Ch. 4: Lessons Learned the Cold Way
I’m curled up on the front bench seat of a 1981 Ford Bronco, freezing my tush and toes off, when I realize this trip to spend time with my long-lost cousins* at their annual elk hunt in Wyoming is going to be a learning experience. To wit: Those little packets of air-activated heat packs don’t work a darn if you wait until your feet are frozen before you stick the patches under your toes.
That lesson, uncomfortable as it is in this incident, can be forgiven. I’ve never used them before because, in Alaska, I’ve never had to. I always had appropriate clothing and boots when I ventured out.
|I am not sure this is the actual mountain top where we parked, but it gives you an idea of the terrain.|
This morning, the first day of elk hunting, I think about the brand new North Face insulated boots that I’d bought on sale in a sporting goods store in Ft. Collins, Colorado, when Chris and I were on our way from Denver to the Snowy Mountain range in southeastern Wyoming. Why I didn’t put them on this morning is beyond me. The temperatures weren’t that bad and I figured I was tough enough to wear my hiking boots with wool socks.
I am not. I am cold. And groggy from the high-altitude meds I am taking. I bugged out of the hunting blind mid-morning and scrambled uphill to a wind-swept mountain ridge where the Bronco is parked. I don't start the vehicle to get warm because it is a cranky starter. I curl up in the fetal position and try to go to sleep while outside a blizzard with white out conditions is screaming down the canyon with nothing to block its path except the Bronco.
I think I did fall asleep, because I am surprised when my three cousins arrive at the vehicle and pile in out of the poor weather. No visibility, they sa7/.
We go back to the warm motorhome and eat the sandwiches Chris prepared for us at 4 A.M. A couple hours later, after the storm abates, Bud says the game plan is to return to the blind where he will wait while Bob and Chris go up the canyon a way, climb down the side of the mountain and (theoretically) move any elk in the area across Bud’s line of site. It will be difficult terrain, he says, and suggests I remain in camp.
Sounds good to me. I settle into Bud’s recliner with my Kindle and try to read. After a few paragraphs, I fall asleep. And again and again. Finally, I snuggle into my sleeping bag and take a nap.
Later the sun is out, the temperatures are nice and the wind has died down. I dress in warm clothes and walk up the valley to a place called White Rocks. I am embarrassed to admit that I have to stop several times to catch my breath as I walk a gentle rise (I joke that it was only a 20-foot gain in elevation, but that might be more fact than humor).
Weathered and eroded by wind, water and blowing sand, these iconic sandstone formations can be seen from many points in these mountains. I am on a birding mission and, seeing something winged and feathered, I climb to the base of this incredible rock and make my way along its base.
Soon, I come to a natural indentation in the base of the rock and movement catches my eye. We don’t have chipmunks in Alaska, so I am fascinated with this little critter.
|Chris and Bob|
|Bob and Chris|
|Bud waiting in the blind for an elk to walk in front of him.|
* My cousins didn't know they were lost. They thought I was, living up in Alaska