A Spring Elk Hunt
I envisioned elk high on the mountain. A small park below tree line seemed the likely spot for them to appear. Five miles and four thousand feet of elevation stood between me and the mountain top I wanted to reach. Another four miles straight down a spur ridge would bring me back to my vehicle. A snow storm earlier in the week and drifts left over from winter made for difficult conditions. A horn signaled the start of the first running race I have entered.
After bird season, a steady diet of overpriced micro brews and quesadillas had me feeling lethargic, I wanted a reason to get back in shape. I’m not a runner, but I told enough people about my intentions to hold myself accountable. Besides, the race description sounded less like a run and more like elk hunting.
“Tackle nine-plus miles of gnarly unmarked unsupported trail running with two quad and hamstring crushing hills, the first four-plus miles straight up the second five-plus miles straight down. Throw in unpredictable weather, snow, mud, rain, blizzards, post holing and winds strong enough to blow runners off their feet and you have the perfect ingredients to kick off the summer trail run season.”
My mind wandered to the Absorkas, where months earlier I made similar climbs. Lungs bursting I charged uphill in the hopes of intercepting elk on open slopes before they retreated to the timber. On top, I was not greeted to the heard of elk I had envisioned, but fresh tracks headed down an adjacent ridge.
Post holing up to my thighs I could tell by the perfect grains of snow surrounding each footprint I was gaining ground on a small group. Partway down the ridge they changed course and headed off route, down a steep gully. I followed in hot pursuit. One thousand feet of controlled free fall ensued. Using my hands as rudders I tucked one foot under me and skidded down through near vertical snow covered timber in a modified baseball slide.
The occasional drop of blood let me know I was still on their heels. As the snow thinned with elevation, turned up rocks and broken twigs allowed me to keep tracking the group. Glimpses of movement let me know I was getting close. At the bottom I caught up but quickly bumped them. In easier terrain they raced off, out of sight once again. Doggedly I continued my pursuit until the finish line.
With no frame of reference I thought the endeavor was a blast. Just like elk hunting.