account by disclosing that for the week leading up to this trip I had been exceedingly perturbed that I had not seen a moose. Matt seemed to see one every time he left the campground, yet I couldn’t glimpse one with a pair of binoculars and a moose call (not a real thing- that I know of). Anyway, we walked and walked and walked, and stopped frequently to identify the abundant wildflowers and to rest on the six-mile steadily inclining trail. It was on one of these breaks- we had climbed up onto a rock to check out the view of the now very distant road and the barely visible cars crawling along it- that we had our first close encounter. As we turned intending to continue along the trail, a sizable female moose stepped out of the brush alarmingly near to us- about 20 feet- and if that weren’t enough, following her was a baby moose that couldn’t have been more than a month old (and that would have been absolutely adorable without its intimidating mom). At a greater distance this would have been something to marvel at, but mother moose are notoriously protective and are known to be very aggressive when their young are “threatened”- and we were way too close– had we not happened to climb onto that rock we almost certainly would have been charged. So we began singing (rather amusing made-up moose songs) to alert her of our presence and were subsequently stranded on that rock for quite some time until she strayed far enough to warrant our safe passage. I realize now that it was a pretty funny situation, but at the time the moose probably realized we were there not by our singing, but because she could hear my heart thumping. And so we snuck past mama and baby moose and continued on.
We camped in a beautiful spot along a river fed by the melting snow from high in the mountains, with water clear and clean enough to be drunk unfiltered. The following morning, we took our time leaving camp and moseyed along the now entirely downhill trail (luckily for our thoroughly worked legs), both daydreaming about sandwiches and Starbucks iced coffee. Ahead of me, Matt abruptly turned and instructed me to go back- there were two male moose coming down the trail toward us- and goodness were they huge. Despite our moose-repelling songs they kept ambling toward us and on the narrow trail we really had no option but to hurry back the way we came. Just as we began to scramble up a wall of rocks (a pretty comical image considering that I was still singing, “I don’t know what moose like to eat, but I sure hope it’s not you or me…”), we saw that they were suddenly grazing nonchalantly on the other side of the river and not paying a bit of attention to us (we’re still debating how they got across the swiftly moving water- Matt thinks they jumped, I think they used their mighty moose powers to momentarily stop the water). We were able to finish our hike with no more excitement of the wildlife variety (aside from a jubilantly prancing mule deer), and I decided to never complain about a lack of animal sightings again.