Moose Quest

The quest was simple: photograph a moose from the seat of my Dagger kayak in the Adirondack Mountains. But the odds were long. Notoriously reclusive moose are the J.D. Salingers of the forest.

Never have I spied one of those classic calendar-worthy shots of a bull moose with satellite-like antlers feeding knee deep in a remote lake with pondweed dangling from its mouth. My only sightings have been limited to once along a road in the Tetons, once along a road in Alaska while rushing to catch a flight out of Fairbanks, and once from afar in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.

And so with leaf-peeper tourists at least a week away and rutting season in full bloom, when moose are most active, the time felt right time to honor my quest.  Plus record September temperatures were weirding the northeast, upping thermometers into the high 80s and low 90s, making, or so I conjectured, moose more attracted to water since they lack the ability to sweat.

My search began with a paddle up Raquette Lake’s South Inlet, located 22 miles east of Old Forge. Bordered by marsh that narrowed the closer it dead-ended into a cul de sac of forest the inlet provided an endless buffet line of aquatic vegetation. Perfect for moose. But the only wildlife of note I spied was a lone blue heron. I needed insider info.

According to the hotel clerk at Old Forge’s Adirondack Lodge there was a reported moose at Helldiver Pond nestled deep in the Adirondack’s Moose River Plains region. He also warned to keep my distance. It reportedly was partly to mostly ornery, a common trait among moose.

Few people realize that more North American’s are killed annually by moose than by bear and shark attacks combined. But don’t expect the Discovery Channel to air Moose Week. Man’s ego couldn’t handle the visual reminder that we’re getting our asses kicked by a vegetarian.

So early the next morning, with limited time, I followed a spider-vein of fog-draped logging roads deep into the Moose River Plains region. I passed many moose dining holes but all were empty.

I eventually reached Helldiver Pond just as the last remnants of the morning’s fog dissipated. With the exception of an unexpected dock the pond looked like something out of Henry David Thoreau’s days. A tight tree line, with patches of emerging fall colors, hemmed the pond. Marshy stream breaks at the east and sound ends had all the makings of a moose’s version of an elegant white tablecloth breakfast setting with a three-course feast of pond lily, horsetails and pondweed. But just like yesterday – no moose.

My disappointment reminded me of what National Geographic photographer Charlie Hamilton James shared two years back during Jackson Hole’s annual Shift Festival. He said wildlife photography involves hours upon hours of sitting and waiting – quite boring actually – for rare brief a-ha moments of action.

I needed days, not minutes. Resigned to this reality I shifted focus to enjoying the moment, placing this jaunt’s success not on an actual sighting but to the idea itself. Which is the carrot stick for all backcountry escapes – the possibility of witnessing something rare and fleeting; something that simultaneously ignites all five senses; something that balances danger with adrenaline; something that makes us feel hell-yeah alive. 

With this in mind I returned to the main road, route 28, and before heading out stopped for a quick paddle on Moss Lake. Easily accessible the trailhead parking lot, on a Tuesday morning, was already half-full at 10 a.m. Not the ideal setting, obviously, to spot a moose. But since I was only paddling for the sake of paddling I did not mind. Just the acknowledgement of knowing I was in moose country served as success in itself. And probably helped heighten appreciation in seeing a loon, my favorite bird, as I paddled to shore while making tentative plans for my next attempt to photograph the J.D. Salinger of the forest.