Friday, October 22, 2010

Elk Hunting 101

October 21, 2010

I took the day off from work today and I went on a long hike. Deer hunting season is open but I didn’t take my rifle. This was more of a scouting trip. Also, I left the house around 11:00 am. I was going to hike up the south side of a mountain in the sun, it was 70 degrees out, it was an area I hadn’t been to before, there was a chance I would cross into private property, and, I was taking my dog. My chances of seeing a deer were somewhere around zero. Also, it’s a really bad idea to be caught on private property with a rifle. It’s even worse to be caught with a rifle and a buck deer. It’s pretty hard to run with a 4 point over your shoulder. But, if a guy was just hiking along with his dog and got a little turned around, most land owners would let him go with a warning and a ‘don’t let me catch you here again’ sermon. This is one of those unwritten rules of the outdoors.

I had seen a couple 2 track trails taking off from a public dirt road near the top of this mountain. They were less than a mile apart. I wanted to get up near the top as I knew there was public land to be hunted. Problem was the 2 track trails were most likely on private property. The lower one had a big gate across it, spray painted bright orange with ‘No Trespassing’ signs on both sides. The upper one didn’t seem to have a gate as far as I could see. I parked by the upper trail and headed up and around the corner. Just as I got to the corner, there was the gate. Spray painted orange, ‘No Trespassing’ signs on both sides. Dang! There was only one thing I could do. I turned around, walked down the trail, and got into my truck. I drove down the road about halfway between the two trails, pulled off on the opposite side and hiked straight up the ridgeline separating the two trails. No gate, no signs, no spray paint. How could I know that it was private property?

I didn’t see another person the whole day. I found a pretty promising hunting spot, and possibly, a little better way to get to it.

As I hiked along during the day, I thought about written and unwritten rules. They are found in many areas of life. Baseball aficionados talk about the unwritten rules of the game. I don’t think I know a single one of those rules, I can’t even spell aficionado without Microsoft’s help. But still, unwritten rules exist. Just as there are written and unwritten rules of sports, in the working world, and in most relationships, the same is true of hunting. The Fish and Game Regulations are the written rules governing when, where, and what you can hunt in Idaho. The unwritten rules govern the rest of hunting. From proper etiquette when you run into other hunters in your spot, to when to have bullets in your gun, to how to leave the testicles naturally attached to the hind quarter of an elk and not have them bouncing off your face every other step as you pack it out. This reminded me of one of my favorite sayings: “Rules are the guidelines of wise men, and for the strict obedience of idiots”. Lucky for me, my brother-in-law Bill and I, are some pretty wise guys.

Several years ago, Bill called me and wanted to go elk hunting. We talked about hunting spots and maybe trying something new. We had hunted up the Middle Fork of the Boise River a few times, hiking up towards Thorn Creek Lookout from the river. It was a very long way from the middle fork road to the Look Out. We would only climb up about halfway. Any further and packing meat back down to camp would be brutal. But it sure looked like good hunting up higher on the mountain. We then discussed how we could drive up to Thorn Creek Lookout and hunt down a little ways, staying well above the area we had hunted from below. This sounded like a great idea. The hunt was set. We would get up early in the morning, drive to the lookout, and arrive well before daybreak.

As I lay in bed the night before the trip, I thought about a couple of the unwritten rules of hunting. 1- Never go to a new spot in the dark, you should always have at least one person familiar with the terrain. 2- Never hunt down hill for elk. This second one is usually a non issue as elk live mostly on the mountain tops during hunting season. Carrying elk quarters downhill is tough, but carrying them up hill very far is insane. Good thing Bill and I are wiser than that. We planned on staying high and looking down the draws and ridges.

The next morning about half an hour before day light, we drive past Thorn Creek Lookout. We meander down the other side of the lookout and park by a big rock out in an open meadow. We each have a day pack with food, water, clothes, and other hunting stuff. We have a pack frame for carrying heavy quarters, if needed. We leave it in the truck. We each carry a rifle. It’s still pitch black out as we walked off the side of the mountain and down towards the middle fork of the Boise. The brush is thick and noisy, so we move slowly as we wait for a little day light. As it begins to lighten up, we see an open ridgeline that runs out from, and down the mountain. We make our way to the ridgeline and begin moving down. It isn’t too long until we start hearing some elk grunts and barking below us. It is light enough to see pretty well as we hurry down the ridge towards the sounds. About 20 minutes later we get into the elk, they take off running. A large bull and a spike run off to our right and through some open sage brush. The large bull never slows down and rounds the corner away from us. The spike stops broadside in the opening and turns to take a look at us. Elk should have their own unwritten rules, one of which should be – Never stop running to look at people wearing bright orange jackets.

As we begin butchering the spike elk, Bill mentions that it isn’t a real big elk. Maybe we could leave the rear half in one piece, strap it to the pack frame, and get it out in one load. If it turns out to be too heavy to carry, we can just cut it in half with the bone saw and make another trip down and back. I think to myself how brilliant that is and hope that someday I can be as wise as Bill. Bill then gives me this proud look and says that his grandpa always told him that he was ‘strong as an ox and just as smart’. I was about to mention that that may not be a compliment, but I didn’t want to ruin that look on his face. It was turning out to be a beautiful fall morning. The sun was out shining on us, we had an elk down, and we were enjoying the great outdoors. We only had 2 problems that I could see. 1 -We didn’t know exactly where we were, and 2- We weren’t sure how far down the mountain we had come. I suddenly remembered those 2 unwritten rules that were bothering me last night. I’m not sure why they would pop into my head at such a great time and place as this.

We get the elk gutted, skinned and the front quarters off and into game bags. The rear quarters are in one piece, (with the testicles still naturally attached per the written rules). The legs are cut off at the knee and we are ready head up the mountain. Besides the meat, we have 2 rifles, 2 daypacks, and the head and antlers. We decide to take the rifles, backpacks, the head, and one front quarter in the first trip up. It will be a lot to carry, but the second trip will only be a front quarter and the rear half. We’ll get the pack frame from the truck and strap that hind end on to it. The sun is high in the sky as we head out. The cool morning has turned to a sunny, hot day. The ridgeline is dry, dusty, and mostly open to the sun. We plod straight uphill for 45 minutes, stopping to rest every now and then. We are hot dirty and tired and still have another trip to make. I trip over a root and the elk quarter goes flying off my shoulder and into some dry powdery dirt. Dust puffs up all around the meat. Bill starts getting cranky as he wrestles with the backpacks, head and a gun. He’s not a big fan of dirty, dusty, elk meat, so I keep my head down and keep plodding. It takes us another hour or so of climbing to find the truck and get unloaded. We had gone down the mountain a lot further than we thought that morning. Whose idea was it to go so dang far down this mountain and then shoot something?

It’s well into the afternoon as we eat some lunch and drink a lot of water. We’re ready to head back down the mountain. We take only the pack frame and some water. We found a narrow bit of a trail that side hills from just below the truck to the ridgeline we came up. We cross the side hill on it, and then we’re on our way back down, lighter, but tired and dirty from the first climb up. We make it to the meat late in the afternoon. We strap the rear half of the elk to the pack frame with the legs pointing up. We tie it down tight so it won’t shift around while carrying it. That’s another unwritten rule. If something this heavy shifts while on your back, it can cause a dangerous fall. The pack frame and elk has to weigh at least 175 pounds, probably more. Bill sits down and pulls the shoulder straps on. I help lift as he stands up. He gets it up, tightens the pack belt around his waist, and starts up hill. It looks pretty heavy but he moves at a steady pace. I take the other front quarter and follow along. He’s looking tired as he makes his way, slowly, up the mountain. Even those hairy testicles bouncing off his ear every other step don’t seem to bother him. After about 10 minutes, he stops. He’s mad and he’s tired. It’s just too heavy to do in one load. We decide to cut it in half and make another trip. Bill’s frustrated and wants to get this pack out finished. He asks me for my bone saw to cut the half into 2 quarters. Well, my bone saw is in my back pack up in the truck. Now he’s really pissed. I didn’t dare ask him where HIS bone saw was. I already knew the answer anyway. We stomp around in the dirt and dust awhile and decide we’re going to have to muscle the half elk up the mountain in one piece, rather than climb the mountain to get a bone saw and still have 2 more trips to make, the last, most likely in the dark. I tell him that I’ll take a turn with the pack frame. He looks at me like this is all somehow my fault. He straps the frame back on and lets his anger help muscle the elk up the mountain. I pick the front quarter up out of the dirt where I dropped it and follow along. After a few hundred yards up the steepest part Bill slips and lets out a painful grunt. He turns around and leans back onto the hill and gets the weight off of him. He wiggles out of the pack and then writhes in pain. He tells me that he thinks he blew out his bungee. I think on this a minute and just as the smart ass in me is about to ask if he needs some help to relight his bungee, I stop. I know that Bill’s a pretty colorful guy with a great hunting vocabulary, and some anatomical names that I never heard before, but something tells me to refrain from the smart ass comments that I have been cheering him up with most of the day. Also, I’m not quite sure what a bungee is, where it might be located, and if it even needs to be relit after being blown out. Though, I can clearly see that blowing out your bungee is plenty painful and quite irritating.

Those unwritten rules enter my mind again as I notice we’re on the side of a mountain, dog tired, the sun beating down on us as it fades in the west. It’ll be dark in a couple hours, and Bill has a blown out bungee. After a few minutes, Bill’s up moving around mad as a hornet. He looks like he’s limping, but on both legs. I still don’t know where his bungee is. We formulate a new plan. He’ll take the front quarter and head for the truck as fast as he can. I’ll take the back half and slowly work up the hill. He’ll get to the truck, get the bone saw and come back and find me. We’ll split the elk in half and each carry a hind quarter the rest of the way out. I get the pack frame on, Bill helps me up and we’re off. He takes off with the front quarter and his blown out bungee. I slowly start my ascent. I know I can’t sit down or I’ll never get up again. I work my way up the hill for what seems like a long time. No water, no shade, my legs are burning and I dread the leg cramps I know are coming later on that night. I’m in no joking mood and begin to wonder when Bill’s coming back. I climb over logs and up steep inclines as I picture Bill back at the truck drinking the water and sitting in the shade, watching the sun set. After what seems like hours, I finally make it up to the side hill trail and start across. It’s steep and slick and the light is fading. I could easily break a leg, roll an ankle, strain my back, or maybe even blow out a bungee in this mess. I finally see Bill coming back down the trail. He’s about 25 yards away when our eyes meet. He looks at me, his anger gone, and says in a nice voice. “Man, you’re doing really good with that. You’re only a quarter mile from the truck”. He keeps his distance and starts walking back towards the truck telling me how strong I look with those testicles bouncing off my head and some other crap about carrying meat and then something about an ox. But I’m not listening anymore. In fact, I’m starting to get a little peckertated with him and his phony compliments and encouragement. He stays about 20 yards ahead of me and is now walking backwards talking to me and telling me to keep going, and how close we’re getting. I make it across the side hill trail and I’m at the bottom of the last incline. At this point, I would like to ram this whole back pack and elk up his bungee, but I know I’ll never catch him. I start up the final incline until suddenly, I’ve had enough. I can’t do it anymore. I ask him in my most polite voice if he would be good enough to come over and GET THIS DAMN THING OFF OF ME! He looks a bit hurt as he helps me get the pack off and onto his back for last couple hundred yards. I must have forgotten to say please.

We make it to the truck as the sun is setting over the mountains. We unload, rest a minute and get a drink. We start talking about what a great day it has been and how much fun we had. How lucky we are to find elk in a new spot. We talk about coming back next year.

There must be another unwritten rule that says all hunts are fun as long as no one gets seriously hurt or lost for more than 2 or 3 days. I’m not sure if the bungee blow out is considered serious or not at this point.

We make it home late that night. My legs cramp up in the middle of the night. I wonder if this is what it feels like to blow out my bungee. The next day, Bill gets in to see the bungee doctor. The doctor gets it put back in place or relit or whatever they do for blown out bungees. He’s good as new in a couple weeks and we start planning our next trip. We reminisce about how good the last hunt was and how wise we are in following the rules of the hunt.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

P.A.D.D.

I have never been one to have bumper stickers on my vehicles. I sometimes enjoy them on other cars but never really felt the need to express myself on my bumper. The majority of the bumper stickers I see are rather lackluster and unoriginal. It seems to me that bumper stickers have lost their appeal and that there are very few good ones about anymore. I do have a few favorites and a couple of them are below:

The more people I meet the more I like my dog

People who think they know it all really annoy those of us who do

What Would Scooby Doo?


I did make my own bumper sticker once but I never put it on my car, although I did hang it up at work for a very short time. It read:

P.A.D.D.
People Against Dead Drivers


Many years ago, my wife and I lived in Anchorage, Alaska. We lived in an apartment complex on the corner of a busy road and a fairly quiet cross street. We parked our cars at an angle on the cross street at the side of our apartment. The City of Anchorage had a lot across the side street that was a parking area for snow plows and other heavy equipment. There was a garage on the back of the property for maintenance work. The front of the lot was all gravel and was usually empty in the summer. There was a 6 foot chain link fence around the property and a gate across the entry way. The gate was always closed and locked. One summer night after midnight I awoke to some loud noises. I didn’t recognize the sounds. I then heard a car racing up the side street towards our complex. I heard some crashes and an engine roaring. I jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen window. Bright headlights were shining directly into the apartment from the city lot across our side street. I could still hear the car engine roaring. I looked out the window and behind the bright headlights I could see dirt flying out from the spinning rear tires of the vehicle. I put some clothes on and went outside. Another man had stopped and run up to the vehicle and turned the engine off. The vehicle was a taxi cab and the driver had been shot and killed. We called the police and they showed up instantly. They cordoned off the area and interviewed everyone around. No one there had seen the assailant, or anything unusual prior to the noise. After a couple of hours the police came back to our apartment and said that the cab had hit our car before turning across the street, breaking through the fence and then looping back towards our apartment. The cab hit a fence post squarely or it may have come right into our kitchen. The damage to our car was minimal. Estimates came to about $600. I contacted the cab driver’s insurance company and they said they would take care of everything. So I filed a claim with them and waited for a check.

A couple weeks later I received a call from them. They told me that they were not liable for the damage. There was no negligence on the part of their insured. Bottom line for them was that a dead person cannot be negligent. Our conversations became somewhat morbid as we discussed when the cab driver actually died. Did he die before he hit my car and then make a turn away from it through the fence across the road and then back towards our apartment? Did the shooter pull the steering wheel to the right? I was 25 or 26 years old - pretty naive. The world hadn’t kicked me around too much yet, but something didn’t make sense to me. I called my insurance company and discussed the accident with them. My agent said that the cab’s insurance company is dead wrong, (pardon the pun). They should be liable for the damage regardless of the timing of the driver’s death. He told me to file a claim with them, fix the car, and then my insurance company would sue the cab’s insurance company for damages in the amount of their claim plus my deductible. This made sense to me and this is the path my wife and I took.

I waited a couple months and hadn’t heard anything from my insurance company. I called, talked to my agent, and then a claims adjustor. When I asked about my accident, he laughed and said that they would not pursue such a small claim. It was less than $300 paid by the insurance company. I told him what I had been told about recovering my deductible I had paid. He laughed again said that my $300 deductible paid was not a concern of theirs. I won’t mention the name of my insurance company, but I canceled my policies with them and vowed never to do business with them again. And told them I surely didn’t feel like I had been in good hands. My only recourse was to create my own bumper sticker. It hung in my cubicle at work for a very short time, there is more to that story, but I can't go there.

To this day I have not done business with that insurance company, I haven’t put a bumper sticker on any of my vehicles, I'm still an opponent of driving dead, and the membership of P.A.D.D. remains at one.
A Musing of Age

I recently celebrated the 21st anniversary of my 29th birthday. I’d heard that turning 50 is a big step in life. I do find myself reflecting on the past more often. I look at my kids and their friends and the way most of them are so grown up and mature. I remember like yesterday when they were small and needed me. Seeing them all grown up makes me feel less useful, it makes me wonder if I raised them right, if they had enough good, memorable experiences, and it makes me ask myself; “What the hell happened? Wasn’t I just 25 a couple of years ago?” My oldest son goes off to college next week. He’s 18 years old and 6 feet 5 inches tall. He’s a smart kid, he received a great scholarship, he got a 33 on his ACT test (99th percentile in the nation), and he can beat me on the basketball court. I used to be pretty good, I had skills, I was quick and agile. I used to have a decent vertical. When he was in 5th grade I dominated him, but no more.

My brother-in-law, Bill, is now pushing 50. I talked to him about being fifty years old and my concerns of growing old. I was hoping for some support. He explained to me that for many years he was always referred to as ‘Big Bill’. His oldest son, also named Bill, was either Billy or Little Bill. The years raced by and now both of Bill’s sons are taller and heavier than him. His daughter is grown and married. He no longer merits the name of ‘Big Bill’, his son is now ‘Big Bill’ or ‘Young Bill”, he is now appropriately referred to as ‘Little, Old Bill’. This was not the help and support I was looking for.

Brayden and I went salmon fishing a few weeks ago. We were walking through the woods up above the South Fork of the Salmon River. Brayden looked up and very calmly said, “There’s a bear”. I looked up and saw a large black bear strolling along about 50 yards from us. I was somewhat concerned as most black bears I’ve seen in my life typically turn and run from humans. This one appeared to be checking us out to see how fishing was going. This was also the second biggest black bear I’d ever seen, and he was much closer than most other bears I’d bumped into. I began forming my strategy if he charged, or wanted to search us for salmon. Would we stand our ground, jump up and down and scream, or would we make a run for it? I looked at the steep slope down to the river and thought that might be a good option. The bear stopped to take a closer look at us as I took his picture. I then looked to my son to see if he was getting concerned. He looked at me with a smile and a little twinkle in his eye. I recognized that look, as I had also used it somewhere in the past. It said, “It doesn’t matter which way you go Pops, I can outrun you.” The bear didn’t charge, but I had already settled on the ‘stand my ground, jump up and down and yell tactic’.






However smart and mature your kids may be, there is always room for one of life’s little lessons. Brayden’s mother had asked him to blow off the driveway with the electric blower recently. We have a large driveway with trees all around. We use a 100 foot extension cord to reach everywhere needed. Blowing off the driveway is a normal chore that even Brayden can’t get out of all the time. Brayden’s not big on doing jobs around the house. He tells me that the vacuuming really sucks, and that clearing the driveway blows. And we won’t even talk about cleaning his room. I was out working in the yard when he began blowing off the driveway. He had tied the blower cord and the extension cord in a knot to keep them connected as he tugged the cord around the driveway. As he stretched to the end of the driveway, the cord tangled with the poles on the carport and stuck. Rather than walking over to unhook it or trying to flip it free, he gave the cord a mighty yank and pulled the plug portion of the extension cord right off. The extension cord lay there on the driveway with the copper wires showing. The blower cord was still attached to the plug end of the extension cord. Lindsey, Brayden’s sister, and her friend were driving back from Salt Lake City and pulled up to the driveway at the precise moment Brayden bent over and picked up the end of the orange extension cord. He held it up and stared at the broken end of the cord, the wires hanging bare. “Einstein” then reached out and grabbed the copper wires. He shot up into the air twice as he threw the cord and yelled “ACK, ACK, ACK”. He then danced and spun around the driveway. He looked up and saw Lindsey sitting in the car watching. He yelled out at her, “THAT HURT LIKE SHIT!’ Lindsey, her friend, and I were thoroughly entertained by the whole performance. Later, Lindsey even attempted some re-enactments, although Brayden failed to see the humor. After we were all laughed out, I decided that Brayden needed to improve on his swearing abilities, as the ‘That hurt like shit’ comment is a bit troubling. Something just isn’t quite right. I could see that much improvement was needed and that I would have to call in an expert. I hope his mother can spare some time to work with him.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Huntin’ Spots, Champagne Peaches, and Dead Cow Camp

A few years ago, Bill and I were putting together a bow hunting trip to one of our favorite hunting spots. We decided to get together for lunch and do some trip planning. The previous fall, Bill showed me this great spot that was only an hour and a half from town. It immediately became one of my favorite spots to hunt. It was at the top of a large mountain. Most of our hunting spots are at the tops of mountains, mostly because that’s where the elk are. Most of our trips also require hiking several miles from the bottom to the tops of these mountains. The reason this new place instantly became my favorite spot is due to the fact that we could DRIVE to the top of the mountain! The road to the top of the mountain was long and slow as it switched back and forth up a steep slope. Once on top there was a 2 track almost wide enough for a vehicle. This 2 track snaked in and out of the canyon tops through thick trees and brush for another 3 or 4 miles. When I had driven it the previous year, I tore the vent off the top of the camper shell on a tree limb, cracked a head light on a rock, and scratched both sides of my truck, from front to back, on the brush. Luckily, I never had to worry about scratches, door dings, or even minor accidents again, as Bill now pronounced my truck, broken in. I also figured out why Bill always said that the best hunting rig around always belongs to somebody else.

I pulled into Bill’s office parking lot to pick him up for lunch. We were headed to an all you can eat buffet with pizza, a salad and fruit bar, fried chicken, and fried potato wedges. As I walked into his office, he was standing with a group of people and one older man was telling about his elk hunt the prior fall. Bill nodded at me and then to the speaker. I sat down to listen without a saying a word. A decent elk hunter knows not to interrupt a good hunting story. I followed the story fine as the guy talked about sitting in his hunting spot and watching the hillside across a narrow canyon. Then he made a statement that completely befuddled me, he said that “I saw an elk jog out into the open, so I got out and moved down to take a closer look”. Got out? Got out of what? How does one get out of a hunting spot? Typically your hunting spot moves around with you. If you’re sitting on a rock or under a tree, and after a while you get up and move to another rock or tree, that’s your new hunting spot. But you don’t get out of sitting on a rock or leaning on a tree. Did he get out of his clothes and do a little bare hunting? I got stuck on that statement and missed the rest of the story. I have no idea whether the guy shot an elk or fell off a cliff. My mind was stuck on the “got out of my spot“, comment.

Have you ever had those canned peaches in syrup at a salad bar? I placed a few of those between my pizza stack and fried chicken pile the first time through the buffet line. I ate 2 or 3 of them when I realized they were a little bit tangy and had a bite to them. They stung my tongue as I realized they had fermented and had probably been sitting out at the salad bar for several days. I was planning on complaining to the waitress, but by the time I saw her, I didn’t have any peaches left.

As Bill sat down with his four plates of pizza and fried chicken, I confessed to him. I said, “Bill, I thought I knew a little about elk hunting, but I don’t understand what that guy meant when he said that he ‘got out’ of his spot.” Bill broke it to me slowly and said that I missed the first part of the story. The guy was actually sitting in the CAB OF HIS TRUCK! I almost fell out of my chair. I had never heard of such a thing. My mind raced as I tried to figure out how such a thing was possible. In all my years of hunting, I had never seen an elk within 2 or 3 miles of a road during an open season. Sure, I’d seen them standing in the road the day before the season opened, or driving home the day after the season closed, but never during an open season. As I tried to wrap my mind around this new concept, Bill headed back to the buffet. The answer finally came to me. Bill was putting me on. He’s trying to make a fool out of me by telling me the guy’s hunting spot is in his truck. Well, I wasn’t going to stand for it. When Bill came back from the buffet line, I noticed he had some peaches on one of the plates on his trays. I continued eating my pizza thoughtfully.

After a bit, Bill looks up and says, “Hey, these peaches taste kinda funny.

“Really”, I replied, “Are they kinda tangy, and sting your tongue?”

“Yeah, what is that?” he says.

“Well, they soak ‘em in champagne. It makes them last longer and it gives them a little kick.” I tell him.

Bill looks at me and asks, “Really?” “Yeah” I say nodding at him with an earnest look.

“I don’t think I’ve had these before” he says.

“Oh, there’s a few places around that have them” I respond as if I were the expert on champagne peaches.

There, now we’re both a bit befuddled as he finishes his plate of peaches and moves on to the next course.

We turn to the bow hunt and decide to drive up late Friday evening, get there well after dark, and sleep in the back of my truck. We’ll get up and going just before daylight and walk the 2 miles to our hunting spot. Bow hunting requires getting pretty close to an animal to get a good shot off, so Bill reminds me to not wash my camo clothes with soap, don’t wear any deodorant, and to bring elk urine or skunk scent to cover our smell. Yes, you can buy elk urine in a bottle. How they get elk to pee in a bottle is something else I haven’t got my mind wrapped around, and don’t get me started thinking about the skunk scent.

The day of the hunt finally rolled around. I got off work, got my stuff ready to go, and headed over to Bill’s house. I noticed his shiny truck in the driveway and asked if he wanted to drive. He said his truck had a slow leak in a tire and we probably shouldn’t trust it that far from home. We took off in my truck and drove the hour and a half to our mountain top. I added a few more scratches and dents to the sides of my truck on the last few miles in. It was dark when we arrived but we had a nice flat camping spot in mind. We’d been there the prior fall and I pulled up and backed right in and shut off the lights. We jumped in the back of the truck, rolled our pads and sleeping bags out and were ready to get some sleep. We’d been lying in bed just a few minutes when I began to smell something pretty strong. I figured Bill didn’t want to smell artificial for the elk hunt and hadn’t worn any deodorant or washed his clothes for several days. But this was over doing it. I politely mentioned how bad he smelled and that he would have to wear a fair amount of elk pee tomorrow to cover his stench. Bill got all offended and started telling me that I smelled worse than he ever did. Rather than start an argument with him, I stuck to facts and reminded him that I had taken a shower during the week and that he smelled like something crawled up inside of him and died. For some reason he took offense to my factual explanation and started rambling on about some of my hygiene practices and various body parts and smells emitted. I finally fell asleep in spite of his hideous stench and inability to smell himself. I decided that my hunting spot was going to be a long way away from his in the morning.

We awakened before day break, got our sleeping bags out of the way, and began getting ready to go. I was never so happy to get out of the truck and away from Stinky Pete. We got our flashlights and began organizing things on the tailgate, however, I could still smell him, and it seemed to be getting worse. We looked at each other and almost simultaneously turned around and shined our flashlights on an unusual hump on the ground behind us. There, about 10 feet from the back of the truck, was a large range cow that had died a few days previous. Its guts had been drug around by coyotes and there was blood and gore everywhere. We could see the maggots festering around. As we moved closer, the stench was almost unbearable. I gathered my bow and gear, squirted some elk pee up each nostril, and headed down the trail as quickly as possible. I can’t remember how that particular hunt went , but from that day on, the place we parked and blamed each other for the hideous smell was henceforth referred to as “Dead Cow Camp”. Bill and I often hunt in different directions and always plan to meet at some peak, trail, or obvious landmark. We rarely see each other again, and usually end up lost and alone. However, if we ever agree to meet at Dead Cow Camp, we know exactly where it is and can always find our way there.

Not many years after this hunt there was a fire in the mountains near our spot. The fire fighters brought in bulldozers, widened all the roads, created some new ones, and cleared off an acre or so of flat land as a helicopter pad. The fire never reached the mountain. The roads were graveled and culverts added. These roads are now maintained by the county. Access is much easier and the traffic has greatly increased. Bill went up there a year ago and said that the helicopter pad now looks like a parking lot, and that he was looking into putting in a McDonald’s or Starbuck’s franchise as it appears that business would be pretty good. However, the hunting has dropped off. Dead Cow Camp remains the same with a few bones left bleaching in the sun.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Grin and Bear It


Recently, I related an experience from living in Alaska to a group of young men and some adults. Later in the week, one of the adults attempted to retell this experience to his wife. He ended up slaughtering a perfectly good story. After this humbling experience, he asked if I would write out the events for him. I figure he may have the ‘Schnupp’ gene. The Schnupp gene prevents one from accurately retelling a good story or joke, in fact, a person suffering from this anomaly will usually blurt out the punch line of a joke well before the joke itself. This gene typically runs in my wife’s family (her maiden name is Schnupp) and can be quite annoying, and it now appears to be branching out. However, I have found one thing I like about this personality defect. After years of interacting with my wife’s brother, I found that this gene can actually result in the turning of a simple retelling of a mildly amusing joke, into a new, more hilarious event that easily outlives the original. But that’s another chapter altogether, and although I could spend a lot of time writing about this brother in law, I hear the bears calling.


In the summer of 1984, I was 24 years old, just out of college, recently married, and jobless. I received a good job offer in Anchorage, AK. My wife and I packed up everything we owned into a pick-up truck and drove the 3,000 plus miles to Anchorage. In the three winters and one summer we spent in Alaska, I was able to do some hunting, fishing and hiking in some fantastic places. Our first daughter, Katie, was born in Alaska. Early on I met a crusty old local guy that recognized how young and na├»ve I was. He was nice enough to show me some hiking and fishing spots. He referred to me as a “Cheechako”, which is the Alaskan term for a Greenhorn, or somebody new to Alaska. He also taught me about the bears in Alaska and how important it is to be able to identify Black Bears and Brown Bears, and to know the differences between the two. Here are some things I learned.
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The first rule about hiking in Alaska’s bear country is to always carry pepper spray and always wear bear bells. Bear bells are sets of tiny bells that tie onto your boot laces. They rattle and ring as you walk and the noise alerts any nearby animals that you are there. This prevents you from accidentally walking up to a bear and surprising it. Surprising a bear, especially a sow with cubs, is not a positive experience. I had seen some black bears in Idaho and they had always run away from me. My friend told me that brown bears also run when they see humans, but not necessarily away from them. He taught me some other differences between black and brown bears. Black bears are smaller and have a narrow head. They don’t have a hump on their shoulders. Not all black bears are black, some can be brown, or even cinnamon colored. Their paw prints point straight ahead and their claws marks line up. Their manure usually has berry seeds, hair, and small bones in it, and smells like manure should. The Alaskan brown bears are much larger than the blacks. They have a hump on their shoulders, and they have a large triangular shaped head. Their color ranges from dark brown to almost blonde. Their front legs are very powerful, their paw prints are much larger and their feet are turned in so these prints are crooked and the claws marks appear in an arch. Their manure is also larger, it usually has little bells in it and it smells like pepper…
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There you go Mark.




Monday, February 15, 2010

Tails of Whoa!

When I was about 9 years old, my family and I moved to a new house on an acre. My dad wanted a place to have horses to use for hunting. He had a horse named Boots and she moved, from where she was boarded, to our new house also. Sometime later, my Uncle Jim also acquired a horse. He bought it from an Indian who lived on the reservation. Uncle Jim brought his horse to our house and pasture. My Uncle had 3 boys, all older than me. They talked about a name for the horse for weeks. They never did decide on a name. I guess all the good names were taken. For example, another hunting friend of the family was Jay Drake. He had a horse named ‘Sa Nova’. His last name was Beach. I thought it was a great name and can even remember looking at a map with my brother to see where “Sa Nova Beach” was. I assumed it was in California, but I never found it on the map. It took me a few years to figure out that it wasn’t a real beach. Well, Uncle Jim and the boys were slow in naming the new horse. I thought about calling him the Horse with No Name, but it turned out that that name was also taken. So we started calling him Brownie, since he was brown. The name stuck and he was always known thereafter, as Brownie.
Brownie was the smartest, coolest horse I’ve ever seen, and he had a mischievous side to him. He was all brown, with a white face, and he was always the Alpha male among other horses. I watched him fight for that title more than once, and he always won. He had a black mane and tail, which we liked to keep long, since it was the mid 70s, and long was in. He also had a split tongue. I was told that the Indians would do this to horses as part of their breaking and training. The split didn’t run down the middle of his tongue, it was off to one side. It looked like a mitten with a 3 inch thumb. How cool is that?

We lived in that house for 6 years and Brownie was a permanent fixture. I loved taking care of the horses and just hanging out with them in the pasture. We were kind of like best friends. One day when I couldn’t get Brownie to do what I wanted, my Dad said, “You have to be smarter than the horse”. I don’t think he meant it as a challenge, but to this day, I don’t think I’ve gotten over that hurdle.

Brownie probably should have been named Houdini, as he was a master escape artist. He was always getting out of the pasture and into trouble. We often awoke to find him in the backyard, front yard, or at the neighbors. I also chased him through the neighborhood streets several times, and up and down State Street, through 4 lanes of traffic, more than once. I eventually learned that when I found Brownie out of the pasture, I could immediately put him back behind the fence, go inside the house and watch him through the window. I saw some amazing things.
The main gate from the pasture to the backyard was a big drive through gate. It had a hook and eye latch system. In fact, it had two, one on the inside and one on the outside. Lifting the hook on the inside was child’s play for Brownie, so we always tried to hook both latches. I watched from the kitchen window one day as Brownie lifted the inside hook with his nose and the outside hook with his tongue. We had to tie that gate shut after that. My Dad once parked his truck in that gate opening while loading it with manure. He left it there and went into dinner. There was just a little space on each side of the truck to each post. When we came back out after dinner, ol’ Brownie was stuck between the gate post and the driver’s door. He couldn’t move in either direction. We pulled and pushed on him but he wouldn’t budge. My dad finally picked up a good sixed 2X4 and started coming up behind the horse. When brownie saw him coming with that board in the air, he gave a huge lunge and forced his way into the yard. He left the whole side of the trucks door caved in.

As part of the horse pasture, there were a couple corrals that we could use to separate horses. The corral opening had a sliding pole system to close if off. There were 3 poles about 12 feet long that lay parallel with the fence. These poles could be slid across the opening to close it off from the rest of the pasture. One summer, my mother decided the corral would make a good garden area. We knew Brownie could easily slide the poles out of the way at will, as we had watched him do it more than once. We tied these poles in place at both ends as tight as we could, and for extra protection my Dad strung 2 strands of barbed wire across the coral about 10 feet inside the poles. The garden went well for a year, or maybe two. One late summer day just as the garden was ripe and doing well, my mother headed out to the garden and found all 3 horses there. They had eaten almost everything, including the raspberries, down to the roots. The only thing that remained untouched was the zucchini, which to me, was another confirmation of just how smart Brownie was. My mother was very upset and cried and swore and chased the horses around with a big stick. My Dad offered to shoot Brownie on the spot if mom wanted him to. It was a big disaster. I even cried, because the only thing left was the zucchini. When things settled down everyone went inside. I fixed the fences and went inside to the kitchen window. After a bit, Brownie came back to the poles across the gate. I watched him work each of the top 2 poles out of the way by putting his neck under them and sliding them inch by inch through the ropes and out of the way. He stepped over the lower pole and walked up to the barbed wire strands. He put his head under the top one and lifted. He put a foot on the bottom one and held it down. The other two horses rushed through as he held the wires and then he made his way into the garden to see if there was anything left.

“Never let your horse do something he knows he shouldn’t do, as it will be almost impossible to cure.” This wise piece of advice was given to me by a friend who had spent many years training horses and in the rodeo business. Unfortunately it was about 20 years too late.

When I was about 12 or 13, my brother and I discovered a new game to play with Brownie. We would jump on his back with no saddle, bridle, rope or anything. We would just sit there. Brownie didn’t particularly like that. He would walk around the pasture and try to get rid of us. He would never buck or run. He would slowly plod around the pasture and try to rub us off on posts and trees. He would also raise his back up while going under branches to try to knock us off. We had a stall with about an 8 foot doorway. He would walk under that and raise up to scrape us off. Sometimes we got knocked off but we learned to lean way to the side and hold on with one hand and the heel of a foot as he went under. It became a pretty fun and creative game for me and my brother. To Brownie, it was one big annoyance. He kept working harder and harder to get rid of us. Finally, he would swing his head around and bite us. It took me awhile to get back on him after that first bite, but I learned to dodge that also. We had a lot of fun at Brownie’s expense that summer.

When hunting season rolled around in the fall, my dad and Uncle Jim planned a hunting trip with the horses. My brother and I got to go, as well as Jim’s son, Darrel. Jay Drake and his son came along with Sa Nova. I think we had 4 horses altogether. We drove up the Boise River to Plantation Creek and camped for the night. Early the next morning we started up the trail on horseback. Jay and Bick Drake took the lead on Sa Nova. Jim and Darrel were next on Brownie. My brother and I were on one of our horses behind them and my Dad brought up the rear. As we moved up the mountain we came to a tree that had fallen part way across the trail. Jay and Bick leaned forward and ducked down and went under the leaning tree. Jim and Darrel followed ducking low to get under the branches. Ol’ Brownie took the opportunity to rise up as high as he could. The tree caught Uncle Jim right in the chest and it scrapped Darrel off the back of the horse and onto the rocky trail. Jim came off next and landed right on top of Darrel, knocking the wind out of him. Brownie continued on up the trail as if nothing had happened. Uncle Jim got up yelling at the horse and checking on Darrel. The last thing I remember him yelling is, “Where did that lousy horse learn to do something like that?” My brother and I tried to maintain a look of utter astonishment and innocence as we rode up from behind.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Moby Doe


The Saga of the Great White Mule Deer
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Call me Ishmael, or Steve, or whatever, or don’t call me at all. Anyway, back on January 15, 2010, my wife and I were at a New Year’s Eve party with some friends. Yes, I realize it wasn’t really New Year’s Eve, but everyone was busy, or out of town on the real New Year’s Eve, so we decided to do it 2 weeks late. I’ve pretty much been 2 weeks behind lately anyway, but I did keep this year’s New Year’s Resolutions longer than usual. At this party, a friend of ours, Mark, mentioned that he had seen a white mule deer in the foothills behind his subdivision in the past month. I had heard rumors of a set of white twins born in that area a couple years ago. Every once in awhile someone would see one wintering in the area, but the other had disappeared. Mark went on to describe the deer as being bright white, like a Mountain Goat, not the grayish white in my mind. Leon, another friend behind by 2 weeks, said he didn’t believe there was such a thing. It got me to thinking.


I awoke the next day to cold, overcast skies and a slight wind from the west. It happened to be Saturday, and one of my New Year’s resolutions was to get more exercise and to see if there was any truth to this urban legend of white mule deer. Walking from my house with my camera and my dog Queequeg, we headed for the foothills north of town. Queequeg (actually her name’s Ruby, but Queequeg works better for this day’s quest), and I climbed the hills through the subdivisions and came to the end of the pavement. There was nothing but oceans of sage and bitterbrush ahead of us. We sailed across the ridgeline at a steady pace and I watched the ridges and canyons for deer. There were patches of old snow on the north sides of the hills and bushes. I kept my eyes on them also. We had journeyed all of 15 minutes when I saw another patch of snow in the bitterbrush out on the steep end of a finger ridge. I kept watching it as we walked on the trail above. After a minute or two, it looked like this patch of snow had moved. I stopped and pulled out my binoculars for a better look. Through my binoculars I could see a pure white doe with 3 other normal colored mule deer. I couldn’t believe it. I almost yelled out, “Thar She Blows”, but I had seen some other hikers on the trail. From where these deer were at, it looked like I could cross the top of the ridge they were on to get downwind. I could then go down the backside of the ridge and come over the top just above them. I put Queequeg on her leash and pulled the camera out of my pack and made sure it worked. The hike down was quick and well hidden, but was a bit noisy working through the brush with a dog. I got to the point where I thought the deer were directly over the ridge from me. In stealth mode, I worked my way to the top and part way down the other side. No deer. I must have spooked them. I took a few more steps and the 4 deer were right in front of me and they began to run slowly. I grabbed my harpoon, pointed it at the deer and started clicking, as Queequeg jerked at my arm. The deer stopped and looked back before ambling on. I let them go, rather than scare them and make them run hard. We climbed back to the top of the ridge and followed some other trails back home.















This is a good example of 'stotting'. Mule deer hop on all fours at times.









A few days later, I sent some of these pictures to friends and relatives. I got a mixed response. Some people were amazed, while others called ‘Photoshopped’. Meaning they weren’t convinced the pictures were real. I also got some kangaroo and rabbit comments about the first picture.

My brother-in-law, Captain Ahab, is an avid hunter, fisherman, hiker, and an adventurous kind of guy. He was intrigued, and wanted to see this spectacle for himself. So I told Captain Ahab, where he could go. Actually, his name is Bill, but I must keep to the story line. Bill spent the next windy afternoon hiking in the indicated area. He saw 75 to 100 deer, none of which were white. After talking to him about his hike, we planned a joint venture the following morning to continue the search.

Bill picked me up in the morning and we sailed up the subdivision hills in his vessel he called Starbuck. It’s really a BMW, but the name fits the storyline. Starbuck was one of the whaling ships under Captain Ahab’s command. And, this same Starbuck ship is the inspiration for the name of the Starbuck's Coffee chain. But I digress. Bill and I parked at the end of the pavement and began walking into the waves of brush covered hills. We hiked about 10 minutes and to our astonishment, the first thing we saw was ‘Elvis’. I talked to Elvis’s owner for a few minutes as Elvis ran back and forth in the weeds. Elvis is a very unique looking black collie, and I have seen him in the hills on occasion. His owner left us with an “Elvis has left the building” salutation. Shortly after Elvis left the building, I looked out on the north end of the finger ridges and spotted our white deer. It was no more than 150 yards away. We watched for a moment and saw that there were 15 to 20 other deer milling around. The only way to get closer was to stalk her from the east. We worked down the outside of the ridge, out of sight of the white doe, but we bumped into some other muleys. We avoided these by rounding the end of the ridge rather than crossing over the top. As we came around the steep end, the white deer was coming towards us. We stopped and took photos and watched 15 deer mosey away to the southwest.















After the deer crossed to the other side of the canyon, we felt we should move away as not to startle them any further. We walked away to the north east for 30 minutes, checking out some new trails. We then crossed the summit into the next drainage. We were about a mile from where we had last seen the albino deer. Bill was talking about how he had been hunting and hiking for more than 35 years and had never seen a white deer before. I mentioned that the Idaho Dept. of Fish & Game knew that there were a few around, but the birthrate was around one in 800,000. As we rounded a hill and headed into the next canyon, Bill said, “That’s the first albino mule deer I’ve seen in my life, and I’ll probably never see another one”. He stopped and stared straight ahead, and then added, “except that one, right there”. As we had entered the small canyon, there was another white deer directly in front of us lying in the shadows of the hill. It was with another normal doe and they did not seem too concerned to see us.

There are still two white deer in the Boise foothills.



















The second white doe

Monday, February 1, 2010


Putting in at the Take Out
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August 31, 2009

I read in the paper a couple weeks ago that some people had tried to float Idaho’s North Fork of the Payette River from Zimmer Creek down to Banks—a hideous stretch of water that is not rafted. Rarely has a kayak ever gone through this 3 plus mile stretch. Boaters often float the North Fork above this section and take out at the Zimmer Creek camping area. The people that attempted this lower section were from out of state, and had little experience with the Payette. Rumor suggests that 2 different, experienced rafters had warned the tourists to get off the river and not float the treacherous lower section. They floated; they flipped; one person drowned. As I read this story, the thought sprang to mind that they had “put in at the take out.”
Mt. Borah is a 12,662 foot peak in the Lost River Mountain range. It is the highest point in Idaho. My wife, Sue, has desired to climb Mt. Borah for a while. She says it’s been on her “bucket list.” It wasn’t on mine. Around July 4th, she talked over the proposal with her brother Mark. Mark--an experienced climber and canyoneer—has scooted up better than twenty of Colorado’s fourteeners (peaks over 14,000 feet). He was all in. Sue’s nephew, Billy, (as in Mountain Goat), is a 26-year old who, at 6’ 6” and 225 pounds, was also up for the trip. Both had summited Borah in prior years. Brodi, a friend of Sue’s, was also interested. The trip was set: Mark would fly in on Aug. 7th, Bill would pick him up at the airport, and we would all meet at the base of Mt. Borah that evening ready to climb early Saturday.
I began researching Borah and how to climb it. I talked to several people who had climbed it and whose kids had climbed it. The road to the trail head was suitable for cars, trucks, and even camp trailers. Start early, avoid the lightning, enjoy the views, and Chicken Out Ridge is the only difficult part.
I read some reviews on the internet, and looked at some hiking guides. Mount Borah was called a “very strenuous” hike, as the trail gains over 5,400 feet in about 3.5 miles. I read about some scrambles and again about the infamous Chicken Out Ridge. Chicken Out includes a bit of vertical climbing and a crossing of the “Knife Edge” or there’s an optional route lower down that traverses a steep snow field. I learned that many people climb Borah every summer and it’s often accessible to both young and old. The best time to climb is mid-July through mid-August. The internet contained several differing accounts, from hikers who made it sound easy, to people who took one look at Chicken Out Ridge from the trail below and promptly turned around and went back down the mountain. The prevailing wisdom seemed to be to know your limitations, go at your own pace, and avoid unnecessary risks.
Sue and I are in decent shape for our respective ages. I’m 49 years old and she is not (self-preservation demands ambiguity at this point). We run in the foothills, and I kicked my weight lifting up a little in preparation. The biggest problem I’ve found in lifting weights is that they’re heavy. We both bought new boots and broke them in prior to the big day. Our biggest obstacle seemed to be that we’re afraid of heights. Luckily, we were going during the day, because I’m afraid of the dark too.
My preparation had motive: my reading of accounts on the internet, talking to people who had experienced Borah, and adjustment of my physical training were measures to keep me from “putting in at the take out.”
In the days prior to the trip, Idaho experienced record rainfall for August, and unseasonably cold temperatures. The weather station forecast showed the system moving out on Saturday with partly cloudy skies and cool temperatures. Friday, August 7th, began with heavy rains falling in the Boise valley. However, the storm appeared to be breaking up as we packed the car for the drive. We drove to Arco and then up the valley to Mackay and the Borah trailhead camp ground. We arrived around 3:30 pm to partly cloudy skies with some sunshine and a few short rain showers. There were 6 rigs in the campground. By 10:00 pm everyone in our party had safely arrived at our camp, along with 70 or 80 other people. There were over 30 vehicles there and space was getting tight. We threw out tents and the night was calm and dry.
We woke up around 4:30 am to people stirring around in their campsites. The moon was shining, the stars were out, and the thermometer registered 33 degrees. As we got ready to go, I could see flashlights going up the lower trail just outside the campground. I looked at my watch with my first steps on the trail. It was 5:35 am. There were people ahead, and many more to come behind. We quickly spread out on the long initial ascent. Mark and Bill headed up the trail quickly to burn up some early energy. Brodi fell behind with complaints of nausea and lack of conditioning. We left her behind after the first half mile or so, thinking she was too sick to hike. During our climb, we could see across the valley to the west. The skies were clear and the sun was beginning to shine through to the valley floor. A few clouds were hanging around and the wind was relatively calm. After about 2 ½ hours of steep climbing, Sue and I found Mark waiting for us a couple hundred yards below the first scramble. It had clouded up some, but there was no wind or rain. We figured we had gained about 4,000 vertical feet.
We hiked up to the first obstacle. It required us to climb with our hands and feet, or scramble, up a steep rocky climb about 50 or 60 feet. We then had to traverse a rocky ledge to get back on a narrow trail leading up to a small knoll. Sue struggled with this initial scramble. Mark showed her handholds and footholds and got her through the first problem area. It was slow going and Sue appeared a bit scared. Her confidence seemed to grow, however, as we dropped to the right of the knoll to get to a small saddle. We then started out on a side hill path to the left of the next rising ridge. The weather began to fog up a bit as we worked our way through rocks and scree. We reached a junction in the so-called trail as we saw the end of this second ridge up above us. The trail either climbed steeply up a rock gully to the top of the ridge, or went along the side hill down to a snow field crossing at a very steep angle. Mark set out forward instead of climbing up. He climbed off the rock and onto the steep snow traverse. Mark walked out onto the snow field on the narrow trail to check the footing, and decided the trail was probably our best option, as climbing up the rocky coulee would be very time consuming and then we would have to make a vertical climb down the ridge. We climbed down onto the ice trail and used holes in the snow on the uphill side of the trail as finger holes to help stabilize our traverse. The holes were made by an ice axe and were frozen solid. It was at this point that we met up with Bill again. He had been to the summit and had come back to join us. We could see him on the trail above us as we crossed the ice. We made it across the snow field successfully and made another steep climb up to the trail where Bill was waiting. We looked back behind us and realized that we had gotten past Chicken Out Ridge. The snow traverse went under the climbing portion of Chicken Out. We could see the flat snow crossing at the base of the vertical climb down from the top of the ridge. I watched a climber on his way down from the summit cross the flat ice field and climb up to the top of Chicken Out. He made it look easy but the ice crossing on the side hill worked for us and was definitely faster for our group.


The trail where Bill waited was the best we had seen in a while. It was fairly flat for what seemed like a quarter mile or so. We made good progress and eventually crossed another wide flat saddle with no snow on it. I saw some goat manure on the trail and realized I hadn’t seen any animals on the whole hike. I hadn’t even seen a bird. I checked with Bill and Mark and neither one claimed responsibility for the manure, so I assumed there must have been other goats on the hill.
Bill told us that we were coming to the final ascent to the top. The trail quickly grew rocky and steep and there were many different ways to ascend. We scrambled through the rocks and ledges on the western face of the peak. A light but steady hail began falling through the clouds that had settled in on us. We could only see about 40 yards in any direction as the altitude began to slow us down.
As we plodded along, we passed a man and his son who were slower than us. In fact the man had stopped completely as we worked on past them on a very steep and slick section. Anywhere the trail had dirt on it, it had become wet and slick from the hail. When I caught up to the man and was going by him, he asked “How old are you?” I told him I was 49. He immediately replied, “I’m 51” and that was the extent of our conversation. The top of this slick climb led to the final the ridge and the final short and much easier ascent to the summit. The 4 of us reached the summit around 11:15 am. It had taken us 5 hours and 45 minutes to get there. We signed the logbook, took some pictures, ate a little and enjoyed the view of what was now about 30 yards through clouds. There was no hail or snow accumulating on the ground, but it was wet.
As we started back down the trail, the snow began falling in earnest. A hundred feet or so below the summit we ran into a logjam of people. There were about 30 people strung out on the trail and hanging onto the rock wall struggling to go up on the slick trail. Some of the people seemed ill-prepared in shorts and tennis shoes. A few looked wet also, but they were all moving up towards the top. We bumped into our camp neighbors, Ryan and Brandon. They were doing well and were getting close. Then the biggest shock of all: we came face-to-face with Brodi! I could not believe she was this close to the top. I didn’t think she would make it above the tree line as sick and slow as she had been. She said she had stopped after we left her and she threw up several times. After that she felt better and began climbing again. She met up with a couple guys and stayed with them all the way up. Mark decided to go back to the summit with Brodi and then go down with her. Sue, Bill, and I headed on down towards Chicken Out in about an inch of snow. Going down through this rocky section was a bit tricky in the snow, but we made pretty good progress. Snow kept falling and the accumulation on the ground was a growing concern.
The side hill approaching the snow traverse was getting slicker, and we had to slow down. A man and his 12 year old son had caught up to us on their descent and were following along behind us. They didn’t want to pass us, as they weren’t sure where the trail was. Sue was pretty wet and cold at this point, and couldn’t stop because she would just get cold. We moved on steadily. Bill and I had rain shells and stayed mostly dry. As we approached Chicken Out for the second time, we decided that the snow traverse would again be the fastest route for us. The vertical climb up Chicken Out and the long scramble back down to the trail would be very slick and time consuming, and the snow kept falling. We made our way down from the trail to the snow crossing, which had gained a couple inches of fresh snow. The snow obscured the ice axe holes we held onto on the way over early that morning.


There are 2 groups of people crossing the ice field in center of this picture.


We carefully got on the snow covered ice and worked our way across and down. A slip here would not end well. We successfully made it across the trail and to the rocks. Bill climbed up the rock to the trail, but Sue wasn’t able to climb up this section. The rocks were too steep and there were no handholds or footholds within her reach. Meanwhile, I stood out on the ice trail and couldn’t get to a rock to hold onto. Bill was up on the trail, and I threw him Sue’s pack. He set a body anchor, his heels firmly in the rocks, then reached down, grabbed Sue’s hand and dragged her up onto the trail. Sue was covered with snow and I noticed the huge icicles in her hair as I watched her bounce off of rock wall. She had her ears covered with a head band, but her hair was freezing up fast. After Bill got Sue up to the trail, I was able to move forward and to my relief, grab onto the rocks. Back up on the trail, we figured we had made it through the most dangerous part but we had a couple inches of snow added to the rocks and scrambles that we had struggled with in the morning’s ascent. Sue held onto rocks and footholds as we worked our way across some difficult edges on this side hill section. This area had the poorest trail of any part of the hike. Just when I thought we were doing well, Sue slipped above a slick sandy chute and went down. She self-arrested just below the trail. I sat down on the trail and grabbed her. Bill grabbed her from the other side and the man behind me grabbed the straps of my backpack. I looked down the chute and figured there were enough rocks and boulders to stop someone before sliding out of sight 50 yards further down. I was also happy that the clouds prevented any view of what lay beyond the chute. We worked Sue back up to the trail and over to the saddle that marked the beginning of Chicken Out Ridge, or the end of the ridge when going down. All that remained was the climb around the lower knoll, crossing a narrow ledge that led to the last scramble down to the main trail. This last section was uneventful compared to what was behind us. The ledge crossing was my biggest concern, as Sue had struggled there on the way up. Sue crossed it quickly and more easily than on the way up. Bill showed her the handholds and the big step to a good foothold. We made our way over a hump and onto the last scramble. We crab walked down the 50 foot section and got onto the trail. Sue was frozen, tired, and her pants were completely soaked through. However, it looked like the ice dread locks were beginning to melt off.

As we made our way down the slick rocky trail, the sun came out briefly and the snow eased up. We looked back up at the mountain occasionally, and at one point we could see people crossing the snow traverse just below the band of clouds. The chute below the snow crossing was very steep for about a hundred yards, and then it dropped off almost vertically. It would be a very dangerous place for a slip. We watched 15 to 20 people cross over on their way down the mountain. Mark caught up to us on these talus slopes and told us Brodi was out of the rock climbs and was on the main trail not too far behind us, but her knee was bothering her some.
We had at least an hour of remaining steepness, so Sue headed out ahead of us. After a picture or two, Mark ran my trekking poles up to Brodi. I caught up to Sue, who was beginning to dry out and warm up. It wasn’t snowing at this elevation and we could see down to the campground and out into the valley. Soon, Bill and Mark came running by. They were running down the trail to get this downhill over with. It turned into a bit of a race and Mark lost control and ricocheted off a tree and went down in the dirt. Sue and I made it down to camp at about 3:30. Mark and Bill had been down for some time. It had taken us 10 hours to make the round trip. We didn’t hear of any accidents or injuries from any of the rest of the climbers, so we assumed that everyone got off the mountain safely.
As far as the snowstorm goes, we know that the weather in Idaho is predictably unpredictable. But it was August 8th and we hadn’t given much thought to snow. Our group, and several others, was past Chicken Out Ridge prior to any snow falling. The groups that started an hour later than us reached the difficult climbs after the snow began to fall. These people stopped, or turned back rather than climb through the rocks and side hills in the snow. We passed several groups of people on our walk down that had not climbed Chicken Out Ridge due to the snow. They had stayed up high on the mountain to enjoy the view and wait on a weather change.
A couple of times during this adventure I asked myself, “Did we put in at the take out?” “Were we ill prepared and unsure of what we were doing?” I decided the answer to that was clearly, No. We had the proper equipment, food, and clothing, for the most part. (The exception being, I forgot my gloves, thanks Mark). I had done some research about the mountain, and the trail up it. I spoke to some people who had ‘been there done that’ as well as some who had ‘been there and hadn’t done that’. But the biggest thing we did right was take experienced hikers/climbers with us. If we had put in at the take out and had been headed for dangerous rapids, they would have pulled us aside and told us so. And I would have listened.