Monday, September 14, 2009

CO Elk Success (Without a Kill) Part Deux

We awoke Day 2 in our modest (read shitty) camp on the valley floor. Being that we stayed in the cool wet river bottom, everything was covered in dew and the dampest it got all trip. We aired the tents out for a bit, said fuck it, packed them up wet and planned to get where we were going quick, set them up, and them dry out there. Figuring out where we were going was easy at first. During the morning piss, we realized we had slept directly on top on the trail we lost the day before! My 1 man tent was literally sitting with it's center along the trail we head facing the trail junction ahead and my feet pointing to the truck! The trail was even marked with orange surveyor's tape. How could we have missed this?

We took our camps on our backs to head out. Its amazing how the pack only seems to get heavier as the trip goes on, especially after yesterdays battles with treetops and swamps. Our newly found trail was a godsend... for about 20 minutes. Then it reached the junction with the trail we were supposed to take up the 1000' to the drainage we wanted to hunt. Or should I say dead ended at the trail junction. There was nothing in any direction except the one we came. We wandered around looking for the signs of any trail for a while before fully committing to climbing the canyon wall sans trail. It seemed easy enough at first, go that way, up. About 10 slips and trips, 5 with near death experiences, 3 or 4 hours and a few gallons of sweat later, we reached our summit, which happened to be a valley floor. But it was what we were looking for. Daryn had beat Ryan and I there by a could 20-30 minutes, damn that machine. I didn't really help when he let us know "that definitely wasn't the hardest thing I've ever done, but I can tell it works a different muscle group then my mountain bike." It worked a different muscle group then my LIFE! But there was no room or time to complain, I knew it would hurt going into this and that was the point. Go where no-one else will go. Distance yourself from the crowds. We were definitely doing that.

From the valley floor, it was instantly noticed most of the area had been engulfed in a very hot burn in the last decade or so. I also knew this going in, well at least that there had been a couple burns in the area, that may or may not have torched this drainage I planned to hunt on my desk at work (funny, that's where I am writing this blog from!) But all wasn't ugly, we spotted our first wallow fairly quickly, and there were a few stands of green pines in the creek bottoms wandering throughout the valley floor. All surrounded by the devastation of a wildfire. "That's okay" we said, "I read somewhere that burns were a good thing." We were clueless and it was becoming more apparent, but who gives a shit, we are, we are doing this, we are elk hunters.

After some more painful walking we found a flat spot to call home and pulled out the wet tents to dry which we packed what seemed like a year ago. After a nap we climbed a few hundred feet of the canyon wall behind us to see what we had for hunting grounds, and to listen for an elusive bugle. Bugles we had, an idea of where they were coming from... well we were shy on those. It seemed with every bugle, the three of us pointed in completely different directions. Whether it was the wind, the landscape, or just three deaf idiots, we couldn't agree on where they came from but it didn't matter. We had come these 1000+ miles on my ridiculously inexperienced skills and had landed, in Colorado, somewhere within earshot of elk. SUCCESS.

The next morning we climbed to a small knoll in the middle of the drainage with, in hindsight, absolutely no cover, to see if some bull or cow would be dumb enough to show its face. They weren't. We wandered a bit, Daryn obviously wandered the farthest, and let us know the entire drainage we were sitting in was burnt as far as he could see. Great, well maybe my location wasn't the greatest. Do elk live in fire pits? We hoped so! We slipped into our tents under a full moon and got ready for the next day.

Today, now Monday, we gathered a days worth of gear to climb out of yet another drainage, this time to reach the dot on my map marked "glass." What appeared to be a point overlooking the drainage we were camping in as well as another with hopes of spotting our quarry from afar. That's what you are supposed to do right? Glass? Well that's what we read so that's where we went. Any hike up a 500-600 ' climb sucks but it was alot easier without a pack. we reached the top and then had about a 2 mile walk around the rim of the drainage to the outcropping we wanted to glass from, along with another 500 feet of climb to put as at 10500'. They said "go high" this early in the season, we were confident we were there.

We took a nap after kicking up a mule deer buck with a couple does and then got set to glass. That lasted for maybe an hour until the ever darkening skys decided we were too comfortable. As the sun went behind the clouds, the temp dropped a good 10-15 degrees, when it started raining another 10 degrees, when it started to hail the mercury shrunk once again. We hunkered down in the rocks, hell it might as well have been pride rock from The Lion King we were so exposed. Everything became less futile and more humorous when our peak was struck by lightening and Ryan and I scurried to (somewhat) lower ground by Daryn to avoid it. Many good jokes about the "Dateline Photo" were told as we watched Dickey fight the wind. Emergency Ponchos (read garbage bags with arm holes) weren't meant for hail storms at 10,5 in the Rockys. Ask Dickey, he's got one with no hood and a rip down the side to prove it. Daryn faired well for having nothing but the flexibility to wedge between the boulders to protect him. I made out the best in my poncho in the fetal position huddled against the granite.

The weather broke after 45 minutes or so and we ran for the cover of our tents to ride out the rest of the storm. This pretty much ruined any hopes of real glassing in the evening and I don't even remember what we did the rest of that evening. Whatever it was, we called it elk hunting and it most definitely wasn't hunting elk.
I made up my mind at this point that we needed to move our camp to the top of the ridge overlooking the drainage we were currently sleeping in to make it easier to glass and find the elk we were searching for. After a little convincing in the morning, I got the others to join and we saddled up and headed back up again. During this hike is when I realized we had insanely over packed food. Heck, my pack was now the heaviest, by ten pounds, and we had enough food between the three of us to feed the whole group for another month. I'd been backpacking before but only for shorter time frames. I assumed on this trip I would force myself to choke down 3000 calories a day as I would be burning at least that. Well that proved all but impossible at the weight I had to carry only meant I would be burning more, and eating less!

We had found what appeared to be an empty outfitters or drop camp the day before, and it would be a good place to work out of. A fire ring, flat ground, and nails in the trees were some of the luxurious accommodations our new camp offered. Top notch. It also offered an inordinate amount of flies (more on that later). We set up our new camp and headed to the point marked "glass" once again. Hoping the weather would hold out and we could finally get a visual on some Wapiti being that it was already Tuesday... We would do just that...
More to come...

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