I can't believe it's January 20th, and I haven't touched this blog since July. Last time I posted I was eagerly awaiting the start of bow season (my first) and was spending as much time as possible learning to shoot my new bow.
I patiently waited out the early season, not wanting to spoil my opportunity to hunt the late season in the Cascade Mountains with my dad. When late November rolled around, I took most of Thanksgiving week off and my dad, my two cousins and I loaded up the wall tent and a camp trailer and headed to the mountains in search of what is widely considered to be the most elusive of all north american big game. The Blacktail Deer.
We arrived at camp at night fall, pleased to see that there was a little more than 4 inches of snow. That is a good sign that the snow up on the mountian is deep enough to push the big bucks down to where we hoped to be hunting. As we settled in for the night we were optomistic about our chances the following day.
The next morning I headed out with my dad unsure about what to expect. I had never hunted this area before but I had heard stories from my dad and brother about how tough a hike it was. I wasn't worried though. I had hunted big horn sheep in Hells Canyon, 12 weeks after knee surgery. I'm pretty tough and could handle pretty much anything. So I thought.
It wasn't more than an hour or so into our hike, pushing 6-8 inches of snow in a steady incline with no break, when my dad finally stopped for a rest and told me that we had just finished the easy part of the hike. I was already tired, but I wasn't going to complain. Besides, how much worse could it get?
The fog then lifted and I saw a ridge out in front of me that looked more like a snow covered wall to the sky, and to my disappointment, my dad headed straight for it. Normally a steep hill doesn't concern me. I side hill my way up, weaving back and forth as I ascend the mountian. My dad, however, doesn't side hill. He will NOT side hill. He prefers the more direct approach of heading straight up the face.
The snow was now knee deep or higher and with no trail to follow, we were pushing snow the whole way up. Wet, slippery snow that stole 3 steps for every 2 I took. 2 hours and 50+ face plants into the snow later, and I was exhausted. I had no idea how draining hiking in the snow could be. Especially after spending nearly an hour bear climbing on our hands and knees, scrambling our way up the mountain because the terrain was too steep to stand on. I learned that my bow acted as a snow shoe for my hand, and was grateful for one appendage that had traction. And the wind. Oh, the wind. I was afraid that if I did stand up, the wind gusts would just blow me backwards off the mountain, and my body wouldn't be found until the spring thaw.
At last we reached a small clearing where my dad whispered "this is where your brother killed his big 4 point. We are almost ready to start hunting." Almost was another hour up.
By the time we reached my dads hunting area the snow was well above knee deep, but after seeing almost no tracks, my dad determined that the snow was not deep enough to push the bucks off the top yet. He gave me the option of heading up to the top (we were just over half way) or hunt our way back down to camp.
It was decision time for me. I was more tired than I had ever been. More tired than after over 12 hours of hard labor. More tired than after a 6 hour hike out of Hells Canyon after my sheep hunt in about the worst physical condition I had ever been in my entire life.
So weak and tired in fact, that I was very, very, concerned that if something were to go wrong (a slip or a fall over one of the snow covered bluffs) that I wouldn't have the strength to save myself.
That was an alarming and foreign feeling for me. I've always been physically, and mentally strong, and if I ever lacked the physical stamina or strength to endure a situation I've always been able to let my mental strength take over. Kind of a mind over matter thing. I've never not been confident that I could MAKE my body do something if it came down to my safety. And so I made the difficult decision to head back towards camp.
And to be honest, I think my dad was relieved. He knows me, and he knows that I don't give up. But even he could tell that I was beyond my limit. It was humbling.
The hunt back down the mountain was just as difficult. Everystep I took was deliberate and precise, for one misstep and I'd be over one of those bluffs I was worried about. I remember shoving my right hand into the snowbank (it was steep enough that holding my arm straight out to my side I was touching mountain beside me)grasping for plants, roots, or branches. Anything I could hang onto that might keep me from tumbling down.
We arrived at camp to find that there was over a foot of snow with another foot expected by morning. And so we packed up camp and headed home to avoid being snowed in.
My late archery season deer hunt lasted just one day. And in that one day I learned some things about myself. That I do have limits. And that it's okay to admit that I can't do everything and anything. I'll just do my best to not make a habit of admitting it! I learned some things about my dad too. Like how even at 54 years old and retired, he could still hike my butt into the ground.
Oh, and while the mountain may have got the best of me this year, I will be back.