Alternate title: "Without a paddle"
Day 9, Oct. 31st
Happy Halloween. When I asked what everybody else was going to dress as, they said "a hunter", so I think I'll go as a mountain man just to be different.
Today is the last day of the hunt. The plan is as follows: Mark and I will walk Hinton Creek bed with the pistol, and hope not to get eaten by a cougar. Papa and Pat will walk opposite hillsides next to the creek, and shoot any elk that we scare out of hiding. It's basically the same plan as before, only in a different location, probably with more water, more danger, and more walking for Papa and Pat. Grandpa will be posted up on a mountain top at first, and then drive down to the road where it meets the creek, and take us back up to camp one at a time. Maybe Mark will carry the cougar spear I made.
Now, down into the belly of the beast.
Down here in the thick damp creek bed, it's often difficult to gauge your progress... you feel like you're moving quickly and taking forever at the same time. We've determined that it will be best if we occasionally hit a stick against a tree to give the others some frame of reference for where we are, so nobody gets too far ahead of the others. Last night's rain has clung tenaciously to the leaves and branches of every tree and bush down here, but seems to tire of its grasp just as soon as we pass by.
Mark and I were fortunate, about ten minutes in (though, again, it's hard to tell when you can't really see the sun, don't have a clock, and have been moving quickly and going nowhere), to catch a rare glimpse of a wild Uncle Pat in its natural habitat. Judging by the size of it's mustache, it must be around 55 or 60 years old, and has most likely sired about 4 bulls by this time in it's life.
All of this tromping through thick wet brush has left our pants soaked through, which has left our long johns soaked through, which has left our socks soaked through, which has filled our waterproof boots full of water. We had been told, "there are places where you'll have to climb down waterfalls". We came to the top of one such waterfall, Mark on one side of the creek, I on the other, and I decided (wisely, I believe) that climbing down the rock face in such a wet condition would be an absolutely retarded idea. Mark, apparently, decided the same thing, and we both made for alternate routes. It was only about 20 feet high, but it was only about 20 feet that I didn't want to fall. I quickly found a sizable tree that had fallen into the ravine, which still had branches on it and wasn't too rotten. It was at just such and angle that I was able to put my feet on the remaining branches and climb down them like a ladder, while holding onto the more sturdy of the underbrush with my hand so that if the branches broke away under my feet, I would at least be holding onto something that would keep me from dying or having to go to the hospital. The farther along the creek bed we go, the more I think today would have been a good day to bring a machete.
We came to a sort of clearing and stood for a bit, expecting that we were just a little ahead of Pat and Papa so we could rest momentarily. We were flanked by wooded hillsides, and the thick dark creek bed was right behind us. We stood as the lone golden spot within sight. Above us, the clear blue cloud dappled sky. Ahead of us, a mountainous granite cliff, jutting into the sky and dominating the landscape. At the top of this monstrous cliff.... a tiny flash of blaze orange which we both knew to be Grandpa and his hat. He flashed his signal mirror at us and we decided to keep pressing on. No sign of Papa, Pat, or any animals (except one grouse).
We kept moving, switching back and forth over the creek as paths became too dense on either side. After roughly a year and a half of walking the creek bed, soaked through ten times, and assuming ourselves to be making much too fantastic of time to not be out ahead of the others by at least a mile, we climbed out of the creek, and up onto an open hillside. The funny thing about waterproof boots is that they don't let water in, and they also don't let water out. The funny thing about wearing boots that are full of water is that the water sort of stays warm until you stop and stand around for a minute or so. Then it's time to dump out your boots, wring out your socks, and pull down your pants so that the sun can dry out your long johns, whenever it's gracious enough to come out from behind the clouds.
After a while (which was not long or warm enough for anything but my beard to fully dry out), we figure we must have misjudged either our timing, or their locations, and they are likely some distance ahead of us by now. Since it was sort of a "walk this way, and we'll see you when we see you" kind of hunt, and we don't have a walky-talky, we decide the safest, smartest, and driest course of action is to head back to camp, try to find batteries for Mark's walky-talky, and try to let them know not to wait for us. Mark, being in better shape than I am, was kind enough to stop and wait for me every time he got about 1,000 feet ahead of me, until I could catch my breath. I am convinced that distance up hill is longer than distance down hill. We saw more deer on the trek back. The only difference between these deer and ones that we'd seen previously was that I wished I could shoot the deer we saw before, and these ones I merely wanted to ride back to camp.
Dead tired, still soaking wet, and wondering if we'd be able to make contact with the rest of the group and let them know not to wait for us at the bottom, we made our way back to camp to find Papa and Uncle Pat already there with a fire going. Pat, it turns out, had been in front of us, and Papa was on top of the adjacent mountain trying to swim through a bog or something. In the time we spent waiting for them and trying to dry out, they had hiked all the way down to the road, and got a ride back up to camp. Grandpa, for some reason, had given his walky-talky to Pat, who already had one, and was still sitting out in the wilderness somewhere. Don't worry, we didn't just leave him there. Mark went out to pick him up. I think he just drove up and down every road until he caught a glimpse of that bright orange hat.
We've decoded to break camp a day early (and who could blame us?), head out, and spend a night in a hotel. No elk, but all alive and in one piece. I get to call Erika tonight.
I think the French said it best when they said, in Latin, "Venari, ludere, lavari, bibere; Hoc est vivere!" - "To hunt, to play, to wash, to drink; This is to live!"