By Brian Strickland
I was nearly 12,000 feet above sea level, trying to dig my long, boney fingers into any crevice the nearly 65-degree rock face would offer, when it hit me like a stiff headwind: I really wasn’t prepared for this hunt. As much as my male bowhunting ego hated to admit it, I wasn't physically, mentally or emotionally ready to handle such an extreme hunt. That’s a tough thing to admit on many levels, and it was especially difficult when I was faced with a 40-foot free fall into what would be a bone-busting rockslide.
I had good intentions when I started the climb, and from the bottom of the drainage looking up the rock-crawling sneak I had planned looked reasonable. But I guess when there are a pair of snow-white billies bedded on a ledge, one of which could very easily make the record book, and you’ve waited eight long years just to get a ticket to this Rocky Mountain dance, reality can look a little fuzzy sometimes.
I couldn’t really tell you how I got in such a fix. The climb seemed easy enough at first. It was just the higher I got, the steeper it became and the fewer options I had. Before I knew it I was puckered up against a granite face with only two options: try to somehow traverse my way back down to the ledge where I started the final ascent, or climb about 20 feet higher to some brush that appeared to offer a little horizontal relief. What made things worse was that this hunt was a solo adventure, and the only person who knew my general location was the fetching Mrs. Strickland. I’m sure if she had been aware of my predicament she would have been more mad than scared, but she was 200 miles away and wasn’t expecting me home for another five days. I had a decision to make that could be painful—or it could bring a hefty mountain goat reward. Needless to say, I preferred the latter result.
Wikipedia defines adventure as an exciting or unusual experience that may be a bold and unusually risky undertaking with an uncertain outcome. It further explains that the term adventure is often used to refer to activities with a potential for physical danger. As I looked down at my possible resting place if I made the wrong decision, I was no doubt on adventure’s edge. I don’t feel that risk of harm in any endeavor, let alone bowhunting, is a requirement to fully appreciate an adventure, but sprinkling in an element of risk, wanted or not, no doubt raises the bar.
More than once I’ve found myself hanging on adventure’s edge with a bow in hand. Although many were by sheer accident, most were self-induced—stalking grizzly bears in British Columbia, and mountain lions in Colorado are the first that come to mind. Other than a couple broken bones, countless bumps and bruises and even a stitch or two, most of the time I came home in pretty good shape. But looking back, I’ve often wondered how.
Take the solo mule deer bowhunt I embarked on several years ago along Colorado’s Continental Divide. After loading my truck, I headed toward the Rockies for seven days of alpine bliss. All was well for the first few days. I saw a few bucks, but nothing worthy of a carbon arrow. However, while I was heading back to camp on the fourth evening, a thick ceiling collapsed overhead and in a matter a minutes I was engulfed in a September snowstorm at 10,000 feet. Still 2 miles from camp with visibility down to 50 yards and my GPS unable to break through the clouds, I was soon totally turned around.
I seemed to go in circles for the next couple of hours trying in vain to find something, anything, that looked familiar. But with the landscape transforming to a fluffy white before my eyes, it was to no avail. As darkness settled on the mountain and the cold northwest wind blew the golf ball-sized snowflakes through the thin mountain air, I was once again hanging on adventure’s edge with nothing but the bare essentials and a thin layer of wet clothes.
Countless thoughts rush through your mind when you’re in situations like this, fearing the worst of course. Was I a good enough father, husband and son? Did I make my life count for something worthwhile? As you begin to answer those questions, you know that you need more time. The Man above must have concurred, because just when I thought all hope was lost I stumbled upon a pack trail that eventually led me back to the basin in which I was camped. Needless to say, I raised a prayer of thanks as I lay in my warm bag that night before drifting off to sleep.
I got a little gun-shy after that snowstorm experience and didn’t end up killing a mule deer on that trip. And after deciding to continue up the rock face, the pair of bedded goats gave me the slip as well. I did catch a glimpse of them bounding over the Continental Divide as my tired, beat-up body finally crawled onto the ledge I originally glassed them on. I guess that’s some consolation.
Bowhunting on adventure’s edge inevitability brings with it both risk and reward. And although you sometimes leave the woods with an unpunched tag and maybe even a bruised ego, you always bring home something from the edge.
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