A moose caught in an avalanche in Southcentral Alaska may have three passing snowmobilers to thank for making it into the new year.
The men dug the moose—a young cow, they think—out of the snow, apparently unharmed, after it was caught in an avalanche outside of Anchorage on Sunday.
The moose probably caused the slide, said one of the men, Marty Mobley, 44.
“There was just enough of its snout sticking above the snow that it could breathe,” Mobley said.
Mobley said he and friends Rob Uphus, 30, and Avery Vucinich, 27, had gone snowmobiling on the Willow side of Hatcher Pass, about 55 miles northeast of Anchorage, in an area known to locals as “God’s Country.” They rode carefully, he said, because of the fear of avalanches.
They saw a small bowl covered in moose tracks, with some ski tracks as well.
“We figured we scared the moose off and saw his tracks go up the side and over the crest,” Mobley said.
About an hour later, coming back through the same area, the trio saw that an avalanche had come down in the bowl, obliterating the tracks from the moose and the skier or skiers. Mobley said the men were worried a skier got caught in the slide, so they took a closer look, nervous about the possibility of more avalanches.
“We had about 2,500 feet of mountain above us still,” Mobley said. “Half slid, half didn’t, so we didn’t want to screw around a bunch there.”
But as he got closer, Mobley said he could see something brown and moving above the hard-packed snow.
“It looked like a guy’s arm at first because we were expecting to see a skier,” Mobley said. “But it was moaning and groaning and moving, and we realized it was a moose, even though only its ears and some of its snout was sticking out of the snow.”
Two of the men grabbed shovels and began to dig, while the other watched for avalanches. The moose didn’t move as they worked, Mobley said, and even seemed to get calmer as they cleared snow away.
“It didn’t even fight us,” Mobley said. “It was like, ‘Help me. Help me.’ It was totally docile and let us touch it.”
After about 10 minutes of digging, about three-quarters of the animal was free, Mobley said. They weren’t sure if the animal was injured, so one of them gently poked the moose’s backside with a shovel.
“It stood right up and towered over us, because we were in kind of a hole from the digging,” Mobley said. “It looked like the abominable snowman because its fur was so packed with snow and it looked at us, shook the snow off it, and off it went.”
Mobley said the moose ran down the mountain at full steam, appearing to be uninjured, which surprised the men.
They estimated that the avalanche had carried the moose at least 1,500 to 2,000 feet down the mountain.
The trio hope their moose rescue will be repaid by nature as they continue to ride their snowmobiles in Alaska’s often unpredictable backcountry, Mobley said.
“I am an animal lover, and I couldn’t leave it there,” he said. “Besides, we deal with a lot of avalanches and a lot of snow. That kind of karma is something we don’t pass up.”