The Mountain Got It’s Own Ways

26 Sep
I made camp where my legs gave out on me. It just happened to be on a narrow saddle that was the only way over the mountain and onto the nearby ridge system.

I made camp where my legs gave out on me. It just happened to be on a narrow saddle that was the only way over the mountain and onto the nearby ridge system.

For some reason Will Greer’s line to Robert Redford in “Jeremiah Johnson” springs to mind, when I think of this past opening weekend’s bivy hunt. “You can’t cheat the mountain Pilgrim. Mountain’s got it’s own ways”. It seems just spot-on appropriate.

I began scouting the higher elevations just as soon as the snow receded enough to give me access and quickly found an area that held plenty of promise and had me excited. Towards the end of July, I began climbing higher and higher up the mountain and was surprised to find plenty of Elk, Mule Deer and Bear sign. The sight of a small Elk herd lolling in an Alpine bowl one afternoon, had my hopes high and fantasies of chasing bugling bulls above the tree line brimmed in my heart.

A small herd of Elk, spread out through the Alpine Spruce.

A small herd of Elk, spread out through the Alpine Spruce.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this herd of nine Elk and would have no qualms notching my tag with this perfectly legal two point bull.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this herd of nine Elk and would have no qualms notching my tag with this perfectly legal two point bull.

I had the full intention of a deeper scouting mission before the season started, but other obligations always seemed to derail my plans. The last time I climbed the 2,000 ft. to peer over into the bowl, Green was the predominate color and there was plenty of water that coursed down the mountain. I would soon learn what a huge difference one month can make!

Everything was so green on my last trip up the mountain. What a stark contrast only one month would come to make.

Everything was so green on my last trip up the mountain. What a stark contrast only one month would come to make.

The Saturday of opening weekend had me rounding the last bend of the road an hour after sunup. As the sun’s rays wrapped over the top of the mountain, it seemed to illuminate above the tree-line like it was on fire. The bright fall colors were a shocking contrast to the bright green carpet that had covered the mountain face, just four weeks prior. I made my way to where I’d park my truck and geared up with anticipation of my first high mountain bivy hunt in three years.

From the base of the mountain; the fall colors added a very fiery appearance that seemed to creep up wards.

From the base of the mountain; the fall colors added a very fiery appearance that seemed to creep upwards.

On this hunt I was testing out a new pack, the “Alpine Ruck” from Sitka Gear. Breaking my usual practice of giving gear several trial runs before they ever make it officially into the field…the new pack got the trial-by-fire treatment. The pack only weighs three pounds…but I managed to load it up with close to fifty pounds of gear, food and water! One day I’ll get the ultralight thing pegged. But until then I’ll just have to keep my legs and lungs in shape, as I let the mountain be my treadmill. Since I live at 2,400 ft. in elevation, it always seems to take me several hours to acclimate to anything over 4,500 ft. or so. This morning my body didn’t seem to mind as much and the feet of elevation seemed to fall behind me, just a little easier than they had on my previous scouting trip.

Besides the fiery, fall colors being in contrast to the deep greens of the month prior, the lack of fresh animal sign and dried up springs seemed to make something buzz, deep within my subconscious. I hoped that the one fresh pile of Elk doo that I found, as I started up the scant game trail that skirted a rock slide, was not made by the only animal on the mountain. It didn’t take very long to see my one and only animal of the trip…and to have my only shot opportunity flitter away like the heat waves that danced on the slabs of granite.  As I was picking my way through the Huckleberry brush, a violent movement and clattering occurred only a few yards in front of me, just below the false summit. I surged forward into an opening within the group of trees, hoping to get a glimpse of the animal that had made the ruckus. A fork-horn Mule Deer trotted into the open, forty or so yards in front of me. He stared in my direction for a moment; but before I could even get an arrow on the string, he slipped down into a rock slide and all I could see was his head, as he turned to stare me down.

Just moments prior to my only shot opportunity of the trip; I paused for a breather on my way up the mountain and took a few "selfies".

Just moments prior to my only shot opportunity of the trip; I paused for a breather on my way up the mountain and took a few “selfies”.

Apparently the science behind GORE’s Optifade Open Country is solid…because I watched him staring intently in my general direction; like he was desperately trying to find whatever the heck had jumped him out of his bed. I thought that I had the possibility of getting above him and that I might get another crack at him…but of course the buck had different plans. One thing about being in the high country that you learn in short order: you don’t do anything very quickly. So my attempt of moving up and along the rock slide, was anything but quick. By the time I had gained seventy more yards up the steep vert, the buck had stolen my plan and had already slipped at least that far further up then me. As I navigated a few boulders and looked up to take a bearing, my efforts were rewarded by the sight of the buck bolting directly away from me and down the mountain. If I knew then, what I knew later…I would have pursued the buck down the mountain for a second chance. Instead, I stubbornly continued upwards.

Once I arrived at a spot that I had glassed the herd of Elk the month before, I shed my pack, drank some water and dug out a chocolate Honey-Stinger waffle. Once my tanks were topped off; out came the glass and I had high hopes of spotting something stalkable. I glassed without success for about 45 minutes before I decided to press on. I had plans of gaining the very top of the C-shaped ridge and walking the top onto the adjoining ridge. Once again…I was thwarted. Unless I had rock climbing gear; I would have to circumvent the steep rock crags and try to find a traversable way over the top. I made my way diagonally across the steep mountain face, all the while continuing to gain elevation. The terrain reminded me of the high-mountain tundra that I experienced while in the Brooks Range last year and taxed my quads just the same.

After another mile and a half, I spotted a notch in the cliff face that turned out to be a well used saddle. Being the only way over the mountain top, it was a small wonder that a well beaten trail appeared and headed over the ridge. I found the tracks of Elk, Deer and the scat of Wolves among some patches of bare dirt, that marked the first flat spots that I had seen since I had left my truck. About there was where my legs, who had previously felt perfectly fine, with so signs of fatigue….suddenly displayed the tell-tale signs that they were about to cramp up. I wasn’t aware of how much that I had sweated; which was buckets. The 90 degree temps and thin air had taken quite a toll. I slowly made my way over to a nice, little rock bench and quickly unslung my pack. When I stooped to bring the hose of my hydration bladder closer to my mouth…my legs suddenly cramped and I had no choice but to hit the deck and try to relax. I laid there in agony for at least a minute before the reality set in, that this is where I’d probably be spending the night. Once the cramps subsided, I unrolled my sleeping pad in the shade of a boulder and dozed off and on for the next two hours.

A low wall of granite doubled as a gear closet, kitchen and fireplace.

A low wall of granite doubled as a gear closet, kitchen and fireplace.

On awakening; I promptly looked at my watch and saw that it was after 4:00…”yep, this is home for the night, I guess…”, I thought to myself. Just in case; I arose and tested out my legs to see if there was any way that I’d be able to press on to my intended destination. They felt a lot better; but I could tell that they wouldn’t take much abuse at all. I decided to go ahead and pitch my tent and then survey my surroundings. There was plenty of terrain to glass, along the connecting ridges and slopes below me. I spent some time behind the Vortex Viper HD (20-60×80) spotting scope, but didn’t turn up anything but lonely mountainsides. It was so hot and dry; I surmised that everything was spending the majority of the time lower down, in the timber.

Between my binos and spotting scope; I spent several hours with my eyes peeled as I tried to make the best of my situation. This wasn't the ridge system I had originally intended to hunt; but here was a lot of country in my momentary backyard.

Between my binos and spotting scope; I spent several hours with my eyes peeled as I tried to make the best of my situation. This wasn’t the ridge system I had originally intended to hunt; but there was a lot of country within my temporary backyard.

As the sun continued it’s Westward arc, I began to settle in and prepare for the night. I found plenty of dry firewood nearby and soon had built a decent stockpile and as well, had built a nice “fireplace” against a perfect bench of granite. I broke out the camera and shot quite a few photos as the sun went down. It was so quiet and peaceful up on top of the mountain; all that could be heard was the wind and the unceasing buzz of bees. Much to my delight and later on, my saving-grace; the slopes where thick with ripe Huckleberries, from mountain base to mountain top. I continued my hours-long feast of the delectable, purple berries; like some camo-clad Bear. Soon my hands were stained purple, as well as the knees of my Timberline pants. One from constantly shoving huckleberries into my mouth and the other from busting through the thick berry patches on my way up the mountain. Life was good!

From where I camped; I had a perfect view of where I should have been; up and over that next ridge and into the bowl below.

From where I camped; I had a perfect view of where I should have been; up and over that next ridge and into the bowl below.

It wasn’t long before I had a pleasant, little fire going and was enjoying a spectacular sunset from 8,000 ft. and just shy of a mountain summit. These are the moments that we yearn for and the kind of fuel that has moved adventurers to risk life and limb and forsake their possessions and family ties to experience. Aldo Leopold, in his ” Sand County Almanac”, penned such words as “Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”  Any language that I know, would not do this moment and this landscape justice. I was content to just soak it all in, like the best TV program that never aired. My eyes were glued to the scene that cascaded away from me and my ears ate up the silence that enveloped it all. No amount of money can buy this kind of contentment, just as no words can describe it…you just have to experience the high country for yourself.

Using the last bit of light to glass the clearings below

Soaking it all in

In situations like these, it really doesn’t take much more than a wind break and a fire to feel perfectly at home. Before I knew it, the sun had set and the stars started to make their appearances. I made dinner out of a protein shake and soon was settled into my sleeping bag and being soothed to sleep by the lonesome singing of the wind against my tent.

I sat by the fire for quite awhile; waiting for it to die down before heading off to bed. Every time I see the stars and constellations from a high vantage point I'm always taken aback by how close and clear they appear.

I sat by the fire for quite a while; waiting for it to die down before heading off to bed. Every time I see the stars and constellations from a high vantage point I’m always taken aback by how close and clear they appear.

Morning came very quickly and with a rude awakening. Once I got up and started moving around, I discovered that out of the almost two gallons of water that I had packed up the mountain…I only had 16 ozs. left. There was a small “puddle” of water in the bowl below me; some 400 feet down. This had me perplexed. The heat had taken it’s toll on me and I wasn’t sure how much my legs had recuperated. Do I make the drop down and get more water? Or do I continue up the ridge face, drop down into the bowl that had been my original destination and get water from the lake? It’s interesting how our resolve can easily falter when we are exhausted while dealing with extreme environments, as well as those little unknown factors and details regarding the situation. If we are to succeed in more than just surviving and carrying out the mission, some pre-visualization before hand, as well as some pre-made and definite plans are necessary. But where would the adventure be in that?!

The ridge across from my camp at sunset.

The ridge across from my camp at sunset.

Being as tapped as I already was, I kept pondering over what I would do if I actually managed to get an animal down. I was several miles in and several thousand feet in elevation gain and loss from the truck. With the heat being as intense as it was, a carcass would definitely not keep for very long…and who in their right mind would agree to come and help me with a pack out? I made up my mind that I would at least make it to the top of the next ridge, the ridge that stood between me and my original goal and see what it was like. I made a quick feast of all nearby Huckleberries, ate a half of Almond butter, bacon, honey sandwich and drank my last 16 ounces of water. Afterwards, I shouldered my pack and headed along the route that I had previously scouted.

I guess that I’m getting ahead of myself and should mention that just prior to making the decision to press on, I had climbed up the last few hundred vertical feet, to the summit of the mountain. This would give me a better view and aide in scouting a route through a nearby boulder field. All that I was packing was my bow…you know; just in case. There was a pretty sketchy line that I had chosen, that ran around a narrow crack in the granite. I had to do a twisting transition to a very narrow rock ledge and then make  two, large climbing steps up onto a higher ledge to gain the summit. Well, when I made the transition, I had to make a large, almost leaping lunge, over a 50 foot drop off, to gain the narrow ledge. When I lunged and twisted my body to reverse directions…two things happened; the first thing was that I neglected to shift my bow to the other hand, to leave my near hand free to grab ahold of the granite face…and the second thing was that somehow my belt knife was sticking horizontally away from my body and jammed into the granite, which bounced me backwards. All that I could do was toss my bow onto the ledge and fling my body back to where I had come from, while twisting my body in mid-air.

I landed on all fours on the correct side of the drop-off and dang-near passed out from the adrenalin rush. Expletives rushed out of my mouth as I sank into a heap. Getting mangled on top of some mountain and not making it back to my wife is never an option.  I always go to great lengths to keep the risk to a minimum…and in one brief instant, I almost royally screwed that up. After I regained my composure I rearranged the knife on my belt and then made the scramble without a mishap. A very close call.

Making my way down one ridge, across a boulder field and then another 1,000 ft up another ridge...well; almost!

Making my way down one ridge, across a boulder field and then another 1,000 ft climb up another ridge…well; almost!

I made it across the narrow boulder field and started the climb up the next ridge face and realized that it was quite a bit more of a climb that I had thought. I must have made it about a quarter of the way up when my legs started to tell on me a bit. That was it, plan B was in full effect. The mountain had made the decision for me and all that was left, was to execute to the best of my ability. Plan “B” involved dropping down a two hundred foot cliff face, into a bowl that eventually led back down the mountain and to my truck. This meant that I would be going home a day sooner, but if I managed to get something down along the way…the pack out was a whole lot more sane. Navigating the descent down the cliff was a little hair-raising, but nothing worth writing about. Soon I was standing at the bottom of a shallow boulder field and into the same alpine bowl that I had spotted an Elk herd feeding in, just the month prior.

The notch in the ridge was the vertical face that I used to drop down into the bowl below. Nothing too crazy...but a little hair raising during a few moments.

The notch in the ridge was the vertical face that I used to drop down into the bowl below. Nothing too crazy…but a little hair-raising during a few moments.

The terrain was on the higher side of difficult and with my urgent need to find water hanging over my head…it really made any actual hunting almost impossible. I had been gorging non-stop on Huckleberries all morning and it was the only thing keeping me going. Any time my thirst would reach a maddening level, I’d start shoving Huckleberries into my mouth. I truly believe that these little, beautifully-purple berries, saved my bacon. I haven’t bothered to look up their nutrient profile, but I know that they have to be chock full of vitamins and minerals…and most importantly, they were deliciously moist to my dry palate. And for the simple reason that I had no water,  besides eating one Honey Stinger Waffle,  I was afraid to eat any of the food that I had brought. When my stomach rumbled with hunger, more Huckleberries were shoved into the ol’ pie-hole.

After making the descent down the short cliff face and traversing half of the boulder field below; I took a moment to check out where I had just came from and to plot a course through the remainder of the boulder field.

After making the descent down the short cliff face and traversing half of the boulder field below; I took a moment to check out where I had just came from and to plot a course through the remainder of the boulder field.

I had been following a dry creek bed for about a quarter of a mile, a creek bed that had been rushing with cool and crystal clear water only thirty days prior. I finally stumbled upon a little seep that was almost hidden among the Huckleberry brush. I couldn’t unsnap the buckles from my pack quickly enough, to dig out my Platypus Kleen Stream filtration system. My parched throat would have screamed at me to hurry up, if it could have. Within a few seemingly endless minutes, after cleaning out some debris and enlarging the seep with a combination of my boot heel and a stick…I had thirty two ounces of the best tasting water I can ever recall drinking. I stood there and drank until the hydration bladder was dry. After I finished my main course of water, I made use of the surrounding Huckleberry bushes and had desert. I laughed at myself having made such a quick change of attitude and pondered over how something as simple as a drink of water could completely change a persons outlook on life. Things were really starting to look up and once again, my mind turned to hunting. There HAD to be a nice Mule Deer buck or Black Bear, taking refuge in the only green spot for miles.

The Alpine Ruck; loaded to the brim with my backcountry essentials and my Stalker Stickbows Wolverine FXT taking a breather. I had managed to hook the end of my tent's stuff sack on something and completely rip it off. A gallon Zip Loc baggie made for an impromptu fix.

The Alpine Ruck; loaded to the brim with my backcountry essentials and my Stalker Stickbows Wolverine FXT taking a breather. I had managed to hook the end of my tent’s stuff sack on something and completely tear it off. A gallon Zip Loc baggie made for an impromptu fix.

Since the dried up creek bed flowed along the path of least resistance, I continued to follow it along, just knowing that there had to be a good seep that would attract animals. About thirty minutes later, I was rewarded with a little bowl of green that housed the largest wet spot for miles. I found a spot in the shade of a Spruce tree that made for the perfect vantage point. The wind was right, so I sat down on a log and spent the next couple of hours glassing the nearby area. The wind was blowing in my face and I kept catching blasts of the pungent smell of Elk. I had previously smelled the lighter and less pungent aroma of Mule Deer. This led me to finally conclude that before I had even broke camp, these animals had already been through the bowl and had made for deep cover, before the sun’s rays could get too intense. I still had high hopes though and remained on alert and ready to slap an arrow to my bowstring. Before I headed out, I decided to take some time and gather some purple goodness for my loved ones back home.

This is where I had found a good vantage point, to overlook the small waterhole...hoping that something would come in for a drink. The time I spent in vigil at the waterhole, provided me with some much needed time in the shade.

This is where I had found a good vantage point, to overlook the small waterhole…hoping that something would come in for a drink. The time I spent in vigil at the waterhole, provided me with some much needed time in the shade.

One I had a sandwich bag full of Huckleberries, I pressed on. I still had quite a bit of gnarly terrain to cross before it got too dark…Lord knows that was one place that I did not want to be trying to crawl out of in the dark. About this time was when my willpower was really put to the test. I had to drop down into a boulder flow and up onto the shoulder of the mountain, that skirted the boulder field. At some point, while hopping from boulder to boulder, it dawned on me that I was having to stop more frequently to rest. I really had come to my bodies limitations and sapped all of my energy stores. From that point on, it was complete mental toughness and tenacity that kept me going. I found scrub Raspberry bushes growing among the boulders and resorted to eating what barely passed as Raspberries, to take my mind off of my exhaustion. The Raspberries weren’t near as satisfying as the Huckleberries that I had been eating, but they kept my mind busy and held some moisture in their small, stubby and deformed, red bodies.

I had snapped this photo about thirty days prior, while on a scouting trip to the area. This shows part of the boulder flow that I had to traverse to get up on the shoulder of the mountain, to get back down. I'm not sure if it was the easiest route that I could have taken...but it definitely was the shortest and more importantly; it was a route that I knew.

I had snapped this photo about thirty days prior, while on a scouting trip. This shows part of the boulder flow that I had to traverse to get up on the shoulder of the mountain, to get back down to the base and where my truck was parked. I’m not sure if it was the easiest route that I could have taken…but it definitely was the shortest and more importantly; it was a route that I knew.

Once I made it across the boulder flow and had climbed up onto the shoulder of the mountain…I almost could have cried, I was so happy! I still had a long ways to go, but it was all downhill and basically “level ground”, compared to what I had just traveled through. On the trek down the mountain face I hit that numb-level of exhaustion and almost plowed downwards, like some kind of camo-wrapped bulldozer. Apparently I had slipped out of hunting mode and back into survival mode, because I seemed to have no regard to patches of brush, logs, or boulders…I plowed over and though them all. I was really starting to think how much of a complete moron I truly was, I had passed up two opportunities to replenish my water stores, but passed because I didn’t want to haul the “extra weight”. Dumb…dumb…DUMB. That thirty two ounces that I had sucked down were long sweated out of my body and lodged somewhere between my Sitka Merino Zip-T and my pack’s suspension. Every time that I would bow my head, cups of sweat would pour out from behind my hat band.

Before I knew it, I was navigating the edges of the boulder flow again, almost to flat ground. I felt re-energized once my boots hit the flat ground of the old, Forest Service trail and that last quarter of mile to my truck seemed to disappear behind me like vapor. Upon catching sight of my truck, a wave of exhaustion crashed through my body. I’ve experienced this before, it’s almost like your brain’s reserve of adrenalin and will-power that it uses while in survival mode, automatically shut down once your sub-conscious confirms that the journey is over and any “danger” has passed. All I could think about was shedding my pack and jumping into the ice-cold, spring fed pool that was nearby. I soon was stripped down to my skivvies and I waded in, not even taking the time to remove my socks! I don’t think that I had ever experienced anything more re-vitalizing or more refreshing, than that blessed little pond.

After a time, I drug myself out of the pond and hobbled on stiff legs over to my truck and stretched out in the bed to dry out and take a nap. I couldn’t help but let a chuckle escape, when I compared this trip, to my last solo, bivy hunt that took place some three years prior. While the two trips were completely different in experience, two things stood out as one and the same. Both times I had misjudged some crucial piece of the puzzle and in both cases I ended up coming home a day early. Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a solo bivyist….or maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment. Maybe it’s just as simple as ol’ Bearclaw Chris Lapp said; the mountain got it’s own ways…and there’s no way to cheat it. Either way… can you blame me for trying?

Looking back down the mountain from below where I had made camp. I have an affinity for the steep and deep; can you blame me?

Looking back down the mountain from below where I had made camp. I have an affinity for the steep and deep; can you blame me?

*About the Sitka Gear Alpine Ruck pack: to be perfectly honest…I was a little skeptical when I first pulled this pack from it’s packaging. I really have had no solid, prior experience with an “ultralight” pack before and didn’t really have high hopes. But once again, I was pleasantly surprised with the performance of a new piece of gear on this “hunt”. The 2800 ci was adequate enough space to fit three days worth of gear. The design and lay out of the pockets are genius. In fact, for a three pound pack,  I couldn’t believe all of the pockets and features that it has. I won’t go too in depth at this time, but I will say that I enjoyed how it handled my sub-fifty pound load on this very challenging hunt.

I wanted to mention that besides testing out a new pack, I also was testing out one new piece of crucial gear. I used the Mountain Athlete Compression Sock, by First Lite for the very first time on this hunt. I always thought that compression socks were just hype and what Basketball-player types wore as a fashion statement. Well…I have been dead wrong! I absolutely could not believe what a difference in lower leg fatigue that something as simple as a pair of socks could make. I am completely sold on these new compression socks, they are legit.

The Alpine Ruck pack, overlooking one of my most favorite, North Idaho lakes, from 8,000 ft.

The Alpine Ruck pack, overlooking one of my most favorite, North Idaho lakes, from 8,000 ft.

This may look like jumbled yard sale; but what you are looking at are key pieces of crucial gear: My Lone Wolf built Glock 20 longslide and chest holster by Survival Sheath Solutions, Vortex Viper HD 10x42 binos, Kelvin Lite jacket by Sitka Gear (the little silver ball on the right), Platypus Kleen Stream gravity filtration system. Any of these pieces are well worth the space and eight in your pack.

This may look like jumbled yard sale, but what you are looking at are key pieces of crucial gear: My Lone Wolf built Glock 20 longslide and chest holster by Survival Sheath Solutions, Vortex Viper HD 10×42 binos, Kelvin Lite jacket by Sitka Gear (the little silver ball on the right), Platypus Kleen Stream gravity filtration system. Any of these pieces are well worth the space and eight in your pack.

Laying it all on the line

13 Sep
A moment of complete exhaustion, during the last physical trial of the Train To Hunt Challenge: Pack on burpees.

A moment of complete exhaustion, during the last physical trial of the Train To Hunt Challenge: Pack on burpees.

Every year I look forward to new adventures and new challenges; but I often find myself living inside my comfort zone. Nothing irks me more than living vicariously through other’s achievements or feeling inspired by what someone else has overcome; only to sit idly by…wistfully.

According to Newton’s first law of motion; it’s the natural tendency of objects to resist changes in their state of motion. And when overcoming the inertia of our routine seems too difficult, or impossible; what do we do? We have to mix it up, we have to push forward…and push hard.

I started off this year with my heart and mind committed that I would make this season better than the last and in doing so; I would need to mix it up and step outside of my comfort zone a bit. I needed a goal that deviated from the same old “scout more, shoot my more bow more, train more” gibberish that everyone mutters at the start of each year. To do this I had to think bigger and commit to something that would be difficult…and why not announce it to everyone, while also reaching out for sponsors, for some added  accountability?

As soon as I heard of this “premier adventure race for bowhunters” called the Train To Hunt Challenge, AKA the”Search For The Fittest Bowhunter In The West”…I immediatly made up my mind that I was in. It was announced late last year and with snow still covering the ground; I went into training mode full-bore. Since I had been hunting more and more with my Recurve and had every intention of starting the season with it in hand…I had to ask myself; why wouldn’t I compete with anything other than what I would be using in the mountains? This would put me at a disadvantage; as far as being competitive goes…but this was more of a competition with myself, more than anything else. The course had been set and no alterations would be made…at least that’s what I thought.

One of many training sessions. This was just after the snow melted; I trained rain or shine and as many days a week that my schedule would allow. This day it was pouring down rain. My wife had to snap a pic; thinking that I was crazy as she watched me shoot an arrow, sprint to the target and back and shoot again, all while it rained cats and dogs. You only get out of things what you put into it...and it was my intention to "go big".

One of many training sessions. This was just after the snow melted; I trained rain or shine and as many days a week that my schedule would allow. This day it was pouring down rain. My wife had to snap a pic; thinking that I was crazy as she watched me shoot an arrow, sprint to the target and back to shoot again, all while it rained cats and dogs. You only get out of things what you put into it…and it was my intention to “go big”.

With every workout; I felt my strength and endurance growing and with that, my confidence in my stickbow shooting grew as well. A moment dawned upon me; could I possibly do this? Could I possibly stand a chance of going beyond just competing…when the dust settled, could I actually be standing tall as the victor? At that point is when things went horribly off course.

One of the many logs that I had to clear by hand this day. By the time that I got to the log that would end up knocking the "eff" out me; I was pretty exhausted and obviously was not thinking clearly. Hopefully I learned my lesson and will always assume that any downed tree is under tension!

One of the many logs that I had to clear by hand this day. By the time that I got to the log that would end up knocking the “eff” out me; I was pretty exhausted and obviously was not thinking clearly. Hopefully I learned my lesson and will always assume that any downed tree is under tension!

The first setback came in the form of a concussion sustained from having an ax handle and my own fist being driven into my face. This happened while clearing a road into an area where my hunting partner had drawn a spring bear tag. I was very fortunate that I walked away with only a concussion, a broken tooth and a slightly mangled right hand. But this would set my training back an entire month and I was almost devastated.

Even though I couldn’t exercise much beyond a short, light walk during the time my brain was healing from my concussion; it was only a couple of weeks before my hand healed enough to allow me to shoot my bow again. I was ecstatic about this and began to shoot my bow daily from that point on.

A view from a rainy day in the spring bear stand. My nephew was to arrow a nice, 300# bear from a different location this afternoon. I had the pleasure of dragging his bear out for him. His expression when he first caught a glimpse of what he had shot; was well worth the effort...even if it was supposed to have been MY bear!

A view from a rainy day in the spring bear stand. My nephew was to arrow a nice, 300# bear from a different location this afternoon. I had the pleasure of dragging his bear out for him. His expression when he first caught a glimpse of what he had shot; was well worth the effort…even if it was supposed to have been MY bear!

Before long I was back into the swing of things and almost to the fitness level as I was before my accident…and then the second set back occurred. After spending a week with my wife on the island of Kauai; I returned and promptly tore my hamstring…only three weeks before the competition. It almost seemed that I just wasn’t supposed to reach my goals this year and that I just wasn’t supposed to be competing in any “bowhunter specific adventure race”. I wanted to scream out loud my frustration; but still was determined to be at the competition and do what I could. A week later found me in a treestand and waiting on a bear that never showed it’s self; but I had the privilege of packing out my Nephew’s first Black Bear instead. Somehow my hamstring kept it’s self together, as I lugged the 6′ 3″, 300 lb bear out of the woods. My nephew’s grin and enthusiasm matched the size of the bear that he had pin-wheeled…and that was more than enough for me.

I had so much anxious energy before the competition; I had a very hard time dealing with it. If I would have had to wait much longer for my heat...I might have blew a gasket!

I had so much anxious energy before the competition; I had a very hard time dealing with it. If I would have had to wait much longer for my heat…I might have blew a gasket!

The morning of the competition had my hamstring feeling a little tender and the butterflies in my stomach had me feeling very anxious. I gave it everything that I had and ended up finishing dead last in my division. Even though the competitive side in me wasn’t happy with my performance that day; deep down a warm feeling of satisfaction welled within me. Sometimes just being able to stay the course and finish; means more than the end result.

Crossing the finish line and completing a goal that pushed me past my comfort zone and made me reach deep within myself to complete.

Crossing the finish line and completing a goal that pushed me past my comfort zone and made me reach deep within myself to complete.

A quick note to thank some key people who provided some crucial help that enabled me to compete in this event.

I want to first thank Tim Endsley, of Bad Medicine Archery for his endless generosity. Without him, I truly would not have been able to even enter the competition!

I would like to thank the folks from Alaska Bowhunting Supply and Grizzly Stik arrows; for providing me with the absolute, hands-down, best arrow shafts that I’ve ever had the privilege to shoot. Grizzly Stiks “fly like darts and hit like a Mack truck!”

Also; I would like to thank South cox, of Stalker Stickbows for building the finest, custom recurve that I’ve ever laid hands to. My Wolverine FXT definitely delivers the goods!

Last but not least; a huge thanks to my best friend and hunting partner Darin, for running with me and documenting the event. I can’t wait to put all of his footage together!

Writing my competitor number on each of my arrows. A big thanks to Tim Endsley of Bad Medicine Archery for sponsoring me for this event!

Writing my competitor number on each of my arrows. A big thanks to Tim Endsley of Bad Medicine Archery for sponsoring me for this event!

My Grizzly Stik Momentum EFOC's, dressed up with some blingin' custom arrow wraps from Bad Medicine Archery.

My Grizzly Stik Momentum EFOC’s, dressed up with some blingin’ custom arrow wraps from Bad Medicine Archery.

This must have been pee #60 before I competed in my heat. I didn't have any caffeine that morning...so it must have been nerves.

This must have been pee #60 before I competed in my heat. I didn’t have any caffeine that morning…so it must have been nerves.

Warming up with some dips.

Warming up with some dips.

Event jersey

The first physical challenge: over your pack burpees.

The first physical challenge: over your pack burpees.

The one and only target that I missed during the comp; would basically put the nail in the coffin of my placing. If you missed a target; you had to do double of that physical challenge. This was the worst possible target that I could have missed; because Backpack Getups were the only physical challenge that I struggled with.

The one and only target that I missed during the comp; would basically put the nail in the coffin of my placing. If you missed a target; you had to do double of that physical challenge. This was the worst possible target that I could have missed; because Backpack Getups were the only physical challenge that I struggled with.

More backpack-getup agony

More backpack-getup agony

100 yard "shuttle run", with a 70# sandbag. One of the easier challenges.

100 yard “shuttle run”, with a 70# sandbag. One of the easier challenges.

Catching my breath and getting ready to thump a target.

Catching my breath and getting ready to thump a target.

Just after loosing the second to last arrow of the competition.

Just after loosing the second to last arrow of the competition.

Catching my breath during the last physical challenge: pack on burpees.

Catching my breath during the last physical challenge: pack on burpees.

Heading to the last target. I remember this target vividly; it was an Elk and I was pretty gassed. I remember letting the arrow fly...wondering if I had even picked a spot...and then being relieved to see that I had scored a neck hit.

Heading to the last target. I remember this target vividly; it was an Elk and I was pretty gassed. I remember letting the arrow fly…wondering if I had even picked a spot…and then being relieved to see that I had scored a neck hit.

Since I wanted to finish strong and not re-injure my hamstring ; I chose to walk at times. This was right before the last target.

Since I wanted to finish strong and not re-injure my hamstring ; I chose to walk at times. This was right before the last target.

Taking aim on the last target and then it was a 400+ Meter sprint to the finish.

Taking aim on the last target and then it was a 400+ Meter sprint to the finish.

This was immediately after I crossed the finish line. A lot of things were going through my head at this moment. One of which was being glad that my hamstring held up; but the competitor within me was grumbling over my finish time of 36:00.

This was immediately after I crossed the finish line. A lot of things were going through my head at this moment. One of which was being glad that my hamstring held up; but the competitor within me was grumbling over my finish time of 36:00.

Sweaty, dirty and thirsty.

Sweaty, dirty and thirsty.

Even though I didn't finish as competitively as I had originally hoped; I felt deeply satisfied to have finished what I had started.

Even though I didn’t finish as competitively as I had originally hoped; I felt deeply satisfied to have finished what I had started.

I'm very proud to be a member of the Bad Medicine Archery Pro Staff. Live your brand! #noregrets

I’m very proud to be a member of the Bad Medicine Archery Pro Staff. Live your brand! #noregrets

Not the placing I had hoped for! Since I was the very first person to compete with a Traditional bow; I was showed a certain amount of respect...even though I placed dead last. To me; it was just competing with the gear that I would be using when it really mattered. And of course I thought that besides the limitations of my injury; I could have at least made a better showing with my shooting. But I guess that never being satisfied is the only we can continue to improve ourselves.

Not the placing I had hoped for! Since I was the very first person to compete with a Traditional bow; I was showed a certain amount of respect…even though I placed dead last. To me; it was just competing with the gear that I would be using when it really mattered. And of course I thought that besides the limitations of my injury; I could have at least made a better showing with my shooting. But I guess that never being satisfied is the only way we can continue to improve ourselves.

Warming up before the 3D shoot; which was the second day of the competition.

Warming up before the 3D shoot; which was the second day of the competition.

I had the privilege of shooting with a few of the top placers in this competition. Not only were the outstanding athletes; but they were a great bunch of people as well. Thanks guys; I had a great time!

I had the privilege of shooting with a few of the top placers in this competition. Not only were they outstanding athletes; but they were a great bunch of people as well. Thanks guys; I had a great time!

Bearing down

If you look closely; you can see my orange fletching streaking towards the target.

If you look closely; you can see my orange fletching streaking towards the target.

Pick a spot

The Pecking Order

11 Jul
This has got to be the most bling-bling, deadly setup that I've ever shot: Wolverine FXT built by South Cox of Stalker Stickbows, GrizzlyStik Momentum EFOC's from Alaska Bowhunting Supply and the classy-sick and twisted custom arrow wraps by MR. Tim Endsley from Bad Medicine Archery. Now it's just shoot, shoot, train, shoot and train until September gets here!

This has got to be the most bling-bling, deadly setup that I’ve ever shot: Wolverine FXT built by South Cox of Stalker Stickbows, GrizzlyStik Momentum EFOC’s from Alaska Bowhunting Supply and the classy-sick and twisted custom arrow wraps by MR. Tim Endsley from Bad Medicine Archery. Now it’s just shoot, shoot, train, shoot and train until September gets here!

It’s just a prudent practice to establish a “pecking order” any time you get a new set of arrows. Regardless of how high-tech or high-speed a certain arrow shaft is; there will always be slight variances that will account for accuracy. Sometimes it’s just a matter of how they are fletched, how the inserts are installed, or a number of other variables that can dictate how consistent a particular shaft will fly. Well…leave it to me to always do things backwards or in the incorrect sequence…I’ve had these arrow shafts for at least two months, carried them in the spring Bear woods, have competed with them in the Train To Hunt Challenge… and I am now just getting around to doing this!
One of the better groupings of the night. The proof is in the pudding with these GrizzlyStik Momentum EFOC shafts! Every time that I was able to get a shot off with perfect focus and form...they flew right were they were supposed to!  I've been sold on Alaska Bowhunting Supply products for several years....but dangit if I've never seen this kind of performance! I just love these shafts and can't say enough good things about them.

One of the better groupings of the night. The proof is in the pudding with these GrizzlyStik Momentum EFOC shafts! Every time that I was able to get a shot off with perfect focus and form…they flew right were they were supposed to!
I’ve been sold on Alaska Bowhunting Supply products for several years….but dangit if I’ve never seen this kind of performance! I just love these shafts and can’t say enough good things about them.

Tonight I shot groups from 15 yards and focused as hard as possible on correct form and a proper release. I just wanted to give these bad boys every chance in the world to prove what they were capable of. If I thought that I had a bad release (which is easy to do while shooting with fingers and with Trad equipment), I just pulled that particular arrow and shot again. Every time I would hit my mark (or close to it), I would give that arrow shaft a dot with a marker and write the shaft’s assigned number next to the hole it made in the cardboard. If a shaft acquired four dots; it was “promoted” and pulled out of the rotation. The theory is that if a shaft earns four dots (hits the mark consistently four times), it earns it’s self a first string position in my quiver and is tipped with a broadhead. But the truth of the matter, is that basically every one of these shafts qualified.
Earning dots.

Earning dots.

My final verdict…was that gosh darn if every single one of these shafts didn’t fly true…as long as I did my part! I’m so excited to be shooting these Momentum EFOC’s this season; I’ve just never shot an arrow shaft quite like them.
So there you have it; figure out which particular arrow shaft works with your setup, assign a pecking order and keep punching targets until September rolls around. At that point if you’ve done your part; you can be rest assured that when Mr. Big (or Misses Backstraps  ) steps out in front of your arrow…you won’t be going home empty handed!
I wonder who these arrows belong to? Oh...yeah, that's right!

I wonder who these arrows belong to? Oh…yeah, that’s right!

Gear review: Uncompahgre Puffy by First Lite

3 Jun
My hunting partner, Darin modeling the new Uncompahgre Puffy, by First Lite. In this picture; you can get a very good idea of the well thought out details that went into the designing of this piece.

My hunting partner, Darin modeling the new Uncompahgre Puffy, by First Lite (in Dry Earth color. It also comes in ASAT and Realtree camo). In this picture; you get a good idea of the well thought out features built into this piece. If the “Devil’s in the details”, than you can tell that the Uncompahgre Puffy was designed by a hunter; because it contains details that only a hunter would think of.

Even though I am pretty biased about what brand of gear system that I use; I never balk at the chance to test out new gear. And if my company of choice does not produce a certain piece of gear to fit my needs…I am forced to look towards other companies. One such company that I have used in the past and wouldn’t hesitate to use any piece of their gear system…is First Lite.

I love to support local companies (local to me is anything made in either WA, OR, ID or MT) and with First Lite being based out of Idaho…well, that’s even better. Kenton Carruth, the founder of First Lite is a down to earth, all around great guy who I am in contact with, from time to time. So during a phone conversation earlier this spring, when he presented me with an opportunity to test out some soon to be released gear, I jumped at the chance.

First Lite is launching three new pieces of outerwear this year; one of them being a “puffy”. A puffy is an interesting piece of gear, as it seems to be an “in between” piece…it’s mainly used as insulation and is efficient at trapping ones body heat by literally filling it’s self with warm air. But at the same time a puffy is often used as an outer piece, when the wind picks up, or during a light rain spritzing, when a full-on outer shell is not warranted.

I received my test piece back in March, while we still had a bit of snow on the ground and some chilly temperatures here in North Idaho. I began wearing the Puffy while on a few light hikes and dog walking outings during sub-fifty degree temps. I tried to carefully note at what point that I began to feel over warm during activity at these lower, mid-range temperatures and gauge it’s breathability. I quickly found that if it was 40 degrees or lower; you can get away with a little bit of activity without over heating. It wasn’t until during an April Turkey hunt, that I remembered that a Puffy was in fact an insulation piece…and not really intended for any activity beyond a light walk. With that being said; once you do start to sweat, there is a good amount of vapor transmission that takes place and you are not left feeling “clammy” once you slow down and cool off.

First Lite made use of a very interesting material that’s branded as Cocona, in their three new offerings this year. Since I own a Marmot Zip-T that utilizes Cocona material; I was already a bit familiar with the stuff.

If you are into the whole “reduce, reuse and recycle” mantra; then Cocona should be right up your alley. Cocona: “trademarked name for a lightweight, breathable fiber derived from coconut-husk waste discarded by the food-service industry. b: Reduced to charcoal, combined with recycled polyester, and spun to maximize its surface area for warmth retention and moisture wicking. c: Said to resist odors better than traditional polyester fill.” All that I know is that the material seems to work very well at transferring moisture away from the skin and does a good job of retaining it’s warmth while wet. It would seem that Merino Wool and Cocona are a perfect match for each other in this aspect and a natural choice for a company like First Lite, who utilizes Merino Wool in virtually their entire lineup.

Both hand warmer pockets, located vertically on each side of the zipper are set a little higher than your average jacket. The pockets being set higher up like this; make it more convenient to access anything kept in these pockets while wearing a pack.

Both hand warmer pockets, located vertically on each side of the zipper are set a little higher than on your average jacket. The pockets being set higher up like this; make it more convenient to access anything kept in these pockets while wearing a pack. Notice the smaller zippered pocket located on upper, left chest (right side of the picture). This pocket features a double zipper; which enables you to basically pull the jacket inside out through this pocket, creating a stuff sack that zips closed. An important detail that makes this Puffy more packable and stowable.

The Puffy is treated with a DWR finish; which adds to the usefulness of this piece and might be the one detail that leads you to toss it into your pack over another insulation piece. I made use of a March rain/hailstorm (the temperature was in the mid forties) to test how well it performed at water repellency and was very pleased with the results. Here’s what I immediately jotted down, once I came back inside after the storm had passed:

“The first real chance that I had to test the water repellency of this garment was tonight, with a massive downpour that lasted around 30 min. The first ten minutes or so it was hailing very hard, hard enough that it really stung when it hit. The hail turned to a steady drizzle and at this point the Puffy was doing just fine. There was a decent stream coming off of a corner, of the roof of my house; which I couldn’t resist stepping underneath to accelerate the conditions of the testing. It was within three minutes or so of standing underneath the runoff (something like a pitcher of water being poured) that I started to feel seepage in the arm-pit areas of the jacket. I soon realized that his was somewhat unfair to the testing and really not akin to what you might actually undergo while being out and about; so I stepped away from the runoff.

It didn’t take much of just walking around and moving naturally, before I no longer noticed the moisture that had managed to seep into the underarm area (*the Cocona layer hard at work to move the moisture outwards, while retaining body heat). I continued to walk around naturally in the steady drizzle until the storm finally passed. At the 27 minute mark the Puffy was hanging in there pretty strong.”

So am I suggesting that the Puffy could potentially replace a piece of your rain gear? NO. What I am saying; is that with the high level of water repellency built into this jacket, it’s just one more gold star next to it’s name. In the event that you were using a soft-shell outer layer and got stuck out in a nasty storm; if you chose to use the Uncompahgre Puffy in your kit…you would have a lot less to worry about and could focus on the task at hand. This is something that I personally look for in my own gear; because staying comfortable in the elements, while being miles from your truck…will make or break your hunt. Not only will it keep you out in the field longer; but it could potentially save your life in an extreme situation.

Not the best picture in the world...but I had to dang near coerce my wife to step outside and snap this picture! You can clearly see the water buildup on my shoulders and running down the thighs of my pants...the rain and hail were coming down in buckets. For not really being an outer piece and definitely not even close to a raingear piece...I was very impressed with how the Puffy's DWR treatment held up. This would definitely add value and return for your investment in this piece.

Not the best picture in the world…but I had to dang near bribe and coerce my wife to step outside and snap this picture! You can clearly see the water buildup on my shoulders and running down the thighs of my pants…the rain and hail were coming down in buckets. For not really being an outer piece and definitely not even close to a raingear piece…I was very impressed with how the Puffy’s DWR treatment held up. This would definitely add value and return for your investment in this piece.

Being mainly a bowhunter; I really pay attention to how a garment is cut, especially in the sleeves and chest area. First Lite describes the Puffy as having a “shooter’s cut” and this is very apparent while shooting my bow: I had no string-clearance issues whatsoever (even while wearing the hood). I would also say that it definitely has more of an overall athletic cut as well; which would keep with the mountaineering cues that most modern hunting apparel companies have been pulling from. The built-in stretch panels and overall articulation lends to a full-range of motion; which again is very conducive while drawing a bow or when shouldering a rifle, for that matter. *For reference purposes; the sample I tested was a size Large. I’m 5’6″ and 240#, while Darin is 6′ and 225#…as you can see from the pictures; it fit us both like a glove.

How would the Uncompahgre Puffy compare to other insulation pieces from other companies? I tried to quantify this in a closed-group gear testing forum that I am a part of and it really created a stir! The reason being…I don’t think that any existing “hunting gear” company has a piece that is in quite the same category. It’s almost in a category of it’s own, really. The pieces that came to mind while I was trying to make comparisons, were: the Super Down by KUIU (10 ounces. 850+ Toray Quixdown. DWR), the Spindrift jacket by KUIU (13.5 ounces. Primaloft. DWR) the Kelvin Down Hoody by Sitka Gear (27.2 ounces. 800 fill down), the Kelvin Jacket by Sitka Gear (28 ounces. Primaloft One), the Kelvin Lite jacket by Sitka Gear (13.6 ounces. Primaloft Sport), or maybe The Kratos jacket by Kryptek (19.5 ounces. Primaloft). But as you can see; with the Uncompahgre Puffy weighing in at 19.1 ounces (size Large), and having a DWR treatment like some of the before mentioned insulation pieces and costing around $225 ($200 for “Dry Earth” version)…it still seems “apples to oranges” when laying out all of the specifics. I’ll let someone else quantify and draw the comparisons on this one.

So, do I think that the Uncompahgre Puffy by First Lite is a solid piece of gear and a good value? I’d have to say “yes” on both counts. This is definitely a piece that I wouldn’t hesitate to toss in my pack and rely on to protect me from the elements. While not trying to outright destroy it during testing; I used it just like I do any of my gear throughout the course of my mountain sojourns and it seemed to hold up just fine. First Lite is awesome to deal with as a company and has a good warranty program if you ever did have any issues or breakdown during use. With the price being in the $200 range; that puts it right in the middle of any other insulating jacket that you might consider. With my budget; $200 is very much an investment and I have to weigh things out and re-hash before committing to a purchase; but I think that this piece holds a lot of value in it’s construction and details. I give it two thumbs up.

A backside view of the Puffy illustrates the use of more hardy materials in high wear areas; i.e. the Merino Wool panel across the upper back. You can also appreciate the athletic cut; which lends to easy layering when using an outer layer. It also cuts out useless bulk, which keeps the weight down.

A backside view of the Puffy illustrates the use of more hardy materials in high wear areas; i.e. the Merino Wool panel across the upper back and lower arms. You can also appreciate the athletic cut; which lends to easy layering when using an outer layer. It also cuts out useless bulk, which helps to keep the weight down.

Side view details

The "Shooter's Cut" sleeves with their minmallistic, low bulk make shooting a bow less troublesome. The thin and stretchy cuff make it easy to slip a glove over and keep a good seal to keep cold air out.

The “Shooter’s Cut” sleeves with their minimalistic, low bulk make shooting a bow troublefree. The thin and stretchy cuff make it easy to slip a glove over and keep a good seal to keep cold air out.

A very useful feature: the upper chest pocket converts into it's own stuff sack. The Uncompahgre Puffy compresses into it's own stuff sack that's roughly the size of a small football.

A very useful feature: the upper chest pocket converts into it’s own stuff sack. The Uncompahgre Puffy compresses into it’s own stuff sack that’s roughly the size of a small football.

Fittest Bowhunter In The West Challenge

23 Mar

Kryptek-Train To Hunt Challenge

I don’t know what it is about a “challenge”…but it’s really hard for me to stifle the urge to charge into battle whenever one presents it’s self. I guess it’s the same thing that drives me to push harder, just so I can see over the next ridge…even if it has nothing to do with my current game plan or if it completely distracts me from the task at hand. Maybe it comes from being “the fat kid” most of my life…the constant urge to prove myself…even if it’s only proving something to myself; I seem to gravitate towards things that I know I might fail at. But at the risk of being cliché; what doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger.

I’ve been intrigued by the new “Adventure Race” craze that seems to be gaining popularity. I won’t lie and say that visions of Spartan Race glory or Tough Mudder bragging rights haven’t danced inside my head on occasion…because they have. But when I first started seeing online fliers and mentionings of the “Fittest Bowhunter In The West” challenge…well my ears perked up like a Jacket Russell locked onto a Rabbit! So far there are five events being held in five different cities across the West and I have committed to attending at least one of them.

It’s a two-day event that’s comprised of the race on day one and a 40-target 3D shoot on day two. The “race” portion of the event is pure genius and something the discipline of bow hunting has been needing. Regardless if you are a hard-charging type or just a passionate bowhunter looking to challenge himself (or herself) pre-season; this is just what the doctor ordered! But make no mistake; day one is no “run of the mill” 3D shoot or just a “race”…it will definitely take a little bit of prior preparation  if you plan to make a decent showing of yourself (think: running + physical challenges/obstacles + shooting your bow)…and the $100 entry fee marks the event as anything but casual.

Event map

The main sponsor is the Krptek Outdoor Group http://www.kryptek.com/ and the prizes are TBA…but I’m thinking that there are some huge winnings at stake! But regardless of the prize or where you might place; it’s all about the challenge and pushing yourself harder, stepping outside of your comfort zone and striving to be more prepared come hunting season. And it sounds like a great time will be had in the process.

So if you happen to be competing alongside of me at one of the events and see me slowing down or missing targets…just holler that there is food at the finish line, or that for every 10-ring scored, they’re handing out doughnuts. Thanks in advance and I’ll make sure to return the favor in some fashion.

Check out the event and course details here: http://traintohunt.com/challenges/#.UU0uhdzn_cs

Cashing in on white Gold.

13 Feb

The woods give way to winter's heavy blanket. This is a prime opportunity to be out and observe a whole different side of the mountains.

The woods give way to winter’s heavy blanket. This is a prime opportunity to be out and observe a whole different side of the mountains.

“When the temperature drops, a white coat enfolds.

The mountain grows silent, cept’ for crackling ice entow.

A soft descent, whether the North Winds will blow.

Heavens wide open; to release winter’s White Gold.”

It wasn’t that long ago; that any warm feelings I held toward winter, were very one-sided. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest; I viewed the winter months as a long endurance of cold weather and fighting treacherous road conditions. To me the months of white were only enjoyable if a chair lift ride to the top of the mountain was involved and immediately followed by some high speed s-turns; with either sticks or a board strapped to my feet.

At some point I had an epiphany which helped to change my views and broaden my scope. I know that I always appreciated how the coat of white brought a different kind of beauty to the landscape…but it was shallow in depth. I really think that I can credit bowhunting for changing the way I view a lot of things about this time of year.

Nothng quite compares to a day spent afield during a sunny day during the months of white.

Nothing quite compares to a day spent afield during a sunny day during the months of white.

I’ll never forget my first season spent with a bow in my hands. It seems like an eternity ago…but I can remember it like it was yesterday. By my second weekend of being out in the deer woods; a fresh coat of snow that was two feet deep, covered my little valley. It was exciting to see the signs of my quarry’s passing; seem to float up from the ground and reveal it’s self to me. It was a whole new world from the week prior…the woods seemed silent; yet filled with new sounds. The soft falling of snow filled the air like quiet static; the metallic tinkling of ice crystals bouncing off of my clothing. The soft squish and woosh of my boots; as I still hunted along the trail. The veil had been lifted from my eyes and a new awareness was being revealed to me…there no longer was just an endurance of cold and a quick descent. This was something new and something that I’ve learned to savor.

The first snow of the season is definitely a very special thing to hunters and something I greatly look forward to. It’s a time that the animals all change their patterns and become more “pattern-able”. While for some it may not be too drastic…it means a new way of life for others. They all become more trackable; with their hooves and paws leaving their story within the layers of snow. You can often tell the time of their passing down to the minute and tell exactly their attitude or how they are feeling; just by observing the amount of snow in a track, or by the drag marks they leave behind.

Here Moose, Elk and Deer tracks cross each other on a beautiful sunny day.

Here Moose, Elk and Deer tracks cross each other on a beautiful sunny day.

I used to view the deep snow as a limitation…that was before I discovered snow shoes. To me the deep snow opens up new avenues of travel that may have not been possible; maybe even the week prior. Just pick a line and go! It’s usually that simple. Push deep and follow that herd of elk. Strap your camp to your back and access that area with un-plowed roads. They may have been lined with hunting camps during the weeks of September…but remain empty and unpressured through the late seasons. Do the ungulate populations a favor and take a trapping class. Take advantage of the predator’s need for extra calories during the cold months and help thin out their numbers by appealing to their winter-appetites. This time of year holds plenty of new possibilities; you just have to be open and embrace them.

Somehow I am constantly taken aback; how the white-coated ridglines and mountain tops seem to stand out in HD clarity and bring the lines of topography into clear focus. Everything seems to pop out at you; seeming larger and much closer. I see things much clearer these days and yearn to test mother nature on all her fronts. A tear of sadness almost forms at the corner of my eye…when the warm air currents of March sweep in…and take my White Gold away for the next seven months.

Into the grey: Part II

5 Dec
The day after our battle with the Tundra was no doubt the most beautiful day of the trip and owned one of only two; but spectacular sunsets. This day was spent recooping and included a fuel run into the nearest town, which was Coldfoot. This picture was taken by Brandon, in front of Toolik Lake and at the gateway to the Brooks Range. Photo credit goes to Sisu Productions.

The day after our battle with the Tundra was no doubt the most beautiful day of the trip and owned one of only two; but spectacular sunsets. This day was spent recooping and included a fuel run into the nearest town, which was Coldfoot. This picture was taken by Brandon, in front of Toolik Lake and at the gateway to the Brooks Range. Photo credit goes to Sisu Productions.

Continued from Part I…

Even though we were both exhausted; it was invigorating to know that we hadn’t much farther to travel and we set out with spirits renewed. I can’t speak for Darin; but my stomach was growling and I looked forward to sipping some hot coffee near a warm campfire.

We took the easiest line down the ridge face and soon were standing near the shore of the small lake. The fog only allowed us to see what it chose to reveal to us and what we thought and hoped we were seeing…was not even close to the reality. What we thought we were looking at; was the edge of a small lake, with a narrow channel that separated its shores from a slightly larger lake. We had circumvented this lake less than twenty-four hours earlier and expected to be back in camp within the hour.

For the ones who have never experienced it before; I should probably take the time to explain (or attempt to) what it’s like to walk on the arctic tundra. visualize walking on an endless waterbed; or better yet…a thin mattress that is spread out over soccer balls, softballs and baseballs…and then basketballs, covered in growth attached to the surface of the mattress. This would give you a good idea of what it’s like to “walk” out on the muskeg covered tundra. There is never a trail or length of firm ground to walk on (except for rocky areas), only endless high-stepping in between and around the tussocks, or “tundra tufts” that coat the spongy surface. That my friends is muskeg in a nutshell.

So now with that image in your head; picture how we both felt after two days worth of hiking on this strange medium. We both had trained very hard physically for this trip, during the months prior; but I’m not sure that anything short of training on the tundra can prepare you enough.

At this point in time; my short and stocky frame wasn’t treating me as well as Darin’s six-foot  height and long-legged stride was treating him. I would lose him in the fog for long periods of time;  as I slowly plodded along the shoreline. I’ll never forget how demoralizing it was to realize; that there was no “channel” between two lakes…just one long and very jagged shoreline of a single lake. I really can’t remember if the wind and icy rain had subsided by that point…but I recall a deafening silence that amplified my own thoughts into audible conversations with myself and with my God.

On top of the world in the Brooks Range. Darin snapped this pic of my on our last day of hunting. This was my most favorite area of the entire trip; I didn't want to leave.

On top of the world in the Brooks Range. Darin snapped this pic of me on our last day of hunting. This was my most favorite area of the entire trip; I didn’t want to leave.

I have a very deep and personal relationship with my creator and it is a habit of mine to “chat” with him as a friend; while being out in the mountains. I always ask for a “pure heart” and for my “hunting instincts, wits and senses to be sharp and keen”. I never presumptuously  petition God for a notched tag; only that “if a shot opportunity presents it’s self; please make my shot be true and grant a clean kill”. My ongoing conversation on this day, was going nothing like that. I found myself clearing my conscience of my many slights against him and asking “to keep a level head”. I knew that the panic that was on the edge of my subconscious; the questioning of one’s self that you will often have, when getting off track in a strange area…was a vice that I could not afford to give into. No good would come of second guessing decisions made at this point. The only right course, would be to stick to what my instincts told me and never waver, never stop. No matter how exhausted or hungry or uncertain I was…to stop would be to grow cold and sleepy; to sleep would be to die.

When we had first arrived at the lake shore; Darin had asked me what time it was. I stopped and peeled back my sleeve to gander at my trusty Suunto. I was shocked to report to him that it was almost nine o’ clock. “Five hours!” Darin’s voice rose in protest. “We gotta get going!” he said as he spun on his heel and trotted into the fog; disappearing almost instantly. Since arriving in Alaska; time had taken on a new meaning. With the sun starting to set sometime around eleven o’ clock and finally disappearing behind the mountains around two in the morning, only to rise a handful of hours later…time almost had no meaning. The very slight difference in light suddenly became apparent to me. I did not want to spend the night out there. Since I had only planned on a quick stalk; I had left most of my gear in Brandon’s truck. I did have a little water, a little food, a head lamp and a means to start a fire…but where was I going to find firewood? Where would I find shelter?! I turned back to the shoreline and continued on behind Darin’s tracks in the snow.

I hadn’t made much progress; before I felt my legs give the tell-tale signs that they were on the verge of cramping. Five plus hours of almost continuous travel without stopping to rest and refuel; was starting to tell on me. I slowed down my already slow pace; to that of almost a crawl. I finally gave in and stopped. I drank a gulp or two of water and then pressed on. I hadn’t been able to see Darin through the fog for some time; but every now and again, Darin would shout a questioning: “Luke?” into the grey curtain that stood between us. I would holler back: “yeah?!” and after he was assured that I was still on his trail; it would be back to the same dull and endless track.

Darin standing on the edge of the grey curtain. This was a day that we were stuck at camp; towards the end of the camp. This was a thick fog that came in from the Arctic ocean...it was nothing compared to our day spent lost.

Darin standing on the edge of the grey curtain. This was a day that we were stuck at camp; towards the end of the trip. This was a thick fog that came in from the Arctic ocean…it was nothing compared to our day spent lost in “the grey”.

I had been inching along, immersed in my own thoughts and in my now hours long convo with the Man Upstairs…when suddenly the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I had the sudden feeling of panic and deja vu…I spun around and looked towards my back trail. The spooky feeling of deja vu kept haunting me and then I envisioned a pack of wolves or a Grizzly materializing out of the fog. I then thought of the movie “The Grey”; that I had watched a short time before. I chuckled to myself and wondered “why did you have to watch that movie?!”…although my chuckles held no true humor.

It was about that time that I heard Darin shouting at me; but this time his voice sound strained and carried a tinge of worry in it. I couldn’t understand what he was asking of me; so I shouted back to him. This time his shout rang though the fog with a definite edge to it. “CHECK YOUR GPS!” I immediately dropped my pack and started to rifle through it; looking for my Garmin. Once I found it and turned it on; I worried that with the thick fog cover, it might not be able to get a signal. It was only the day before that Brandon had warned to not trust your GPS entirely. “A GPS doesn’t always work right up here…sometimes they can act screwy” he had cautioned. When the screen remained blank; with just a black arrow indicating where I stood…I started to curse myself. I had neglected to purchase any Alaska map software and my plan of “dropping pins” would not work if I had also neglected to actually carry it out. I enlarged the screen to view the one pin that I had dropped the day before; when we had left the truck to stalk our first big bull. I refused to belive what I was seeing; the GPS was telling me that the sight of our first stalk, was several miles away, in the opposite direction that it should be. I almost tossed it into the fog. I wanted to scream with outrage. I scrolled over to the compass function and I immediately wanted to scream once more; the direction that I knew in my heart should be West and therefore the direction of the road…read as “South”.

I tossed the GPS back into my pack as Darin was shouting back for some sort of reassuring news. “IT DOESN’T WORK!” I yelled back. “WHAT?!” Darin replied. When I once more repeated myself; there was no answer, only silence. I could only imagine what Darin was thinking at this point; and now my prayers were focused around him, asking God to “help Darin keep his cool…please don’t let him panic. We both need to make it home.”

The anger that I was feeling towards the GPS was steadily turning into something else. I felt a fire burning within me. I refused to admit that we were lost and was determined to listen to my instincts; no matter how the situation seemed. But first; I needed to rest and refuel. I found a knee-high “tundra tuft” that I figured would make a comfortable stool. I shrugged out of my pack and dug out a granola bar. “YES! You need to refuel…” I thought to myself as I savored the peanut butter flavored morsel. I found some chocolate-peanut butter “malt balls” that I had been hoarding; which were frozen solid. I sucked on one and pondered the situation while it melted. It was hard to fathom that we had gotten so far off course. It was obvious that the lake we had been following was not the lake we thought it was; “but where the heck did this lake come from?” I had been all over this area only hours before and did not remember seeing a lake of this size. The only answer that made sense; was that we got turned around once we topped out on the plateau. I knew in my head where the road was and where the oil pipeline was; we had crossed neither. The road and the pipeline intersected and then veed away from each other. Our camp was situated off the road and along one leg of the “V”; which meant that we had traveled a lot farther parallel to the pipeline then we had realized. How much farther; I had no idea. I just knew that we had been traveling continuously for hours, in our pursuit of the bull that had gotten us into this mess.

The glorious day after. By ten a.m. the majority of the snow had melted off and you could see for miles once again...a stark contrast to the day before. Something unique to Alaska is the extreme changes of weather on a daily and some cases; hourly basis.

The glorious day after. By ten a.m. the majority of the snow had melted off and you could see for miles once again…a stark contrast to the day before. Something unique to Alaska is the extreme changes of weather on a daily and in some cases; hourly basis.

Once I had sucked my water supply dry; I once again buckled on my pack and set off. I was feeling an overwhelming loneliness and needed the revitalization that the sight of another human would bring. I tried to pick up my pace; but if I went any faster than the slow and steady pace I had been traveling in, I would feel my legs burning with lactic acid and fatiguing at a rapid rate. Darin would offer encouragement from time to time; always through the grey curtain, never within my sight. I asked him if he could see the end of the lake or if he could see the road; he answered in the negative. I had been lost in my thoughts and moving forward in the same, slow death-march cadence…when it became apparent that I was hearing…”something”. I hollered at Darin: “do you hear that?!” “Be quiet….listen…”, was all he said. We both stood there, straining our ears, both isolated from each other by the grey curtain. It became apparent that what we were hearing; was a truck on the highway. Every time I turned my head to better hear and attempt to gauge its origin…it would sound like it was coming from a different direction. This went on for quite sometime; catching the sound of a truck  every so often, stopping and desperately straining to hear…hoping for a solid direction, or confirmation that we were on the right course.

Finally I was rewarded by the sight of Darin; standing still with his head cocked to the side as he struggled to pin-point the location of another truck. I kept on until we were standing side by side. This was the first time we had laid eyes on each other for several hours. He wanted to know what I had been doing and what had taken me so long. “What do you mean? I only stopped for no more than ten minutes…!” He informed me that he had been waiting there close to forty minutes and that he had begun to worry about me. His longer legs had afforded him a considerable lead over my short tree trunks that had been propelling me along at a snail’s pace.

We could hear another truck along the highway and both agreed on its direction. We set out with renewed vigor; knowing for once that our instincts had been true and we had to be close to salvation. I tenaciously kept stride with Darin; ignoring my weakening legs, not wanting to be left alone in the fog again. Every once in a while we’d stop to listen and gain a little more certainty in our course. And then finally! We heard a truck and this time it sounded closer and more definite than ever before. As we stood, straining our eyes…I caught a glimpse of something moving; just a little forward than were the sound seem to be emanating from. I could make out a black shape; steadily moving horizontally across from us…and then “hey! There’s the road…RIGHT THERE!” I shouted involuntarily. A wave of relief swept through my body; while at the same time it seemed that my legs would collapse beneath me. Only a fraction of a mile away; stood a beautiful black line, bisecting the infinitely white scene before us, into two distinct planes. Those last few hundred yards felt like miles and once we reached the road’s embankment; we both collapsed onto the snow.

Like death or taxes; one of the things you can expect to encounter along the Haul Road; is the infamous "Ice Road Truckers". In our case these truckers were our savior; as they called us like a lighthouse beacon cutting through the fog, back to the road. Here one of the flock is ascending Atigun Pass.

Like death or taxes; one of the things you can expect to encounter along the Haul Road; is the infamous “Ice Road Truckers”. In our case these nefarious truck drivers were our savior; as they called to us like  lighthouse beacons cutting through the fog and directing us back to the road. Here one of the flock is ascending Atigun Pass.

It was overwhelming to finally have something concrete and real before us. For the previous seven hours or so; it was nothing but an endless and featureless landscape that was all-encompassing; melded with feelings of loneliness and hopelessness. To finally achieve an end to that madness; is indescribable.

We laid in the snow for only a few minutes; prattling on how we both couldn’t belive that we had finally made it. Even though we had overcome the first major obstacle; I knew that we weren’t “out of the woods” quite yet…we still needed to get to camp. About then I realized that an icy chill transmitted by the snow; was steadily seeping into my bones and making my body stiff. I sat bolt upright and mumbled something about “we can’t stop…we need to keep moving..”, as I shakily stood up. After glancing at the hill that arced away to our left and disappeared into the fog…once again a perplexing puzzle presented itself…for neither of us could remember any hills near the vicinity of our camp. We were about to scramble up the embankment to the road top; when I happened to glance once more up the hill. The fog was shifting and moving about like an oil slick in a tidal flat. With the movement of the fog; a dark object was steadily becoming visible. I asked Darin what he thought “that” was…but before I even could finish my question; “what…the…heck?! That’s our camper! That’s our camp!!!” escaped from my mouth.

We scrambled up the embankment and suddenly our feet were lent wings. As I power-walked up the hill; I couldn’t help but be reminded of the long treadmill-esqe “fast tracks” found in every major airport. By now it was closing in on eleven thirty and the veiled sun was starting to set; causing the available light to darken into another shade of drab. We had been battling the vertigo causing fog and snow-covered tundra for over seven hours. With the sensory depriving conditions and continuous travel through a blank landscape; to us it may have well been seven days. We had entered a grey purgatory and had finally escaped.

Darin soaking in the veiw from camp; with a renewed outlook on things.

Darin soaking in the view from camp; with a renewed outlook on things that can only come from overcoming a great trial.

As we rolled into camp; I saw the figures by the campfire suddenly stand up  from their chairs, almost in disbelif…like they were looking upon creatures of the netherworld. The burning anger that had been fueling me onward; was still burning strong and I lacked the desire to speak. I kept on until I reached the door of our camper; almost leaping up the stairs. I could hear Darin telling a little of our story as I changed out of my sweat soaked gear and into some warm and fresh clothes. As I emerged from the camper; all traces of adrenalin were now vacant from my system; I almost lacked the strength to descend the steps. I staggered  past Darin on my way to the campfire; catching my toe on a rock and almost tripping over some piled firewood. The faces looking at me through the light and smoke from the campfire were blank and featureless. My newly made friend  Lance, helped me into a camp chair and asked me if I was hungry, almost like a worried father would dote on a wayward child.

I replied in the affirmative and shortly afterward; was handed a can of Nalley’s and a plastic spork. As I dug into the coal-heated can of chilli…I wondered if anything had ever tasted so good. No one interrupted me as I hunched over the can and  shoveled spoonfuls into my face; like I expected someone to take it away from me. Once finished; I leaned down and set the empty can on the ground, closing my eyes as I melted back into the chair. The silence was suddenly broken by Brandon softly saying: “we were worried about you guys.” While lacking the strength to reopen my eyelids; my reply came in the form of a sigh: “yeah…we were worried to.”

The day after our experience in the fog; was spent as an "active rest" day and a re-fueling run. We stopped along our into Coldfoot to do some shed hunting in the foothills of the Brooks Range. Here Brandon is pulling a fast one on me; he's playing moose with two "moose sheds"; that were actually pieces of wood. Ah, the good times!

The day after our experience in the fog; was spent as an “active rest” day and a fuel run. We stopped along our way into Coldfoot to do some shed hunting. Here Brandon is pulling a fast one on me; he’s playing moose with two “moose sheds”; that were actually pieces of wood. Ah, the good times!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 40 other followers