Approaching Elk Hunting From An Alpinist Perspective
Images and Words By Tobias MacPhee
When I began my apprenticeship as an alpinist, someone told me, “to be successful in the mountains, one’s ability to suffer is mandatory.” I learned quickly that the only predictable factor is that you will be uncomfortable. You don’t know for how long, or even if in pursuit you will walk away successful.
Last fall I was approached with the opportunity to join a self-supported, backcountry elk hunt with Matt and Steven. I immediately jumped on board. To push deep into hard terrain, terrain that most people are unwilling to venture into, is something that I have become familiar with as an alpinist.
Advanced Base Camp (ABC) was pushed 5 miles past the wilderness boundary– with no ATV or dirt bike access. Traveling this distance along with the difficult terrain proved successful. We stalked and harvested two bulls, each approximately 5-7 miles from ABC.
With hunting in general, you do not encounter the same kinds of challenges that you do in alpinism. When climbing, you are constantly concerned with rockfall, avalanches and weather. But because this trip led us into remote country, some of the challenges were similar.
Rough weather, steep terrain, and cold temps were a large factor that we had to deal with. We encountered and competed with apex predators– grizzly sightings and wolves– equally as unpredictable as rockfall and avalanches.
Some might think that drawing parallel lines between alpinism and hunting is a far fetched idea, but for me it boils down to the connection to the land. In climbing your whole world can be wrapped up in a 50 foot section of rock. Similarly in hunting, 50 yards to an elk hunter could seem like miles. In both cases complete concentration and focus on every detail of your surroundings is required to make the next move.
Growing up hunting whitetails and calling mallards in the midwest, hunting is in my blood. But for decades I’ve been drawn to climbing in the mountains. It’s hard to pin down but this hunt confirmed a shift in me. The risks associated with alpinism no longer seem worth the reward. For the foreseeable future I will be found running field trials with my young lab and chasing elk in the high country.
*Editors Note: Alpinists are the only people who think packing out elk on your back over long distances is no big deal. They are almost as good as a horse. In addition to shooting great photos Tobias can carry huge loads, move big trees, and is a general bad ass. More about his story can be found here.