November 14, 2009

Elk Huntin'

After 15 years of applying for a branch antlered bull elk tag in Oregon's Wenaha unit, Dad finally drew the opportunity to hunt in this unique and rugged region. I had drawn the tag 14 years ago while in high school, but failed to take advantage of it as I regrettably prioritized football and school ahead of this tremendous opportunity. At any rate, we both viewed this tag as extra special because it would allow us to, at least partially, redeem my prior botched opportunity. Due to the fact that I wasn't required to be in a cubicle, I was able to accompany Dad for the entirety of the hunt.

Nephew Jake and cousin Dan joined the team to provide a combination of local knowledge and general hunting expertise. The hunting efforts actually started before the 11-day-long hunting season, with a combination of Jake, Dan, and Dad spending several days in the area scouting for large bull elk over the previous three weeks. The scouting efforts paid off with multiple large bulls spotted and their general locations known.

We saw several bulls during the first four days of hunting, but the giant ones (370+ for those elk hunters out there) remained elusive. On the fifth day, Dad and Dan spotted a real nice bull that they guessed would score about 330. They only managed to catch glimpses of the bull before it went back into hiding in the trees. They looked and waited for the bull to show itself again for about 6 hours, at which point it got dark and they had to hike back out of the canyon they had chased the bull into. During all this time, Jake and I were glassing adjacent canyons for additional bulls, hoping to find "the big one".

That night, we decided that our time to kill a bull was running out, so we should combine our efforts in attempt to shoot the biggest bull we had seen, which was the one Dad and Dan waited on that day. The next day we awoke at the typical 4:30 am and promptly headed to the canyon where the bull was last seen the previous day. Jake and I stood post at two locations at the top of the canyon to look for the bull from above. Dad and Dan hiked quietly down into the canyon in effort to be within shooting range when (and if) the bull showed himself again.

My view into the canyon from my glassing location

Almost immediately, Jake spotted a glimpse of a large, blond colored body, indicative of a large bull. The body disappeared before he could further identify the bull. A few minutes later, the fog sitting lower in the valley rose to obscure the area where Jake saw the bull. He radioed Dad and Dan to tell them what he had seen and where he had seen it, at which point they moved through the fog to a position where they would hopefully have a shot at the bull once the fog disappeared. Over 4 hours later, just after 11:00 on 11/11, the fog layer dropped back down just far enough to reveal the last seen location of the bull. A minute later, Dan spotted the bull 285 yards away, bedded down under a tree.

After confirming this was the large bull seen the previous day, Dad adjusted his position to get a clear shot at the bull through the numerous trees. With a great rest for his rifle, Dad shot at the bedded down bull. After shooting, the startled bull jumped up and stood broadside. Dan was watching intently this whole time and determined the bullet hit a small branch and was deflected away from the bull. He calmly told Dad to go ahead and shoot again, and within seconds of his first shot, shot a second time. The bull then walked off into the trees and was out of sight. With the great rest and reasonable distance, Dad couldn't believe he missed the bull twice, but the bull trotted off as if it was unharmed. Fifteen minutes later, Dad and Dan reached the location where the bull was bedded down. Looking for blood, they found none. Disheartened, they walked in the direction the bull had sauntered off in. After walking about three yards, they spotted the bull 30 yards away, dead and lying in the brush. The second shot went through both front shoulders and the vital heart/lung region between them.

Dad and me with the bull, unofficially named the "GrizBull" in honor of the late Steve "Grizzly" Adams

The 6x7 bull ended up being pretty old by elk standards at about 10 or 11 years. In terms of the antlers, this means that each point is a little shorter and little thicker than they were when the bull was at its biggest (around 6 or 7 years old). The seventh point on the bull is a short (about 2-inch) point sticking out of its skull, separate from its two main antlers and precisely mimicking a devil's horn.

The four of us packed one load out that night, including the antlers and about 90 pounds of meat. We returned the following day to pack out the rest of the meat, which totaled about 200 additional pounds. All of this needed to be carried about 1000 vertical feet out of the steep canyon.

Dad carrying out the antlers

I haven't been hunting since I was about 15 years old. Since that time, my opinions, thoughts, and feelings about life and how hunting fits into it have changed immensely. This experience helped further shape my perception of hunting. Before this hunt, I felt strongly that anyone willing to eat meat should also be willing to kill for it. This experience only helped to reinforce that opinion while making it stronger by being so intimately involved with taking the life of such a magnificent creature. Sharing this experience with family and close friends made it all the more amazing.

These days, animal death is all but completely removed from most people's lives. We eat meat without acknowledging the origin of it or the steps necessary to turn something like a cow into the steak that you order at a restaurant. Being part of the killing, processing, and eating of this bull was a powerful experience indeed. It's easy to see why many past cultures revered and honored the animals responsible for their subsistence after the first hand experience provided by this hunt. I'm now tempted to get back into hunting as I'm not willing to turn vegetarian - we'll see how that goes.

November 02, 2009


Ava and I just got back from a long and great weekend in the Lake Tahoe vicinity. We flew into Oakland on Wednesday night, spent a day with her parents (who were awesome!) in Berkeley, and drove to Truckee on Friday morning.

We spent the rest of the day climbing at Donner Pass on a couple of wonderful granite crack routes (Insidious Crack and Jellyroll Arch), both two pitches long. We didn't have a camera, so the pictures here are all courtesy of Mountain Project.

Jellyroll Arch (Insidious Crack is just to the right of the start of this climb)

The following day we drive to Lover's Leap, which turns out to be an incredible 400 foot almost perfectly vertical wall of granite with frequent horizontal dikes. We first tried to climb Corrugated Corner, which had several parties lined up waiting at the bottom. Next, we tried to get on Haystack and encountered the same issue. Option C was to climb East Crack, which ended up being quite a dandy climb indeed. The first two pitches were long and consisted of sustained 5.7/5.8 climbing with an occasional small roof. The final pitch (5.4) began where multiple routes converged and was a complete cluster with about 4 separate climbing parties waiting for a single crack. If it wasn't for this final pitch, this would have been one of my favorite routes ever!

Some random dude on East Crack at Lover's Leap (courtesy of Mountain Project)

After this we drove to Incline Village and met up with Louis, Jasmine, and a bunch of their friends from Santa Cruz for some Halloween shenanigans. Games were played and wine was drank into the wee hours of the morning. Thanks a bunch to the Frauers as well as Don and Pam for a great time!

On Sunday we all went back to Donner Summit and climbed on some more granite (Composure, Rapid Transit, and Molar Concentration on the Snowshed Wall). It was super fun hanging out with Lou and Jas again and climbing in a new area!

General Climbing Impressions/Opinions:
  • The rock around Lake Tahoe is pretty damn awesome!
  • Lover's Leap is the most spectacular area we found in this vicinity with many 3 and 4 pitch moderate climbs.
  • The guide book for the area, Rock Climbing Lake Tahoe by Mike Carville, is almost worthless. With a few exceptions, all it provides is the route name and grade. For trivial details such as route length, route quality, protection beta, and descent beta, I suggest researching these routes online.
Sunday evening we drove back to Berkeley before flying to Seattle early Monday morning. I can't wait to climb more in the Sierra!