Journal Entry: Dec. 10, 2006; 9:15 a.m.
Racing to catch the ferry for the mainland; worked late last night instead of packing for this mountain goat hunt. Got home from my Saskatchewan whitetail hunt five days ago, but all my whitetail hunting gear was still in my truck this morning.
Really excited about this hunt for goats on the coast of British Columbia. Booked the hunt at the Safari Club International show last year after meeting the outfitters, Spike Lewis and Allen Bolen—great guys, young guys, probably early 30s. If they’re guiding me, I’m in deep trouble because I doubt if a month straight of sitting on whitetail stand eating bon bons is the best training regime for this hunt.
The drive up to Terrace should take about 14 hours; once I’m off the ferry, up through Prince George and across to Smithers. Raining hard here, black ice and snow ahead; already heard the highways are bad. Spike and Allen took the new archery world record mountain goat last year in the area I’ll be hunting. Whoa! Have to focus on the road; a semi-trailer just jackknifed in front of us. Sleet, slush, snow and rain. Nice.
Tired, brutally slow going, nearly midnight; been driving for 12 hours and barely half-way there. Gotta stop. Have to wonder sometimes if maybe I’m pushing too hard. Can’t get that “Old-Grey-Mare-she-ain’t-what-she-used-to-be” song out of my head.
Journal Entry: Dec. 11, 2006; 5 a.m.
Back on the road again. Needed the few hours of sleep. Feel fresh. Forget the “Old Grey Mare,” it’s “Tennessee Stud” time. Green eyes aren’t exactly turning blue, more like turning bloodshot. Beautiful drive, snow everywhere, still slow though.
Made it! Pretty cushy for a goat hunt; we’ll actually be staying at Spike’s home. Met his wife, Casey, and their two children; nice family, says a lot about this outfit. Got my Thompson/Center Encore put together and we’re already heading out! Spike saw a huge billy on a rocky mountainside two weeks ago, so we’re going to see if we can spot it.
It’s funny, when you’re driving in these road conditions to get to some place that’s hours and hours away, the roads are terrible, but now that we’re driving on these same roads going hunting, they’re no big deal at all. Off the highway, on logging roads now, climbing in 4WD. Don’t look over the edge! The roads are pure ice, and it’s foggy up in these higher reaches. Reminds me of Vancouver Island: temperate rainforest, lots of Douglas fir and red cedar. Colder though. The mountains are steep, cliffy, snow-covered peaks; too foggy to glass.
Worth it for the view, even if we can’t see the goat cliffs. The fog’s moving in and out of the valley, like a living breathing thing; eerie dark green and ancient, the old growth trees stand out against the pure white around us. The trees are growing right up into the fog; it’s swirling in strands, tendrils. Damp place, even the air is wet and cold. These coastal ranges are steep and nasty, young mountains. There hasn’t been a billion years worth of erosion to knock them down, to tame and civilize them. It’s not exactly gloomy here, more like forbidding and foreboding.
We’ve turned and are descending this logging road to heaven; Spike and Allen are telling me about their outfit. I’m calling them hippies, but they’re anything but. They represent the new age of outfitting—they’re the young guns. They know equipment and gear, and I know them by reputation; they’re good hunters, fearless and tough. They understand marketing and wear high-tech mountaineering gear that a cowboy outfitterguide wouldn’t be caught dead in.
Not a stitch of camo on either of them. Spike’s hat is knitted wool, with flaps that hang down over his ears… with long tassels hanging from those flaps and another big long tassel hanging down from the center of his head. Somebody call the Hunting Fashion Police! Only thing missing in Spike’s ensemble is a “Save the Baby Seals” sign.
Goats! Spike’s spotted a group of the magnificent animals right from the truck. Now that’s what I call a Gentleman’s goat hunt. On second thought, he’s looking nearly straight up the far mountainside, in the cliffs we can just see hanging down from the clouds. You have to be kidding—there’s two feet of snow down at our level, and it has to be four feet deep up there.
They’re pointing the goats out to me, but I’m not sure why they’re wasting time looking up so high on a mountain that is so obviously lacking a chair lift.
Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous! A mountain goat is a world class trophy no matter what time of the year, but this late in the season, they might well be the ultimate big game animal. Yellow-white against the snow, their hair looks to be a foot long; chaps fall nearly to their hocks.
The fog’s rolling in now, the goats were there and now they’re gone and we’re headed back to Spike’s. It’s nearly dark, and it’s only 4 p.m.; not many daylight hours this late in the year. As we slip and slide down the steeper parts of the frozen logging road, the reality of what we’re intending to do is sinking in, and I’m suddenly feeling about as capable as a brontosaurus, one that ate way too many cookies on a whitetail stand. I can’t say doubting myself is a good feeling, but the writing is on the cliff—finding a billy might be easy, but getting to him is going to be an exercise in desire.
Journal Entry: Dec. 12, 2006
Up early, can’t sleep. I was having outfitter nightmares. Charging bears, no bullets in my gun, scope fogged, fun stuff like that.
Spike and Allen are loading snowshoes. Snowshoes? Let me see if I got this straight: We’re going to snowshoe on bowlegs four miles up a steep, snowed-in logging road, then hopefully spot a goat on a cliff, then we’re going to climb a few thousand feet up a nearly vertical mountain, through snow and ice, shoot the billy, with a muzzleloader, skin him, quarter him and then climb all the way back down the mountain and snowshoe on bowlegs, to the truck with a 350-pound animal on our backs?
Yep. Spike just told me that snow machines aren’t legal, and the snow’s too deep for quads. Not exactly my point I’ve just told him. All that isn’t remotely possible in eight short hours of daylight; in fact, there’s no way of knowing if a brontosaurus can even snowshoe on bowlegs for one mile, let alone four.
Complaining didn’t seem to change my outfitters’ minds. They’re in front of me, breaking trail. I’m following, trying not to break anything. Actually it’s not as bad as I thought, at least not if you don’t mind looking like you just piddled your pants.
Goats! There are at least 10 of them scattered out across the cliffs, in the rock bluffs among the trees, underneath big rock ledges. Not clear enough to tell what they are, though. Starting to snow now, big flakes. The goats are gone, but then so is the mountain they were stuck to. We’re standing in the clouds, getting covered in a white blanket of sticky snow. Now it’s turning to rain, pouring down on us. Spike and Allen aren’t moving, not until the clouds clear so they can see if there are any big goats in the herd.
Three hours we’ve waited, wet and cold, and now we can finally see again. Nothing big—thank you God. We’ve grabbed our backpacks and we’re headed back down the mountain. Yessiree, sure feels good snowshoeing with my legs this far apart. Going to have bigger groin muscles than Arnold if we do this every day.
Journal Entry: Dec. 13, 2006
New plan today: We’re going into a different area where we can use snow machines. Excellent. Oh no, wait; I have a better idea: Why not let a gorilla pound my tender inner thighs with a sledge hammer? Actually shouldn’t complain, after yesterday’s little snowshoeing experience, I can now do the splits better than any Olympic gymnast… I just can’t undo them.
There’s a heavy fog rolling down through the trees. It’s hanging in front of us now. The grey sky looks pregnant and not very happy about it. It seems like any minute this coastal “thickness” is going to give birth to the Rosemary’s baby of all snow storms or rain storms. I have to wonder if anybody in this country knows what the color blue look like? You’re telling me the sky is blue? Get out! Sun? Heard of it, but doesn’t live here, sorry.
They’ve stopped the machines and Spike has already spotted a goat. They’re digging out their scopes. This area produced a monster goat a few years back, in the top 10 of the Boone and Crockett Club record book; anything scoring more than 50 points is a tremendous goat; the world record for muzzleloader is 51 points. A goat with nine-inch horns is considered to be an excellent one, but the grail is a 10-inch goat. A big billy can weigh more than 400 pounds.
Nothing big enough again. Thank you God.
Journal Entry: Dec. 14, 2006
Monster billy! Allan and Spike are wound right up, animated. They’ve called me over to look through the spotting scope. No question that this goat is twice as big as the nannies hanging on the cliff with him—long horns sticking high above his head and curving back. He looks likes a huge block of white.
The guys brought a canoe just in case today. Besides a couple thousand feet in elevation, a problem I’m still not sure how they plan to surmount, there’s an ice-choked river between us and the goat. The guys are moving fast now, untying the canoe from the top of the truck. It’s a race against time, or daylight more like.
We’ve made it down and are crossing one at a time with Spike as our fearless captain for each ferry crossing. Now we’ve portaged across a sand bar, shod in a four-foot-deep December slab of ice. More open water to cross. Spooky as heck crossing, fast water just below us, rapids I can force myself to look away from, but can’t stop my ears from hearing.
We’re across and I’m taking it all off, down to an undershirt only. I know I’m going to be boiling hot within the first 100 yards up this slope. Very steep right now to begin with, in the timber the snow isn’t as bad as I thought it would be though. It’s snowball temperature, so it’s packing under our feet. Allan and Spike are taking turns breaking trail for their dinosaur buddy. They’re wearing heavier packs than I am as well. Remember Sylvester and his son on “Bugs Bunny?” Oh for shame.
It’s called the Everest walk. One step up, six inches max in elevation. Pause. Another baby step. Should take only a million or so of these to get to the goat. Saves energy. Step. Step. Step. Step. Brain… off.
We’ve been climbing now for almost three hours; virtually every step of the way has been uphill. Now we’ve got a long horizontal traverse that we know puts us just over a half-mile below the goats. Twice as much snow here. Just apologized to the guys for not helping break trail… wasn’t sincere.
We’re getting into more open and steeper country now. Allen is climbing ahead of us and dropping the rope down for us to hang on to through the cliff sections. I’m breaking one of my unwritten rules: Once the ropes come out, it’s time to go home! We’re on the extreme edge of hunting conditions. We’ve climbed up a rock shoot, pausing to get our bearings. I definitely know which way is down.
We’re still 100 yards below where we need to be. We’re running out of light, the “walk” up has taken us six hours. It’s 4 p.m. This hunt, in the next half-hour, is going to turn into an ordeal, a survival expedition more than a hunt. Leaving now means heading down the mountain during the dark of night; continuing the pursuit means the unknown, and the unknown can kill you on a frozen mountain. Decision time.
Wait—we’ve just found a huge track that’s got to be from the billy!
It’s sudden-death overtime. We’re crossing the face now, it’s steep below us; I’m not looking down, no point. Goat beds in the bluffs around us. The big track is everywhere in the snow. The rut is almost over, but he’s obviously pushing the nannies around.
Spike has just ducked down and is waving hard at me to come forward—fast! The billy has to be right there in front of him, just over the ledge… BOOM!