October 22, 2014

Climb Hunting

This story starts on December 8, 1970, when the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish released 15 Persian (Bezoar) Ibex (introduced from Iran) in the Florida Mountains near Deming, NM.  A short while later, 27 more ibex were released. Three years later, the first public ibex hunt in New Mexico was held.  Today, over 700 Persian Ibex populate the Floridas, with hunting seasons for rifle, muzzle loader, archery, and a special nanny season to help control the population.

Fun Fact: Persian Ibex (wild goats) are the primary or perhaps only progenitor of present-day domestic goats.  Evidence of goat domestication extends back about 10,000 years (Wikipedia "Bezoar Ibex" 10/21/14).

The Florida Mountains lie about 20 miles north of the US-Mexico border.  This isolated range is about 12 miles long, consists of very rugged terrain, and has peaks up to about 7,000 ft in elevation.  The surrounding terrain is depressingly flat and sits at about 4,500 ft in elevation.

After applying for six years for the hard-to-draw New Mexico archery ibex tag, my good friend Jake got lucky.  He had visited the area previously on two occasions: one to assist a friend on his archery ibex hunt, and another to take part in the nanny (population control) hunt.  Based on these two trips, Jake began to understand the challenges associated with hunting ibex with a bow.  The average annual success rate on this hunt ranges from 3 to 8 percent.  Considering that the tag allows the hunter to shoot "any ibex", and the 3 to 8 percent includes nannies and immature billies, the odds of shooting a mature billy are even lower.  Taking a mature billy with a bow is considered by many seasoned hunters as the most difficult hunting feat in North America.

As I would soon see for myself, there are many reasons for this difficulty.  First, the terrain they live in is insane.  They seem completely comfortable travelling, feeding, and napping in terrain that I would never consider going without a rope and climbing gear.  Sure, there are areas in the range without near-vertical cliffs, but the ibex seldom, if ever, go there.  They stick to the cliffs and make sheep and mountain goats seem like flat-land creatures.  In addition to the terrain, their eyesight and general wariness is unmatched by any other animal I have encountered.  Exposing the bill of one's hat is enough to spook a group of ibex at 250 yards.  Walking in plain sight will spook a herd 3/4 of a mile away or further.  Stalking within bow range would be a true challenge.

Knowing what it would take to be successful, Jake built a team to give him the best chance for arrowing a mature billy.  That team consisted of a rock climber (me), and a spotter (Dan).  Dan is a friend of Jake's from Baker City who coincidentally drew an archery ibex tag for January, so he was excited to both help out and learn a bit about the terrain and ibex that he would be hunting in a few months time.  An experienced sheep hunter in Oregon and armed with great optics, Dan has an amazing ability to spot well-camouflaged animals at great distances.  We dubbed our trio "Team Ibex", and enjoyed making fun of ourselves for doing so.

Jake as we worked our way toward camp

Jake decided his strategy would be to backpack up into the mountains where most of the ibex lived and stay up there for the entirety of his hunt, which included the final five days of the archery season.  He would then be free to poke around the cliffs and crags using Dan and me as needed.

On the first day, Jake and I backpacked up to a saddle separating the east and west sides of the range, dropped our packs, and went out in search of the amazing ibex.  As it turns out, they're generally not hard to find with such a dense population in a relatively small area with little vegetation.  Jake spotted a group of about 30 across a canyon from us relatively quickly.  We watched from about 700 yards as the group wandered over the ridge crest and out of sight.  There were about three nice billies in the group, so Jake decided to pursue them.

We quickly relocated to a spot close to where we thought the ibex had gone.  Soon enough, Jake spotted a nanny at about 200 yards as he peeked over a rocky crag.  I stayed put as Jake attempted to work the terrain and get closer.  I could see a nanny from where I was, and I watched her for over an hour while Jake stalked, out of sight.  When she finally spooked, I assumed she had detected Jake's presence.  I later found out that Jake had stalked in to the edge of the herd, with ibex as close as 60 yards.  This is well within bow range for Jake but he decided to pass as none of the ibex within range were mature billies.

The young billy that lived due to Jake's patience (60 yards and completely unaware of his presence)

Our spirits were elevated that night as Jake was now fully convinced that he could stalk these ibex that everyone was trying to tell him were unstalkable.  The local guides often use a team of "pushers" to push ibex herds past hunters in hopes that they might get a long-distance running shot, which they encourage the hunters to take.  They generally consider this type of low-percentage shot to have much higher odds than stalking.

Crest of the Florida Mountains, with our tent in the saddle near the bottom

The next day, I stuck with Jake until about noon while we spotted several groups of ibex, but struggled to find any mature billies.  Shortly before I needed to head into town to pick up Dan, I spotted two billies that were on the small end of mature.  They seemed to appear out of nowhere as we were glassing the adjacent canyon wall.  I watched them for only a few seconds as they appeared over one rise, moved toward us, and disappeared behind another rise at about 175 yards.  I got Jake's attention and told him that if they continued on their current trajectory, they would be in view and just barely out of range as they appeared over the next ridge.  After waiting for about 30 minutes, we surmised that they bedded down on the cliff face that was just out of view rather than continuing up and over it.  Jake quietly stalked in to investigate while I stayed behind to watch their escape.

Jake scrambling in typical ibex terrain

Thirty minutes after that we determined the ibex vanished.  I could see every possible escape route except for one, which would have required the ibex to climb about 200 ft of near vertical chimney.  They did this, and they did it silently.  I spent the rest of the day making a trip to town, picking up Dan, resupplying, and hiking back up to camp with 12 liters of water.

When I got to camp, Jake told me stories of spotting big billies, chasing them around, and trying to get close.  Without fail, they were located in and surrounded by such steep terrain that he couldn't get closer than about 200 yards.  The plan for the next day would be to find these billies again, but have a harness and minimal amount of rope with us in attempt to level the playing field.

The next morning, Jake and I contacted Dan on the radio.  Dan was down below glassing the cliffs from where we parked the truck.  Jake and I would continue hunting up high as we had before, and Dan would let us know if he spotted anything of interest on his side of the mountains.  Less than an hour went by and Dan was on the radio, "I've got a couple of big billies spotted."  He proceeded to attempt to give Jake the location of the ibex in the tangled mess of crags, cliffs, spires, and canyons.  Jake eventually figured out where Dan was referring to, and we spent about an hour trying to approach the area.  Once again, we were completely cliffed out and unable to even get a view of the ibex.

Before we'd completely given up, Dan was back on the radio, "I see more big billies.  There're big billies everywhere!"  He then gave us the approximate location and we were able to see them with our binoculars, about a mile away.  They were in a location similar to the others that we couldn't access, but they were near the top of the cliff.  If we could get in position before the ibex moved too far, Jake might be able to get above the billy and shoot straight down at it.  So, off we went.

The billies we were now after were located high on the prominent cliff on the left

We made good time over to the new location and positioned ourselves at the top of the cliff.  We knew several ibex were within bow range, but just out of sight over the cliff edge.  Jake sneakily peeked over the edge in a few places, but couldn't see very far as the cliff face went from steep to steeper.  He then stepped back from the edge and came up with a plan.  Jake put on a climbing harness while I set up an anchor on a nearby juniper tree.  I then put Jake on a hip belay and lowered him as far as I could as he leaned out over the edge.  He soon ran out of rope, as we only had about 40 feet with us.  He directed me to take him off belay and move to a different location, further to the left and closer to the cliff edge.  A few seconds later I had him back on belay.  When Jake was about 30 feet from me, I saw him step back.  He told me he saw the horns and head of a nice billy.  He nocked an arrow and told me to give him 2 more feet of rope and hold tight.  When he leaned back out over the edge, he said the billy looked straight at him.  Jake drew, the billy took a couple of steps, and Jake released!  The shot was about 50 yards and nearly straight down.  From where I was, I heard an arrow shatter as it struck rock.  I then watched Jake calmly nock another arrow, draw, aim much further to the right, and gradually raise his sight until he released again.  This time I did not hear the arrow strike anything.  I watched for Jake's reaction, which was delayed . . . then, a silent fist pump!

Hearing Jake tell the story afterward, I learned that his first shot was high and missed.  After the missed shot, the billy ran behind an overhang and out of view.  When he came back into view, Jake ranged him at about 48 yards (horizontal distance), drew, and mentally adjusted for the increased distance as the billy walked away.  Then, just before the billy went over a rise and out of sight, he stopped to look back.  As soon as he stopped, Jake released with lethal effect.  The fist pump I observed happened when he noticed copious amounts of blood on the rock as the billy went out of sight.

The belay and shot location are pretty accurate.  The ibex location is the location at the time of the first shot.  The second shot was much further to the left in this photo.  After the second shot, the billy went further left, around the corner, and out of view.

Since Jake thought his shot might have been too far back, we decided to give the billy about 2 hours before searching and potentially further spooking him.  When we eventually started looking, we found the billy right where Jake thought he would be.  After going out of sight, he ran down an impossibly steep gully for 150 yards and piled up dead.

Billy's final resting place

Once we located the ibex, we scouted around for a way to access its location.  Coming at it from the top was impossible without ropes.  It looked like there might have been a super sketchy way to hike way down and around to come at it from the bottom, but even that looked like it had one or two places where it would cliff out.  So, we decided the only reasonable way to recover the billy was to get a bunch of climbing gear from the truck and rappel down to it.  It looked to be between one and two rope lengths from the top (about 100 meters), so we planned for a double rappel and an intermediate anchor.  Jake's job was effectively done, and mine had just begun.

I got on the radio with Dan at the truck who had watched the entire thing through a spotting scope.  We told him we would need several ropes and a bunch of gear from the truck, which he quickly gathered.  He also got a hold of Mike and Ryker, two guys who work for a local outfitter (Graham's Guide Service), who were helping us out.  Dan, Mike, and Ryker proceeded to carry all the requested gear to our camp, and we worked our way back to camp to meet up with them.  After we met up, Mike and Ryker went back down and carried some non-essential items with them.  Dan, Jake, and I went back to the location of the ibex and brought our camp with us.  I was pretty sure we could not retrieve the ibex before dark.

Anchor building at the edge of the cliff

Once we got back to the top of the cliff above the ibex, I built an anchor and set up a rappel.  The wind was a steady 35 to 40 mph at this point, which made me a bit nervous on such a long rappel.  Thankfully, the spot we found to rappel from was tucked into a little 'V' in the otherwise shear face.  We set up the first rappel, and with a few directional anchors we were able to reach the floor of the slot canyon after descending about 55 meters.

Starting the first rappel

From the bottom of the first rappel, the ibex lay about 40 meters down the slot, which descended at about a 45 degree angle with a couple of vertical sections.  I set up a second anchor at the base of the first rappel and we descended safely the rest of the way to the billy, leaving all lines in place so we could eventually climb back up them.

Jake with the billy, deep in the slot canyon

After taking lots of pictures, Jake gutted the billy.  In addition to being good for the meat, we figured this would make hauling him back up the cliff easier.  I ascended the lower rappel line back to the intermediate anchor, put the ibex on belay, and had Jake wrestle the ibex up the lower section while I prevented it from sliding back down.  Once we hit the vertical upper section, new antics would be required.  The plan was for me to ascend to the top, set up a 3:1 haul system, and Dan and I would haul the billy while Jake ascended the other line and kept the billy from getting caught on things.

Me, beginning the ascent of the upper rappel section

By the time I reached the top and it was time for Jake to begin, it was getting dark.  When the billy was about 20 feet off the ground, it was dark and Jake decided we should resume the rescue in the morning.  He climbed out of the hole and we left the billy hanging until daylight.

We spent the night about 40 feet from the anchor with three dudes, a two person tent, two sleeping bags, and two sleeping pads.  The next morning, I set Jake and Dan up with the haul system before descending to retrieve the ibex.  Retrieval was fairly straight forward in the daylight and I got a system going where I would ascend my line to about 10 feet above the ibex, use a radio to instruct Jake and Dan to haul on the ibex line, which was separate, and hold the ibex off the rocks while it was raised.  Once it got up to me, I would again ascend above it and repeat.


Once we got the ibex to the top, it was time for more pictures followed by butchering, packing up camp, and hiking/scrambling about 3-1/2 miles back to the truck.

Back at the top of the cliff

I won't lie, I was pretty stoked to combine two of my favorite activities

Packing out

Congratulations to Jake for making success happen on such a challenging hunt!  It was truly an honor to be part of it and watch him plan an execute the hunt with such precision and confidence.  Also my utmost respect goes out to Billy and his fellow ibex.  They are amazing animals and it's inspiring and humbling to be in their presence.

Team Ibex

September 08, 2014

Persistence and Luck: A Lethal Combination

Two weeks before elk season, and for the third time in four years, my Bowtech bow suffered another failure (broken cable).  I remember thinking at the time, "At least it didn't happen the day before the season", thinking there was plenty of time to get it fixed before opening day (September 2).  I took it to the place that put the new string and cables on less than a year earlier, and they told me it should be fixed under warranty early the following week.  Great, still a week to get the restrung bow sighted in before the season.

Several phone calls and days later, they informed me that the bow would be repaired by September 4th, at the earliest.  I will spare further details on this matter as it exasperates me just to relive it.  At the time of this blog post writing, the bow is still not fixed.

So, the day before hunting season I find out that I don't have a weapon (critical, as trying to kill an elk with your bare hands is not only very difficult but potentially quite hazardous as well).  I had plans to head out with Kris the following day to spend five days in the backcountry, so I needed a remedy to my untimely dilemma.  I immediately began researching bows and places to buy them, ultimately settling on Broken Arrow Archery in Milwaukie, OR.  I spent the first day of the season driving to Oregon, buying a new bow, and traveling back to a predefined meeting point near the trailhead where I met up with Kris.

By the time we met up, it was too late to get an evening hunt in, but I had just enough time to quickly sight my new bow in to 50 yards.  We then hiked the short distance to our base camp and set up for the next few days.

In the morning we opted to hunt up the drainage above our camp: Kris down low near the creek and me up a little higher.  We both saw several elk that morning.  I had one very close encounter while still hunting a few hours into the day.  As I slowly and nearly silently crept through the forest, I heard a branch break.  Sometimes the forest just makes noise, sometimes I fabricate noises in my head and think I actually heard them, and sometimes such branch breaking noises are generated by elk.  This had the potential to be the real thing, so I knocked an arrow.  About 2 seconds later a cow walks out from behind an upturned tree stump about 20 yards from me, clueless to my presence.  I'm standing in the open and caught off-guard, so even though the elk is well within range, there is nothing I can do because any motion on my part will spook the elk.  I decide to hold perfectly still in hopes that the elk will continue on it's path and eventually not be looking right at me so I can draw my bow.  The cow continues to walk more or less toward me, ultimately getting within about 8 yards.  At eight yards, the cow stares me down and proceeds to bolt up the hill.  I make a quick cow call in hopes that it will stop within range and I can get a shot in, but to no avail.

At this point, I notice that there are three more elk, a cow and two calves, about 40 yards away, through thick trees.  They're not moving and don't seem spooked by the other cow's sudden uphill sprint fest.  I decide to wait the elk out, figuring if they head uphill I'll have a shot.  The cow in this group doesn't take a single step for the next 20 minutes, staring intently downhill while listening to a distant bull's bugle.  After about 20 minutes, the wind swirls and carries my scent to the elk, ending my little game of wait-em-out.

That evening we sat at the meadow where I shot my elk last year and hoped that elk would continue to show up predictably as they did last year.  A year ago, we observed this meadow for a total of six nights.  At least one elk entered the meadow during 5 of those 6 nights, each time about 45 minutes before it got too dark to shoot.  This night, we saw one doe and no sign of elk.

The next morning we decide to head further up the main drainage and ultimately scope out a meadow that looked promising on our topo map.  Just as it's getting light and we're ready to leave the main tail to head up toward the meadow, we hear a nearby bugle.  I decide to head toward the bugle while Kris heads up the hill about 100 yards away.  After about 45 minutes, I find myself 40 yards from the bull that was bugling.  He's raking a pine tree with his antlers, which allowed me to quickly get close.  There are no cows around, and both of our tags are for a cow or spike bull.  So the fact that this magnificent, mature bull was 40 yards away, while amazing to watch, was not going to end in meat in the freezer.  When the bull moved on, I headed in the opposite direction toward the meadow we had planned to scope out.  Shortly after arriving at the meadow, I see a spike bull about 150 yards away on the opposite side of the meadow.  He was trotting away at a pretty good clip when I saw him, so he must have seen me first.  Bummer, but at least this new meadow showed the promise we thought it might.  I sat at the meadow for the next few hours hoping another elk would pass through.

After the morning activity, instead of heading back to camp on the trial, I opt to stay about a 1/4 to 1/2 mile above the trail and parallel it back to camp.  At about 10:45 I came over a small rise and saw a patch of brown about 60 yards away.  Soon enough, the patch moved and I watched an undisturbed cow feed up the bottom of a drainage.  I quickly decided to back over the rise and head up the other side in order to get above the cow and let her feed right up to me.  The terrain and wind are perfect for this and I'm reasonably confident I can close the deal.

As I slowly head back over the rise after gaining what I think is the proper amount of elevation, I hear a bark before I ever see the cow.  It turns out there were two cows, and the one that was higher up that I didn't know about foiled my plan.  Ti's the nature of elk hunting.

Bummed that I had such a good setup and couldn't make it culminate in freezer meat, I continue back toward camp on my previous trajectory.  At about 11:30, I jump a bedded cow at about 40 yards.  This is a normal occurrence while still hunting in the middle of the day, so I don't feel too bad about blowing this opportunity.  I decided this is a good time to check my GPS as I don't want to go too far and disturb the meadow we planned to hunt again in the evening.  While reaching down to grab the GPS out of my pocket, I notice a cow head looking at me, about 30 yards further downhill than the cow that spooked a moment earlier.  I figure I'm moving my arms and the cow is watching me, so I might as well grab my range finder and range the cow as it watches me.  I do this and range her head at 37 yards.  The rest of her body is concealed by trees and brush as she remains bedded.  After ranging the cow, and having no shot at her vitals, I decided to hold perfectly still and hope that she remains calm and eventually stands up.

Fifteen minutes later, her gaze has not left my location, and neither of us has so much as twitched.  Then, she cracks.  Her ear twitches, presumably to bat at a fly.  I won the stand off!  Five minutes after that, she stands, still never taking her gaze off my location.  I still don't have a shot due to the thick trees, and the only way I'll have a shot is if she moves to my left about 10 feet, into the only reasonable shooting alley through the trees.  Shortly after standing, she occasionally diverts her gaze, but never for longer than a second before snapping her head back in my direction.  I still have not even twitched for more than 25 minutes.  Then she takes a couple of steps, placing her head behind a 10-inch diameter pine tree.  I use this opportunity to adjust my feet and get ready to shoot, on the off chance that she passes through my shooting alley.  When her head emerges from the other side of the tree, she's looking right at me but seems no more alarmed than before.  A few minutes later she continues walking - directly toward my shooting alley.  As her head passes behind the last tree before she enters the foot-and-a-half wide opening, I draw my bow.  She continues walking slowly, and as her vitals pass through the opening I release.

I immediately see red where my arrow hit, which is a little high and a little far back.  As the cow runs off, I give a couple of cow calls in hopes that she perceives the recent commotion as less of a threat.  For about the next thirty minutes I hear branches breaking; out of sight, but not far away.  The sound comes from the same place, and never seems to move in any direction.  After thirty minutes, the sounds stop.  I take my boots off and put on my stalking socks in order to more silently track the elk in case I find it still alive.  I immediately notice a tree splattered with blood directly behind where the elk was standing when I shot.  I follow a blood trail four about 15 yards, then it becomes difficult to follow.  A quick glance around at this point reveals a dead cow elk, only 40 yards from where I shot her!

I need a minute to calm down, then I come up with a plan.  I'm about a mile from camp, and I know the butchering process will go much faster with Kris's help, plus I can't wait to tell him we've got meat on the ground!  I take a quick selfie with the elk (selkie?) to take evidence back with me when I retrieve Kris.


I want to hide my excitement when I get back and calmly show Kris the picture, but this is far from possible.  I find him sleeping in his hammock and announce that I'm going to need his help with something.  I'm out of breath from running a mile back to camp and have a huge shit-eating grin on my face, so he quickly figures out what happened.  We proceed to embrace in a series of jubilant man hugs before packing a few things up and heading back to the elk.

After taking a few photos, the two of us quickly butchered the cow and began packing meat back to camp.  By about 5:00 we had all the meat cooling in the stream by our camp, and by 7:30, we had all the meat back at the truck in a cooler full of ice.

My new bow - only 2 days old and already with it's first kill (notice the red arrow on the far left)

Kris posing with our prize while it cools in the creek

Yes, those are camo Crocs, and yes, we packed meat while wearing them due to multiple river crossings

We spent the next couple of days trying to get Kris an opportunity, but found the elk much harder to locate.    We eventually caught up with one small herd, but spooked them prior to making visual contact.  We spent three nights in the meadow that was so productive the previous year and saw a total of zero elk.  This is me relearning that elk are not predictable.

I'd like to thank Kris for helping with the butchering and packing operation, Ava for her understanding and support in me purchasing a second bow, Broken Arrow Archery for setting me up at the last minute, and Hoyt for making what seems to be a super solid bow at a reasonable price.  Special un-thanks to the Outdoor Emporium and Bowtech for joining forces and putting me in my initial predicament.  Then again, perhaps the elk were behind it all along.

August 25, 2014

Eight Dudes on a Golden Horn

Last weekend I accompanied seven good friends of the male persuasion on a backpacking trip.  One of these individuals was Jim, and this event was set up as a bachelor party in his honor.

The trip involved backpacking about 12 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, north of Rainy Pass, to Upper Snowy Lake.  Once we set up camp at Upper Snowy Lake and started dough for the evening's dinner (more on that later), we proceeded to scramble to the top of Golden Horn, about a mile away.

Jim on the summit of Golden Horn with Craig (Jesus) in the background

The final 20 feet or so to the summit required a fun bit of scrambling and also made for a picturesque and somewhat small summit block.

Just enough room for eight people on the summit

Golden Horn's summit block

Jesus on the summit - maybe the first person to drink a beer in a lounge chair at this particular location

We celebrated that evening at camp with great friends, ample beer, and beautiful scenery.  Jim organized a backcountry pizza feed; complete with homemade yeast dough, pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and an assortment of other toppings.  While this would be considered a bit non-traditional in most circles as far as bachelor parties go, it seems to be the norm with this group.  I think I speak for all of us when I say how happy I am to have found such a great group of like-minded folks.

August 14, 2014

Back to Peter Pan-ing

After about a 3-year hiatus from exercising my Peter Pan Syndrome, I'm back at it.  After respectfully resigning from my engineering job in Tacoma, I spent the month of July teaching a backcountry rock climbing course for NOLS in Wyoming's Wind River Range.  I had excellent students and co-instructors, and the scenery was just as grand as I remembered.

I'm currently spending August funemployed while prepping for September's archery elk hunting season in Washington.  After elk season (mid September), Ava and I will embark on what should prove to be an epic road trip; likely spending time in Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, California, and Oregon.  The road trip will likely culminate on New Year's in Washington, at which point we plan to settle back down in Missoula, Montana.

What does all this mean to my readers who are now nonexistent due to my lack of recent posting?  Expect regular posts (monthly-ish) through the end of the year, and hopefully beyond.

June 07, 2014

G.N.A.R-ly Jim Hill

Last weekend, the weather forecast in the Pacific Northwest didn't suck for the first weekend in a very long time.  Ava and I decided to ski Jim Hill, a peak off of Steven's Pass, which we had previously skied in the winter time.  We knew it would be a little different later in the year, but we underestimated the challenges we were about to face.

The route as typically done in winter involves skiing up the Lanham Creek drainage, gaining and ascending a ridge to climbers left, and ultimately descending the valley on the other side of the ridge (Henry Creek drainage).  Doing this leaves about a 1.5 to 2 mile trek back up Highway 2 to the parking area at the Steven's Pass Nordic Center.  We ended up applying this same strategy to a spring ski of Jim Hill.

We made the entire ascent in running/approach shoes, with less than an hour of that in snow at the top.  A good trail lead from the Nordic center to Lanham Lake, where the bushwhacking began.  From Lanham lake we ascended more or less straight up the ridge to the east, encountering ample devil's club, a bit of slide alder, and generally dense vegetation on a relentlessly steep slope with the occasional cliffed out zone.

'Shwackin' with skis

We made it to the ridge top in due time, convinced we did not want to descend what we had just come up.  We continued up the ridge to a somewhat arbitrary spot near the top of the good skiing slope (the north facing bowl at the top of the Henry Creek drainage).  We were relieved to see this bowl filled with snow after ascending a mostly snow-free slope.  We opted not to put skins on for this stretch due to the firm snow and relatively short stretch to where we would begin skiing.

Hiking up the ridge between the Henry and Lanham Creek drainages with the 'goods' to the left

When we were putting our skis on at the top, Ava threw out the idea of skiing naked.  For those who are not familiar with the Gaffney Numerical Assessment of Radness, or G.N.A.R., one can get serious points for skiing sans clothing.  I highly recommend watching the entire 1 hour and 10 minute documentary film here: http://unofficialnetworks.com/gnar/.  Anyway, that was all the encouragement I needed for the honor of making my late hero, Shane McConkey, proud.

Free the heel, free the . . .

First we noticed the beautiful views of Glacier Peak, then I saw something to jump off of.  Putting two and two together, we set up for this fine shot.  We both feel the following photograph made the entire trip worth it.

Perhaps Ava's proudest moment as a photographer - Glacier Peak in the background

The snow in the bowl was a bit sticky due to the 60 degree temperatures, but otherwise pretty awesome with minimal sun cupping and plenty of open terrain.  Toward the end of the snow, slide-debris covered snow quickly turned to steep, 6-ft wide snow and fir limb covered chutes lined with slide alder walls of death on both sides.  The snow ended as our chute turned into a creek that then cascaded over a waterfall of undetermined height.  Committed to the descent via the Henry Creek drainage, we put the skis back on our backs and prepared for battle.

Near the end of the line, shortly before entering the chutes

We could see a row of mature fir trees about 150 yards to our left, usually an easily surmountable distance.  However, with dense slide alder (is there any other kind?), almost as much devil's club, and skis sticking up well above our heads, every inch was hard-earned.

About to finish the final round of battle

After a 45-minute, grueling, full-body workout, we made it to the edge of the forest and much easier ground.  Over the next couple of miles, we would have to cross a few other patches of similar stubbornness, but this first one took the cake.

It ended up being a 9-hour day, and we never really took a break.  Aside from two people camped at Lanham Lake, we didn't see anyone else the entire day, which is now abundantly clear why.  Despite the difficulties, we both had a great time and enjoyed a much needed day out in the mountains.