*Continued from Man of Stone Part 1
Friday, August 31, 2012
We got an early move on at first light and made the 1 hour hike back to the ridge where we saw the rams the day before. We crested the ridge and I immediately looked to where the rams were when we left the night before. They were still there, in the exact same spot as we had left them last night and in what I thought was a stalkable position.
“Dad, they are in the same spot as last night. Let’s get the spotting scope on them and make sure it’s the same group. Let’s find that ram we want to go after,” I said to him as I turned and looked to see he’s already almost got the spotting scope out.
“Yes Young-son. This is what I do,” he said. I got the spotter set up and started scoping the sheep. Sure enough it was the same band from the day before and there was Mr. Full Curl, well at least we were 95% sure he was full curl. He still hadn’t given us a proper angle to look at him to see if he comes past the bridge of his nose.
“Let’s make a play here. We should go around the mountain to our right, come down the backside, and through the ravine in the back. We should be well within shooting range. We won’t be in their eyesight, and, as long as we are quiet, we should be good. We will be much closer to make sure he’s full curl,” I said.
“You lead the way son,” said my dad. We packed our things into our packs, and made our way to the right. This was the scary part. We would have to walk for about 15 minutes while being in sight of the sheep. After that, we would be home free. We treaded carefully, but at a decent pace and we did not want to linger in one spot too long. Sure enough, the sheep were watching us, but as we rounded the side of the mountain, we just had to hope they were still there and had forgotten about us. I guessed it would be about two hours before we would see them again.
Next came about 45 minutes of nasty side hill scrambling. It wasn’t easy, but I knew it was doable since this was practically the exact same stalk my brother and I had made the year before. I pulled away from my dad a little bit as his lungs were getting beat up by the air at 7,500 feet. I wanted to get ahead a little anyways to plan out the next leg of the stalk while my dad could go at his own pace and catch his breath. I made my way around the last bit of the mountain and could now see again into the drainage and figured the sheep were on the other side of a ravine that was about 250 down and maybe 400 over to my left. Going down and over was very, steep, with some cliff type situations and looked like it was very loose shale. A couple minutes went by and my dad caught up.
“I figured out where we should go, I think the sheep are just on the other side of that ravine down there,” I informed him as I pointed towards it.
“That looks ugly. How are we going to get there?” He asked.
“Down here and then across to the grey patch of rock at the top of the ravine,” I replied.
“Just be careful, son. Watch your step.”
“I will. I want you to be careful, too. Don’t worry about me,” I said.
I was going to go straight down and then straight across, since it looked like my best bet, but as we all know, terrain is deceiving from a distance. The shale was sliding below my feet like crazy. It was very steep. I was almost skiing down the mountain. I tried to go slow but it was hard to do. I was able to do it, though. I looked back up to my dad and saw some small rocks tumbling down towards me, but they started angling off from my direction and wouldn’t be a problem. My dad realized this and cut across the top more, so any rocks that rolled down from him would not be anywhere near me. I came to a spot where there was solid rock in the mountain and it got real tricky there. I was constantly worried that the loose gravel on top of these rock faces was going to make me slide around like I was on a shuffleboard. I was extra careful and had a little bit of foot slippage, but it wasn’t too bad. I’d much rather be in the steep shale or solid rock without loose gravel on the top, though! I made my way through the rocks and shale until I reached the spot where I wanted to start heading to my left. My dad was a few minutes slower than me, a big reason being he was carrying his gun where mine was strapped to my pack. It was so steep, my dad’s butt was probably only six inches away from the side of the mountain. He continued his decent as the shale piled up beneath his feet and he slid his way down the mountain. I continued to go farther but, I was now side hilling. It was fairly smooth sailing until the next section of rock. It was a rock ledge about one foot wide, with a rock face on the high side of the mountain and dropping off the one foot ledge was a 20 foot cliff to the steep mountain side below. I made my way to the halfway point of the ledge, which was a piece of cake, but now I was stuck at an obstacle. The obstacle was a large piece of rock jutting out from the bigger rock face leaving about an inch of ledge to walk on, but the obstacle was only six inches wide and the ledge continued on the other side. I looked back to my dad and saw that he was not far behind me now. Keep in mind that we both had Mystery Ranch NICE 7500 packs on, so it was not just our bodies we had to worry about here.
If I grab this piece of rock jutting out with my left hand, I should be able to swing my body around it while keeping myself tight to the rock face, I thought to myself. Well here goes nothing… I grabbed the rock and stretched my right leg to reach the other side and made it fairly easily. I moved down a ways to give my dad room to maneuver. He made it easily too. It looked much harder than it was, but still, one wrong move would have been bad. We continued the last bit as quietly on the shale as we could as we were now headed uphill to the top of the ridge where I thought we would be able to see the sheep.
“Dad stay here a minute. I’m going to check it out,” I said, as I start taking my pack off.
“Okay,” he responded.
I set my bag down carefully on the steep mountain side in a position where it would not start to tumble. I crept slowly upward and about a minute later I could peek over the top. The first thing I saw was sheep right in front of me and not far away, bedded down. I quickly dropped down as low as I could to get out of sight again. I motioned to my dad that they were right there. I peeked up and over again with my binoculars ready this time to take a look at them. There were four rams bedded down in a tight group and they were not looking at us, or up our way at all. I got the rangefinder out and targeted the group. The LED display told me that they were 202 yards away – after the angle factored in, it was 167 yards.
Wow is this happening? Almost like last year just a little farther… I got down low again and turned towards my dad who was about 30 feet back. I waved for him to come over and put my finger to my lip and hand signaled to stay quiet and keep low. He slowly made his way over to my position,
“What do we have?” He asked, a little short of breath.
“Four rams and I am pretty sure one of them is the one we have been looking at to be the full curl shooter.”
“200, with the angle it’s 167.”
“Really? Son of a b*tch.” For the next few minutes we carefully glassed the sheep with our binoculars.
“I want to use the spotting scope. Can you go grab it out of your bag?” I whispered.
“What did you say? I can’t hear you.”
“Can you grab the spotter out of your bag?” I asked, slightly louder than before.
“Yeah. Hold my gun for a minute.” He passed his gun over to me and made his way back to his pack. I sat up a little bit from my position to take a quick look at the sheep.
They still don’t know we are here. Wait, what’s that? Sh*t! Parallel to me was a sheep bedded down and, with my naked eye, it looked like it was looking directly at me. I slowly pulled my binoculars up to take a look. My heart was pounding, hoping we were not going to get smoked. Sure enough, it was a sentry ram, just a few years old by himself looking right at me.
Sh*t…. what now? If he gets spooked, that’s it. They are all gone. I ranged this sentry at 150 yards. My dad came back after a few minutes spotting scope in hand.
“There’s a young ram looking at us. He’s the sentry. Stay low, he’s not spooked.” I said.
I slowly set up the spotting scope and stayed as low as possible. The young ram didn’t really seem to care we were there and lost interest in us and turned his head another direction.
Hopefully he stays like this. I looked through the spotting scope and confirmed the bigger ram was the one we had been watching the day before. It looked like a full curl but he was not giving us a good enough angle to view from. My next plan was to count rings. Over the course of the next three hours, I counted rings 10 million times and watched for the perfect head turn to get the right angle for determining full curl or not. I was sure he was ten or eleven years old, but I still wanted to see full curl. The sheep stood up, did a little stretch and turned 180 degrees and kicked some dirt around. I was assuming this was making his bed a little more comfortable because all the other sheep would do the same thing as well, but he still hadn’t given me that perfect perpendicular angle. Back down he went. Just like a dog, laying in the dirt in almost the same way, periodically shaking his head. At this point, the sentry ram had gotten up, did a 180 himself and wasn’t even facing us anymore. With the sun at our backs, (in the eyes of the sheep, if they looked up at us) and 200 yards away, the ball was in our court. Another hour went by and, in this time, my dad nodded off a few times. There were almost no clouds in the sky and the sun was out, a nice day to be sitting on the uncomfortable shale mountainside. Then it happened. The sheep gave me the angle I had been waiting for, and with my sore eyes barely leaving the eyepiece for the past few hours, I could see it was a full curl ram.
“Dad, we have a shooter, I just confirmed that it’s a full curl.” I got no response. I couldn’t see his face as he was sitting two feet below me with his back facing me. “Dad?” Again nothing. I tapped him on the shoulder and it looked like it startled him. He turned to me, “Dad, we have a full curl ram. I just confirmed it. I told you I’d put you within 300 yards of a sheep.”
“That’s what I’m talking about. Should we take him now?”
“We might as well wait until he stands up again, we have lots of daylight left. It’s only 1:30 in the afternoon. Just make sure you wait for me to be recording with the camera before you shoot.”
“Alright. Just tell me when to shoot.” Another hour passed by and “Whitey”, as we were now calling him because of his white face, stood up.
“Dad, he’s up, get ready to shoot,” I whispered loudly tapping him on the shoulder. Once again he was startled, as he had dozed off again.
“Just tell me when.”
I quickly turned the video camera on and hit record as the sheep turned broadside to us. I quickly panned over to my dad and to see him aiming the rifle. I panned back to the sheep and zoomed in. The thunder from his .338 cracked loudly across the valley, and a split second later the sheep dropped hard and we could hear the loud thwack from the bullet’s impact. As the sheep hit the ground, it started to roll down the mountain hard and fast. We saw it roll for about twenty seconds before it left our sight.
“Nice shot, Dad!” I said, extending my fist and connecting with his for the fist bump.
“That’s how we do it in the big leagues,” he said.
“Playing the big man eh?” I retort. That has been our usual banter back and forth for years and it hasn’t changed yet. We gathered our gear and made our way to where we last saw the sheep. It was fairly difficult getting down, more loose shale, dirt and steep terrain with a few tricky sections. We made it to the point where we last saw it and noticed it had rolled off what looked like a 30 foot cliff. We walked around the cliff to the boulders beneath and still didn’t see the ram. It was very tough to walk on these boulders, all the rocks ranged from the size of a basketball to V8 engine blocks. One wrong step and there goes an ankle.
The sheep has to be here somewhere, I think to myself. Another five minutes of searching quite a bit further down the mountain and there was Whitey. A few minutes later we were at it exchanging handshakes. Since it was in the rocks, it would be near impossible to work on it as it lay there, but 50 yards below us was a perfect patch of grass. The plan was to try and drag it there. After a hard 45 minutes of work to move only 50 yards downhill, we had the sheep in a perfect spot to work on. The first thing we did was send out our SPOT custom message of “Ram Down! Ram Down! Ram Down!” My brother would be waiting for the satellite phone call for sure. That was next, but we did not get a signal right away. We took out the camera and began taking all of the mandatory pictures needed. 15 minutes of pictures and I tried the Sat phone again. Full signal. The first call was to my brother. At this point he most likely had his phone in his hand waiting for the call. There was only about one quarter of a ring and my brother answered the phone.
“Talk to me. Go. Sheep? Did Dad get it?” Brad said excitedly on the phone.
“Dad is part of the sheep club now,” I replied.
“So sick. How big?”
“An inch or a little more past the nose. Ten or eleven years old too.”
“Really? That is awesome! How happy is he?”
“I can’t remember seeing him this excited… ever.” I said.
“Yeah, bro! Sheepin!”
“Sheepin! Here, I’ll let you talk to Dad. Tell all the boys what’s going on.”
“Okay.” I passed the phone over to my dad and he and my brother talked for the next five minutes. We began the process of de-boning and caping the sheep and finished that up in an hour and a half. I planned to cape the head out at our tent tomorrow.
“Do you want to take the horns Kyle?” My dad asks me.
“No you take it, it’s your trophy,” I responded.
“It’s probably more awkward on the pack than the meat will be though, I might have a hard time with it.”
“Alright then, if that’s what you want to do.”
We loaded some of the meat in his pack up high near his shoulders and tight to his back. We tied down the horns and cape to the top of my pack, along with the rest of the meat on the inside. We took out our hiking poles out, as we were going to be hiking straight up and over the mountain, and it was very, very steep. With packs probably 90 or 100 pounds each, including the gear we had, we started off on the way back to camp. The terrain was rocky but pretty easy to walk on. Then we started climbing and climbing and climbing some more. It got very steep. All you can do is not think too far ahead, just put one foot in front of the other and take it one step at a time. Every 20 steps would result in a break of a minute or two.
Half way up the mountain I asked my dad, “How happy are you with your sheep?”
“I’m so friggin’ happy I could jump up and down,” he replied in between his huffing and puffing, while bent over trying to give his back a break and catch his breath.
“Could you jump up and down right now?” I asked.
“Well, not right now.”
I had a good chuckle at that. We pushed upward and came to where the caribou walked up the mountain. We used his footprints to walk on as the rock and dirt had been packed down slightly from the weight of his body. We reached the top much faster than I thought, in only an hour. A quick, but uneasy, 45 minute hike back to camp from here was all that was left.
Another call back to my brother happened once we reached our shale camp, he was very surprised at how fast we made it back because he knew exactly where we were. In hindsight we should have gone to the bottom of the drainage and hiked straight up instead of all the side hilling we did last year, it would have saved my brother and I five hours of hiking! Dad and I were both too tired to eat anything so it was an early night, which was pretty much the usual anyways for us up there.
“You know all I’ve had to eat today was two hard candies and 15 almonds,” my dad told me.
I laughed. “I haven’t had much more than that either.”
Saturday, September 1, 2012
We woke up early and it was time to get to work. I was going to start caping the head, while he was going to clean the meat and get it into clean zip lock bags. We were finished in two hours and had the cape all salted up. The plan now was to pack camp and head down to our first base camp of the trip near the creek and stay the night there. Once we got everything packed we were heavily weighed down by our packs once more. My dad was going to be tested now for sure. This first thing we had to do was get down the mountain we were on. It was about 1,000 feet down and quite steep. The hill was rough on the legs and was like natural stairs made of rock for a good portion of it. The steps were anywhere between one and two feet and were a major quad burner. We made it down to the bottom in an hour and a half and found some big rocks to set the packs down on without taking them off, just enough to take the weight off our bodies. The 20 minute break felt great, but we were on the move again through the middle of the valley. After a couple more 10 minute breaks we made it to our river base camp in five hours.
“Going down that hill killed me. My legs and knees are done,” my dad said.
“We will get a good rest and as much food in us as we can. I need you to hydrate lots tonight,” I told him. “Tomorrow shouldn’t be too bad of a hike out, we have a trail the whole way. The only thing that will suck will be the last hill we have to go up and that will take an hour and a half.” We made a fire, ate as much protein type food as we could and drank lots of water and Gatorade. It was another early night. We were in the sleeping bag just before dark.
Sunday, September 2, 2015
We woke up at first light and began re-packing everything for the hike back to the truck. Packing up took about an hour and a half, along with re-salting the cape. With our packs fully loaded, and very heavy, we were bringing everything out and leaving nothing behind. A part of me was a bit sad knowing I wouldn’t see this place for at least another year. We headed off down the valley knowing it would be about six hours until we saw the truck, depending on how long it took us to go up the hill near the end. With multiple breaks along the way and seeing my dad’s “battery” draining quickly we were at the base of the hill where we took a 30 minute “pack-off” recharge break.
“Now will be the hard part. We have the hill to go up,” I said.
“I was thinking on the way in that it would be a b*tch if we were coming out with a sheep. I don’t know how you and Brad made it all the way to the truck from shale camp last year in 10 hours.”
“I don’t either.”
We relaxed and rested for 30 minutes and then we were back on our feet. We immediately hit the base of the hill and up we went. We could only manage 20 steps at a time before taking a little breather. I didn’t want to push my dad too hard. He had done awesome up until this point and we were almost back to the truck, there didn’t need to be any injuries now. Half way up the hill we bumped in to two guys heading down but they were just going in for a few days of caribou hunting. We stopped and had a nice 10 minute chat with them. They looked shocked to see an old guy doing this. We parted ways and continued our ascent. It took us about one hour and 45 minutes, but we finally made it to the top where it would be mostly flat for the remainder of the hike. But, of course, the easy parts are where the problems are and sure enough my dad slipped on a rock and started flopping around like a fish out of water. He was fine. He had just landed in some moss and couldn’t get up. Of course, I was laughing my ass off when I saw that everything was okay.
“I can’t get up, help me up.”
“Just relax, just lay there for a few minutes, there is no rush,” I said as he lay there on his back.
“Okay, but you have to help me up, I don’t want to unbuckle the pack and put it back on.”
“No problem,” I said, still laughing my ass off.
We took a five minute break and then were ready to keep going. It took everything I had in me to help him up, factoring the weight on my back, and his weight with the pack, it was not easy. We were only 30 minutes from the truck and, as we got going again, what a long 30 minutes that was. I was in the lead and was getting that feeling of joy you get when you are about to see the truck for the first time in over a week. There is always that bit of worry, hoping the truck is still there. But everything was good. The truck was still there and we were almost home free. Suddenly I felt less tired and very excited. We were still a couple hundred yards away, but I thought about how awesome this trip had been and wondering how my dad ranks this trip out of all the ones he’s been on before.
I did it. That’s all I wanted to do is help my dad get a sheep and get back safely. I’m so proud of him. We made it to the truck and pounded fists a few times.
“You did it dad!” He mumbled something in between some sighing and grunting.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to do that again,” he said.
“We will try to fly in next year for Dalls,” I said. “But there will still be lots of walking.”
“I know. I should be good for it. I will be healed up by then.” We got into our cooler pretty quickly and demolished a couple cans of coke. Man, did those taste good. We spent the next hour changing and getting things ready for the ride home, well, to the now mandatory Boston Pizza food and beer stop in Fort Nelson. Just like last year, I ordered a tonne of food again and the poutine tasted damn good. We made our phone calls while waiting for our food and Brad couldn’t wait to see the video of our trip. We finished up in there and got back on the road and, unbelievably, made it past Dawson Creek. I thought I would be more tired than that. We slept in the truck on the side of the highway until daybreak.
Monday, September 3, 2012
We were up and driving nice and early, excited to get home and tell stories and show the video. The drive wasn’t that bad since we did a good chunk of it the day before but none the less, it was still long. All we stopped for along the way was gas and snacks. We were on a mission to get home. Once we got back to the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, I missed the mountains immediately, even though I was going to hang out on the couch and not move for a few days. I was pretty sure my dad would be comatose on the couch for about a month, but I’ve never been so proud of him, ever. I don’t think there are many 60 year-olds who can hike that much, with that much weight and in the mountains we were in.
As we pull into my townhouse complex my dad says, “If we don’t get tags next year to fly in, I’ll be good to go to do that again.”
“Yeah, just don’t tell mom yet.” It sounded like he had the sheep addiction now just like my brother and I.
“How does that trip compare to all the hunting trips you have been on in your life?” I asked.
“It’s was the best trip I’ve ever been on.”