June 30, 2013

Elk Scouting + Bonus Goats!

Due to changing hunting regulations in the state of Washington, I will need to learn to hunt a new unit.  Consequently, I'll be trying to get out a few times prior to September to learn a few new areas and try to up my chances of being successful during the all-too-short Washington archery season.

I left work last Friday on my first of such scouting trips.  I selected a location based published maps and Google Earth images.  While driving there, I saw a cow elk crossing the road as well as two deer: a good sign that the elk I was looking for had already migrated up into the mountains where they should be in September.  I started hiking up a sizable, steep slope at about 8pm, with the intent of setting up camp when it got dark at around 9:30.  At about 9:00, I came over a small rise to see a 5-point bull elk about 10 yards off the trail and only about 20 yards from me.  I froze in my tracks and was surprised to learn that the bull had not yet noticed me.  I watched him feed for several minutes.  At one point, he was as close as 15 yards from me.  This time of year, their antlers are covered in velvet, making them appear much bigger than they are.  By the time I managed to retrieve the camera from my pack, it was too dark to capture a reasonable picture.  About 10 minutes later, the bull fed away from me and I moved on, remaining undetected.

I awoke the next morning as soon as it was light enough to see and continued up the slope to gain a prominent ridge.  When I reached the ridge, I began glassing the basin on the other side.  After finding no life with my binoculars that didn't classify as vegetative matter, I set up my new spotting scope for the first time.  I was amazed at the clarity and ease of use of my new scope/tripod setup.  I soon spotted a cow elk lying in the grass on the shady edge of a meadow.  I watched her for quite a while before moving along the ridge to gain a new vantage point.

A short while later, I spotted a bull in the same basin, a few hundred yards from the cow, with my binoculars.  I quickly set up my spotting scope and watched him feed for about 30 minutes.

Photo taken through the spotting scope

Photo taken with 18x optical zoom camera

Another one with the 18x zoom

This was a nice 6-point bull and the largest one I saw on my scouting trip.  I'm not sure how much more his antlers will grow, if any, but there's a chance he was pretty big for the area.  Alas, I will be hunting cows and spikes, so he's safe from me for at least another year.

As I continued across the ridge, I was heading down a slight snow slope when I saw the top of a goat's head moving toward me over a small rise.  I quickly ducked back out of sight, tucked in next to some trees and rocks, and got my camera back out.  The next several minutes consisted of a herd of goats (about a dozen in total), slowly moved toward me.  With goats as close as about 8 yards, I was able to get some great shots.  At their closest, I grew slightly nervous as I remembered stories of a man gored to death by a goat recently in Olympic National Park.  Once I moved to give away my position (I thought this would make them run away), the goats seemed to become very curious and got even closer before growing nervous themselves.

They're coming right for me!

This little guy just couldn't get enough of the snow

The most adorable kind of kid and its mother

Oh, hi.  Didn't see you there.  May I help you with something?

The basin where I'd been watching the elk is in the background

Shortly after continuing on, I spotted another herd of goats on the same ridge moving in the opposite direction.  I ignored them as I was on a mission to learn as much as I could about elk in the area.  I began an off-trail descent of the steep, forested slope a couple of miles from where I had come up.  Shortly after leaving the main ridge and getting back into the forested zone, I jumped another bull.  He saw me first, at about 25 yards, and only stuck around for a few seconds.

I had no idea how much it would work me by the end, but the 3,500 vertical foot bushwhack descent with plenty of dead fall and pretty much no flat ground to stand on, even for a short rest, left me exhausted by the time I returned to the car. . . a terrific end to a successful scouting mission!

June 23, 2013

Mt. Baker Ski

Back in early June, Ava, Kris, Evan and I set off to climb and ski Mt. Baker.  For those familiar with the ski area named Mt. Baker, take note that this is not the same place.  The ski area is several miles from the mountain, between Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker at about 4,000 to 5,000 ft in elevation.  Mt. Baker proper is a 10,781 ft, heavily glaciated volcano.

On our way up to camp on the first day

We opted for the Easton Glacier route as I was familiar with it and knew it would make a fantastic ski descent.  We parked at about 3,100 ft, shortly before reaching the Schriebers Meadows parking area as the road was still impassible due to snow.  Great news!  We'd get to ski from the car and not have to haul our skis up to the snowline.  We took our time ascending to treeline where we set up camp and proceeded to ponder the unstable mountain weather.  A questionable weather forecast, occasional rain, and rapidly morphing clouds kept us guessing.

Camp - at about 5,250 ft

Suspect weather makes for great scenery

We woke the next morning to clear skies and set off from camp at about 0500.  We attempted to time it so that we would be descending the upper part of the mountain at corn-o-clock, the time when the the sun has melted the surficial snow perfectly (not too icy, not too slushy).

Mt. Baker - a mere 5,000 ft above us with absolutely no sense of scale

We made good time skiing up the mountain.  Finding the glacier very well filled in with only occasional crevasses visible and following a heavily trodden path (we weren't the only ones on the mountain), we found it reasonable to continue on skis without roping up.

Snack break part way up the glacier

We made it all the way to the base of the Roman Wall (9,800 ft) before we decided to stop skinning and rope up.  After making good, steady time up this steeper section, we put the skis back on and continued.

Roped up for the slightly steeper Roman Wall section of the climb

Sharing a sandwich on the summit plateau

After topping out on the Roman Wall section, you're on the summit plateau.  To reach the true summit, you must cross about 1/4 mile of nearly flat terrain.  With whiteout conditions (a lenticular cloud had set in on the upper 500 ft of the mountain) and feeling the altitude a bit, Ava decided to wait for the rest of us to tag the summit and return.

Three Amigos Summit Shot - the wind must have been blowing from our left side based on the frost buildup

It didn't take us long to ski over to the summit and back, find Ava in the whiteout, and descend out of the wind and cloud.

More balanced frost action after descending off the summit plateau

To make a long ski story short, we nailed corn-o-clock and had an amazing ski down with permanent grins and frequent giggles.  We stopped at 5,250 ft to pick up our camp and effectively had a 7,650 ft ski run back to the car.

June 19, 2013

Deschutes River Rainbow Trout

I'm going to try and play a bit of catch up here.  Back in May, Molly and I traveled down to Oregon to join our dad on a Deschutes River fly fishing trip during the stone fly hatch.  The trip was in honor of Dad's recent 60th birthday!  We went with Helfrich Guides (Drake and Rob) who had an excellent reputation and still managed to exceed expectations.  I'll admit it was weird to to be catered to, but it was scary how easy it was to get used to.

The trip involved floating in drift boats for three days and spending two nights on the river, taking out in Maupin, OR where most people put in for the classic raft run.  This was my first time fly fishing for "real".  By this I mean that I've caught dumb alpine lake brook trout in lakes that never get fished, but never even attempted something like this.

After catching many trout on dry flies in three days, I developed some opinions of the sport that I never had before.  Mainly, I was stoked at how "athletic" it was.  No, I wasn't breathing hard, but the requisite hand eye coordination and reaction time required to set the hook before the trout realizes it's a lip-ripping trap is pretty rad.  Also, chest waders make everyone look really awesome.

Drake and Me with a nice Rainbow! (Photo by Molly)

Josh - Molly - Dad

Molly with one of her first fish caught on a fly rod

Drake coaching Molly