In the middle of July, I was hiking out of the mountains after a successful day of elk scouting. The setting was beautiful at 9000 feet. Despite the summer's warmth, ice and snow stubbornly clung on the steep declines to the west beneath a bluebird sky. A mountain goat clambered among the rocks, adding to the majestic scene. As I glanced to my right, a flash of tan caught my eye. I did a double take and observed two spike bulls and a 5x5 had wandered to the top of a nearly vertical ice field dropping about 100 yards. I guess they wanted the fast way down. Maybe they wanted an adrenaline rush. Whatever the reason, I know what I saw next.
I looked over in time to see the last bull step onto the ice, sit back on his hocks, and shoot down to the bottom like a child on a sled. With my mouth hanging open, I watched the rambunctious trio regroup at the bottom of the slide and slowly make their way down into the forest. Maybe it was all about efficiency, but I can't help but think the bulls had a thrill finding the most reckless way down—no different than a bunch of schoolyard boys.
The more time you spend in the backcountry the more amazing sights you see and ponder. The most lavish television and sound system money can buy will never be able to duplicate the majesty of God's creation. You have to physically be out there to get the full joy and awe of the experience.
What is "out there"? It is simply the playground where my senses combine to provide my favorite experiences. No day is better than one in the mountain sun in solitude or shared with your favorite people. Nostalgia floods me with memories. I remember just this last fall as the beautiful scenery combined with the scent and feel of the breeze tickling the whiskers on my face. Suddenly, I am there. My fingers dig through the pine needles into damp soil, filtering raw earth into the breeze. Sunlight warms my face as the wind dries my damp clothes after the arduously steep trek. The rough bark I am leaning against actually feels quite comfortable as I stretch my weary legs out before me.
My rest is short as the sound of clashing antlers alerts my ears. I creep towards the sound. Over a small rise are two satellite bulls sparring for their place in the elk hierarchy. They grunt and squeal as they shove back and forth, testing their prowess. I sneak to within 50 yards of the battling youngsters. Every few moments they break and separate, panting for air before continuing their match. Quite suddenly, I feel the wind shift and caress the back of my neck. In a flash, the bulls are gone and all returns to silence.
Other memories slowly come to mind. They may be small moments but stand as significant in my mind. I remember the mountain lion bounding after a doe. The clueless meal had wandered in front of our party while the carnivorous cat waited expectantly above. As we got closer to the doe, ourselves unaware of the stalking lion, she wandered off the gravel road into the dark. A moment later, the cat leaped off the dirt bank above and raced after his prey. Did he catch his dinner, or was his attempt frustrated by the inconvenient timing of the two-legged intruders?
And in another experience, a majestic 7x8 bull nearly walked over me as he grazed and ambled along in his summer sanctuary. A bull of such magnitude was a rare sight, especially at five yards distance. He tilted his head left and right, bumping into trees as he wove himself through the forest. I felt I could almost step on his head and walk down his back with arms outstretched without being able to reach his velvet-covered tines. My eyes darted left and right, seeking a safe place to dodge this monstrous creature. The bull finally became wary that all was not right and about-faced. Cautious, but not spooked, the monarch led his two following compadres another way and left me with a pounding heart.
Yet another memory: I came over a wooded ridge far from any trail or road and wisely came to an abrupt halt. An unsuspecting grizzly trundled along below a scant 60 yards away. I remember the size of his massive, mighty paws. His fur appeared silver in color as it glimmered with each step. I merged my body with that of the woods and cautiously pulled my bear spray. The puny can felt significantly insufficient in my hands. An alarming and exhilarating situation it was. I could feel the strength of the bear in such close proximity. Fortunately for me, the beast continued on through his living room. I made my way in the opposite direction with more than one nervous glance over my shoulder.
I remember lying alone in my sleeping bag high on a mountain as the last fading light disappeared. In the distance, a choir of wolves sang their woeful songs. As I lay gazing into the Milky Way, I listened to the wolf pack's music. Eerie, yet it livened my spirit all in the same breath. What were they saying? The safe barrier of cliffs nearby kept my mind at ease. The high howls soared throughout the night and I eventually drifted off into slumber among the wild things.
These memories and countless others are hard to share in words. They were experiences that often left me speechless or with a pounding heart. You simply have to get out there yourself to fully appreciate the wonder. I won't share any further in this exposition for fear I will keep others from getting off this incessant glowing screen to acquire your own memories. For that matter, it's time I get out there again as well. So long.
- Jess Patrick