Thursday, September 3, 2009

Deer and elk, continued... I was at 11,000 feet after a blizzard left two to four feet of snow, depending on where you measured. I had plenty of food and firewood and I knew how to find wild game if it came to that. But I needed to get word to the rest of the group about the results of the storm and see if it changed our plans. Four of the eight of us were meteorologists, so they already knew it had snowed; they just didn't know how much. My old CJ5 was up there with me, too. No top on it, never had a top in all the time I drove it, whether rain, snow, desert heat or a fine sunny day. But it had a strong winch on the front and had gotten me out of some pretty tight spots (into some, too, truth be told) for more than 25 years.

Back in the tent, I gathered items I'd need in case I got stranded on the way out and had to spend the night curled up under the skirt of a fir tree. Making sure my sleeping bag and rifle were secured, that both jerry cans were full of spare gasoline, and camp was "locked up," we set out, me and Grover the Jeep. Having hunted this area for so many years, we'd situated our camp where we knew the snow wouldn't drift too deeply. On semi-level ground at first, I drove primarily on the crests or windward slopes of hills, trying to avoid the lee-side of timber patches so I wouldn't get bogged down in deeper snow.

I figured out pretty soon that the snow would be less than 18 or 20 inches deep if I could see the tops of a certain kind of grass, and that much snow I could plow through. Oh yeah, I'd put chains on all four tires before I left camp, so I had pretty good traction but knew the risk would be getting high-centered...or ramming into a snow-obscured fallen tree or boulder...or churning into a ditch or depression and losing traction altogether. "Follow the grasses," that was my mantra. Man, it sure was beautiful out there in the heart of this wilderness!

I made it to the beginning of the 4x4 trails which I knew, 20 miles later, would bring me to an actual hard-packed dirt county road (underneath how much snow I didn't know). Even in very muddy conditions and with waterholes that could hide a Mini-Cooper, that 20 miles normally took about an hour to drive. But I couldn't risk the actual 4x4 trails because the ruts were snow-filled and Grover's undercarriage would flounder on his belly. Driving mostly on the high-side above the normal jeep road, I could keep track of where I was (the snow really did cover up a lot of landmarks) and I'd also lower my risk of dead-ending at some woods and having to backtrack. Also, I had to make sure that when (not if) I did get stuck, I'd be able to find a good anchor within reach of the 150' winch cable.

And I got stuck for sure, more times than I could count. There'd be places where no grass showed at all and I had no option but to run the jeep full tilt in the desired direction until enough snow piled in front of the grille and brought me to a stop. Then I'd get out, drag the winch cable to the best available anchor (boulder, log, standing tree) and dig & winch myself back to "regular" running. Then do it again, and again, and again. I soon stopped rewinding the winch, just loosely coiled the cable and brought it up over the windshield onto the passenger seat. Nineteen of those 20 miles out to the road took me from shortly after sunup to the beginnings of dusk. But then, within sight of Deep Lake, I ran out of high ground and had no option - I had to jump the jeep off the upper lip of a roadcut and down onto the roadbed five or six feet below. No option.

Jump I did, right into a bed of snow deeper than any so far since it was sheltered by the road bank. Dragging the cable out as far as I could, I wrapped my heavy logging chain around the base of a boulder as big as the jeep itself and hoped I could winch myself to the boulder instead of the other way around. It worked and, after several more similar pulls, I broke onto a section of road blown free of snow (more or less) and could actually drive (more or less) instead of ramming snow until it stopped me.

I passed Deep Lake frozen in ice and snow for the winter and took off my tirechains when I joined up with the plowed forest service road that led down out of the mountains and to the interstate. Got to the nearest town, got a hotel room for the night and called the guys in Boulder. They held a meeting and decided to stick to the original plan - they would meet me at the hotel in two days and we'd see then what the upper road and trails back into camp looked like. If the snow had settled enough, we figured we could plow back into camp and have a fine hunt. And that's exactly what we did.

1 comment:

  1. As I was reading this I thought...." think SNOW would keep the group HUNTERS LIMITED from going up to hunt?? Even if no one actually "hunted" the group would still go....LOL. But I loved the descriptive story!! DID you make it back ok??? HAHAHAHA