Colorado Mountain Trip: Days 3 and 4 — “Moose-Rise” at Cataract Lake

A nice-looking bull moose at the upper end of Cataract Lake was a more than pleasant surprise during our sunrise hike.

Following a spectacular day of moose encounters (see last post) I suggested to Alan that I would just like to hike around nearby Cataract Lake to look for mountain bluebirds and check out Cataract Falls. The lake itself is magnificent, surrounded by a hillside of wildflowers on the south and a rocky bluff to the north. The upper end of the lake (west) features Cataract Falls, which cascades three hundred feet down a mountain to the lake.

We got an early start, as always, and started down the trail toward the falls. Soon it was light enough to photograph a few birds, and we spent a fair amount of time at one location as I tried to get a decent image of a yellow-rumped warbler feeding among the wildflowers. Shortly after that, we topped a hill and I said, “Hey Alan, what’s that dark spot at the upper end of the lake?” I didn’t have my binoculars but I knew Alan did and he was already looking at the spot when I asked the question. I was flabbergasted when he responded, “It’s a moose!” I kind of laughed at his reply and then he slapped both of my shoulders and said again, “It’s a moose!” I immediately swung my big lens around and focused on the spot which materialized as a bull moose at water’s edge. Alan was just as excited as I was because he had never seen a moose at Cataract Lake in all the years he has summered in Colorado.

My plan was simple: I would begin a jog to the upper end of the lake where I might be able to photograph the moose from across the upper inlet from about 130 meters away. As I began my fast hike, Alan yelled, “I see a second one!” That only made me go faster.

When I made it to the upper end, I found a perfect spot down in the woods at water’s edge where I could see both moose feeding on aquatic vegetation in the water. I was almost to the falls because the cascading water was serenading me as I set up for a shot. It was still early but the sun was strong. One of my first shots was the featured image in the almost too golden hour of sunrise. Later, Alan showed up and said, “You must have been running on pure adrenaline to get so far up the trail so fast.” I think he was right.

It wasn’t long before the second moose joined the first in the water. The resulting image was a bit challenged by the cloudless light of a mountain sunrise but it was pretty cool to see them together.

One of the few opportunities I had to photograph the bulls together in the water.

I didn’t get too many opportunities to photograph the moose together because one was aggressive toward the other when it would get too close. Alan and I witnessed a pretty good brush off attack at one point. Both of us were in awe of these magnificent giants.

Later, both moose were back up on the bank, chomping away at willows. Once a moose started on a willow tree, it would strip it clean, leaving only the main stem. They were voracious!

A bull moose shows off its physique and beard as it begins to chomp willows for an hour straight.

Alan and I watched the bulls feed for a good 45 minutes before they suddenly began trotting up the hillside and disappeared into the trees. We were so gratified by the gift we had been given, we forgot to walk a few hundred more meters to check out the waterfall!

That evening, I told Alan that I was going back to Cataract Lake the next morning in hopes of seeing the moose in better light. Alan decided to sleep in and get a little work done around the cabin. I set my alarm for 4:30 A.M. and when I woke up, Alan was already making coffee. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was already awake earlier so he might as well go with me. I knew he couldn’t resist a second look at the moose. We knew it was a long shot but on the other hand, the area where they were feeding was the only area around the lake with an abundance of willows and a good place to enter the water for aquatic chow. It was worth a try.

Day 4

We arrived much earlier than the previous day and began a fast walk around the trail. We could just see without a flashlight and we didn’t have any trouble finding our spot. I settled in under my tripod and lens and we began our wait for sunrise. We sat there for about a half-hour before I saw something materialize out of nowhere. Yep, it was one of the bulls! A few minutes later, Alan spotted the second although I couldn’t see it from my vantage point. Game on!

Next, our luck took a turn for the worse. Just as it was light enough to shoot, the moose closest to the shoreline dropped to the ground and bedded down for the morning. What?!! I knew from experience with deer that it wouldn’t be getting back up any time soon, perhaps for hours. I was even more disappointed when the second bedded down as well.

Alan and I sat for over an hour as the moose bedded down. Something had to give!

After an hour, we were about to “call it” as the bulls were obviously bedded down for the morning. We had just given them “15 more minutes,” as duck hunters do when the going gets slow, when we heard some voices behind us. It was a group of hikers heading toward the falls. If they continued around the lake, they would go right past the bulls.

We watched for another 30 minutes, waiting for the hikers to round the upper end of the lake. We thought they might have started a climb up the side of the falls but we finally saw them clear the trees into the opening where the bulls had settled in. Alan whispered that the trail went right above the bulls, only about 50 feet from them. It was almost excruciating to watch the hikers as they finally passed over the bulls. The first six didn’t even notice the huge moose beneath them but the last two saw the set of antlers and stopped, jaws dropped of course. As they began watching, talking, and taking pictures, both bulls rose from their position and began feeding in the willows again. I couldn’t believe our luck! Could we do no wrong?

About 20 minutes later, the hikers finally continued on and I was able to make some beautiful images in much better light than the morning before due to significant cloud cover.

One of the bulls gets up to feed after being disturbed by the hikers.

Coming down to the water.

One of my favorite images of the morning came as one of the bulls stood along the shoreline, casting an obscured reflection in the clear, mountain lake water. I made a vertical (below) in hopes that it might appear on the cover of a magazine in the future. One can only hope!

A bull and its mountain lake reflection.

Just as on the morning before, the bulls eventually wheeled around and headed up the hill, disappearing into the trees. I packed up my gear and we started back down the trail the way we had come. We were both hungry and Alan shared his plans for the hearty breakfast he was going to make back at the cabin. When we got back to the 4Runner, I realized that we had forgotten to check out the waterfall again! I suppose we were suffering from moose fever.

Thanks for looking,

DB

Email:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Gallery of Images and Print Information:  https://dannybrown.smugmug.com

America is beautiful. I vote to keep it that way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 comments on “Colorado Mountain Trip: Days 3 and 4 — “Moose-Rise” at Cataract Lake”

  1. What a wow! set of images, Danny…the hikers did you a good turn!


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