40 Days and 40 Nights Worth,
Snowing to beat hell so may as well go out of the tree and anoint the dog house yet again...
Scan0012 - Copy by squirrel2012, on Flickr
I had just moved to Colorado and was young and full of ideas of what and how I was going to hunt in this vast and glorious mountain state. The applicant had to choose sheep or goat back then and I went with archery goat as it was a better chance to draw, and draw I did, on the very first try! My summer was spent endlessly tossing arrows into straw bales in anticipation. As fall approached I called a crusty old fart at the Division of Wildlife, named Nicely, and asked him if I might see a bear and should get a tag? “Hell boy” he said, “This is GOAT COUNTRY! Do you even know what you are letting yourself in for?” “Yes”, I lied, confidence trumped intelligence back then, I was 26 years old, 10 feet tall, and very bulletproof. He then told me why he gave out so many tags in that unit, as three quarters of the tag holders took the train ride, looked where they had to go and took the train home that afternoon. I assured him that would not be the case with me.
I quit my job, and said goodbye to my cat, left in a forest service campground with a huge pile of cat chow in my camper and headed back into the Needles, full of confidence, energy and very little intelligence.
It did not take long to encounter a problem, more like a lot of problems, I was carrying my bow and the hikers I met all wanted to kill me right then and there. I finally met a somewhat neutral fellow and he told me the story as to why all the hostility. There had been a group of goat hunters taken in by a local outfitter on horseback who had shot the tame goats the backpackers had been feeding all summer. They had been tame enough to hold a tape measure to their horns and then the hunters drew straws as to who got to shoot the first/biggest goat and all four shot them at daylight opening morning right in front of the Labor Day crowd of backpackers. From then on I hid my bow as I heard the people coming down the trail and had no more issues. When I got to the top of the drainage the mighty goat hunters were still there, toasting their prowess, and waiting for their ride back down to civilization. The next day their guide showed up and I had the basin more or less to myself, at least as far as hunters went, but there was a steady, if diminishing, flow of backpackers through the area.
Scan0005 by squirrel2012, on Flickr
So the hunters were gone (except for one) but so were the goats, and it seemed they were not inclined to come back any time soon. I climbed the nearby peaks daily looking for goats amongst the rocks, still hunting the cliffs as if I was stalking hardwood forests for whitetails back home. (I told you I was dumb!) There was of course some fresh sign around from the recently departed goats and once I took a goat trail, (I have always hated retracing my steps and always opt to see new country if possible).
Scan0006 - Copy by squirrel2012, on Flickr
Soon I was in over my head and lowering my day pack and bow by rope to ledges below me, couldn’t go back and scared to go on… I could see where the silly goats had jumped down the chimney using both sides and tiny ledges as a giant stairway. I dropped my gear and using my hands on one side and my feet on the other “walked” my way down, towards the bottom I was glad I wasn’t any shorter ‘cause I was stretched about as far as I could get when I finally got my feet on tundra grass and I was home free. I had a couple bent arrows and some severe confidence damage. But I had learned a crucial goat country lesson… do not follow goat trails!
When I got back to my tent a group of backpackers told me they watched my descent and wanted to wager on my making it , or not, but nobody wanted to bet on me making it! I had several snow days of being cooped in my tent but kept on branching farther and farther in search of a goat. Instead of going to the adjacent peaks I went over and beyond to the next peak in several different directions. Looking for them miles away instead of hoping to run into one, I was learning how to hunt goats!
One day I was two peaks away from home and finally saw some goats, I tried to go towards them by following some goat tracks down a sheer glacier. I was doing well kicking my heels in for traction walking down like a giant set of stairs when a moment’s carelessness led to my heel breaking loose in mid stride. In a split second I was flying down the ice face on my ass towards a rock field many hundreds of feet below. I rolled sideways to the edge of the ice and nice sharp rocks slowed me down, albeit at a severe price in both clothing and blood. I limped out of the bottom of the glacier only wanting to get home; shooting a goat wasn’t a priority any more on that day. I had to go through a 13,500 pass, across several miles of glacier, through a more brutal pass and way down to camp, all while leaving a blood trail. I was very glad to crawl into the sleeping bag after dark that night!
I stayed a little closer to home the next couple days healing up and getting my bravery built back up by taking on some easier basins to the south, long hikes but not so life threatening, and no sign of goats either. This entire hunt I had been making the acquaintance of serious backpackers and quizzing them up about their gear and its use, ice axes, crampons, ropes/carabiners/rappelling gear, stuff I had read about but never seen and certainly never used nor needed, I was developing quite a shopping list for if, and when, I ever survived goat country and made it back to civilization… I made friends with two hard core guys who wanted to do a through trip rather than up and back on the same trail, so I helped them rope their gear down the pass I had marked with my blood trail earlier, as I watched them traverse the glacier with crampons I realized if I was to get a goat I had to cover vastly more ground as there seemed to be a large radius around my camp that was goat free. I had to move two basins (or more) away and start over.
Scan0002 - Copy by squirrel2012, on Flickr