Wednesday, September 7, 2011

elk fortress

Here is where I thought we'd be hunting in the fall. The scouting trip revealed this drainage off the Grand Mesa is a kind of fortress for the elk. One old man and a boy isn't going to do it for a hunting party into those woods - I'd need to be twenty years younger, or Ian ten years older, preferably both, and even then I'd have my doubts. It's the most intimidating landscape I've encountered in the West; the deepest dankest woods outside of the N Carolina temperate rainforests; and very beary too, fresh scat around every blind corner and those massively impressive pawprints set in mud.  Does a bear poop in the woods ? yes, lavishly, and wherever s/he feels like it.

The good news is you can't get 200 yards off the trail without finding game trails, the bad news is it takes 15min to do those 200 yards and you can't see 20 yards. I thought we could drop off the top of the Mesa on a trail less travelled, make camp in a meadow near the dark woods and be there for serendipity to take place, or at least to hunt the dark once the ATVs had chased all the animals off the mesa. There isn't any way down except the well trodden trails, and those non-wooded spots on the topo map aren't meadows, they are fields of basalt chunks.  Like this:

Travel is slow at best when daypacking into this scree. Thinking about humping a backpack of hunt camp gear through those rock gardens gave me the ritteltit. That's a fine old Afrikaans word meaning roughly heebiejeebies in US, screaming habdabs in English, but Google fails me - no link to a definition, so consider this the definitive paragraph on the ritteltit.

I'd found a good game trail off the edge but it petered out in the boulder field as in the photo. Artie didn't even try to get into it, sat on the rock at the edge and watched me go, doubtless thinking the dumb human would be back soon. 

Back up to the mesa and along to the only other break in the wall. Again a good clear game trail led downhill, this time ending at a cliff. I guess the elk here could moonlight at Cirque du Soleil, certainly I could not manage the contortionist acrobatics to get down to the next basalt block maze.

The top of the mesa off the roads is very pleasant, rolling meadows with stands of trees and reservoirs (signs: "These reservoirs are water supply, drained every winter, so there are NO FISH"). Elk hoofprints everywhere there is or was mud, but no fresh sign, scat or grazed bits or bedding areas. Dusk descending, we called it a day and bedded down ourselves by one of the reservoirs. Artie was very happy when I lay down next to him as he usually has to sleep downstairs alone; I was happy to have his company after a long solitary discouraging day; so we both sighed contentedly and slept.

Next day we headed into the woods from Carson Lake, in fact another dam, but perennial in this case. There was an infestation of marmots on the wall, whistling alarmed as we crossed over. Two of the creatures can be seen canoodling on the rock in the background. Bigfoot haunts this valley, one of the avatars of the great god Pan, who is not dead but pipes still in the caverns of our skulls. 
and the birds were silent as they listened for the heavenly music
and the river played the song
the wind in the willows and the piper at the gates of dawn
the wind in the willows and the piper at the gates of dawn
Five miles down Kannah Creek it was time for lunch. I caught a couple 8-10" cutthroat trout out of a pool, ten minutes and 20 yards off the trail. Then Artie started to bark at me, sharp angry single WOOFs, and I got frankly spooked, having been hiking for three hours through dense bush and berry patches: a strong attack of bearanoia. Pan is dead, long live Pan.

The south slope of the drainage opened up into mixed juniper and cactus in dust. The north at the same elevation was still aspen in impenetrable undergrowth. We clambered back up the thousands of feet to the top, approximately following a trail much clearer on the map than on the ground.  

Dejectedly we headed back down to the yurt for the night. In the morning we'd go around and look at the other end of the wild part of Kannah, where it comes out onto the plains and is immediately sucked dry by thirsty towns. There were peaches down at the yurt, a week or so short of perfect ripeness but still savoury and luscious.

The trail from the other end goes up through a burn area, grey ash and black trees. Three thousand feet and four miles up gets to the bottom of the cliffs again. There are three trails in the picture below - how many do you see ? Me either. At least that signpost has a sign, many of them had only the post remaining, which I suppose is still a marker of sorts, though Delphic. 

The Grand Mesa 100 mile trail run covered much of the same territory. Practically everyone who finished blogged about it, possibly the best-documented race experience on the webs. The runners expected trails but found it was more like 100 miles of cross-country, marked off with pink polkadot flagging tape and reflectors. This would have worked better if the cows hadn't liked the pink so much they ate it. I found some of the markers and took them with me for future use. Reports here: Footfeathers, Felix, Marco, Ryan

Trudged back down to the burn and went off-trail through the malpais to reach the Kannah: which appeared as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.

The water was icy and fishless to my efforts at least. Artie lay down in the shade. It took 3 days, 30 miles, and 7 thousand feet of elevation change to wear him out, finally hunted himself blind and lame. Usually I figure he goes about three times as far as I do, what with all the circling around, and he was off-trail for most of this in heavy brush. On the drive out, an archipelago of cloud stretched out to the west. The rain was only virga. 

One of the delusions I'd nurtured for this trip was due to a coincidence with the opening of blue grouse season. Now they aren't blue anymore, instead differentiated into dusky and sooty, possibly spruce and siberian as well; whatever they are, we saw none of them. The first two days I'd carried a shotgun in hope. This last day we saw wild turkey running, Artie took off like a bullet on the scent but they evaded him. Recounting this to Ken I said I no longer believed in blues, to which he riposted, channeling Muddy Waters: "son, you haven't earned the blues".