The morning routine over, we were hiking up the drainage. Jack and I wanted to see if that freak billy goat had moved to an area where we might be able to kill him. We also knew there was a group of seven that had a couple of shooter goats too but we'd not seen them in two days. Of course, we were also hoping that a new goat may have moved into our valley.
We reached a vantage point and my hopes faded. The freak was not there, the seven were not there, and nothing new had moved in. We were essentially goatless. Our only option was to hike past this north range into the next drainage. That was a hefty commitment of several hours of hiking - one-way - just in the hopes it contained a goat. As Jack continued to glass for some sign of life a white spec caught my eye high above us. The freak was bedded partially exposed on the very highest peak of that knife blade ridge. He had moved 250 yards closer to where we were sitting yesterday. Dilemma. This was our only play for the day. Tomorrow was our last day of hunting, and something had to happen. Whatever decision we made today would be critical.
Jack and I discussed options. Neither was appealing but one of them scared the hell out of me. Option 1 - climb out of this basin and up to the mountain peak we sat on yesterday. If the goat moved up to change valleys we may be able to get in position for a shot. The downside is there is no feed up there, and he seemed pretty content where he was. Option 2 - hike straight up a shale slide and then hope that we could get on top of those cliffs -somehow. Jack had warned that if we did that I would have to leave my comfort zone behind. The climb up was bad, and steeper than anything I had ever done before without ropes and harnesses. But that was just the climb up. Once at the top, the rock cliffs went straight vertical and in order to hunt this goat we needed to climb above that to the very top. Jack had never been here before so he had no idea what it would be like.
Option 1 seemed more doable. The climb up was going to be just brutal for both of us. But that top part in the cliffs looked like it was not only beyond my comfort zone, it was venturing into the realm of the ridiculous. All I could think about was my Alaska incident where I almost orphaned my kids while trying to kill some stupid goat. I am far wiser now. Goat hunts are important, but not that important.
This was the easy part of today's climb. To say you need to be in peak physical condition for a goat hunt would be an understatement.
We discussed it for a while. I could see Jack had little faith in Option 1. I could understand his logic too. The goat liked to hang at the top of that ridge. There was also good feed to the east where Jack suggested we head. It was a crapshoot but the odds went to the feed. I reluctantly said yes. We had no idea what we were in for. I pretty much knew it wasn't going to be pretty.
The first decision was to pick a route up. No small decision either. There were treed areas, and slide areas. They looked equally as steep. The areas with trees had firm footing while the area with the slide did not. I know all about scree piles and shale slides, at the top you slide 1 step back for every two steps forward. Still, I made the decision to climb the scree pile, the trees had obstacles and that would absolutely suck.
When you can stand upright and still touch the slope you know it's steep. The photo's don't do it justice.
At first the climb up wasn't too bad. It was ridiculously steep but not life threatening and the rocks held firm under our feet. As we gained altitude, the rocks turned into progressively smaller pebbles until they were the size of buckshot near the top. We would jam our foot into the pebbles to minimize the downward slide. There was a goat trail that slowly materialized and that footing was firm enough to lead us right to the top. I was thankful we had made it and were now at the top. Jack was busy glassing and turned to tell me we couldn't stay on this bench. Of course he was right. It was like setting up a treestand right on a deer trail. We needed to set up to the sides of this bench but they were all cliffs. Jack poked around trying to find a way off this bench. He would give one route a shot, then slowly back down and try another one. The only comfort to me was that he seemed to be choosing paths based on my level of tolerance, not his. He disappeared then came back a few moments later.
This is the route we picked. We climbed through the pass until we were on the bench, then we had to scale the side of the cliff to get away from the goat trail and set up for a long wait.
"This way he said" as he and his ridiculously heavy pack vanished between some jagged stone pillars. Along with my walking stick and my bow slung over my back I cautiously followed up a series of rocks as we picked our way along the south side of the cliff. Jack had stopped just in front of me and I knew why. We looked ahead and there was nothing. I stopped. Jack turned and said to me - this is really hairy - can you do it? My ego told him yes, but I wasn't sure. I looked it over carefully. It was a hard, dirt, chute, and that chute was 70 degrees. It was 8 feet across but only 3 feet long and that three feet of hard dirt led to a 90 degree cliff with no visible bottom.
Guys, my wife and I rock climbed for 5 years when we were dating. I used to be an accomplished technical climber. I analyzed every possible foothold, hand hold, and calculated the probability of survival if I had slipped. It was zero. There was no recovery from the momentum since the slide was all dirt with nothing to grab for three feet before you were into what my buddies called "blue sky." By the time I got up the nerve to say something to Jack he was on his way across it - picking his steps carefully with little apprehension. This is when being a guy sucks. My wife would have told him no F'n way. But since he did it with a pack, and I had nothing but my bow slung around my shoulder - I had to do it. The male ego is often the most effective tool for population control.
I carefully placed my right foot onto a slight indentation in the dirt. I needed it to hold on the 70 degree slope before my left foot moved an inch. I then reached to grab my first hand hold. Good enough. My next step would be critical. I was committed at that point. My left foot now placed I moved to my third step. There was a rock that provided a great hand hold. and I stretched for it while my two feet were teetering on the radical angle. I grabbed the rock but it broke free as my weight was moving to place my fourth step.
I locked up tighter than a snare drum. I also had to do the unthinkable. Look down. It was the only way to find the next foothold. When I did that I could see nothing under my feet. Not even the ground. I remember this feeling all too well. It was the same panic I felt when I had to sacrifice my bow in Alaska on a goat hunt. Jack was only a couple yards away and he guided me to the next step. I probably looked like a giant wuss. He knew I was locking up and that's the worst thing that can happen. I placed my fifth step and the ground leveled a bit - the rocks were holding firm. With my sixth and seventh step I was through the chute and out of danger. But I was sucking wind and not happy. Jack said in a calm voice; "We won't do that again. We'll find a better route back. I won't do that to you again."
We found a perch that was level and comfortable and we made ourselves a little nook up there amidst the goat hair, poop and mountain mosquitos that gnawed at unprotected skin when the winds would wane. We spotted our group of seven goats in the next drainage but that option had long been exhausted. Anything that happened today had to happen right here. We were 100% committed to this ridge. Our only hope was for the freak to feed down. That little ridge was the ultimate funnel, anything that tried to cross over it, or traverse on it - would be shot. They could not escape us. It was now a waiting game.
We found the group of seven but they were in the far drainage.
We sat on that ridge for eight hours. Jack and I agreed that regardless of anything heading our way, we had to leave by 7PM. It was going to take us an hour to get off the cliff, and then probably two hours back to camp. For safety, we had to be down the mountain and out of the drainage before dusk or we greatly increased our chances of getting injured on the hike back. Most critical, we still needed to find a route back - that chute was not an option!
Just as we were ready to leave, the goats ran across the far drainage and came up our cliff. Their timing could not have been worse - for us.
The freak never showed and the only new goats that appeared were a nanny and kid. Jack told me the nanny was not legal. I joked - "OK, but there's nothing saying I can't skewer the kid right?" All day long we had watched the seven goats in the next drainage to the north. Just before 7PM they were on the move. I mean, they were trucking! The good news was; they were heading in our direction. The bad news was; they were heading in our direction and it was damn near 7PM. They were a mile away but both of us had a feeling they were coming here to feed. So we pushed the time. 7:15, then 7:30. At 7:35 the goats were right under us - at least the last we saw before they were so tight to the cliff we had no visual. The sun had set a long time ago. We were really pushing the limits. It was now 7:50 and I suggested that it was best to get back to the bench. Jack was thinking we may be able to pull off a last minute kill, I was thinking about getting off this cliff. Jack agreed and he started to poke around again trying different routes. He vanished and a few moments later he came back. I knew what his look meant. "Sorry, the only path back is through the chute - I tried everything and it's all bad. I'll help you across." Not only was I going to be more terrified this time around, but to make matters worse the light was failing.
We packed up our stuff and got to the chute. To be honest, at this point I was ready for the hunt to be over. I was getting burned out. The hunt was fantastic and Jack was top-shelf, but I had reached a point where it was just getting too stressful.
I handed Jack everything and watched him rapidly move across the chute. He was like freaking spiderman and completely impressive. I tried to follow but in the middle of it I locked up hard. Totally frozen. I mean, I couldn't move. I have always said that goat hunts were the most dangerous hunts on earth and this is why. Screw grizzlies, cape buffalo and mambas. I'd trade ten mamba encounters for the situation I was in right now. In reality, the problem was 25% situational and 75% mental. If there was flat ground (3' under me) I could traverse that chute with my eyes closed. But there was a sheer cliff and a black hole under that and survival instincts kick in when you start imagining scenarios like one slip...
Clinging to the hand holds I was not moving. I remember Jack telling me in a new tone "Keep your composure." I stretched my left leg out then pushed off with my right and sort of jerked myself forward to the next set of hand holds. Two more steps and I was safely on the other side. But I wanted to get off that cliff - and fast.
We reached the bench and Jack wanted to take one last look. I watched in horror as he dropped everything except his binoculars and hugged this jagged pillar which slightly angled over a 200' cliff. He needed to do it for visibility but I don't care if I was guiding Jesus himself, no way you could get me on that rock. I cringed as he slowly inched his way back. For the first time all trip I swear he was nervous too. When he walked back to me I said with a smirk - and in no uncertain terms "you're an a##hole" he laughed. No goats, it was time to move.
We scurried down the scree, angling as much as we could to minimize the climb out of the gorge below. My thighs were burning - even though we were going downhill and I had no pack. It was so steep, and my legs were at such an angle, that it took a great degree of muscle control just to balance myself and navigate the slides. We descended rapidly into the gorge and then had to climb another 1000 feet out of it. We were now at the flat section which led back to camp. There was a full moon and that illuminated the rocks we stepped on. It was bright enough that neither of us used our head lamps at all. It was far easier to see the route without them. Two hours later we were back at camp. I was wiped out.
After dinner I asked: "Any ideas?" and for the first time Jack said - "I have no idea what to do at this point. I'm out of options." We have one day left.
Clothing - Sitka Gear - see previous day for complete inventory
Boots - My old Mendl Boots
Socks - thin silk sock liner under medium-weight smartwool socks
Binoculars - Swarovski EL 10x42
In My Mystery Ranch Pack - I carried my clothing, my sleeping bag, a Therma-rest pad, sleeping bag liner, Outdoor Edge folding knife, cord, dry bags, two filled water bottles, snacks, release, spare release, my binoculars, rangefinder, Toiletry items, and 30lbs of various camera gear including my professional HD video camera, handheld HD camera, Nikon D200 print camera, Toshiba netbook, spare hard drive, lens cleaning kit, leveling tripod with fluid head, spare batteries and memory cards.
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