After months of anticipation and two weeks
of intensive preparation, we were packed
and ready at dawn to leave for the annual elk hunting expedition. The weather was clear
(even a better forecast for Eastern Washington) and we pulled out in high sprits. Even the
horses realized that another adventure in the mountains was about to begin and loaded
without a hitch. Three hours later we were at the trailhead and ready to pack up the
packstring in the cool, crisp fall weather. The packs were weighted out and a record time
was set for getting ready to head up the trail - what a fine morning. Some trailhead
hunters and other friends heading into the wilderness area came over to wish us luck and
check out the knots (one must throw a diamond hitch to meet the standards of this bunch).
We mounted up and were making final hand shakes when someone said, "is that
snow????!" Sure enough the sky had turned gray (we had not noticed in all the
excitement) and a very fine snow was starting to fall. Great - just right to start hunting in
three days, we still had to make a couple more trips up the hill to get set up and ready.
As we started up the trail, the snowfall got heavier and the snow pack began to rise -
three hours of beautiful riding in the snow (didn't have to get off once to adjust packs or
tighten cinches). By the time we got to the campsite it was obvious we were going to
have to shovel snow for the tent site - it is going to be a cold night. The snow kept
falling during the subsequent pack trips out to get more gear but the warm tent was a joy
after six hours in the saddle. The hunting is really going to be good this year - fresh snow
to track the elusive wild Wapati.
Then the weather changed, it stopped snowing - great, the hunting conditions were
going to be great (even though no one in camp had a special permit and "spike only" was
the only option). When we got up the weather had really changed - the thermometer read
close to zero (I realized why Deb was snuggling so close last night). Start the fire, get
breakfast ready and down, and get out for the great hunting conditions. This was going to
be the best hunt ever!
The first step out of the tent caused ones heart to sink to the bottom of ones stomach -
CRUNCH! The snow had frozen and had a crust that would not hold your weight -
CRUNCH - CRUNCH! For the rest of the hunt we crunched around (HERE WE ARE
ELK) and saw some beautiful country. The elk could hear us coming for two valleys
over as we made trails to follow the next day and crunched around. After three or four
days other camps started wandering in, having given up on hunting, just to visit and set
around the tent and lament the bad hunting conditions.
Elk hunting turned into elk camping! We were not going to be a threat to the wildlife
population this year! We made the best of it (hunted every day) and got lots of exercise,
had a great camp with all the time on our hands and visited with many old friends that
hunt the area every year, like us. After two weeks we headed out (after taking lots of
pictures), but had a totally relaxed attitude. No TV - no computers - no phone - no pager
- no hassle. Getting away from it all - into the wilderness with your horses, friends and
relatives - plus enjoying the solitude. Like the jingle - That's what it's all about.
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