Here goes nothin’

Up early enough, but day one of trips are always a little disorganized, no matter how much planning you do. Our goal this morning is 11 miles, which may be a bit overzealous, considering we had 2 extra miles of road walking tacked onto the start of this trip.

Like clockwork, the moment we stepped out of the cars to be dropped off, it began to rain. Now per the weather man this was not supposed to happen till between 3 and 5 pm. Oh to have a job where I get paid even if I’m wrong. All assembled we post for a team photo, ready for the weather. Paul has decided to call our team “2 by 4” (2 guys and 4 gals…get it?)

At least it wasn’t a hard rain.

Soon we we’re to the PCT northbound trailhead at Agnew Meadows, and so began the climb with fully loaded packs for five nights in the Sierras, with a finish in Yosemite valley.

Eventually the rain stopped and the sun shined brightly, allowing us to burn off the chill, but it did no good for our sopping wet feet. At some point early on there was no use trying to keep our feet “dry”, as last night’s torrential downpour, which we are told was a record rainfall for the area, seemed to want to use the trail as it’s canal.

Squish, plod, squish went the day, accented by patches and outright fields of postholio snow. WTF!? It is only now that I remember how much work trompsing through the snow was. I swear it was easier 4 years ago. But then, by this time we were in fabulous PCT thru-hiker shape.

Amazingly we made it a mile short of our goal, which was okay, cause we were all gassed, and needed to get a fire going so that we could thaw out before night fall, and another predicted bout of rain/hail… possibly snow. We did our best to dry out our stuff, knowing full well we would be putting perfectly warm and dry feet/socks into damp and practically frozen shoes the next morning. Handfuls of Advil for all and off to our respective beds for the night in the hope that it wouldn’t rain too hard, and that we would reach the set up for Donahue pass for the next morning.

Posted in Backpacking, Hikes in Mammoth area, Mini Adventures, PCT, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A little snow will do ya

A steady and heavy rainfall all last night kept me tossing and turning, wondering if Tioga road would actually be opened today. Nothing left but to try it out. The skies were dark and moisture continued to fall from the sky. As we approached the hwy 120 turn off (that is Tioga rd.), a sign blinked, “Tioga road is open”. Phew! As we made our left turn, we could not help but notice all the snow. The road was wet with no chance of drying anytime soon. We watched as the outside temperature gauge dropped from 55° to 37°, and then began the sleet. The temperature then dropped to 34° and large flakes of snow began to fall. This is near end of May right? We of course know better than to pigeonhole weather into months these days as everything is so topsy turvy and predictably unpredictable. Mother Nature you have seemingly out done yourself for this adventure, and it hasn’t officially started yet. Excited, I have Paul pull over so I can get out and take a picture of the still ice covered lake, but more importantly, to catch a few flakes on my tongue.

Had we not had a timeline to stick to, I would have lingered a bit more collecting snow on my tongue. Back into the car I hop. Snow flurries continue for a few miles and make way for crisp clear air, with snow topped mountains in the distance (of which we’ll be traversing over tomorrow) and vast green Meadows with lingering patches of snow. We drive by the Toulomne Meadows campground and store. Both are shuttered up, and far from opening. As we pass the Cathedral lake trail head, the skies clear a bit. The park is sparsely populated, but we know that will change once we get to the valley floor. As we reach Olmsted pass the clouds have dipped low, creating a dense fog that practically obscures the road, reminding me of my travels for work, up the I-5 in the suffocating tule fog. 45 minutes later we are nearing the valley floor. Cars and people everywhere. Half dome peaks out of the clouds and upper and lower Yosemite falls are roaring. We park our son’s truck in the Half Dome Village (formerly, Curry Village) and walk to the Yosemite Village area where Sandy and Steve have parked to take a short walk to lower Yosemite falls while we get everything situated. Rain begins to fall softly. People continue about their business. Thunder roars and the skies open up. As we have no way to avoid it, we walk briskly through the rain, playing “Marco Polo” with Sandy and Steve via texts, until we are reunited for yet another beer and the drive back to the house for final preparations.

Tomorrow we begin, and as luck would have it, the weather forecast show a day full of rain. Go figure. I am hoping that the rain will fall elsewhere.

Stay tuned…it may be a day or two for another post as we head into the Sierras.

Posted in Backpacking, Hikes in Mammoth area, Mini Adventures, Uncategorized, Yosemite National Park | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ironing things out

So Wrinkle #4 is taken care of , and it appears that Wrinkle #2 – our son’s sleeping bag issue has worked it’s way out. He was able to actually pick one up, and the size he needed at REI. Previously it was not available, nor would it be available till after we left, but as it turns out, the Tustin store restock shipment arrived early. Yeah! A nice and timely surprise. That leaves us with Wrinkles #3 (snow and weather) and #1 (opening of Tioga Road). Neither of which we could do anything about…today, so a walk about the town of Mammoth, to include picking up our Wilderness Permit was in order. Of course we couldn’t help but drop into Mammoth Moutaineering Supply on our way to the permit office, to check on microspike availability for purchase or rental in the event the girl’s spike didn’t arrive in time. Once there, we couldn’t help but take advantage of the sale on our Hoka Challenger ATR’s. Anytime we can find these shoes on-sale, we grab them to have for quick and easy replacement. Sandy was even “converted” to Hoka’s. We continue on our merry way, and pick up our permit without incident, or modifications to our starting location. Whilst there I am roped into a photo op with the Easter Sierra – Sierra Nevada Conservancy who needed a marketing photo of their aide showing/discussing, map/route options with a hiker. I am told, I may be on a gondola!

Determined to circumnavigate the town of Mammoth, we of course have to stop in at the Mammoth Brewing Co. for some tasty brews and a few rounds of Cornhole.

Sandy kicked my ass the first round , and I had a miraculous comeback with a double Cornhole (equivalent of a hole in one…twice) for the win against Rob, a semi-local who shared his local fishing secrets (thankfully before I beat him). There we ran into a few PCT hikers who were more than a little tired of walking in snow. I shouted a burger for “Amanita” (a red topped mushroom with white spots) also known as Randy from Missouri, who is a Nutritionist, and who did the AT (Appalachian Trail) last year. He looked like he needed to put a few pounds on. Rob shouted the beers. Eventually it was time to walk off our libations, and head for home.

Tomorrow we see if Tioga Pass is really going to open, and iron out Wrinkle #1 once and for all!

Posted in Backpacking, Hikes in Mammoth area, Mammoth Mountain, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wrinkles

Thanks to our good friends Sandy and Steve (aka. Scout ), we were able to head up to Mammoth and scout out the on-site logistics for this week’s upcoming adventure, without having to stealth camp on USFS land. It just so happens that it was their week in their partnership house in Mammoth, so a warm bed and excellent company was a welcomed bonus in the days preceding this adventure. We now had four days to iron out the wrinkles in our plan. If any one of the wrinkles could not be straightened out, we would have to shift into Plan B, C or D.

Wrinkle #1: In order to make this work, and for our son, and the girls to get back to work in time, we have to be done by Saturday, which means for optimal efficiency we have to have a “get-a-way” car parked in Yosemite Valley. This requires that Hwy 120 (Tioga rd.) be open for vehicular travel. Currently it is NOT! But it is supposed to open the morning before we start our trip…as long as no weather event or boulders decide to migrate and park themselves on the road.

Wrinkle #2: Our son’s “two-day” FedEx shipping of his new Big Agnes – Lost Ranger 15 sleeping bag most likely will NOT arrive in time, as apparently “two-day shipping” means two business days (M-F), and per FedEx they’re “sorry’ (not sorry) that we didn’t read the “fine print”.

Wrinkle #3: SNOW, and more snow possibly on the way.

Wrinkle #4: Our plan has us starting from Agnew Meadows, however, the road (Postpile Rd.) from the Minaret Vista entrance station down to Agnew Meadows (as well as Red’s Meadow) is still closed for the winter. During planning, we had already factored that in and added (you guessed it) 2 more miles to our first day, as we planned on parking our car along side the 203, or more preferably being dropped off at the entrance kiosk at Minaret Vista Pass and walking down the road for the 2 miles to the trail head at Agnew Meadows. Here in lies the problem. When we arrived in Mammoth we decided to drive up to Minaret Vista, before heading to the house, in order to at least check on the snow level at the pass. The problem we discovered was that you can’t get there by vehicle. The road is closed…not fully plowed.

We then dropped into the Forest Service office in Mammoth, and learned that it’s only a mile uphill to the kiosk from the Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge, and actually 3 miles from there to Agnew Meadows, not two. But wait there’s more! The road from Minaret Vista (Postpile Rd.) is closed! Not just due to winter conditions but due to road damage that they are in the process of repairing, of which they have no time-line for when it will be done, or when the road will be opened. Grrr. While there, we were able to talk to the area Ranger, who told us based on the pictures she’s seen, she wouldn’t advise us walking the road…but she never said we couldn’t. So, the next day we decide to see it for ourselves, before we make any adjustments to our starting location, or trip as a whole.

Bright and “early” we are up and out of the house, with a slight detour to Mammoth Mountaineering Supply (my favorite all-season gear shop in Mammoth) for a new day pack for me, and to check on options to possible solutions to Wrinkle #2. Turns out they have a comparable sleeping bag to buy or even rent, and we can do it as late as Monday by 7pm. With my new Black Diamond – Dawn Patrol 25 pack (will A-frame carry my skis and helmet too for snow excursions), we are off to do a road survey…with a chance of thunder showers. We are pleased to report that the hullabaloo about the road condition/damage, at least from the pass to the turn-off to Agnew Meadows, was perfectly safe and mostly intact.

It was a pleasant walk, especially without having to worry about any traffic. It was, as my friend Sandy said, “Our own private Idaho “. Half-way down the road, a truck approached from behind. It was the Ranger. We held our breath and tried to look invisible, fully expecting to be turned around. A nod and a wave, and down the road the Ranger continued. “So I guess that’s tacit approval”, Paul announced triumphantly.

We continued to the trailhead as in the distance the clouds began to build and darken, ever so slightly. Soon two hikers with heavily laden packs appeared trudging up the road in our direction. I asked them if they were coming off the JMT or the PCT. They looked at each other befuddled, and replied, “No, we just came from Thousand Island lake”. We asked them about the conditions and specifically about the snow. They said they post-holed quite a bit, did not have micro-spikes, and wished they had snow shoes. We told them of our plans, to which they replied, “Good Luck”, in a less than encouraging manner. We took their information under consideration, and continued to the trailhead.

A quick survey of the trailhead found it in an alarmingly fallow, untrampled state. Last we hiked this trail in 2014 the tread was clear of debris and obvious signs of significant use were clearly visible. Hmmm, might this, and the “snow report” be another wrinkle? I guess we will find out, as one man’s mountain is another man’s mole hill (and visa-versa, of course).

As we make our way back up the road and to our car, it begins to rain.

The rain turns to hail. Thunder rolls, and streaks of lightning flash almost too close for comfort. Soon, blue sky is above us, and we give a shout out to Mother Nature for keeping it “real”. Wrinkle #4, all ironed out. Three more wrinkles and two more days to straighten things out.

Posted in Backpacking, Hikes in Mammoth area, JMT, John Muir Trail, Mammoth Mountain, Mini Adventures, Uncategorized, Yosemite National Park | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This should be interesting

‘Tis hiking season once again, and we are lucky and a little daft enough to attempt a week long trip into the Sierras from Agnew Meadows (following the PCT and hooking up onto the JMT), over Donahue Pass, down into Tuolumne Meadows, across to Cloud’s Rest (or Half Dome if we get a “walk-in” permit as we were unsuccessful in the lottery), and a final descent into Yosemite Valley just in time for the Memorial Day Holiday kick-off. All this with snow on the ground (and apparently more snow in the forecast). Does it get any better? In trolling this years PCT hiker blogs, we have noticed even with having only an “average” snow year, this year’s PCT hikers are avoiding the Sierras, as supposedly it is “too soon”, and/or “too dangerous” to attempt the stretch from Kennedy Meadows to Yosemite. I willadmit, that when we did the PCT in 2014, we didn’t enter the Sierra’s till May 21st, having waited out a three day blizzard that dropped 8 feet of snow 8000 ft and above! This year, many have split off to do other side trips…waiting for the snow to melt. We on the other hand are NOT good at waiting, and we don’t mind walking on snow…now. With practically everything above 9,000 ft coated with snow, switchbacks will most likely be unnecessary, especially if one is particularly adept at reading topo maps, which we always take. We never rely on electronics to figure out where we are and where we are going, although we will “fire up” Half-Mile’s” app for extra added efficiency. Ideally we would have preferred mid June or so, but this week is the only time our son has off in which to hike. At least we won’t have to do battle with mosquitoes.

To insure an excellent adventure, as well as increase the degree of difficulty… and of course, Adventure with a capital A, our son’s girlfriend, her sister and mother will ALL be joining us. Did I mention that for all practical purposes they are “novices” to the world of back packing, or more importantly to the world of 2MoreMiles and our misadventures? Luckily the three of them are fit, wonderfully natured and game for anything.

Let it be known, however, that we gave them fair warning, for as we were going over tent erecting 101, as well as how and what to pack, I made sure to mention that on our adventures Murphy’s Law is alive and well, and that Mother Nature is particularly bitchy toward us. This would explain why it has suddenly decided to snow over the weekend, and thundershower in the middle of our week long hike. That’s okay Mother Nature, and Mr. Murphy, we have come to expect and prepare for your hijinx.

Stay tuned…the adventure is about to begin.

Posted in Backpacking, Half Dome, JMT, John Muir Trail, Mini Adventures, Snow Camping, Uncategorized, Yosemite National Park | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ode to “Pierre”

As we get older, family functions/adventures evolve from graduations, to weddings, to births, to anniversaries and eventually funerals. This family event was the latter.

Paul’s uncle Don passed this past week (91 years young), and we had to fly an economy flight (Spirit Air) to Michigan, to weather that can only be described as nothing less than schizophrenic. We hoped we’d packed appropriately, and while we could have “begged off” this trip to the funeral as too far and/or too costly, we wouldn’t miss this opportunity to gather with family for a proper send off and to represent the more “enlightened” West coast Milosch’s. (Our parents escaped the stronghold of Pure Michigan early in our youths) [Side story…on our first date we discovered we had essentially grown up 10 miles (as the crow flies) from each from each other, only to meet Lifeguarding on the beaches of San Clemente. We adroitly took it as a sign, especially after we learned part of our families actually knew each other. What were the chances?! The rest is history]. Needless to say, Michigan is a touchstone for us. So we arrived at LAX via our Sam’s long term parking shuttle driver, who, by the way, had balls of steal! He was quite adept at manuevering his 11 passenger van in/out and through the swarming ant hill traffic of LAX, all without a scratch or killing someone…to include us! This man deserved a standing ovation! After dropping off our luggage (gotta schlep warm clothes…cause it was snowing there, or sleeting rain, of which we rarely see where we live…let alone snow) we headed to the TSA screening. I am pulled aside for scanning “positive” for titanium metal on my right ankle, which is awesomely amazing to me as the specificity of the results seeing that I only have one remaining screw there, as opposed to the 5inch plate that used to hold my ankle together. Once through screening we were hit with the fact we’re not in “Kansas” anymore. In fact we felt as though we’ve stepped into another world, like that bar scene in Star Wars (Episode IV – A New Hope), the Mos Eisley Cantina. I can’t help but smile at the diversity and eclectic fashion choices gathered in this area. Many a wrist and shoulder was adorned with the trappings of the 2018 Coachella music festival that past weekend.  While many were festively clad, many appeared as if they have just gotten off the set of Walking Dead, as an “extra”, and with this we surmised they had waaaay too much fun. We boarded our plane and were smacked with the reality, that is Spirit Airlines. You get what you pay for, and if you don’t pay for it you don’t get it. We learned quickly why this direct flight was so cheap. It is the plain wrap of flying.

We shoehorned ourselves into our sparsely padded and unadjustable seats and settled in for the 4.5 hour direct flight. Feeling utterly parched we were excited when the beverage cart toddled down our way. “Water please”, I asked. “That will be $3 dollars”, replied the flight attendant. “W-What?”. (We knew before hand that you had to pay for snacks or sodas, but never even considered having to pay for water…WTF?!) “Ma’am, water is $3 dollars”. Shocked and snarky, I asked how much for just ice. “Oh, that’s free ma’am”. “W-What”?. “It’s free ma’am”. “Okay, then I’ll have all the melted ice at the bottom of your bag of ice”, I replied with a triumphant smile. The flight attendant laughed uncomfortably, as I’m sure that’s probably not the first time she’s heard that. “Would you like a water or not”, chimes in the other attendant, tersely. I considered having them fill my empty 40oz aluminum Costco water bottle with ice, but this bottle is way too efficient in keeping cold things cold and/or hot things hot (how do it know?), so I figure I’d be reduced to dust before the ice melted enough to actually drink, and acquiesced to the $3 dollar purchase of a 12oz bottle of Dasani water and four (free) cups of ice. The flight continued without incident, which apparently for that week was literally something to write home about.

We landed in DTW (Detroit) and were picked up curbside by Jimmy, who is for all practical purposes, the Family’s “Uber driver”, and has been for going on 63+ years. Jimmy is a character, he’s 81, supremely reliable, a train aficionado, and ardent story teller who brings you up to speed on all Michigan family happenings, to include his  latest health update, and antics of his dog. Luckily traffic was relatively light and made it to the funeral home just as they are finishing the Rosary service. To our delight and surprise, they had boards displayed with numerous snapshots of Uncle Don and family over the years. I searched specifically for pictures of Paul and his uncle, most of which involve hunting trips to the cabin in the Upper Peninsula (UP).

We paid our respects, and then migrated with the rest of the family to the Oxford Tap for libations, fellowship and food.

The bar was filled with laughter and one story led into another, with each generally accompanied by a shot of tequila, whiskey or some horrible concoction called a “red-headed slut”, which ensured a somber funeral service the following afternoon. Having had “enough”, and the fact that we miraculously had a sober driver to take us “home”, we exited the dwindling but committed imbibers only to find cousin Mark and his two lifelong buddies (Rick and Brian, who are brothers) in rare form. Laughter, stories, chiding and beverages flow freely. What is an inevitable and often sorrowful occasion of losing one’s father, has been transformed into another bonding experience with friends, who help to temper the pain of loss, as only true friends can. Another hour or so of laughter, and a handful of electrolytes, courtesy of lovely Kara (Mark’s daughter), we stumbled to bed.

The following morning we are met with a fresh coat of snow on the ground and purportedly more to come.

We apparently were in what my aunt calls, “Third Winter”, of the “eleven seasons” of Michigan.

The service was held at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, a sturdy stone and brick structure “completed” around 1940 and based on a “Norman style” church the parish’s founding priest saw on a trip to Italy in the late 1930’s. This church is where just about every Milosch Family sacrament has been held. He was a proud WWII Navy veteran , an Entrepreneur, ardent philanthropist and dedicated family man. He built one of the top Chrysler Franchises in the country, and the dealership is considered one of the top 100 dealerships in the world. Most people who live into their 90’s most certainly have outlived most of their friends, and often a spouse. Uncle Don’s wife (Gerry) of 63 years died the year previous. They had met when he was in the Navy, at a USO dance, where upon his return to his barracks he announced with conviction, “I’m gonna marry that girl!”, and the rest is history. He is however survived by 6 children (3 boys/3 girls); 29 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren (with surely more than one “on the way”). He was an accomplished sailor, believing motor boats were for lazy people; a hearty outdoorsman who loved to fish, hike and hunt; a world traveler; and his greatest joy…a man who believed in Family. He was a visionary, who bought a decimated parcel of property in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for pennies on the dollar, and built a cabin that would provide decades of recreation and family fun across the “eleven seasons” of Michigan weather.
The family cabin, aptly named “Pierre’s Camp” was named as such due to the fact that Don insisted on being The Chef whilst at the cabin. It wonderfully rustic and sports a hand built fireplace and chimney from local river rock. In the latter years, “running water”, a “proper bathroom” (thank you aunt Gerry), and an antennae to ensure some form of communication with the “world” in the event of an emergency were all installed. The phone became a necessity after Don fell from a bunk and broke his neck (he didn’t know it at the time), and had to be driven several hours over less than soft/flat terrain to a hospital to be treated. He recovered fully after a stint of wearing an “erector set” halo for quite some time. This property was once devoid of trees, having been clear cut in the 60’s, and has since returned to a lush forest with sustainable growth that has provided for more than one pesky beaver and thousands of deer. He loved a practical joke, and more than appreciated the one I played on the Michigan Milosch’s nearly two decades ago, when I purported to have bagged a giant buck on my cousin’s property in Ithaca (picture and all). At that time women were not allowed at Pierre’s Camp during deer season. I however, thought it would be nice to prove women can be successful hunting as well. With the help of my wiley young children (8 and 5), Paul also actually believed my “story”, for when my children discovered that their father had not “bagged” a deer, they adroitly announced “That’s okay dad, cause mom got a big one”, and ran to get the picture I had staged with the help of my aunt and cousins. Paul was so proud, and amazed (as were the rest of the “boys” who had not been successful either, to include Uncle Don) that my “story” was told again and again. Having just purchased a new truck from the family, we had planned that when Paul returned from deer camp to drive cross country to my dad’s for thanksgiving. As we traveled, Paul continued to gush over my success and quiz me as to the details, to include why I failed to bring all the venison, or the rack from my deer. I had fashioned a relatively convincing story on the fly ( I left most of the meat with my aunt for fear of it rotting on our drive back, and my cousin’s husband was working on creating a mount for me). By the time we got to Nebraska , I couldn’t contain the lie anymore, and finally spilled the beans as to the joke I had pulled. Paul was horrified, but not surprised. The problem was that we had no way to walk back that story anytime soon, considering cell phones were not a thing, and no way in hell was I going to fork out a crap ton of change on a pay phone in an attempt to recant said story. When we finally arrived at my father’s for thanksgiving, that following Monday Paul called the dealership to “put things straight”. He was somewhat concerned that his uncle would be mad at us for having been duped. Paul’s cousin Mark (a big practical joker himself) and uncle Don were in on the call via speaker phone. As luck would have it, Uncle Don had just returned from a Chamber of Commerce lunch, and had proudly recounted my “hunting story” to all that would listen. When Paul explained what I had done, they both erupted in laughter, so much so that they had to call us back, so as not to rack up long distance charges, and frankly to do their best halt the spread of my “hunting success”. From that point on, I was “in like Flynn” with Uncle Don, and while not related by DNA, I considered him my uncle as well. For Paul, Uncle Don was as close to a father figure as one could get, considering his father had passed prior to our kids being born. Trips to deer camp and a week with Uncle Don, were always a highlight. I had the pleasure of finally, by decree of Uncle Don several years before he passed, to be the first (and ONLY) woman allowed at deer camp.

2-7-13 101
I even got to hunt out of his blind. He was full of wisdom and stories (laced of course with even more wisdom). I dare say that if he had not been stricken with Parkinson’s he would still be alive and kicking, holding and kissing his great grand-babies, metering out pearls of wisdom and encouragement to his grandchildren, and providing for his family’s legacy as only a proud, hardworking, fun-loving and devoted family man can. Even in his last days of Parkinson’s, having been confined to a wheel chair, seemingly unresponsive and unable to speak, he was still full of life. So much so, that during Paul and his brother’s last visit with their uncle this past November, Don’s homecare nurse who was dare I say, “well endowed” was leaned over in front of Don to adjust him in his wheelchair from slouching. As she leaned over him, lifted him and cinched his chair’s “safety belt”, Paul and his brother could not help but notice a distinct smile emerge on Don’s face. So much for “unresponsive”! [Let that be a lesson to those who think the “unconscious” or seemingly “unresponsive” are not “home” or “alert”.]. In any event, Uncle Don will be missed on so many levels, but his memory and commitment to family (both intimate and extended) will live on and always be cherished. It is my hope that we might all strive to live life to the fullest. To have no regrets, and/or dreams unrealized. To always be kind and help those less fortunate than ourselves. To leave a legacy of love. To cherish family, warts and all.

Posted in Family, Pure Michigan, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Wy-Oh-ming

With a population of just under 590,000 (equal to many counties in California), we were taken a back somewhat by the vast rolling unpopulated countryside. More Pronghorn (American antelope) live here than actual humans, and it was more than obvious. We have traveled to south eastern Wyoming in search of deer for our annual deer hunt to replenish the freezer with venison. Our normal “go-to” area in Utah was inundated by the Brian Head Fire this past summer, so southeast Wyoming it is. We have not visited nor hunted this area, which is on BLM land with pockets of private land, but they boast of trophy deer and elk. We were joined by our normal crew who actually hunted this area 2 years ago with great success. Our concern this year however is the significant die off of the deer population due to last year’s “unusually” harsh winter. We had on good “authority” however that the deer population in the area we had been drawn for were like “fleas on a dog”. Based on what we saw, I’m pretty sure this dog had a flea collar on. Talking with several other regular “local” hunters for this area and the wildlife biologist that stopped by our camp, “counts are a little low this year”, and by “counts” they mean the harvest of deer. That does not mean that the sparse sighting of deer affected our hunting trip in any way, but we sure had to work hard for what we encountered. This is big wide open country and the deer have plenty a space to roam. The trick is running into them. This trip would truly be a test of our skills. We got up to Wyoming three days ahead of the opener to ensure that the campsite we wanted was available. Unfortunately several other people had the same idea. The people that were there said we were welcome to join them, but our “Spidey senses” told us otherwise. The best and flattest place was a pasture across the “narrow” valley, inhabited by free range cattle. Once the cows were evicted, we set up. This would mean, however, that we would be hunting the other “island” mountain range, of which we were not really prepared, but we’re unconcerned as one of our friends had harvested a big buck from this area two years prior, as well. Prior to leaving home we had printed off Google Earth maps of the mountain range we thought we would be hunting, so we now had some serious exploring to do…on foot…uphill. For those of you who deer hunt, you will understand when we say that this area was extremely “deery”, with plenty of bitter brush and sage. Deer and elk poop (along with the free range cattle poop) was everywhere. Maybe this unexpected turn of events would prove successful. One problem with our campsite was that we were not really protected from the near constant “breeze”, that we back home call serious wind. Not to worry, we brought our heavy duty canopy and erected it so as to block the wind and provide some outside cover from the predicted rain and snow set for the opener of deer season. The place was crawling with hunters all currently trying to fill their elk tags in one of the best elk hunting areas in the state (we were told). ATVS and Side-by-sides zoomed by us each morning and evening heading into the mountains, as we watched and shook our heads with distain…”road hunters”. By the end of this trip however, we would be seriously coveting their motorized mounts, or “deer Uber”, as we came to call them, and would be devising a way in which to aquire one or two for ourselves for next year’s hunt. The evening of opener the wind blew fiercely and the temperature dropped to 21°! The wind buffeted our camper and it shuddered and rocked it violently from side to side. The inside of our camper was not much warmer (27°). This was perplexing as our tent, while on our many hiking adventures, has kept us at least 10° warmer than the outside, and our Alaskan camper is insulated. Ah, but wind is devilish and finds, or rather pushes, it’s way into cracks and crevices, of which we now have discovered are many. We stuffed every available unused clothing item into every space the wind was forcing it’s way in. Often times the gusts were so great that it would spit out the tightly stuffed socks that had been jammed into crevices. If we didn’t know better, we’d have thought we were on a boat in rough seas. There was nothing left to do but laugh. But wait, there’s more! We had staked down the 10’x 20′ heavy duty canopy sufficiently, but considering the unrelenting wind, Paul thought it best to check on the canopy and fasten it down with a few more stakes. Once outside, he examined the canopy. It was holding fast, so there was time to pee. No sooner did he step aside and out from underneath the canopy to pee, it lofted itself into the air, flipped over and slammed into our friend Kenny’s pop-up tent trailer. (Had Paul not stepped out and away to pee, he surely would have been hit in the head, and considering our luck, most likely would have been knocked out). Hearing the crash, I quickly dressed with additional warmth clothes and footwear and dashed out of our slightly warmer camper. The canopy had now flipped once more, having shed most of its “legs”, and rested in the clearing next to “campsite”. Paul was frantically undoing the bungie fasteners that held the canopy’s roof to the frame in hopes of “grounding” the darn thing before it attempted to take “flight” once more. Stoves and portable tables had flipped over on their sides. Chairs were scattered about and scooting slowly along the ground. Even with all the comosion, not another soul (of which there were 5 more) awoke to this comedy of wind that reminded us of a Three Stooges episode. We successfully removed the canvas roof without taking flight ourselves and stowed it away. It’s frame was twisted and bent, but that would wait till later. Chairs were collected, tables were folded and everything that could conceivably take “flight” was “grounded”. It was then that we heard, “Hey, is everything all right? Do you need some help?”. “No we got it, go back to sleep”, was our reply, wondering how the hell one sleeps through that, and secretly wishing we could sleep that soundly too. Once back inside our “igloo” we drifted in and out of sleep till the morning’s alarm announced it was time to don our Scentlock camo, load our rifles and begin our trek into the ridiculously cold (for us) and “breezey” morning in search of harvestable venison. It was 23°. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our Under Armour and Cabela’s polar wear worked as advertised, keeping us warm while we generated a bit of sweat as we picked our way up and through a “deery” canyon. Deer sign was everywhere , however none of it was “fresh”. Elk sign however, was fresh, which was not helpful considering we didn’t have an elk tag. We searched all day for fresh sign and heavily traveled game trails. We set up in perfect perches, out of the wind, watching draws and edges of meadows. We even took turns “napping” in hopes of being “caught off guard”. It was not until we “gave up” and started to head back to camp that we saw six large does on the hillside I had watched for the first 3 hours of the morning, before I had to get moving or risk my feet becoming frozen even with 1200gram Thinsulated boots (with disposable to warmers that I had mistakenly inserted and wore upsidedown for the first 2 hours).  Bear in mind, it is important to learn something new each day. We watched in earnest doing our best to will antlers on each big bodied doe, and glassed the edges of the hillside for their boyfriend(s). We eventually wandered back to camp. Back at camp we all discussed what we saw. They day’s count was 9 does (turns out Brian and us saw the same 6 does), 4 Chipmunks and a squirrel…the wandering cattle don’t count. Good thing we have a week to figure this place out. The next day (Monday) started with an amazing sunrise, however the day’s hunt was more of the same, for everyone but Paul and I. In the morning we saw a total of 23 does, having borrowed our friend Kenny’s ATV, which allowed us to get higher and deeper into the wooded “island”, but not a single “bro” (spike or forky) amoungst them. On our way back to camp, as we motored down the dirt road, a large herd of Roosevelt Elk (we counted over 60, to include at least 12 “Royal” bull elk) had crossed a bit in front of us and were methodically weaving their way through the trees and up the hillside dusted with snow. With our binoculars glued to our foreheads, we poked and prodded each other (“Did you see that one?…OMG, Look at that one!…Oh, wait, check that out!…Did you see?…) We were completely mesmerized, as we watched in awe until they all finally disappeared into the trees, on the other side of the ridgeline.  Lunch back at camp found our 10 lb, 13 year old Chihuahua/terrier take on a cheeky red and white hefer who apparently had been selected by her herd to see about reclaiming their pasture. Our fiesty dog, who believes he is a Doberman, was having none of that. Having fully marked his “territory”, he was intent on defending it and “protecting” his people. As we watched this cow walk purposely toward camp, our dog took it upon himself to fend off her advance. Before we knew it, our dog took off like a rocket, barking “ferociously” at the cow. The cow, who had most likely never been “attacked” by such a small thing dressed in a silver “puffy” jacket was so startled that she took off running in a serpentine manner, with our dog hot on her hooves. I now joined in the “chase”…to corral our dog. Suddenly the cow stopped in her tracks, probably thinking “This is ridiculous. What the hell am I running from?”, and lowered her enormous head to the ground. Our dog stopped as well, and to our surprise met the cow nose to nose. As they were sniffing each other and apparently getting acquainted, I caught up and swiftly scooped up our dog before the cow decided to stop him to death. We wish we would have captured this event on video, but it happened so quickly, there was no time. We didn’t know whether to punish or reward him, so we laughed. Turns out, the rest of the week, the cows never returned.

Guess who is “Large and in Charge!”

For the evening hunt we returned to the same area we had seen all the does in hopes a buck or two might wander across our path.  We had no such luck.  But were treated to a sky full of color.

IMG_20171016_182400650_HDR

IMG_20171017_064721248

Tuesday morning found us with the morning free of color, and bitter cold (27 ). We motored back to the previous area where we had seen the does the day before.  We thought we might get lucky and have no bitter cold gusting wind to challenge us in our constant attempt(s) to stay “up wind” of our “prey”, but were sorely disappointed.  We spied a few does and stalked them in hopes of  catching their “boyfriend(s)” attempting to make a “booty call”.  They “winded” us pretty quickly as the winds at the top of the plateau constantly changed direction on us, making it near impossible to be “sneaky”.  We did however get pretty good at locating white butted boulders and tangles of tree limbs that mimicked antlers, and orange clad hunters set up in the distance at the edges of our binocular’s strength.  Mid-day found us back at camp with no one else having any success as well.  We all found it odd how very few shots we had heard over the past few days, and wondered aloud, “What happened to all the deer that are supposed to be here?”  The evening hunt found us on foot, so we decided to “road hunt”, pedestrian style.  We walked along the dirt road that we had driven the ATV over the last two days glassing the hillsides on either side of us as we walked.  A little over an hour before sunset, we decided we had walked “far enough”.

Paul pulled out his sit pad, and I set up my Big Agnes Helinox chair, and plopped ourselves on the side of the road and began to watch the hillsides before us, and “range” the distance of possible shots.  IMG_20171017_172637561Once again the only mammals we saw were hunters…in ATVs, that actually didn’t see us until they were almost upon us, as they too were so intent on scanning the hillsides.  As the sun set and the evening chill began to increase, we walked ourselves warm back to camp…deerless.  We had decided that we were going to take the next morning off, as we were going to break camp and move across the way to our originally planned hunting area.  Half the group had to leave after that morning’s hunt anyways, so sleeping in and a hearty breakfast sounded pretty good.

After our farewells, we moved with our friends Brian and Jody (of Mt. Whitney Magnificent 7 fame) to the “other side”.

IMG_20171020_130043253We were pleased to find that the incessant wind was “miniscule” compared to what we had endured the previous days.  Not necessarily confident we would see anything but new scenery, we took off on an exploratory evening hunt.  We walked an ATV trail into a marvelous canyon, absent any wind.  The canyons were narrow but huntable.  What a treat!  Surely we would see some deer.  Maybe even a buck!  And low and behold, as we were making our way back toward camp, a buck we did see.  His massive white butt literally glowed as he made his way up a steep incline, initially a mere 150 yards away.  With the plain eye you could see he was at minimum a 4×4 with 2 inch beams and thick tines.  The buck was obviously aware of our presence, and was intently moving up and away from us at a brisk pace.  He obviously had seen this movie before.  Paul scurried forward of me to improve his angle and then quickly dropped to one knee.  I marveled at the buck through my binoculars, realizing that this was the biggest buck I have seen, save Saturday morning hunting shows.  But before Paul could get a “proper” shot off, this monster buck of a lifetime calmly walk over the top of the ridge’s rocky saddle and out of view.   Had we bagged this bad boy, we surely would have packed up and gone home, as this guy would have provided more than an enough meat for the freezer and most definitely  knocked my current mule deer “trophy mount” off the wall in our living room.  The walk back to camp and a good portion of the evening was cased in silence.

The next morning Brian and Jody had to get on the road, and as Jody had been graciously keeping an eye on our dog whilst we hunted, we didn’t feel comfortable leaving our tender morsel of a dog alone at camp to whine during our absence, thus, we divided the remaining morning and evening hunts between us.  Paul took the mornings, and I took the evenings.  Just after Brian and Jody had left, I heard two shots separated by 10-15 seconds. I wondered if Paul had found his mark.  Our ability to communicate was challenging to say the least.  Our radios did not cover in the deep canyons to camp, but oddly enough we had 4G cell service once we left camp.  The plan was: if a shot was heard; it was “check-in time”; or you hadn’t arrived back at camp within an hour of stated ETA back to camp, we would walk out to the road (200 yards) and first attempt with the radio, then make a phone call, and then text a message to the Delorme InReach SE we carried while hunting.  I walked out to the road and stood in the freezer blast wind.  Paul was able to reply via radio that he had indeed shot (twice), but it was a long shot with a nasty cross-wind atop a rocky ridge.  He had set up “perfectly” and was in “comfortable” shooting range, with the buck still unaware of his presence.  In his quest to get the full “sneak” of the buck, he had “spooked” some does who were still “bedded down” for the morning.  The stupid does then proceeded to fast walk down the face of the hill he was setting up on, into the ravine, and then marched up the face of the hill and toward where the buck was calmly feeding.  This alerted the buck that something was “a-foot”.   With no time to spare, and a near gale force wind in his face, Paul fired off the first shot.  Boom! Miss.  Readjust.  Boom! And just like that, the buck annoyed by the approaching doe (having no clue that he had been shot at…twice) calmly walked up and over the ridge he had been feeding on, completely out of sight.  Thusly, no deer for the freezer.  Time for lunch.  My evening hunt was uneventful, with the exception of 5 doe and an awesome view.

IMG_20171019_181702192_HDR

Friday morning found it bitter cold and windier that it had ever been.  It was gusting upwards to 30+mph, but just like you miss every shot you don’t take, you can’t see deer from inside the camper.  Out into the ridiculously windy and cold morning Paul trudged while I and our dog burrowed deeper into our down sleeping bag.  It was a short hunt, as Paul returned fairly quickly having crawled up and over just about every ridgeline there was, seeking out that monster buck we had seen two days prior.  When evening hunt time came, I almost decided not to go, as a storm was obviously blowing in, and the realization that even if I saw a buck, the wind would make any shot near impossible.  But again, you can’t see deer from inside the camper, and having eaten more than a “healthy” share of mini candy bars (out of boredom), I figured I should at least walk off those useless calories.  I wandered through the ATV canyon, and to the border of where BLM land met private land.  The wind was blowing so fiercely through the canyon that I had to lean sharply into the wind to even be able to make forward progress.

I found a lone boulder behind which to “hide” before deeming my outing, ridiculousness.  I called Paul at our appointed time and relayed where I was sitting and that I was going to start walking back  into camp no later than 5 pm as it was too windy.  At 5 pm, I stepped out from my wind-blocking boulder and began to push my way back toward camp, still scanning the hillsides of course.  And what to my wandering eyes does appear, but a decent bodied young buck with a narrow 3×4, if not a 4×4 basket, feeding broadside on the hillside of another steep canyon.  I range him at 356 yards.  Way too far in this wind.  I consider just continuing my walk back to camp and telling Paul I saw a buck.  But then I figured, he’ll ask why I didn’t attempt to take a shot.  Not wanting to have that conversation,  I picked my way around the opposite hillside and climbed up the steep, loose rock incline on all fours nearly 75 yards before poking my head around a stocky juniper bush to hopefully relocate him.  Miraculously he was still there.  I ranged him again.  He was still standing broadside and was now at 239 yards with a cross-wind.  Do-able, I thought.  Not probable, but then nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Just as I am “dialing him in” and readying for my shot, the bastard decides to turn around and walk down behind a short stand of pine trees.  From here, he pokes his head out through a stand of dead branches, and now seemingly stares directly at me.  I return the stare and I consider taking a head shot, but then that defeats the purpose of shooting a “trophy” buck.  This was turning into a stand-off, of which he would surely win by waining light default.  Time to move again.  Back behind the hillside and another session of crawling on all fours up the steep incline (quietly)  I have closed the distance and have him at an “easy” 151 yards regardless of the wind, but he’s still behind the dead branches and I’m losing daylight fast. With nothing left to lose I stand up, shoulder my rifle and yell, Hey!  He breaks from his “cover” and attempts to escape by running up the narrow hollow of the canyon, and to his left over a saddle.  The wind is blowing left to right at a steady 15 mph.  With my rifle shouldered, I follow his path and as he makes that turn to the left, I pull the trigger and follow through to my left as if I were shooting a duck or pheasant on the fly.  I see that he “skips” a bit, but continues to climb quickly up and through the saddle.  Not even sure that I even nicked him, I range the shot at 215 yards.  Considering his little “skip”, I am now curious and excited that I may have hit the darn thing.  However, I would prefer to have completely missed than to merely wound the tastey animal.  In the growing darkness I work my way up to the saddle, figuring that at least it is in the general direction of camp.  I am amazed that I am not winded and attribute it to a recent healthy dose of adrenaline.  I notice two things.  (1.)  It is NOT windy,  but dead calm.  And (2.) BLOOD! Lot’s of it!  He must of stopped here to figure out what had happened to him, and to go through his options.IMG_20171020_183618765

While here, I try to get Paul on the radio.  No answer.  I call his phone.  No answer.  I text on the Delorme to make sure I’ve covered all the bases.  It is here, or more appropriately where I had shot from, that I should have sat down and ate a Snickers bar and let the buck lie down and bleed out somewhere down the blood trail.  Alas, that was not possible.  For as soon as I finished making my notification attempts, rain began to fall softly and intermittently. “NO!  NO! This can’t be happening!”, I yell out loud, and immediately take to following the blood trail.  At first it is easy to follow, thinking, surely he will be fallen over dead soon, as I meticulously mark each significant stain of blood with reflective orange tape on nearby bushes or branches.  In the midst of tracking this animal, Paul finally reaches me on the radio.  I tell him I shot a buck and am in the process of tracking him.  Paul is excited and asks where I am.  I tell him that I think I’m heading toward “Cross Hill”.  “You know or you think?”, is Paul’s terse reply.  “I think.  Does it matter?  I’m tracking the blood trail.  It’s starting to rain on me.”  Having not been able to reach me past my appointed ETA back to camp, Paul had obviously become more than a little concerned, seeing as earlier in the week I had taken a hard fall Tuesday evening as we bushwacked our way back to camp, which required me to re-sight my rifle and assess the operability of my left knee. Paul having the cooler head, not consumed with “buck fever”, realized that if I weren’t hurt, I could quickly become lost (and possibly injured), if we (I) don’t figure out where exactly I am.  The sky is inky black and ravenously gobbles up the light of my headlamp as I waive it back and forth atop a ridge I think I’m on, for Paul to see.  He mistakes another hunter’s headlamp moving away from the area he, and I, think I’m in.  Mine, nor Paul’s light is visible to either of us.  Absent my headlamp, there is no glimmer of light, on the horizon or even above me.  At this point, I’m actually pissed that I have to take the time to figure out exactly where I am instead of following this deer.  Up to this point I have marked the trail with orange reflective tape, and am confident I can retrace my path to camp from the original pool of blood.  I neglect to convey that to Paul.  I am conflicted and frankly annoyed.  Rain is falling softly again.  And it’s suddenly gotten very cold. Shit!  It seems that the darkness has become even “thicker”…if that’s even possible.  Cold reality, and reason finally takes over.  Paul’s insistence breaks through and I remember that Brian had lent me his portable GPS mapping device, and I had it in my pocket.  From the tracking arrow, it showed I was not even near “Cross Hill”, but traversing a hill parallel to the ATV trail.  I relay to Paul where I am.  I follow a bit more of the blood trail and then lose it.  I retrace my steps back to where I last saw it, and realize that if we’re going to find this deer before this fully storm sets in, I need another set of eyes.  I mark the last blood spot located with a bright green glow stick (whose color turns out to be a bad idea) and bust my way down a finger ravine that runs into the ATV trail.  The GPS unit now indicates “low battery”.  What?!  No!  Paul meets me on the ATV trail and we go about retracing my track back to the glow stick.  Sadly, I don’t have my glasses, so it is hard to read and orient to the track on the small screen.(It truly sucks getting older!)  I touch the screen repeatedly trying to keep the screen lit and enlarge my view.  I can’t help but notice that the rain has now turned to snow, as it lands on the screen and obscures my view.  NO!  I wipe the snow off the screen, and have now managed to completely restart my track, thus wiping out any chance of accurately finding our way back up the hill in the absolute suffocating darkness, to my “last seen” marker.  Could it get any worse?!  By the grace of God, Paul locates a fresh blood track, which is actually consistent with the route this deer was taking…downhill.  We follow the track.  It leads to, and down the ATV trail, which also leads to water (a usual route for “wounded” animals).  It is fresh, but sparse which does not make sense. Giant flakes of snow are now falling with vigor, and soon masks any and all traces of blood.  We can smell the distinctive smell of deer, but it’s way too dark, there is a stiff “breeze” and the underbrush is too thick to pinpoint where the smell is actually generating from.  With the ground fully blanketed in snow, we tie orange reflective ribbon at our last seen “fresh” blood, and head back to camp with hopes of finding him in the morning, for surely he has bled out by now.  Considering the current temperature, he’ll keep through the night, we surmise.

We arise early the next morning, so as to beat any ATV’ers down the trail, in the event there is any blood trail to follow.  We get to our “last seen” marker and search in vain for more blood.  We are in luck, as the snow did not “stick” and has mostly melted.

IMG_20171022_110348462

With that, we find a faint trail that appears to continue down the ATV trail, but we can not be sure it is blood until we find rocks in the trail with distinctive blood spatter.  It won’t be long, we giddily exclaim to each other.   And then as if by magic the trail evaporates and stops.  We scour the game trails to the left and right of this last small splash of blood.  Nothing!  We find evidence of other blood spatter nearby, but it’s too old (dry and crusty) to be my deer.  The sun is fully risen, and still no deer to be found.  Paul who has literally beaten the surrounding bushes, heads back to camp to check on our dog as I decide to head to the point of where I shot this buck and start from the “beginning”.  IMG_20171021_121045312Once at the original pool of blood, I find it still “fresh” and highly visible.  My orange reflective tape markers are still in place and I follow his track easily, happily noticing that the blood is still visible after the previous night’s mini blizzard.  I follow the track to a spot where it appears the buck just charged down the face of the hill over the bitter brush, but can find no obvious blood trail to the bottom, as the rain and snow must have “washed” it away.  However, my green glow stick is nowhere to be found…in all the green growey stuff. (Note to self…ditch all the green glow sticks and restock with orange, red, even blue).  I circle pattern search at this point and down below once more.  I have taken to calling this deer, Houdini, as he has done a remarkable disappearing act.  After a total of nearly 11 hours, over two days, searching for Houdini, I call it.  The only possible explanation is that Houdini called for an Uber, and was picked up on the ATV trail the night prior.  (There was a side-by-side that exited the ATV canyon just before Paul had left camp that evening…just saying) Highly frustrated and dejected I stomp back to camp, as it’s Paul’s turn to hunt.

The wind continues to intensify, and is relentless.  Conditions for hunting couldn’t be any worse.  We fight the urge to pack up and head for home, but we are optimists and still believe (just a little) that we may still bag a deer before we leave.  IMG_20171022_072446624_HDRWe awake our final morning to another colorful sky.  The wind is near 30 mph and constant.  It has “warmed up” to 37 degrees, but with the wind chill factor, (as with everyday so far), is more like a “balmy” 5 degrees.  What a treat!  Paul returns quite early, having become too chilled to effectively hunt.

IMG_20171022_101154172

I head out in the evening, if only for a walk in the woods.  Remarkably my route finds me “mostly” out of the wind for a time.  As I climb another hill to glass for our “monster  buck”, (heck, any buck) I am rewarded with a plethora of white butted rocks, antler shaped branches, and a subsiding wind.  I have successfully snuck a small herd of does and if I wished, could throw a rock and hit them.  As usual, I peer and wait in earnest for a “boyfriend” to appear, if not here, somewhere on the near distant hillsides.

IMG_20171022_181609702_HDRIMG_20171022_181618483_HDRI have a commanding view of the entire area we have been hunting.  This is truly an island in the middle of a harsh and arid prairie.  While we may not have secured venison for the freezer, we have been satiated with remarkable views, brilliant sunrises and sunsets, the company of good friends, and the exploration of new and unmistakably beautiful territory, that is but a small portion of southeast Wyoming.  This is what hunting is all about.  Communing with nature, connecting with the wonderment and perfection of God’s creations, and harvesting a tastey morsel or two…if you are lucky.  And of course, like clockwork, and the irony of Mother Nature (who is a bitch, btw), the morning after the season ends, is beautiful, sunny yet cold, and more importantly absent any wind.  ANY WIND!  Absolute perfect deer hunting conditions.  We smile and shake our heads.  And just to add salt to the “wound”, I spy a couple of does making their way through the edge of our camp, as if to say, ‘Neener, Neener, Neener’.  And with that we finish packing,  and head home to what would be a near 100 degree temperature change.

Oh, Wy-Oh-ming, we’ll be back.  That, is for sure.

IMG_20171022_181904612_HDR

 

Posted in BLM Adventures, Mini Adventures, Mule Deer Hunting, Uncategorized, Wyoming | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments