A Moose Encounter and More!

The Connection, September 6, 2022

Orientation Expedition Sept.1 – 3, 2022. This Connection post is written by Jed Donnel.


Last Thursday through Saturday, the Upper School embarked on Orientation Expedition, our yearly tradition to get out in the woods before classes begin and help students further their practices of expedition behavior that translate to their cross-curricular and global studies throughout their SMS experience. For my part, now a new member of the US faculty, I accompanied a group of ninth graders and the esteemed Nikki Durkan to the outskirts of Rocky Mountain National Park in what is aptly though perhaps peremptorily named State Forest State Park. We arrived at the Crags Campground near Cameron Pass on Thursday afternoon, where we were almost immediately greeted by a curious moose as we set up tents. Unimpeded by our scurrying footsteps as we sought refuge, the moose slowly rambled on, we thought for good. After filling daypacks, we then proceeded to hike some two and a half miles up to Lake Agnes, which sits at the base of an ancient glacier just above tree-line. We heard some pika calling to each other, saw but unfortunately did not catch some lovely cutthroats in the crystal clear water, and enjoyed the thin, clean atmosphere. That night we feasted on mac and cheese with sausage, prepared by the cooking group, which Nikki oversaw. Our second day involved a challenging nine-mile hike up to Snow Lake on the other side of the Crags, which culminated in a celebratory dip in the cool, glacial water at just under 12,000 ft. The students maintained great attitudes throughout as we measured our goals of staying safe, getting to know one another, and having fun. In all, we hiked some fourteen miles over the two days and ascended nearly 3,000 vertical feet. 

On Friday night, a much deserved and intentionally restful dinner of burritos was rudely interrupted by the same moose from the day before, which, we quickly surmised, has apparently taken up the habit of raiding all of the campsites at Crags so as to steal meals. I’ve never heard of such behavior from a moose; this one exhibited not only a willingness to approach eleven people seated at a picnic table, but also was not spooked, despite our best efforts, before it inhaled the leftovers of our chicken, peppers, beans, tortillas, and cheese. Evidently, moose are omnivorous, or at least one moose is. Meanwhile, a few campers at a neighboring site accidentally engulfed a gas can in flame in what proved to be a terrible means of starting a campfire. So, while some of our group stayed with me, safely tucked at a distance behind our transportation and neighboring trees, to observe the moose, a few others accompanied Nikki to help put out the fire. Though quite unusual, the coinciding calamities provided opportunities to discuss the importance of keeping campsites safe and how to be mindful of wildlife. Plus, the students were outstanding in the context of both occasions; they communicated well, took directions, stayed upbeat, and remained calm. No harm was done, and we all enjoyed a few extra dessert helpings to replace the second course consumed by our intruder. On the whole, the trip was memorable and enjoyable, an excellent springboard to the academic term. We arrived back to campus safe and sound on Saturday, cleaned the van and what remained of our cooking gear (some with toothmarks), and quickly huddled to acknowledge a job well done. Both Nikki and I were impressed by the students, and we’re looking forward to working with them this year.

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