Wapiti Wanderings

I wrote this last fall, but never posted it.  Now that I’m in Alaska, I am waiting to “earn” my residency before hunting due to the price of out of state tags.  In the meantime, I’ll bide my time thinking of last season, spotting wildlife while hiking and hopefully reading and hearing of friends adventures.  Until then, I’ll fondly remember last season…

Last fall was a huge learning experience for me in regards to wildlife.  I shot my first animal with a rifle, a North American Pronghorn Antelope, which interestingly is more closely related to a goat than an actual antelope.  I managed to also get a doe deer, and I thought I was figuring out some ungulate behavior and habits.  But the big one, the elk, remained elusive.

I actually hunted elk more than any other species this fall.  and while I saw lots of pronghorn, and many deer, the wapiti were real

Saw lot’s of mule deer, no elk.

hard to find.  Sure, I saw some tracks, some relatively fresh scat and plenty of rubs, all things I’d seen while hiking in the mountains.  But the actual animals began to take a mythological place in my mind.  I went where I thought they would be, where I would go if I was an Elk (clearly flawed logic) but they were never there.  I would talk to other hunters and they would casually mention seeing a herd of 40 that evening or two large bulls watching them from a ridge.  I hadn’t seen anything in over a month.

Chased these tracks all day!

An early fall snow storm gave me hope that the elk would be pushed out of the mountains and into my area.  A day of wandering through wet snow chasing tracks yielded fresh scat and a recent bed, but no elk.  I did have some mule deer walk by pretty closely and I was hearing shots all day, so someone was having luck, but it sure wasn’t me.

After a week of hunting deer, and getting my doe, I was back to seeking out the wiley wapiti.

As the season progressed, I was able to hunt a different area than my early season tag, higher up and I hoped, fewer people and more elk.

It seems that the problem with switching areas when hunting is that you have no idea where the animals are.  Four days of wandering, glassing (a fancy term I’ve learned for looking through binoculars for stuff, while generally not seeing it) and exploring led to nothing.  Some sign here and there, but most was old.

After spending an afternoon wandering around in the same area with my wife, where we saw my best friends truck, I invited him

I spent hours doing this. Note the homemade shooting sticks supporting my rifle.

over for dinner and we talked elk.  I wanted to know where these things were, how to find them and if he had seen anything in the area we were in.  We laughed about me stumbling upon his “secret spot” which I took as a good sign that I was at least in a good area.  He gave me some info on where he had seen elk up there before, when I might want to go and we overall encouraged each others efforts with a lot of excited stories.

The next night I was feeling inspired.  I left the house at 11pm, and got up to the parking spot that I’d been scouting from around midnight.  a previous bivy in the back of the truck had proven that it was a cold, snow drifty place to crash (I should have known this, given the years I spent living out of a pick up truck!) and given the time, I chose to just catch some z’s in the back seat.  My alarm went off way too early at 6am.  Still dark.  I dragged myself from under my down quilt, hunted through the front seat for  some layers and my boots and eventually pushed open the door to the truck.  I started hiking to the the spot that I thought I might be able to see some elk from.  Not far out, I heard the faint sound of an ATV.  I kept walking, hoping the motorized fella would roll on by when he saw my truck.

When the first opening appeared in the trees, I headed uphill, staying tight to the scrub pine and slowing my pace down.  I saw nothing.  I kept moving.

When I reached the outcrop of limestone, the sun was just peaking out to greet the day, I had begun to appreciate sunrises more this season. I sat, glassed, relaxed. There they were. The first elk I had seen all season, way far off.  The range finder showed them at 550 yds, way further than I felt confident shooting.  I watched them move, maybe a dozen elk, traveling down slope, through thin timber and brush.  and then they were gone.  Into a depression, a drainage or some other feature.  What to do.  I sat for a while, trying to find them in my binos. Pondering my next move.  Would they come to me? Should I move?  What the hell do elk do when they are moving anyway?  I figured I was better off moving, maybe I wouldn’t  find the same herd, but I certainly wasn’t gonna get one sitting still.

Learning to love sunrises, I saw elk on this ridge.

I scooted off my perch and walked downhill into some sparse trees, quickly arriving at the edge of a cliff band overlooking the valley below.  Meandering along the cliff edge I looked below me to see if any elk were in the valley.  The thought of actually shooting anything down there and having to haul it back up hill was intimidating, so I turned back along the trees and moved up the bench I was on.  The trees ended as I stepped out just a bit into an opening and saw them all, grazing not fifty yards away.  I quickly crouched and walked slowly towards a dead tree.  I knelt in what must have been cold snow, focusing on my breathing as I tried to settle my pounding heart.  I watched as the elk moved around each other, through some sparse trees, in and out of cover.  It felt like forever. Braced against a fallen tree.  Breathing.  Watching.  When I thought I had a good shot, I fired.  The herd scattered, fast and far.  I looked frantically to see my cow drop, stumble or slow, but they all ran.  One ran away from the rest of the herd, still close to me.  I watched the others while this single cow looked nervously around, apparently not seeing me.   The herd appeared content 200 yards away, while this lone cow stood and began grazing about 50 yards from me.  I shifted position.  I had missed my first shot.  Not this one.  Three steps and and down.

The perfect size cow to haul back to the truck solo.

I was amazed at the increased volume of guts inside an elk, even this small one.  After field dressing, I dragged the cow up hill to a small pass, passing where I had shot my deer.  I had learned the hard way from that experience that sometimes the fastest way between two points isn’t a straight line.  This time I had learned mornings alone in the mountains can be beautiful and rewarding.

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Striving for mediocrity

RyanHC:

I’ve been looking for a way to say this for years, and my friend Bob nails it beautifully. Thanks Bob!

Originally posted on Bob Schoultz's Corner:

Mediocre Marathon Runners

I use this title partly in jest.   ‘Mediocrity’ is, almost by definition, that which is not ‘praiseworthy.’  And yet in my comments that follow, I hope to point out that what appears to us as mediocre does not automatically warrant derision or embarrassment.  There is an important place for mediocrity in this world, and often there is much to be celebrated in the mediocre. And I’m proud of my contributions to that great sea of mediocrity that sustains us all!I recently presented myself to my Toastmasters club as ‘the Prince of Mediocrity,’ declaring that I am mediocre at more activities that anyone else I know.  My comments were partly in jest – one evaluator accused me of false modesty, and described my presentation as an example of ‘overstated understatement.’  And yet it is true – I have chosen the path of being just OK, or at best, ‘pretty…

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The Great White North, new adventures in life part 1.

2012 has already proven to be a year full of adventure.  I was exploring the backcountry of the Tetons working a NOLS winter ski course over new years, and after a day back home to do laundry, my wife and I packed the skis up and took a quick trip to Alaska.  The Alaska trip, while just a weekend blitzkrieg, held a larger purpose.  We have both been to Alaska in the summer, and there isn’t much to dislike about those adventures, even the mosquitoes, apparently known as the Alaska state bird can be managed.  But the Alaskan winter holds a reputation of cold and darkness that can crack even the toughest of people.  My wife was applying for a job in AK as the NOLS Alaska Director, and we wanted to be sure we knew what we were getting into if it came to fruition.  A weekend trip is really only a brief glimpse into what Alaska is in the winter, but it seemed better than nothing, and given the shallow and remarkably unstable snowpack in the lower 48 states, the record snowfall in AK was an appealing lure for our ski hungry psyche.

Nordic skiing in alpine glow, below Hatcher pass AK.

Our amazing hosts showed us the local food scene at Turkey Red in Palmer, an outstanding bistro.  After lunch we had an invigorating nordic ski adventure at the base of Hatcher Pass.  Cold (very cold) weather pushed us to classic skiing, at which I do not excel at all!  I had  a blast chasing Don and Donna around the hills and forest, and the short downhill parts were really exciting on those little skinny skis.

The next day we spent skiing the wind slab at Arctic Valley, a small Anchorage ski club run area on the Fort Richardson Army base.  Apres ski entertainment was provided by the local band Hot Dish in which our friend Dan plays banjo.  We went to Dan’s house for a moose roast that evening.

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Our last day in AK, we made the reasonable drive out to Girdwood to ski Alyeska ski resort, passing some mountain goats along the way by Beluga point.  The skiing at Alyeska was great, a mix of fresh and cut up powder and nice groomers.  We skied all afternoon and into the night, skiing the well lit trails until a few hours before our flight home.  We packed at the car rental return and began the trek home, once again proving that in Alaska you can do more in 48 hrs than you would in the lower 48, no matter what the month!

As you may have gleaned from the house for sale post Janeen got the job and we are moving to Alaska in April!  I’m looking forward to the drive up the ALCAN highway and the blog fodder it should provide, stay tuned for more.

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Pattern making

As I continue to delve into sewing projects, I’m beginning to need some repeatability.  I’ve managed to put together some successful pieces without patterns so far and the time has come to figure out this part of the equation.

 

simple pattern making tool

After a rudimentary proof of concept for a new project, my buddy Scott and I spent an evening drawing up patterns on cardboard and putting together a prototype cut from those patterns.  Satisfied with the outcome of our prototype, we set ourselves on a mission of production for our new idea.  While I cut material using our pattern, temporarily taping the pieces together with iron on seam tape, Scott began assembling components.

The ability to repeatably cut fabric has been awesome, particularly after we swung by the hardware store and bought an inexpensive wood burning/soldering iron to cut and seal edges all at once.

Pattern drawn out on fabric with pattern in the background.

While sewing up the first run, my sewing machine siezed up, throwing a wrench into our production plans, but with some quick transport to Casper via one of Scott’s business trips, we were able to drop the machine with Dave from Sew Fix it.  Dave was amazing, not only fixing the machine overnight basically, but also delivering it back to Lander the next day as he made some other deliveries.  To top it all off, he gave me a tutorial on adjusting stitches, zigzag stitches and machine maintenance, right at the house!

I brought one of the first batch into the field with me for two weeks of backcountry skiing and when I returned, I was able to finish up the “production pieces” before Scott took off for a float down the Grand Canyon, handing them off to him with a feedback form for our “voluntold” testing crew.  We are looking forward to some design feedback, durability testing and most importantly tales of adventure and fun on the big river.

Things we learned in this process:

  1. Hot knives rule to cut nylon.
  2. cardboard patterns are easier to trace around on fabric than paper.
  3. Math skills.  This is why they teach math in schools, you may actually need it someday!
  4. Sewing machines need to be oiled.  (oops, thanks Dave!)
  5. We still have a bunch to learn before we go into actual “production.”
  6. Scott made his first machine stitches (and did great!)
  7. Iron on seam tape is awesome when working with lightweight fabrics and washes out when they are all sewn up.

Scott lays down his first stitches on the prototype cut from our very first pattern.

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End of winter fun

Special Thanks to Mandy for the great edit.

NOLS Winter Course- OES 2012 from Mandy Pohja on Vimeo.

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It’s springtime and change is in the air.

RyanHC:

It’s springtime and change is in the air.

Originally posted on homesweethomelanderwy:

FOR SALE: 384 South 2nd Street, Lander WY

We are moving to Alaska and need to sell our beloved home in Lander, WY.  Built in 1908, our craftsman style home sits on two city lots on the corner of Popo-Agie and South 2nd.  We are sad to leave this amazing town and fantastic home but it’s time for the house to live it’s next chapter with a new family.

The following is a description of our home with photos.  The house is priced to sell at $212,000 and it is move in ready.  For more information contact me at: janeen.hutchins@gmail.com or 307-438-0264.

Our three bedroom, one bath home features wood floors throughout, an open layout, newly renovated kitchen, brand new stainless steel appliances, fresh exterior paint, large deck, hot tub, mature perennial garden, insulated and heated two car garage, large fenced in yard with trees and the original carriage house…

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Avalanche decision making maze

Check out this Avalanche decision making maze that I worked on with the Casper Star Tribune.  While it focuses on some of the more basic aspects of avalanche decision making and I always encourage folks to take some sort of formal Avy training, I hope this graphic helps people to think a little more in the back-country.

AVY maze

Also featured on Lou Dawson’s Wild Snow.

I’ve been a little slow on the blog lately, lot’s of things going on and a bunch of pieces in the wings.  For now though, I’m going into the mountains for two weeks of back-country skiing and Avy education.  Stay safe out there, it’s been a unstable snowpack all winter and it doesn’t look like it will be getting any better soon.

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Adventure Travel – National Geographic Adventure Blog

While I was in the field the abridged version of my Backcountry Boiler review was featured on the National Geographic Adventure Blog, check it out:

Adventure Travel – National Geographic Adventure Blog.

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Happy New Year

I’m off to teach back country skiing for a week or so.  I hope everyone is able to find some fun and adventure in the start to your 2012!

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The wilderness as an escape or an engagement

People often say that they go outdoors to get away from it all.  Recently I’ve been wondering if we are approaching our outdoor endeavors with a skewed perspective.  When you ask someone who goes outdoors to recreate why they do it, they may reply with the classic cliche of escapism, but when pressed to describe their outdoor experience, they seldom describe the getting away from it all, and instead excitedly pontificate on everything that they get from and enjoy about the outdoors.

Fully engaged (we were dodging ice at the belay on this pitch), I returned home more engaged in my life.

A “sense of connection” “feeling alive”  “learning to communicate and deal with other people” “wonderment” “overcoming challenge”.  These are a few of the phrases that I hear in conversations with folks venturing outdoors.  To me, none of these sounds like an escape, but rather a deep and perhaps essential engagement.

In his timeless essay Briefing for Entry Into a More Harsh Environment, Morgan Hite lists eleven things that you learn or experience in the wilderness that apply profoundly to our front country lives, if we remember that they should.  None of them talk about getting away from that life we sometimes call “real life” but they are rather a call to action to engage in our front country lives with the same mindfulness that we engage in the wilderness.

I have to wonder, what if we looked at our forays into the wilderness for what they are, what they do have vs. what they get us away from? Would we then be closer to understanding the transformative potential of the outdoors?  If we approach our outdoor endeavors as a reminder of the engagement we hope to have with the world on a daily basis instead of as an escape from that world, would it bring us closer to self actualization and fulfillment?

In asking these questions I must start with my own reflections on time spent outdoors, here are some of the things that I realize more fully outside, and hope to carry with me throughout life:

There is beauty to be found everywhere. In the majesty of a grand vista or simply a cool and unexpected bug crawling in the grass nearby.

Found in the grass flyfishing with a friend, this was the coolest part of the day. I have to wonder what cool small things I miss by not being as engaged as I should?

In crumbling buildings and illuminated cities.  Sometimes that beauty challenges our perceptions of what beauty is, and this is a good thing, because seeing beauty in the little, everyday things helps us to appreciate the amazing world we live in.

We should take care of ourselves and each other.  In popular culture, going outdoors is often viewed as survival, and if things go badly, it can turn into that, but most of my experience outdoors has been thriving and feeling alive and healthy.  Why should we only find ourselves outdoors to survive some calamity? Certainly I don’t feel that each day in the front country is survival, yet I find it harder to take care of myself and others amidst the stimulus of the “real world.”  I value going into the wilderness to remind me to try harder at taking care of myself and others.  Recently it has been a harsh reminder that I am not doing this as well as I should.

Value the things you have and let go of those things you don’t.  The wilderness encourages us to take care of our gear, yet so many of my outdoor professional friends never change the oil in their trucks, or just buy a new piece of gear when they could repair something they have.  With the constant evolution of outdoor gear and the onslaught of advertising in the front country, it is easy to think you always need the newest flashy gear. I can certainly say that I consistently forget that I don’t need new things to enjoy my life.  Maybe it’s time to go run around outdoors to remind myself of this again.

Life can be hard, get over it.  Sometimes it storms on your outdoor trip, and sometimes your “real life” can be stormy.  In the wilderness you either deal with it or do something about it, I reckon we should do the same in the front country.

Art or disrepair? It's all in the how you look at it. Photo: Janeen Hutchins janeenhutchinsphotography.com

As I write this, I realize I may be paraphrasing Hite’s piece too much.  In the backcountry it can be easier to follow a well established trail, but often we are most engaged when we venture off on our own path.  There is no reason that this shouldn’t be true in everyday life as well.  Find those things that inspire and motivate you that don’t require being outdoors.  There are hundreds of outdoor activities and yet in the front country we often follow the path laid out by our cultures, communities and the mass media.  Choose your own path through life and enjoy the encounters with others you see along the way.  When you do find yourself on the path of “norms” be sure that they lead in a direction you want to go.

The wilderness can force you to be engaged in the world around you. I go outdoors to seek that engagement and to be reminded that I should seek it in my life in general. I can’t really escape from the front country. I have to go back eventually. Wouldn’t my life be more fulfilling in general if instead I found a way to be as engaged in the front country as the backcountry?  Would yours?

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