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Baywatch Alaska - 2001

DAY 6

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Bryan and I made sure we ate a hearty breakfast (a cup of granola, Peanut M&M's, and a glass of gatorade) and hit the trail early for the far mountain. Bryan had never hiked it before and assumed an additional 2 hours on top of the Koelzer hike. It would also mean a few extra creek crossings. No problem, I was pumped and ready.

We got to the part where we would normally start climbing Koelzer's mountain but we kept going up the river valley. From camp it looked like it was close behind Koelzer's, but now that we were at Koelzer's it did not look any closer than when we were back at camp. We continued on.

At least 20 stream crossings (and several hours) later I turned to Bryan and remarked "this is getting old" he agreed. It was not until late afternoon when we hit the far mountain and started climbing. I cringed at the thought of having to come back in the dark. The mountain looked identical to Koelzer's as we climbed to tree line. An hour after climbing Bryan ran down the hill and started glassing. He came up some time later and and motioned to me - Thumbs up! He found a big one. That would be the beginning of a very exciting day:

Bear #1 Stalk

We moved quickly down through the trees in the direction of the river. Bryan had spotted the bear but lost him in the trees. As we picked our way down, Bryan spotted him again and pointed him out to me. He was HUGE! definite PY and probably BC boar. We moved closer as the bear kept feeding - unalarmed and oblivious to our presence. At 75 yards the wind was becoming unstable - I cringed as the breeze moved from my face, to the back of my neck. I knew the stalk was finished. The bears' nose went up in the air before he woofed and crashed through the trees.

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Video of my Day 6 grizzly stalk
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Bear #2 Stalk

sneaking up on the griz was easy, until he started coming my way.

The bear was close, but he suddenly ran off. What happened?

We left that area and moved further up the mountain, away from the river. We split up and would move slowly looking for bears. Movement caught my eye as I pulled up my glasses. I saw the rump of a grizzly for a split second before it disappeared behind some trees a few hundred yards below me. I motioned to Bryan and both of us descended the mountain to look for the bear. It did not take long before we spotted him again and Bryan gave me the "thumbs up" - a shooter. I got in position and videoed the bear while we planned the stalk. The bear was feeding on the crest of a small hill next to a brushy draw. The wind was blowing straight up the draw and the gurgling stream masked any sounds I'd make going through there. I moved into the draw as the bear moved down. I was 60 yards away as the bear moved in. I tucked myself off of the main trail and got ready to shoot. I figured the boar to be about seven and a half feet - a real nice one. He was not dominant and had scars all over his body from fighting other bears. Still, he looked good to me and the situation was going to happen. Suddenly the bear woofed, then crashed through the draw and down into the timber. Bryan and I, puzzled, looked at each other in amazement. No way he heard us, saw us, or smelled us we both said. Then Bryan suggested there may be another bigger bear in the area - we should follow the wind and see. I agreed.

 

Bear #3 Stalk

The bear is below me, 30 yards at this point, I would get a lot closer...

...until the wind shifts and the bear scents me - here I am motioning to brian that the wind gave me away and blew the setup.


Bryan and I crested the hill where bear #2 was feeding. We could clearly see the remaining hillside from here - but no bear was spotted. We split up, Bryan went high while I stayed low. 300 yards away I bumped into a large "nut-dragger" of a boar. He was about as big as the first bear we stalked and bigger than the 2nd bear that had just ran off. This was too much - another stalk (3rd) on a different grizzly within 3 hours. I motioned to Bryan who scrambled down the hill. We discussed the stalk for a few seconds then moved quickly on the bear. In minutes I was motioning to Bryan (via hand signals) that the bear was just 25 yards below me. The wind was consistent but I was concerned how long it would last. The bear was moving away from us, I needed to get above, and ahead of him. Bryan disagreed, he wanted me to move downhill to provide some insurance from a stray thermal. His assumption was right on, but my concern was for the shot angle - If I moved downhill while the bear was moving up hill and away, the angle would be severe and the shot would be longer. So I gambled and went with my instinct. I moved ahead of the bear - uphill. The bear was feeding in my direction and was now just behind a tree, and within 20 yards. He kept moving forward. Any moment he was going to clear the tree and would be 17-18 yards broadside. Then the wind hit the back of my neck. "Crap!" The bear ran down the hill, breaking branches and woofing the whole way. Bryan and I discussed our misfortune and the fact that the wind was so unstable in the mountains. In hindsight the shot setup would have been perfect had the winds been more stable - but our 3rd opportunity was blown. We were both pretty upset, it had taken us so long to get here and then have 3 stalks fall apart in 3 hours was a bit much to take. I looked out at our distant mountain - where our camp was waiting for us and we both collectively said "Oh S&%T." It was 7:30 PM already and we were not even near the river.

Bryan and I discussed options. My first choice was to camp here and hunt here again tomorrow, then go home in the afternoon. Brian thought that was too risky for two reasons, spooking the bears, and more importantly, no sleeping bags or tents. The radiant cooling on clear nights would make for one extremely cold night - we simply weren't prepared to camp. We both agreed that heading back to the river and doing over 20 river crossings in Wiggy's was risky and would likely get us wet. So we opted to climb down into the bog, then side-hill around the entire Koelzer's Mountain before dropping down to our normal spots along the river. When I asked how long he thought this would take, Bryan simply responded "a long time" - not good.

I won't go into the details of that hike, but lets just leave it at the fact that it was ugly, and at some points - dangerous due to wet clothes and very cold temperatures. By the time we made it back to our camp in the early morning hours, my feet were all but destroyed from blisters and hotspots. I had hardly eaten all day yet the thought of eating made me sick. In fact, I was so shaky and weak when I got back to the tent that I dropped my Mountain House meal, and in the dash to salvage it, knocked over my water bottle inside the tent. We were pretty much in agreement that "far mountain" would now be called "too far (unless you are really stupid) - mountain."

Next - Day 7

Our grizzly hunt takes place in Northern British Columbia with Bryan Martin of Canadian Mountain Outfitters.


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