Returning the Favor
Clean white snow covered the faint two track. Nobody had been into the basin since the last storm. The truck pitched forward and we cautiously made our decent. Without talking my dad and I both had the same feeling in the pit of our stomach; a level of excitement for elk we hoped to find basking on southern slopes, combined with a fear of not being able to get back out. Either way, we had the place to ourselves.
As we reached the basin floor, at the edge of one of the largest Wilderness areas in the lower forty eight, the enormity of the place began to set in. From the edge of the timber we turned off the truck and surveyed the landscape in front of us. The large open valley stretched ahead of us, surrounded by soaring slopes covered in conifers interspersed with inviting parks. Within minutes, I had several bunches of elk framed in the spotting scope.
I have had seasons go by without spotting an elk. I’m not proud, but it’s true. So any time I see elk I consider it half the battle and cause for excitement. The closest bunch was about 5 miles away. We had our work cutout for us. It was possible to drive another half mile, from there we needed to hiked.
Methodically we began skinning and quartering. Taking turns wielding the knife, holding a leg, and keeping an eye out for bears, we worked. Done, we loading the front quarters, back straps and tenderloins into our day packs. Needing to leave the hind quarters overnight, we looked for a tree to hang them from in the hopes that a grizz wouldn’t get to them before we could return.
Under the weight of heavy packs we slowly made our way back to camp. My dad and I carried equal weight. I think of my dad as the strongest man I’ve ever known. Physically, he can’t be as strong as when I was a kid, but you’d hardly know it. His mental toughness is unparalleled.
Worn out we got into camp just as it became dark. I was exhausted. If my dad was he sure didn’t show it. Slipping into what has now become routine for us, my dad made dinner while I pitched the tent, a glass of Talisker was waiting for me when I was done. We slipped into easy conversation and let the cold night air find it’s home while we huddled around the fire.
The next day we again spotted piles of elk. I still had a tag. Our plan was to hunt a group closest to where the remainder of dad’s elk was. By 11am we were a few hundred feet higher and a mile farther from camp, than the half an elk we still had on the ground. We were on fresh tracks but not as fortunate getting into them as the previous day. Needing to be back to work the next day it seemed prudent to abandon the chase and pack out the rest of dad’s elk.
We were rewarded for hanging the hind quarters. The carcass had been rolled downhill and, retracing our steps through the snow, Grizzly tracks as large as pie plates, overlaid our footprints from the day before. Quads burning from the heavier loads and cumulative fatigue we began the now familiar march to camp. Truth be told we were lucky I wasn’t able to fill my tag, although this is still hard for me to recognize on some level. But given our location and schedule, packing out two elk would have been tough.
For six days, my dad helped me chase deer earlier in the season. Now I was able to return the favor and help him pack out an elk after an incredible backcountry hunt. Our mantra over the season had become “keep working hard”. It paid off. Not because of meat in the freezer or a trophy on the wall but because of the experiences we had together.