On Spooking Elk and Stalking Mule Deer

Montana rifle hunters willing to put in the extra work it takes to get deep into the backcountry have early gates to begin hunting over a month prior to the general season opener so my buddy Justin and I set about planning a trip into one of these four districts.  Three of the four are located up in the Bob Marshall and the other is located down in our neck of the woods in the Absaroka Beartooth.  We picked an access point that we felt would offer up a good chance at finding big game, was close enough to a trailhead that hiking out a heap of meat wouldn’t wreck us (too much), but was still far enough from a trailhead or road to make the riff raff want to avoid it.

After some highway driving and a long, bumpy FS road we arrived at the trailhead to find fourteen other vehicles – more than ten of which were big ol’ diesel ranch rigs complete with full sized horse trailers.  We knew we’d be sharing the mountains with horse packers and hunting guides but we hoped they were going to stick to the main trail and that we were going to have the less visited drainage adjacent to ourselves.  It was close to seven miles from the car just to get to the boundary of the hunting district and the point where we’d see if the horse packers continued downhill or if they turned off along the ridgeline to the next bowl.  Much to our delight the scratch in the grass that was the only sign of our trail was a great sign that the next drainage would be potentially void of other people.

With a smile on our face knowing we’d probably be leaving the more popular zone we carefully picked our way along the 10k+ ridgeline to the next drainage being careful as we approached not to skyline any critters that might be lingering as one drainage rolled over the small pass into the next.  The wind was howling and a light snow had started to fall as we low crawled up to the crest and began glassing the beautiful country below.  The cold was quickly getting the best of us as we were both still wearing just lightweight baselayers from the long uphill hike.  We carefully albeit hurriedly made our way over the saddle to a small row of stumpy conifers to get out of the wind.  Justin set about brewing up some coffee and I quickly donned a jacket and began glassing.  We had only been within the boundaries of the huntable district for less than an hour at this point and mere minutes later we both looked to the North and saw a young bull elk and three cows standing in full view not more than 500 yards away just checking us out.  They watched us for but a few seconds and took off at a trot down valley.  Busted.  What a great way to start a four day hunting trip!

We kicked ourselves for not being supremely patient in glassing better prior to entering the drainage but the cold had caught up to us and we had never once thought we’d get into elk immediately upon arriving.  Lessons – hard lessons – learned.  I watched the elk effortlessly cover a couple miles of terrain and a thousand or more feet of elevation drop and gain in around 15 minutes.  What immense, powerful animals.  We made note of where they traveled and where they disappeared – back pocket information for our remaining time in this zone.

We made a plan to begin hunting down the valley slowly and cautiously.  We covered quite a bit of miles walking a few hundred meters apart from each other down the essentially trail-less valley (a fire had torched nearly all the timber and the lack of use of the trail made it only a scratch).  We had hoped that if one of us scared something up it would allow the other to get in a shot.  As the magic light of the evening cast alpenglow on the high peaks above us and dark became imminent we picked a spot, set up the tent, hung the bear rope, and got our grub on.

Hunting is a sport of mornings and evenings so an early rise is essential.  We woke at 0600, coffee’ed, ate, broke camp, and headed up the opposite wall of the drainage than we’d come down the previous day.  We had formulated a plan the night before and began the arduous climb up the burned hillside chock full of fallen timber.  Careful, micro route finding is essential in these situations to save yourself from a twisted ankle and fatigue but also to avoid making a racket that would undoubtedly spook up your prey.

After six hours of careful maneuvering interspersed with a few hour-long sessions of just sitting and glassing we came to an open meadow nestled between two heights of land and backed by the steep, North-facing canyon wall.  A small seep of water came up from the ground in the middle of the meadow, and distinct game trails and many animal tracks clearly denoted the presence of game in the area.  This area was exactly where the elk that we spooked the previous day had headed down into after I’d lost site of them as I watched from the high country.

The plan we had made while glassing lower down the hillside was to find a spot we thought might be a “honey hole” e.g. the potential hangout spot for game and to simply post up in comfortable positions with stellar firing angles for the remainder of the day and then set camp just before dark.  We each took up a position atop one of these heights of land, Justin covering one of the game trails and I covering one of the meadows, an side access game trail, and a steep downhill approach that showed lots of sign of elk and deer travel.  The next six hours were very zen-like as we could not see each other, nor talk to each other.  It was just each of us with our binocular, rifle, and our thoughts.  We both glassed the area adjacent to us as well as the cliffs and hillsides many, many miles distant.  Although no animals came into range we were both treated to our own delightful views of mountain goats on far away cliffs.  The two that I spotted I was able to watch on and off for over two hours as they made their way along a high cliff a few miles distant from me.

We set our camp, had our dinner and were asleep before 2100.  The previous night had dipped to 25 degrees F but tonight seemed to be off to a better start.  Justin was traveling alpine-style with only the backpanel of his pack for a sleeping mat and was looking forward to a slightly better night’s sleep.  I had the extra weight of a torso-sized inflatable mat on my back the entire weekend but it made up for any cold sleeping – – my least favorite thing to experience while backpacking.

Another six a.m. wake-up, coffee, and breakfast found us climbing to the top of a steep bench where we were treated to astounding views of essentially the entire basin we’d now been hunting for 36+ hours.  We posted up in two positions, me to glass the entire upper country of the basin and Justin to guard the area we’d just approached from in the event an animal came ambling up the hillside to the tasty browse on top of the bench.  I formulated a plan and ran it past Justin for how to spend the afternoon.  He concurred and suggested a few alternatives which jived well for both of us.  We would continue hunting the side of the canyon we were on until mid afternoon and then if nothing had transpired, head back over to the main canyon where the horse camps were to make a camp and then hunt for the morning prior to needing to head back out to civilization.

We very carefully picked our way down off the bench bumping from one patch of trees to another, glassing the next ahead as we went and always glassing the distance as far in any direction as we could see.  We spotted a very solid game trail in the distance which clearly marked the route from the high country down to the honey hole we’d camped at for any animals coming from the high country downvalley along this side of the canyon.  We jumped onto it and slowly made our way up canyon.  Midday was fast approaching and we’d not yet seen any critters so we moved with a bit more speed and stopped to glass less.  We did however maintain an attitude of stalking and did not give ourselves away any more than necessary.

After a glorious stop for lunch along a fresh, clear stream of water below a steep cliff I spotted two white rumps in a meadow ahead.  I put my hand up to motion to Justin behind me and carefully glassed around a conifer.  Two mule deer does were a hundred or so yards ahead of us.  These does were off limits in this district at this time so we didn’t bother with them and made our position known to them before continuing our creep uphill.  Moments later I put my binocular up to my eyes to glass the distant hillsides as I’d done hundreds of times previous and in my slow sweep my eyes landed on what I instantly thought were six elk and I immediately told Justin so.  I then lifted the binocular again and retracted my statement, clarifying that they were not elk, but muleys.  The animals were over a half mile away so identifying their sex took some very patient viewing through both the binocular and rifle scope.  After ten or so minutes I felt confident that at least three of them were male and we talked over the feasibility of a stalk from so far away on these animals known for being extremely attentive and jumpy.

I made one potential suggestion but it involved coming in from above the animals including a couple hundred yards of completely exposed terrain.  I had little to no confidence that this approach would work but I was very interested in making an attempt on these animals.  Taking a mule deer buck was an acceptable option for me as I planned for this trip.  Justin joined me on this trip with the intent to focus on hunting elk and wasn’t as interested in taking a mule deer. When I told him I would rather spend the remainder of the day making an attempt on one of these bucks than I would just moving over to the next canyon to find camp he wholeheartedly offered up a suggested approach to the stalk that I completely got behind.

We worked out a series of hand signals so that he could remain behind in a good position to glass the animals as I set off to cover the 1/2 mile and try to get within the range I feel comfortable shooting at, which is 200 yards.  My method was to use spotty vegetation and the topography of the land to keep myself as hidden from these incredibly attuned animals as I could.  This entire stalk was going to rely on the fact that it was approximately 1400 hours and it was highly likely that these animals were about to bed down in a thicket for an afternoon rest prior to their evening feeding session later.  If they did in fact bed, and I could spend the time while they were doing so getting into position I could then wait them out until they appeared from the scrub and into my sights.

I covered the 1/2 mile stealthily, dropped my pack in a thicket and began bear crawling with just the essentials.  I had put on an extra layer and drank some water in case I was in for a long wait, but otherwise only had my rifle, gloves, and earplugs along with me.  Continuing to try and keep either vegetation or small undulations of earth between me and the animals I was able to successfully get to the last remaining thicket of trees before an open space and the thicket that the animals had bedded down in before I set off to stalk.  I was now operating blind because I had not been able to keep an eye on them as I walked.  I carefully brought my binocular up to my eyes and almost as if on cue a buck stepped out, completely broadside to me and stared down canyon directly toward me.  I was well hidden and I was pretty certain he couldn’t see me but there was a wicked wind blowing across me and up and slightly to my right that was undoubtedly wafting my odors across his nose.  I had only just arrived at this spot and I had not yet had a chance to position my rife into a comfortable and stable shooting position so I was not yet ready to take a shot.  Once again, almost as if on cue as I lay there on my stomach cursing his timing he stepped back behind the thicket.

I took a deep breath and dug deep into my well of patience and told myself that good things can come to those who wait so I immediately set about positioning a small log in front of me and testing the steadiness of my rifle, adjusting my scope and going over the shooting regimen in my head as I waited.  I had arrived in position at 1500, only about one hour after first spotting the critters.  I could see three animals, all with between three and four points on one half their antlers milling about behind the thicket but not even remotely with enough clarity that I would consider taking a shot.  I simply had to wait and be patient.  I was blessed with this not taking too long however as only 15 or 30 minutes passed when the first animal’s head popped out from the trees.  And then just beyond him, another.  Neither had exposed their front shoulders – the aspect of the creatures needed to be visible to make a clean kill.  Then a third head appeared and I carefully examined each critter and decided on which I would take aim upon should they finally decide to walk out.  The first two came out into the complete open and began feeding and it was everything I could do to remain calm, breathing slowly, attempting to control my heart rate.  These minutes stretched on for what seemed like much longer until the buck I had my rifle leveled on stepped out.  He made one step, two steps, three steps, as I carefully tracked him in the crosshairs of my scope.  I took a slow, controlled, deep breath, exhaled, and triggered.

Commotion of course immediately ensued.  I was successful in following the buck as he jumped forward five or ten feet but then all five of the animals in the immediate vicinity became impossible for me to tell apart as they grouped up.  A rifle is incredibly loud and I am sure they were a bit stunned by whatever it was, but did not scatter, but rather simply all began walking away.  I had no way of knowing whether I had successfully hit the animal nor, if so, which of them it might be as they were now all walking away slowly.  I became overcome with doubt as I watched six animals all walking away.  One appeared to possibly be limping but I could not be certain whether this might have been from a bad shot by me or something altogether different.  I did not dare take a shot at this animal in case I had in fact dropped the one I was aiming at and that may be lying dead in the tall grass out of sight.  I took a few deep breaths and felt the adrenaline surging in my veins reminding me of the power contained in the act of taking another animal’s life.

My brain was on overdrive as I collected my rifle and quickly moved downhill to get my pack.  Justin had made double time up the hill upon hearing my rifle report and he appeared within minutes as I was beginning my journey to see if I hit or missed my mark.  Doubt weighed heavily on my mind as I knew I had seen six animals walk away and up toward the ridgeline but I was still incredibly amped regarding the entire stalk, wait, and ultimately the shot.  Justin later told me my eyes were very wide and I was talking a mile a minute.

We arrived at the location a few minutes later and as I had suspected, did not find an animal crumpled up in the dirt.  The shot I had taken was at the end of my comfortable shooting range of 200 yards, was along a steeply sloping uphill trajectory, and had a very strong cross breeze blowing left to right.  I told Justin of the deer that had the slight limp and that if in the event I had caused this injury I needed to be certain I could attempt to justify the situation so we set about tracking to look for blood.  We were successful in following the group of animals fresh tracks in the dirt for well over a quarter mile and we found not a single drop of blood so we both felt comfortable in putting a period at the end of the sentence that was a very powerful stalk on a beautiful group of mule deer bucks.

It was approaching 1700 at this point so as I began to come down off the high I was on from such an exhilarating although ultimately fruitless hunt we got back on track to make our way out of the drainage we had now completely hunted down and back up over 48 hours.  We made our way along the knife ridge to the popular, horse packer, ridden drainage to find the main trail we’d hiked in on with the tracks of around six horses to now be completely obliterated by what must have been many more strings of animals.  As we looked down valley I asked Justin how serious he was about making a camp and spending three hours the next morning hunting the upper end of a zone that had seen multiple groups of pack animals blasting through it.  We thoroughly talked it over and decided that if we had the whole next day it would be worth a try but since we didn’t we might as well make just start in on the seven mile hike out and three hour drive back home so that we could spend Sunday with loved ones.  We made half of the hike in the pitch black, deep in grizzly country so we turned on Justin’s iPhone and shared Alice’s Restaurant and a few other Arlo Guthrie tunes with any adjacent wildlife to let them know we meant no harm.  Boots to dirt and tires to the road we arrived home at 1230 am, sans meat, but chock full of spectacular scenery, company, and experience.

An Overnight in Yellowstone National Park

Our daughter was born in January and our hopes for the summer were to get out camping as many times as we could to let her experience sleeping outside the home as the regular way of the life in our family.  We managed to spend something like 20 nights in our pop up camper trailer and a couple nights in a tent but these were all in the front country and we had not yet taken her backpacking

P1060943

Going out on a low mileage but true wilderness backpacking trip was something we really wanted to do before the snow fell this Fall so even though it was the season opener for rifle hunting I decided to push that back a week and we gathered our gear for a trip into Yellowstone National Park.

P1060978

Torie had Mae on her back in our vintage Tough Traveler kid pack as well as as much other gear as would fit in the lower storage section. Subsequently I was responsible for everything else and as such I borrowed the Kuiu Icon from the gear library at work in the 5200 cu. in. (85 liter) size.

P1060938

We chose a campsite in the Canyon area of the park which is my favorite. The incredibly steep, sulfur-strewn canyon walls that sweep majestically down into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River are about as impressive a site as I’ve seen anywhere. Our campsite was situated a few miles from “Artist Point” and the well-worn trail leading out to it followed the canyon rim closely for much of the journey.

P1060974

We arrived at camp a few hours before sunset and with temperatures set to be near or below freezing overnight I immediately set about gathering and sawing wood for use in our tent wood stove.  Torie played with Mae while trying to get our sleeping gear set up as well so when night time did set in on us we’d have our shelter all set to go.

P1060977

We cooked up a batch of couscous topped with a delicious pesto sauce served alongside sliced pepperoni and then washed it down with chocolate cookies and a few splashes of whiskey.  We brought along some organic pre-packaged food for Mae which, like pretty much everything we’ve ever fed her, she lapped up eagerly.

P1060944

Nighttime falls early in these parts but I set about putting a warming fire into our little wood stove which is designed perfectly for our tipi (both are the awesome little cottage gear company, Titanium Goat).  Temperatures quickly reached the height of comfort and soon enough we were sitting around in short sleeves and no hat.

P1060960

Mae awoke at around 2am giving a little cry and although she seemed plenty warm she was awake and not ready to fall immediately back to sleep.  I took the time to start up a new fire in the stove while Mom nursed our little one.  We stayed awake talking for about an hour until Mae was able to fall back asleep which lasted until 7:20 in the morning.

P1060954

It was a brisk morning but a re-kindled fire in the wood stove followed by hot coffee and warm granola made for delightful times as the sun shone over the trees and onto the lake causing the ground frost and mist over the lake to simply sparkle.

P1060968

We drove home at a leisurely pace taking the time to enjoy just how empty the park is at this time of year.  Some of the spots we stopped and enjoyed are typically buzzing with hundreds of tourists during the peak season and for us to be able to sit and enjoy a view for a solid 30 minutes while only seeing a handful of other people was really quite enjoyable.  Even the grizzly sightings we had to and from our trailhead had but a few cars stacked up at the site – something that in the summer could easily have turned into an hour-long traffic jam.  Not taking the simple pleasures of where you live for granted is a very important lesson, wouldn’t you say?

P1060984

Superior Hiking Trail Thru Hike 2005

The following is the account of my 2005 thru hike of the Superior Hiking trail as told through photos and the daily journal I kept along the way.  I did the trip in lightweight, but not ultralight backpacking style (gear list). I hiked the SHT end-to-end between May 1st and May 15th, 2005.  The first eleven days I was solo and had no resupply, the remaining days I was joined (and resupplied) by my girlfriend at the time and her two dogs.    

If you are planning a Superior Hiking Trail thru-hike I highly suggest using trip reports like this as well as others to help plan your trip. Also join the Superior Hiking Trail mailing list as it is frequented by dedicated SHT hikers willing to impart copious wisdom regarding conditions, camping, water availability, re-supply, and more.


sht-trail-sign

I grew up in Minnesota in a camping family but fell in love with backpacking in my late-twenties. I became quite a hiker and backpacker while working on a trail-maintenance crew in Glacier National Park, West Glacier, Montana. Spending so many days and nights in the backcountry gave me the realization that I could, without too much difficulty do an average length thru-hike.

I’d heard tell of the Superior Hiking Trail and had set my mind to hike it some time previous to my undertaking. I ordered an ancient copy of the Superior Hiking Trail Association’s guide to the trail from a used bookseller over the internet. I also ordered the official set of four maps from the SHTA themselves at the http://shta.org website. Gayle and the staff there are very helpful and willing to answer your questions over the phone.

Next I set out to create my itinerary so that my trip fell within the dates I had free to hike and so that my daily mileage would be within the bounds of my hiking abilities. I also had to tweak my usual gear list to be as lightweight as possible – leaving out all but the absolute essentials. Well, I admit I took a camera, a book and a pipe with me as well.

I planned my original itinerary and gave copies to my family and girlfriend so that they would have an idea of where I was each night. This was a basic template which I intended to follow, however, if I was feeling up to more hiking on a particular day then I allowed myself flexibility to change the itinerary as the trip went along. This did in fact happen. If you look at the original itinerary and compare it with the itinerary listed below you’ll see my trip went from the scheduled seventeen days down to an actual fifteen days. In my post evaluation of the hike I believe completion is possible in ten or eleven days. I guess it’s something to shoot for the next time I thru-hike the SHT.


Itinerary

Day One – South Carlson Pond
Day Two – Little Brule
Day Three – Woods Creek
Day Four – Cascade North
Day Five – Poplar East
Day Six – Springdale Creek
Day Seven – Sugar Loaf Pond
Day Eight – Sonju Lake
Day Nine – Section 13
Day Ten – Bear Lake
Day Eleven – Beaver River
Day Twelve – ???
Day Thirteen – Blueberry Hill
Day Fourteen – Crow Valley


shit-trail-register

Photo: Signing the entry trail register as my mom looks on.

Sunday May 1st

10:00
Had hugs with Mom and Dad as well as some photos. Signed trail register and read some past entries including one by Andrew Skurka (hiking from the Atlantic to Pacific).

12:01
Looking over Jackson Lake. Stopped for first rest. First 2.5 mi of trail was mucky but still very hikeable. Spotty snow just past Andy Lake Rd on way up to “Highest Point on SHT”. So far very happy w/ trail signage and elements (i.e. bridges, corduroy, etc).

12:35
Met Scott and Al from Duluth and Burnsville doing clearing w/ their 21” Husqvarna.

sht-hellacious

13:49
Photo: “Hellacious Overlook”.

Exquisite first view of the lake. Weather can’t decide sun or snow. It’s graupelling but I’m warm. This view/weather combined is georgeous.

14:37
Can see a couple homes below me as I look over the lake. Would love to live there.

sht-beaver-dam

16:06
Photo:Beaver Dam at South Carlson Pond

10:11 – 17:20
Step Count – 32272


Monday, May 2nd

06:01
Woke up to a light dusting of snow and pretty chilly temps. Slept well, not too cold. Think it’s time to break camp and get some blood pumpin’ though.

07:05
Gear is packed, my clothes/boots have some warmth in them. I think I’ll hike an hour or two then stop and eat.

07:48
Rounding a slight corner and ascending the top of a knob a crackle of branches and leaves directs my eyes down trail 50 meters where a moose gallops away from me!

09:45
First whitetail bounching across an old private clearcut.

privateproperty

Photo: Private land sign just before Camp Road 20

devilskettle

Photo: Devil’s Kettle Falls.

13:30
They say the water that flows into the hole on the left disappears without a trace.

14:30
Had a nice chat on phone with pa. Tried to reach Heather but she wasn’t home : (

19:12
That was one hell of a day. I woke up very sore and with two bad blisters. I was in pain hiking the whole day. I will survive. I will survive. I will survive.

selfportrait

Photo: Self portrait at North Lil’ Brule River camp after hell hike of day two.

I’m relaxed, smoking a pipe and reveling in the beauty all around me – – what I came to see.

07:15 – 17:30
Step Count – Unknown


Tuesday, May 3rd

05:15
Awoke an hour or so ago and put my boots into my sleeping bad with me to get them warm. Had done same thing with water earlier. Tight fit and was shivering a bit. Bag is cinched all the way. Laid awake for a little bit and decided to get up.

06:47
Camp is struck and I’m about three minutes from heading out. One more set of stretches and I’m off.

Photo unavailable

Sketch: Beautiful bridge over Little Brule

08:47
I’ve arrived at the lake . . . pause a moment in awe . . . It’s the largest lake in the world, yet it’s ability to be so serene and provide this overwhelming sense of calm is amazing. My photo of the lake as the background, and island as the middle ground and a SHT marker sign in the foreground won’t come close to capturing this sense, this mystical feeling. In the end I hope ma nature wins.

sht-beach-lakewalk

09:39
Photo: Shoreline looking South about .5 miles North of West end of Lake Walk.

10:30
Just made my first mistake. Saw trail sign but didn’t see second one.

11:11
Make a wish, right? Here’s hoping Heather is safe and happy. I love you. Stoppin’ for a bite to eat and a rest. Kadunce River is probably less than a mile away but I was feelin’ more like stoppin’ in a “faerie” place like this one. As I sat down I heard a large animal crash away through the brush. I wonder what it was?

12:12
Signing registry at Kadunce couldn’t help but notice entry by “J.V.” about kayaking cascade on 4.23.05. Is this Heather’s friend?

kadunceriver

12:31
Photo: West Fork of Kadunce River

14:17
Haulin’ ass again. This is the Sam I know. The Sam who loves to hike and can push past a little pain. Yesterday was really hard on my soul. I was in pain from mile one through mile sixteen. Blisters, sore (AS HELL!!!) knees, the works. This morning I fashioned a couple hiking poles out of some medium sized pieces of downed birch and BOY! am I amazed at how much it’s helping – – especially on the downhills.

sht-winter-kill

15:44
Photo: Just bones and hair – winter’s kill on the trail.

16:17
I’m beat, but only have 1.5 mi to go today. I have reached the prettiest vista thus far. Wildflower Hill affords a 180 degree panorama of the lake in all it’s stunning glory. To witness the sunrise from here would be a cathartic experience to draw pondering from for years to come.

17:29
Arrival at Woods Creek camp. I’m fucking spent.

sht-wildflower-hill

Photo: Wildflower Hill.

07:15 – 17:00
Step Count – 33279


Wednesday, May 4th

Awoke a little before 05:30 this morning thought I was packing fast but still wasn’t out of camp until 06:45. Stopped for a drink and read trail signs / consult map at County Road 50 parking area. Eighteen miles to go. Let’s get ‘er done!

07:38
Stopping for breakfast. Climbing southwest along Devil’s Track Canyon’s West side. Aside from the lake this is the most imposing natural feature I’ve encountered. The trail balances mere inches alongside hundred plus foot drops to the rocks and water below.

08:25
Devil Track River East camp looks totally stellar. The bridge that follows shortly after is quite a sight also.

Photo unavailable

Sketch: A-Frame bridge at Devil’s Track Canyon.

09:47
I think I should move to Grand Marais someday. While overlooking the town, reading an informational sign I learned:

Lake Superior:

  • Largest freshwater lake by surface area
  • 10% of world’s fresh water
  • 1333’ deep at deepest point
  • Average temperature 40 degrees F
  • Kitchi-gumi

Some other areas to research and someday explore:

  • Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park
  • Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
  • Pukaskwa National Park
  • Lake Superior Provincial Park
  • Michipicoten Island Provincial Park
  • Isle Royale National Park

13:20
The boardwalk across Sundling Creek runs across a beaver dam. Don’t know if it’s always in a rough of shape as now, but I’ll say it’s proper fucked!

13:47
Crossing Sundling Creek was the most adventurous section of the SHT so far. Before I crossed, as I stood on the other side and looked at the shambles of a one and two plank walkway I couldn’t see the whole thing. Parts of it have slumped over and as I glanced at it I wondered if I’d be taking my boots and pants off and going for a wade across the beaver pond. If it was 10 degrees warmer I’d certainly be going swimming in this lovely place. But instead I think I’ll sit a spell and partake in a pipe. All is well in my world.

14:03
How delightful I chose to spend time in this place. Perched on the bank of the pond I was made privy to a swiftly swimming beaver as s/he made his/her way across from the dam upstream.

19:05
Arrived at camp at around 17:00 – well before I predicted. I got a bit caught up about a half hour out. I ran into another hiker (only the sixth I’ve seen). His name was Greg and he lives near St. Cloud. He comes out this way in the spring and fall to avoid bugs and crowds. We had a nice chat about hiking. It was very pleasant to converse for more than three words.

06:44 – 17:15
Step Count – 37886


Thursday, May 5th

05:00
Damn that’s a lot of “fives” (05.05.05, 05:00)! After much deliberation Ive decided my stove needs much repair. I monkied with the damn thing for over a half hour and am now finally boiling water for some oatmeal. Shorter day today though so should be OK.

shit-graffiti

08:28
Photo: There’s even some graffiti along the SHT!

sht-cascade-falls

10:37
Photo: Cascade Falls

12:30
I’ve arrived at a place I remember so well, even though having visited it only once before in my pre-teens. I remember it because it has always been in my head as one of the most beautiful places on earth. I didn’t know for certain if the SHT would cross this place or not for I only remembered what it looked like, not what it was called. As I sit and reminisce from Lookout Mountain in Cascade State Park I remember thinking as a youth that if I ever got married, it would be in a place like this. I would love to sit here for hours but thunderheads are rollin’ in so I’m rollin’ out.

18:00
Arrival at East Poplar River camp.

08:00 – 18:00
Step Count – 40839


 

Friday, May 6th

08:05
Travel a road and you travel through the landscape. Travel a trail and you travel with the landscape.

rocksteps-lutsen

08:40
Photo:A wonderful set of rock steps near Lutsen.

11:58
Atop Moose Mountain I came across a sawn log with a metal placard bolted into it with the words, “Now this is a tree with a story to tell, May 8th, 1990”. What does that mean do you suppose?

14:35
A warm wind is blowing. I hung up my pack and hiked up to a little overlook by the name of Cedar. It provides an exquisite view of the Lake as well as Leveaux and Oberg Mountains off to the left. After yesterdays power hike through the pouring rain, today’s sunny stroll is welcomed with open arms.

15:38
Arrived at Springdale Creek camp before 16:00 – yeah! I’m going to get some much deserved sitting-around-time this afternoon. I hiked three extra miles yesterday and I’m SO happy about it now!

07:40 – 15:38
Step Count – 24900


Saturday, May 7th

05:45
Got up at 04:00 this morning so I could hike Britton Peak for the sunrise. Got hear about ten minutes ago and sun was still behind far off hill. It just rose moments ago. It was quite stunning. Would’ve liked to have seen it from Carlton Peak because it rises over the lake.

sht-selfportrait-carlton

07:05
Photo: Self Portrait from atop Carlton Peak

08:40
Temperance River State Park. The river gorge is almost a slot canyon. There is one point where the opposing walls are only about six or seven feet apart. I’m sure many a daring punk kid has leaped it. However, its almost certain death by waterfall below.

09:30
Chatted with Jeremy, he knows Nate Schuler on GNP Trails.

10:00
Had a nice chat with Keith from Maple Grove. He was doing three days from Caribou Wayside to Lutsen.

10:31
Saw two female backpackers and said hi. They seemed awfully rushed.

grouse

Photo: An elegant bird. A grouse perhaps?

16:56
Having just finished a lovely supper of garlic veggie rice noodles, dehydrated split pea soup and rice I was looking over tomorrow’s trail data when a lively whitetail deer ran straight through camp. What a joy. Sugar Loaf Pond camp.

05:42 – 02:56
Step Count – 41000


Sunday, May 8th

Awake at 05:30 after night of rain. Lazy-ish morning cooking oatmeal and packing gear.

07:56
On the trail. GRD for eighteen miles!

sht-covered-bridge

Photo: SHT covered bridge

East Baptism River camp. Latrine needs relocation for rain/spring melt has completely flooded into and around pit. Possible consideration of completely moving camp might be necessary.

sht-sonju

16:45
Photo: Ducks on Sonju Lake.

17:00
Well, I’m halfway done and I’m still feeling good. It seems that a lot of pain I was suffering at first has gone away – – but I still get sore. Today I wasn’t even all that exhausted as I got to camp and it was an eighteen mile day. I will forever look at ten mile days as cakewalks I think. I wonder what this journey will do for my body, mind and personna after I leave the woods? Speaking of leaving I have found myself dreaming about taking Heather to Pizza Luce on Sunday night when we get out : )

19:00
All the domestics are done around camp and I’ve come down by the lake to sit on the lovely little dock here. The sun hangs in the sky, lazy. The choir of creatures surrounding me don’t mind me being here and have just struck up a tune. A choir with tens of thousands of players, no composer and no sheet music. A jazz combo of epic proportions. The first few mosquitos of the summer buzz solo parts in my ear. They are huge.

08:00 – 16:15
Step Count – 37120


Monday, May 9th

09:15 – 03:15
Step Count – 28500


Tuesday, May 10th

06:58
The sun is peeking through the clouds, I’ve cooked oatmeal, packed my gear and just waved goodbye to my – can you believe it – campsite partners! Jim and Laura from Mpls. Jim’s a librarian and Laura will be attending grad school for environmental policy.

sht-selfportrait-sect-13

Photo: Self portrait from vista in Section 13 area

13:30
Just climbed “The Drainpipe” – by far the most technical section of the SHT. It was 150’ all-fours climb through a narrow chute of rock. While resting atop it I met Amanda and Jay who happen to be thru-hiking also! They were on day four of eighteen, up from Mankato for adventure.

trailthruboulders

Photo: Trail moving through giant boulders along Sawmill Dome ridge.

14:30
Just summited Mount Trudee and the views are breathtaking. Three lakes to the North, the Lake to the East and the Sawtooth’s and other hills all around. The landscape is slightly speckled with civilization but it adds a feeling of reality to an otherwise pristine setting.

sht-high-falls

Photo: High Falls at Tettegouche State Park from below.

rocksteps

Photo: Beautiful rock steps prior to Bear Lake

18:56
I’ve just sharpened my pencil. w00t!

19:28
When I set out to make this journey – wait, let me rephrase that. When I first got the idea in my head to do this thing, this incredibly intense and taxing event in physical and mental stability and reliability I had it all figured out. Just go out there with the right stuff and get ‘er done. Nice and simple, 1, 2, 3. Ponder now these past days as I solo hike upon the shared ground of two great ecosystems of how in-tune with self and nature one can become if they let go of worry and face hardship and discomfort head on. A tough skin and steady nerves joining in a duet with the environment around you. Wow…words.

sht-feet-bear-lake

Photo: Reclining in the evening after all the chores are done at Bear Lake camp.

07:10 – 16:35
Step Count – 32297


Wednesday, May 11th

10:09
Reset the alarm twice this morning because I just felt like sleeping a bit. Ended up getting up at 06:30. Got on the trail about 07:30ish. Trucked along, stopping for a minute to gander at beautiful view down onto Bean Lake. Found my way into Silver Bay and asked a jogger where to find a pay phone. Turns out it was where I am now, “The Lounge” bar. Made my call and then ordered a nice glass of Leinenkugels. Ahh, it’s relaxing. Sitting here with a couple locals, sippin’ a brew at ten in the morning. Took a nice sink shower and will roll over to the grocery store for a bit of eats before setting off to find Heather.

beanlake

Photo: Bean Lake

00:00 – 00:00
Step Count – Unknown


Thursday, May 12th

17:30
So glad to be with Heather again. Her, Tasha, Lily and I did an easy seven miles today.

heathertasha

Photo: Heather and Tasha

sht-heather-tasha-lake

Photo: Heather posed with dogs with Lake in background.

10:00 – 03:45
Step Count – 18000


Friday, May 13th

17:50
It was an overcast and chilly day with lots of swamp walking. Some nice looks down into Split Rock River gorge though. Afternoon provided us a nice cliff to sit on and stare out over the birch covered landscape. We’re constantly surrounded by the sound of traffic now, but all is still very tranquil. Tomorrow we’ll hit Gooseberry pretty early and then hopefully hike on to Crow Creek Vista. Sunday will be the last leg of the trip. It will be eerie setting foot into an automobile again, but I’m ready for a little pampering I think. It’s been so nice having Heather and the dogs around – it has and will make the last days seem like a new, fresh set of miles.

heathertasha-rockcolumns

Photo: Heather and Tasha near Split Rock River.

09:00 – 16:34
Step Count – 15000


Saturday, May 14th

Had some nice words with Dave and his son Travis who shared camp with us last evening. Hit the trail and warmed up at Gooseberry interpretive center. Short walk along river then set up stove for lunch beside some rapids. Seven miles of hiking and we’re at Crow Valley camp. Still wet and shitty out so we cooked under the vestibule and are just laying around until we fall asleep.

09:37 – 17:45
Step Count – 15000


Sunday, May 15th

sht-grd

Photo: A sigh of relief over completing the Superior Hiking Trail.

14:00
NWC!

09:00 – 14:04
Step Count – 14467


A gallery of all the photos from this trip is located here.

An approximation of the gear I carried is located here.

 

Boulder Pass Loop – Glacier National Park – 2004

In September 2004 I was living in West Glacier, Montana and invited a group of college buddies out to meet up for our semi-annual backpacking trip.  On this go-round we opted for the exceptional Boulder Pass loop in the northwest corner of Glacier National Park.

Eric, Mark, Mike and I acquired permits for Bowman Lake, Hole-in-the-Wall, Boulder Pass and Kintla Lake in the North Fork region of the park for the opportunity to show some flatlanders just why that part of the country is called the Crown of the Continent presented itself excellently.

Below are a sampling of the photos from the trip.  The full gallery can be viewed here.

3445413786_3b2a23b949_b

3445408742_0b583453af_b

3444590563_238293df35_b

3444586351_4d3a63afbe_b

3444583467_acf7de8ff7_b

3445399304_41ae60cfa4_b

3445397492_53f25958bf_b

3445394338_131367eaca_b

3445391098_78975484d4_b

3444570555_65d37b1dfe_b

3444568637_44e9b5a68c_b

3445385320_4e1daf24bf_b

3445384794_0f31d9cea3_b

3445380690_d5e336c631_b

3444562149_6aaee3c050_o

3444560405_b6de2f998d_b

3445376554_315c71eb6e_b

3445375722_84c1645818_b

Rock Creek – Crazy Mountains, Montana

The Crazy Range is a seldom visited range located in Southwest Montana between Billings and Bozeman. Geographically it is very distinct in that it is not interconnected with other ranges but instead stands alone. From the high peaks within its borders a view to the West is the sea of mountains that form the Rockies but turning East the view is of the seemingly endless American Plains.

I have explored into the Crazies but a scant few times and all within the SE corner (closest to my home). Getting there puts you on long stretches of gravel roads and it is very much located in the “real Montana” – more rancher than recreationalist. Our plan this summer was to check out at least a couple new zones so I put a trip into the Rock Creek drainage on our calendar.

14636532979_8abf08318b_b

The trail is a popular hunting access in the fall given the somewhat limited public access of the Crazies compared to the quality of game. It is also more popular to dirt bikes than backpackers and we encountered a few riders on our hike in. The trail is very, very rocky and we were pretty amazed at the kind of skill level required to navigate this trail behind the throttle.

14820819284_8fc72b35bd_b

The trail crosses a chunk of private land and in this section we had the exquisite opportunity of spotting a beautiful cinnamon-colored bear that I believe was a grizzly about a hundred yards off the trail. The bear was more interested in clawing apart logs probably in search of an insect snack than us but it did acknowledge our presence and we didn’t hang around too particularly long. After a short stint on a private road the trail crosses the swiftly-flowing Rock Creek and winds it’s way up the waterway. The valley is long and generally flat, only beginning to gain the major elevation to it’s headwaters in the very last few miles.

14820827554_1424ca5a20_b

The climb is steep and the trail is faint due to the lack of motorbikes wishing to attempt this section and the otherwise low number of visitors. Faint trails are some of my favorites and it brings a sense of focus to an on-trail hike that can otherwise be lacking. We gained the top of this climb and although it was already August we were instantly transported into what is only early Spring in the alpine. Huge snowfields covered the landscape and in the sections that were melting the wildflowers popped with the brilliant color of fireworks.

A magnificent waterfall flowed out the headwaters and the creek ran rampant in braids over the lush and budding landscape. The actual headwaters up around the lake was more than likely a barren rocky expanse sans firewood and soft camping so we opted to pitch the tent here – knowing that we would fall asleep to the soothing rush of the water as it fell from the waterfall and moved swiftly past us in the creek.

14820100391_5a4fed2597_b

A light rain began to fall so the shelter went up quickly as Torie inflated her sleeping mat for a quick nap. I took the opportunity to don my rainjacket, collect some firewood to keep dry under some trees and to photograph the waning alpenglow light as it twinkled behind the raindrops. The photos I’m sharing here today were some of the most brilliant color-wise I took all summer long. Not expecting the rain shower to last too long I prepared a warming fire for when Torie awoke and we wished to have dinner.

We enjoyed the evening, the stars coming out with absolute brilliance in a landscape completely devoid of artificial light. We slept comfortably and after a pleasant breakfast and coffee we picked our way back down the steep trail. On the way out along the creek we lingered in the swift ford to soothe our hot feet and upon reaching the highway and heading into Livingston we filled our bellies with requisite Mark’s In-and-Out burgers, fries, and malts. Another awesome Montana wilderness weekend was in the books.

Memories of a Fun Trip with Mike C!

Turn back the clock to August 2011. I was recently unemployed and couldn’t decide between hiking the CDT from Glacier to Yellowstone or spending a few weeks in the beautiful lake country of Northern Michigan where my girlfriend was stationed for the summer so I decided to pick a little bit of both before putting my nose to the grindstone to find another job.

I found an airline ticket out of Salt Lake City back to Michigan and planned my trip south from Bozeman. I planned to do a couple things between here and there in order to appease my hiking desires prior to spending quality time on Lake Michigan. I signed up for a Continental Divide Trail Alliance (read my Sep. 2011 trip report) volunteer trail building session in the Lionhead area of Gallatin National Forest. We spent a few days digging tread, re-building a failing culvert, and trimming overhead vegetation during the day and eating excellent grub and enjoying cold ones in the evening. I highly recommend a CDT or other volunteer project as it gets you to some beautiful country and gives you the opportunity to give back to the organizations that maintain the trails we know and love.

Conveniently located between my volunteering session outside of Yellowstone and the airport I was making my way toward in Salt Lake City is a sleepy little burg on the quiet Western front of the Tetons – Driggs, ID. Infamous “lighten up” NOLS instructor, graphic artist, and all around good guy Mike Clelland spends his days here and I pinged him on my way down to see if he’d be into an ultralight 24 hour jaunt up into the hills outside his home. I arrived in the afternoon and we threw together some grub and gear and drove a short little distance to one of Mike’s favorite trailheads just up the road from his house.

2011-08-22-20-09-45-303

2011-08-23-09-34-12-025

Mike and I instructed a few sessions of the Backpacking Light Wilderness Trekking School together in ’09 and I hadn’t seen him much since, nor gone camping with him. What a great time it was practicing what we preached purely for the enjoyment of the sport we loved. We packed really light with no shelters as the weather up near the Teton Crest was expected to be precip-free. We connected a couple trails together with a little off-trail jaunt with some of the finest craggy views the lower 48 has to offer. Our super light sleeping bags were enough to keep us warm until just a bit before dawn so we awoke from our sleep atop a large expanse of rock long before the sun crept up over the Grand Teton and high tailed it back down to the valley. Mike to get back to his freelance work and me to hit the road to SLC.

2011-08-23-10-56-12-749

2011-08-22-20-03-07-053

Michigan ended up being a total blast and a few years later I made that gal I was visiting my wife – so a trip there was well worth it!

A Successful and Rewarding Season of Hunting

My grandfather hunted deer before I was old enough to fully grasp the concept but it was not an activity that my family practiced into my childhood.   My father would take my brother and I to the sandpit to target practice with the family .22 so shooting at pop cans was about the extent of my hunting career until this fall.

 

My wife and I are now homeowners and in our backyard we’ve created a nice series of vegetable gardens. We participate in a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, and make a concerted effort to put healthy, local, and responsible eating choices at the forefront of our life.  My wife is far more a green thumb than I so I felt that being able to bring locally harvested meat to our table would be a worthy addition to our food needs.

 

 

I began my research early in the year, focusing first on educating myself about hunting rifles, ammunition, and hunting-specific gear.  I opted for a .308 caliber Tikka T3 rifle mounted with a Leupold Vx-2 3-9×40 scope on Warne rings.  For the rifle I fashioned a DIY sling and set out on multiple camping trips and a visit to the local range to sight it in at 100 yards.  I purchased a few hundred rounds of high quality surplus ammo and put a few dozen rounds down range in order to become proficient in it’s use and familiarize myself to it so using it would not be strange to me when it came time to get serious.

 

 

With new gear choices complete I set out to modify my North Face MG55 backpacking pack (a staple of my GNP trail crew days when 50lb. loads were not uncommon). It has a comfortable hip belt and shoulder straps, two aluminum stays, and with only a few hours of work I was able to cut off the pack bag, add a load shelf and a series of 1″ straps and buckles to accommodate both camping gear (inside drybags) as well as upwards a large amount of animal weight (I tested the pack up to 90 lbs).  On the front I employed a Hill People Gear Kit Bag which provides quick access to my binocular, energy bars, and other sundries.

 

The general rifle season isn’t until late Fall in Montana but I began spending weekends in possible hunting locations a month early trying to get a feel for where the deer live and possible spots I could get goods shots. I obviously love camping so these scouting trips were fun backpacking trips in gorgeous country that could hardly be considered work. On the side I was watching online videos teaching myself about field dressing animals, and reading up on advice from backcountry and frontcountry hunters alike.

 

 

The season opener finally arrived and I headed to a section of woods very close to my home in hopes that I would be able to harvest a truly local animal. I hiked the five miles to my selected spot after dark and upon arrival laid out my bivy, set my alarm for a pre-dawn wake-up and went to sleep. I was awake and in position 45 minutes prior to sunrise (the season officially opens 30 minutes prior to sunup). I spent the entire morning and early afternoon posted in a single location which I thought would be a good pass-through area for critters moving from one drainage to another. Unfortunately I saw only one creature that day and it was a fellow orange and camo-clad hunter. I moved down into one of the drainages late in the afternoon, found a very prominent game trail and a watering hole and posted myself up to sit for a few hours until sunset. Once again, I saw nothing. The story repeated itself the next morning as I sat at the same spot from the previous evening and then hunted my way down this trail-less valley slowly and quietly back toward my truck.

 

2014-hunt-blackmore

 

The following weekend I decided to head about 35 miles from town to another zone I had thoroughly researched through aerial photography. This location would allow me to drive my truck to within a mile of the creek and its surrounding hillside that I wished to hunt. This location allowed me to use my truck camping setup which is very comfortable but still required a couple miles walking to the zone, up the creek, and then back to the vehicle. Once again I was skunked for the whole weekend not even seeing a single animal.

 

I went out four weekends in a row only taking an evening or morning off here and there. Camping out most nights and trying to hunt as many of the dawn and dusk sessions as I could. Over the course of the entire season I consumed around 25 gallons of gasoline in traveling to various zones and I was beginning to feel like that kind of consumption didn’t add up to my goal for this activity to represent sustainable eating.

 

 

I had decided to return my focus to the zone close to my home for the remaining weekend of the season I didn’t already have scheduled with holiday commitments and begin heading there for evening and dawn sessions, returning home overnight. By this time of year sunset and sunrise are so far apart that camping requires you sit in the dark from five in the afternoon until nearly eight in the morning so I decided to my time was better spent at home.

 

I decided to hit the zone for a dusk session on a Friday after work. I had cut out a couple hours early and by 3:30pm I was in the woods, on my knee, rifle up to my eye with a spike whitetail buck in my sights at well under a 100 yards out. He was small-ish and although this was the first legal buck I’d seen in all my hunting so far I hesitated very shortly.   Short enough to give pause think about what it meant to kill him, but long enough for him to get behind enough trees and begin walking away from me out of sight and out of range. I spent the next 24 hours pondering this decision and whether I had made the right choice.

 

 

It began to snow on my hike out of the woods that evening and I wondered whether my season would end that week without a critter in our freezer. I came back at dawn the following morning and posted myself in a position where I expected the little guy I had seen the night before would come back up and out of the lowlands. Sure enough, about 15 minutes after sun-up he appeared 300 yards across the logging clear cut I was stationed at. He was outside the distance I was comfortable successfully targeting and shooting so I just watched him follow a game trail up and over a ridge and then I set out to stalk him just for the thrill of it – not really expecting to find him.

 

“Because I choose to eat meat, I assume responsibility for acquiring it, rather than entrusting it to proxy executioners, processors, packagers, and distributors.” – Steven Rinella

 

I had followed his trail for a ways before losing it and then followed some new game trails I’d not seen before – not one to miss out on an opportunity for a new place to explore. I slowly hunted my way down these trails, back along the logging roads and then the final trail to my truck. The weekend was over and the following weekend was Thanksgiving. With friends from out of town arriving Wednesday night my days off from work were over and I braced myself that my first hunting season was about to close and I without a successful harvest.

 

 

I simply couldn’t give up just yet and I phoned my boss on Monday night requesting if he’d mind if I came in a few hours late on Tuesday. He agreed and I hit what I’d decided was the sweet spot to intersect one last time with the Whitetail Spike I’d now seen twice. I took what I’d learned in seeing him the first two times and posted myself up at sunrise in a clearing that I hoped was his exact route of travel for that morning.

 

At 8:15am I was glassing a clearcut when out of the corner of my eye I spotted movement. I quietly backed off the rifle safety, reminded myself to slow my breathing, brought the weapon and scope to my eye and began to follow him in my sights keeping target on the zone just behind his left shoulder. I was sitting atop a small knoll and he walked into the draw below me, out of sight for a few minutes. I worried he would walk up the hill toward me – scare, and run off. Instead, thankfully, he took to the opposite bank. The wind was in my favor and I sat still – scope affixed at the correct level – but he was facing away from me and not broadside – no good for a successful shot. He next turned to his left but at the same time put his shoulders behind a tree while he nibbled at brush. My heart was pounding but I was practicing a controlled breath and the scope was not shaking. I knew the time was imminent, that I would kill this animal and that he would provide my family a bounty for the coming year.

 

2014-hunt-sam-with-rifle

 

He took one step forward, exposing his sides from behind the tree and I did not hesitate. I waited only an instant for my brain to register that where my scope was aimed on his body was in fact the kill zone and I gently squeezed the trigger. His reaction was instantaneous as the bullet connected with him. He spun 180 degrees and bolted very quickly. I chambered another round just in case as I carefully watched where he went until I could no longer see his tail as it disappeared over a slight rise into some trees. Gathering my pack I put the rifle back on safe and proceeded to the point where the bullet had connected with him to begin tracking.  I fretfully hoped I had fired a killing shot that would end his life quickly and with little pain.

 

 

His tracks were easy to spot where he had been standing a few minutes previous. I followed them only a short distance and then began to spot blood. Following these spots and his tracks for only ten or 15 minutes I came upon him in a shrubby area about 200 meters from where I’d shot him.

 

I stood looking at him for a minute, in awe of the awesome power behind taking a life. But at the same time, I stood without guilt. I had thought over this subject for many months, what it means to kill and that as a meat eater it is not only a perfectly acceptable thing to do but also one of the few ways to be able to do so in good conscience.

 

To hunt and butcher an animal is to recognize that meat is not some abstract form of protein that springs into existence tightly wrapped in cellophane and styrofoam. – Lily Raff McCaulou

 

I laid my hand on his chest, thanked him for what he had done for me, his hide still warm under my un-gloved palm. A slight rain has started to fall and it shook me from my awe and I put on my game face. I gathered my equipment, reviewed in my head the steps I would now need to perform the gutless method on my harvest and set to work.

 

It took me significantly longer than I expected for the overall process. I had fired my rifle at approximately 8:15am, had him on the ground and tracked by 8:30, but did not have my game bags full and my bounty loaded onto my backpack until 11:45am. I began the two mile hike out of the woods. My best estimation is that the meat, bones, head, plus my gear, pack, and rifle weighed between 60 and 70 lbs.  The going was slow on the icy and snowy ground and the two miles took me around a hour to cover.

 

 

The hunt complete there was still much work to be done. I packed the meat bags into my fridge at home and got to my job to finish out the work day. Afterwards, I hurried home and prepared our kitchen for more work. That night, as well as the next, and then one more afternoon a few days later my wife and I, as well as a friend helped prepare and clean both steak meat and the rest of the meat we’d grind into burger. The second night after the hunt I grilled four small bacon-wrapped backstrap steaks and my wife prepared roast broccoli and baked sweet potato. It was one of the most powerful meals of my life and I savored every bite of it.

 

 

A friend of a friend has a heavy-duty 220 amp meat grinder and I reserved a slot yesterday afternoon to grind up the majority of the meat into burger. The process took just shy of two hours from arrival to having everything wrapped and taped in butcher paper. Tonight I will invite the friends who helped with the cleaning over for dinner and we will savor plates of venison tacos.

 

The consumable costs:
$8 conservation license
$16 deer license
$87 gasoline

The rewards:
8 lbs. steak meat
25.25 lbs. burger meat

Cost/benefit analysis:
$111.00 / 33.25 lbs. meat = $3.33/lb

2014-hunt-meat-on-table

The Onset of Winter in the Mountains

Hiking into the mountains can be compared to going forward in time.  As you gain elevation into the hills it is like moving forward in the season.  Lower pressures and colder temperatures bring an earlier onset of each season and in mid-October it is not uncommon to fall asleep in autumn and wake up in winter.  Such was the case this past weekend at a high alpine camp I made on the East side of the Gallatin Range.

 

 

I am prepping for the upcoming deer hunting season and in keeping with due diligence I have been scouting possible zones where I hope to be successful in my hunt. I opted to gain a high alpine ridge via a trail, then make my way off the trail along the ridgeline to provide me a view to glass into multiple adjacent basins. I camped on a narrow, flat section of this ridgeline below a beautiful rocky peak. Although windy, if I had not researched the weather forecast the onslaught of snow that was to come could have been a near total surprise.

 

 

 

I arrived in the late afternoon, draped myself in my woobie and poncho atop my foam sit pad with snacks, water, and binocular to glass the basins below. Unfortunately into the lens appeared two other groups of hunters and no wildlife. The wind picked up so excessively that I quit glassing as the light faded and set about cutting enough firewood to warm me until darkness and a reasonable bedtime.

 

 

Mashed potatoes and a few slugs of bourbon in my belly, the dying embers of the fire, and the first flakes of falling snow pushed me into the warmth of my sleeping quilt inside my shelter. I had brought a snow-load worthy shelter but little did I know what kind of pummeling my ridgetop camp was to bring that night. The snow came in hard and the wind maintained itself until well into the night. I awoke many times to re-adjust a blown out tent stake and the trekking poles which hold up the shelters roof. The snow was still falling when I awoke before dawn with the intent to continue glassing for wildlife. The shelter walls sagged and caved but the roof remained strong.

 

 

When dawn broke the visibility outside was such that glassing from the ridge was not going to provide results so I struck camp and decided to hike out via an offtrail route following the ridge I was on to see what sign of animal I could find while making my way back to the truck.

 

 

The country I traveled through exquisite. The fresh blanket of nearly a foot of snow hung heavy on the flora and the quietness that comes with such a blanket was silence that is music to my ears. I walked, tripped, slipped, and gracefully glissaded my way downhill keeping a keen eye out for critters.

 

 

Although my goal was to spot deer on this journey I did not come across any of the species and I may cross it off my list of places to consider coming for a hunt. I did have the glorious treat of coming across a large cow moose standing in a boggy section of the lowlands as I reached the valley bottom off the ridge. She turned and looked at me for a few seconds and nonchalantly walked away behind some trees and then up and off trail into the woods. I am always in awe when I have the chance to view these magnificent creatures.

 

The hunt continues.

 

 

Fifty Miles on the Pitchstone Plateau and along the Bechler River

20140901_081827

A trip in the Bechler region of Yellowstone National Park has been on my bucket list for years.  I secured a permit encompassing a vast chunk of the SW corner of the park.  My itinerary was to traverse the Pitchstone Plateau, then head westward to the Bechler River Valley, following it northward to my end point in the Old Faithful geyser basin.  This would allow me to experience three vastly different ecosystems, camping one night in each.

 

I experienced beautiful moonrises, glorious sunrises, sunny afternoons, a seemingly endless thirty-six hours of continuous rain, mile after mile of both grassy savannah walking as well as mud and bog walking, a spectacular soak in one of the best backcountry hotsprings known to humankind, and hours of solo introspection and enjoyment.  The journey through this section of YNP is well worth a visit for someone looking to walk an all-trail route that has just enough an element of navigation and route finding challenge to keep things interesting but is still moderate enough to allow your thoughts to wander without consequence.

 

The route crosses numerous springs, streams, and rivers so water consumption planning is simple.  I inquired locally and with respected and trusted individuals regarding the fishing potential and fly choices.  I cast my line into three separate stream/river systems, each containing different species and although my luck and skill (lack of?) didn’t pan out, the joy and meditative qualities of tenkara fishing made the extra six ounces of gear well worth it.

 

Logistically the trip worked out exceptionally.  I left my car at the Pitchstone trailhead, hiked the loop, and grabbed an instantaneous hitchhike with an off duty park employee all the way back to my car at trip’s end.  Bike shuttling along the busy park roads is an option as well but would require planning a morning start to allow for the extra hours needed.  Hitchhiking can be a gamble but in this instance paid off exceptionally.

 

I decided to photograph the journey through wide shots of the landscape, trying to capture the essence of the different spaces I visited.  From the wide open, grassy savannah of the Pitchstone Plateau, to the woody and wet valleys of Mountain Ash Creek, to the boggy, misty and steamy Bechler River Valley, all zones had a unique character that was constantly bringing a smile to my face.

 

 

20140901_100151

IMG_1598

 

IMG_1605

IMG_1612

IMG_1613

IMG_1619

IMG_1631

IMG_1645

IMG_1646

IMG_1653

IMG_1662

IMG_1604

IMG_1663