Cassiar Mountains BC September 2006

Tuesday, June 24, 2008
This hunt, recommended by John Schaffer, was a mixed bag 15 day hunt with Bryan Martin and Canadian Mountain Outfitters. I purchased tags for Western Canada Moose, Mountain Caribou and Mountain Goat. I knew two years ago when I booked the hunt that I needed to try to get in better shape for the tough mountain conditions to be encountered in this area of Northern British Columbia. I trained hard at Lifetime Fitness for 90 minutes 3 times a week on stair machines, ellipticals and weights. Also I practiced hiking twice a month with my pack and up to a 100 pound load. I felt like I was in good shape and ready for anything. My shooting was right on , practicing random ranges, conditions and positions. I studied animal anatomy diagrams from the Boddington book Perfect Shot North America. I researched and purchased the very best available equipment ranging from Arcteryx raingear and mountain climbing pants, Asolo climbing boots, Leki trekking pole, Gregory Whitney pack, Under Armor performance underwear, Bridgedale silk and wool socks, Leica BRF, Leupold true ballistic range finder, and countless other top end expedition necessary items. I thought I was ready to take on anything that could possibly be ahead of me. Ha Ha. Little did I know.....

I began my quest early on the morning of Sept 11 2006. The Minneapolis airport security was at the highest level I have ever seen. They were taking no chances what so ever. I connected through Denver and Vancouver to finally hop a Dash 8 turbo prop into Smithers, BC on the AlCan highway near the Yukon and Alaska border, a town of 4000 people. I visited with a couple guys also going in to hunt with Bryan's operation. One guy was from Sidney, Nebraska and works on store design for Cabela's. The other guy is from Green Bay WI and is a subcontract taxidermist for Cabela's who sets up new stores with their animal collections. They have a friend in Smithers who gave us all a ride to the Hudson Bay Hotel. I am tired so I sort my gear, have a quick bite at the bar and then go to sleep.
Tuesday 9/12/06
At 8AM I am in the lobby waiting for a shuttle van to take me and the other hunters to the floatplane base. The Cabela's guys are there, a man and his son who own Streif Sporting Goods in Warroad MN. Another fellow is a sheet metal contactor from Pennsylvania, and there is a Budweiser Beer salesman from Oregon. We pile into the van with all our gear and head for the float base. After 15 minutes we arrive and there is a turbine Otter waiting for us. Suzanne Morgan the expeditor meets us, passes out our licenses and tags and then we load into the massive aircraft. I jump in next to the pilot and shortly we are on our way . The plane fires up, taxis to the end of the lake, Armin the pilot for Alpine Lakes Air gives it full power and we are off the water with a heavy load in only 12 seconds. I begin to remember all the times I flew with Dad. The flight is awesome. It lasts 2.5 hours and we only climb to 6500 feet. The ceiling is 7000 feet and we are actually flying lower than the mountain tops as we follow the valleys. The view of the treacherous mountains below is great and I see a few goats and moose as we fly by. The landing comes too soon as we arrive at Spinnell Lake, Bryans base camp. We unload and visit with Bryan about business details while the plane departs to pick up and move around other hunters, guides and deliver supplies to various spike camps. Soon the plane returns and we reload my gear and Lance (Mr. Budweiser) head out 25 miles to Johiah Lake camp. The flight only lasts 10 minutes but we see a nice black bear following the shore as we land on the placid lake. We pull in to the dock, unload and meet the crew as the plane leaves us for a couple weeks on our own.
I am greeted by Chad Miller and Randy Weib, heavily bearded tough looking 22 year olds. Also there are Chad's brother Blair , his wife Rebecca, and Rita Murray the horse wrangler who is the oldest at the camp at 25. Lance and I dump our gear in a nice cabin and drink in the beautiful view of the mountains and lake The day is nice and cool, sunny about 60F, but this will change soon enough. Chad advises me to pack my gear with everything I will need for 2 weeks in the bush of hiking. I have 60 pounds of gear, a 10 pound bow, and then Chad hands me two garbage bags filled with all manner of food. There are Sardines, Oysters, Mountain House dehydrated meals, candy bars, granola bars, trail mix, and dried fruit. I am appalled that it is about 40 pounds and then they ask me to fit in a cook kit and part of the tent too. I have a pack weighing about 120 pounds. Yikes!! This will be interesting. In the brochure it said I should be able to hike 8 hours with a 50 pound pack. I must have answered some of the questions on the hunter information sheet wrong. I feel I may be in for more than I reckoned. I have 3 pounds of food per day for 14 days. We have fresh tacos for dinner and get to know each other a little in the cook tent. As darkness falls I return to the small cabin with Lance and hit the rack dreaming of what is to come.
Wednesday 9/13/06
I am awakened at 4AM by the pleasant sound of hard rain on the tin roof. This sound is generally quite comforting when you can curl up and sleep for a few more hours. Alas I had to load up my gear, don my rain gear and embark on a 10 hour 35 mile horse ride to my drop point. The ride is not too bad. Rita coaches me as I cling to the saddle horn of Silver, a small grey gelding who likes to gallop downhill at top speed and only tries to buck me off a couple times. The weather is awful. It is raining hard and blowing terribly. When we ascend to the top of the caribou flats the rain changes to sleet and snow. The wind never stops. It is really miserable. I have no trouble with the horse though and eventually we arrive at a copse of spruce trees in the Frog River Valley after 10 hours that feels more like half of my life. It is foggy so I can't see much up the mountains surrounding us. That's ok though because I will get a real up close look at them tomorrow. We start a fire to dry our gloves and unload our gear from the horses who depart with Rita leading them away. Chad sets up a small Hilleberg 3 man tent and we roast some chicken. It is the last fresh food we will have for two weeks unless I get lucky and kill something. We saw some moose sheds on the way in and a few goats high up in a draw a couple miles from our camp. I crawl into my sleeping bag and pass out right away.
Thursday 9/14/06
I am woken up early by Chad who says we have a long day ahead and need to get started early. I guess so since it is not yet 5AM. The ground is covered with snow except for a bare patch 25 feet from out tent where a nice bull moose spent the night. We head out after a quick breakfast and pack the tent. I shoulder the heavy pack and follow the guys into the willow thickets lining the swampy bank of the river. There are fresh Grizzly tracks in the sand along the bank. After 3-4 miles we arrive at the bottom of the mountain we will climb today. We start up and Chad and Randy leave me in the dust. Up, up , and up! It seems to go on for ever. The angle is from 30-75 degrees, over shifting slippery rocks and boulders following a stream draw up the mountain. It takes me a brutal 16 hours to finally get to the top. I am exhausted more than I imagined possible, my legs do not work properly, I feel like throwing up and the altitude of 7000 feet is making me dizzy and sick. We ascended 5000 feet and traveled only 7-8 miles. It was not hiking, it was rock climbing with a ton of crap in my pack tearing into my shoulders and hips . I arrive in the dark and hardly remember anything from the climb, except that it was terrible. I am soaked with sweat and very dehydrated. I drank a gallon of water coming up but it was not nearly enough. A power bar every hour helped fuel me for the madness. The temp has dropped to about 10F. I begin to shiver and shake. I am so weak that I can hardly eat the Mountain House meal that Chad prepares for me. I remove my boots after taking a quick look around and slide into my sack. I am elated to have made it up this hellacious climb. This was the hardest mental and physical challenge I have ever faced and while exhausted, I made it and was not beaten.
Friday 9/15/06
The night passes quickly. I awake to frozen boots, frozen water bottle, cold feet and strangely the wind stopped howling from last night. When we zip open the tent I see why. The tent is covered by 5 feet of snow in a massive drift. We camped in the saddle between two peaks and the wind dumped snow on us. We dig out, hammer our boots on rocks to try to get them on our feet, melt some snow, devour a couple granola bars, strip our packs to 30 pounds and head up the peak to the East to spot for goats. The sun is out and the view is amazing. The feeling of being on top of a mountain that I climbed and looking down is amazing. There are mountains as far as the eye can see in all directions. This terrain is heinous. The weather is brutal and I think several times to myself that I can not imagine why I thought this would be fun. The guys see a couple goats and we make our way towards them for a couple hours. They disappear and dejectedly we make our way down 2500 feet to a basin below to get liquid water. I am pissing dark yellow and need more water. I drink as much as possible until I am bloated and hope it will help. Eating snow helped but it is very cold and the climate is actually quite arid so the snow is dry. We head up another 3000 foot ridge to look into the next basin. We see a group of 10 caribou 2500 feet below and 2 miles off. There is a huge bull with them and we decide to try to go for it. Doing so entails a crazy descent down a 75degree loose rock covered slope. My hiking pole helps, but it is absolutely terrible. It is like surfing on rocks, but if you fall you could die. I take my time, but 2/3 of the way down I slip and cut my hand quite badly on a sharp rock as I grab for a hold to keep from slipping out of control down the slope. My hand bleeds badly, but I can't stop to do much or I will tumble down the hill. I pack the cut with snow and wrap my glove around it. Finally at the bottom I get to Randy and Chad. I take off my pack and get out my aid kit. The cut is 3/8 inch deep and 2 inches long in the meat of my right palm. I stop the bleeding, pack the wound with neosporin and using my needle and thread do 12 stitches to sew the cut up as best as I am able. I then bandage and wrap it with tape. Climbing down that hill was the most dangerous and stupid thing I have ever done. The guides went down it 5 times faster than me and were as reckless as I could imagine a person could be.
Next we stalk along a stream bed to get close to the caribou who thankfully have grazed closer to us. I am unable to get closer than 110 yards and decide to try a shot. My wounded hand does not seem to affect my shooting, but the arrow hits the bull high on the back and wounds him, badly though not fatally. He turns and heads quickly away up hill of course. The terrain is terrible and I am exhausted. I am breathing fast and my legs are weak. We try to approach to bow range again for an hour and cut off the herd, but they stay ahead and continue to ascend the ridge. It is 5PM with only 3 hours of light left. If we do not get the bull my chance at caribou will be over. If the herd makes it over the ridge they will get away and we will never see them again. I decide finally that we can not finish this with a bow , so I take Chad's rifle and shoot the bull in the ass from 160 yards. The hit is good and does a lot of damage. He goes right down for good. We wait as the rest of the herd, confused by the loss of their leader comes by at 70 yards from me. I head over to the fallen bull and he is huge. His antlers are enormous and score around 370 points. I am exhausted so Randy and Chad hike back down to get our packs while I rest against the caribou thinking that it will keep me warm and out of the strong wind. It does not work and I get very cold before the guys return an hour later. We shoot a bunch of pictures, then cape and butcher the bull. We distribute the loads and are all over 100 pounds again, then head back on a horrible side hill climb over loose rock and sometimes chest deep snow. Of course it is totally dark. My headlamp provides 20 feet of light. I can follow the tracks ahead of me but I can not see where we are going or how far I could fall if I make a mistake. I pray that I will have the strength to safely get back to the tent. If my light gives out I could be in deep shit, since removing my pack and changing batteries in this weather and terrain are really not possible. Finally about 2AM I get back. I collapse, down a Mountain House and fall asleep. I sleep with my boots and water hoping for a better morning. At least the boots should go on and I will have a drink of water.
Saturday 9/16/06
6AM and we are up and at it again. A Mountain House breakfast warms me up and I realize that while I was very tired, I feel good now. I have never been at all sore. While I was struggling to take a couple steps at a time coming up the hill two days ago , at least now I feel like I am acclimating and already stronger. The boots are still froze and go on hard, but I have a little water. We head up over a ridge and down into another basin. There looks to be bad weather coming and the goats seem to have all moved to lower elevation. After 4 hours of hiking and spotting we head back up to our tent, repack all our gear, break camp and head down the hill I struggled to climb 2 days ago. Actually going down is harder on my legs than going up. It is mentally taxing and I am very careful to have good footing for my 120 pound load. It takes 4.5 hours to reach the bottom and it rains most of the way. At the bottom my legs do not work and will not respond to what I am telling them to do. The rain lets up and we have a fire, fresh water from the stream and it is much warmer than up high. Despite the hard work I really feel great and am happy to have been up high and had success. We roast 15 pounds of caribou backstrap and I wolf down 5 pounds. I am starved and need the fuel. Again there is no real trouble falling asleep. We all decide to air out our socks and it makes for an nice aromatic scent in the tent.
Sunday 9/17/06
Morning comes quickly and Chad is up right away spotting for goats on the surrounding mountains. He spots 10-12 with a couple decent billies. We head off and keep watching what the goats are up to. They bed down and we plan our approach. We will climb a draw 3000 feet up and about a thousand feet above the bedded goats then descend to stalk them from above. It is another brutal 6 hour climb up a running streambed. I work hard taking one step at a time marveling that my dad could have done this. I have a lot of respect for the strength and determination required to get this kind of animal. I find a Golden Eagle feather and tuck it in my hat for the climb up. Finally we reach the top and head out of the gully up an 80 degree 100 foot cliff and out onto the actual mountain slope. We carefully stalk down looking for the spot where we last saw the goats. Chad spots a twitching ear and we head down the steep slope towards it, keeping rocks between us. When we get close we drop packs and painstakingly stalk closer. The billy has disappeared but we spot a nice nanny and get to 60 yards above her. She has decent horns and I will not pass the opportunity to take a goat with bow. It is 60 yards and I estimate a 45 degree angle down. I draw as the goat turns to look at me. She must be pretty stupid because she looks right at me and has no reaction at all. I freeze and she goes back to looking down the hill again. I shoot and the arrow misses low. I draw and shoot again and miss high as she stands and runs behind a rock. I rush to get another shot as she clears the outcrop and this time I connect. The arrow breaks her right front elbow and penetrates the chest a few inches but misses the vitals. She runs down hill and disappears losing lots of blood. She reappears down 200 feet and out a ways. The range is 212 yards, but I have a couple arrows left so I range and get 105 yards horizontal 212 hypotenuse at -60 degrees. I try the shot and amazingly it hits mid body. The goat hunches up and blood pours from the wound. She runs up the opposite side of the draw and gets several hundred feet up before losing her footing and tumbling 500 feet crashing doing 3 or 4 complete somersaults to land well below me. I look over the battered corpse after we climb down finding that the back, all the legs and most of the ribs are broken. The intestines are coming out of both sides of her ribcage. One horn is broken off but miraculously Randy finds it only 20 yards from the landing site. It begins to rain again as we finish up pictures and the full body cape. I am elated at having taken this beautiful animal in such demanding terrain.. I can not imagine how this is even sane to try, but now that it is over I feel awesome. I do not need to climb up this crap anymore. The moose stay low in the valleys and swamps. The hike back sucks in the dark, rain and steep downhill, but a Mountain House tastes great and the Marmot goose down bag feels good too.
Monday 9/18/06
We sleep late today, planning to cape and salt the hides I have taken. It sprinkles but we have a fire all day to keep our hands warm and I eat 5 more pounds of caribou steak. There are grizzly tracks only 2 feet from the tent where a bear cruised by smelling our meat. I am glad he did not decide to investigate us any closer. The caping goes well and the rest is well deserved. In the evening we hike 3 miles to call for moose. Thinking after an hour that nothing is coming we head back. As we get to the tent Chad spots a young non legal bull 80 yards away making his way toward us. Chad keeps trying to mess with the young fellow and he gets pretty confused. He gets to 30 yards and smells the goat and caribou meat and heads away. Chad really got into to act, cow calling and crashing around in the brush. The bull stopped, looked back and contemplated returning, but then it got dark. When we retire for the night I realize again that I am pretty lucky to already have two animals in only a third of the hunt. I had to work hard, but it really paid off. You can't get much if you don't go out to find it.
Tuesday 9/19/06
Up early to call moose 4 miles from camp. This time we come upon an old bull well past his prime already with a cow. We work with him for an hour, but he is not legal size and Chad is a little too aggressive for the poor old guy who is looking for a way out of getting his butt kicked by a younger bull out to take his territory. It is a real rush. By the sounds that Chad is making I have to laugh, but it is working. These guys are awesome. They are tough, have a great attitude, are really motivational and definitely know how to hunt even though they are young. Back for another 5 pound steak feast and a nap. Then out 10 miles along the river, crossing it several times to call in another area, but we have no luck. Chad takes his rifle and heads 10 miles more into the dark to get the horses to pick up our gear. Randy and I head back to our tent and a night without a gun for protection from a raiding bear. I try not to think about it on the walk back through the thick willow brush in the heavy rain.
Wednesday 9/20/06
Randy and I sleep late and break camp around noon expecting the return of the horses anytime. It drizzles all day and Rita arrives with our horses at 530PM. Chad continued back to Johiah Lake camp ahead of us. We load up and ride in the dark for 8 hours with no light, hugging the neck of my horse and riding by feel letting Cash find the way. We have to dismount to walk down a terribly steep part of the trail descending to Johiah lake. We arrive at 1AM and Chad is there with a huge caribou he shot on the way back to camp. He fixes spaghetti and then I head for my cabin and get a warm fire going in the stove.
Thursday 9/21/06
Unfortunately at 5AM Chad is up and ready to go again. Of course it is raining. We load into a 14 foot aluminum boat for a 7 mile trip down the lake to hike 4 miles toward Obo lake on a horse trail. Immediately Chad calls in a huge bull that comes right towards us along the lake. He is exposed for a rifle shot for 45 minutes at less than 250 yards, but alas at 47 yards he stops in thick brush where I can not shoot. He can not see a cow, gets worried and decides to leave in a hurry. There is no chance of a shot as he hightails it back the way he came. Back for breakfast and a nap and out again to try by Obo Lake, just a short 9 mile hike in the cold rain. We spot a cow feeding in a swamp and try to call using her for bait , but nothing comes. Back at camp we reflect on how easy the day feels even though we hiked 26 miles. It was pretty flat and we had real light packs.
Friday 9/22/06
Two outings to call morning and night but no luck. It rains all day. We have covered most of the available area here so tomorrow we will head to Butterfly Lake to give it a try.
Saturday 9/23/06
Up early in the pouring rain to pack the horses and ride in terrible weather over the caribou flats, up a steep slippery hill through thick willows and horrible mud. We stop at the Caribou camp where a grizzly has destroyed all of the meat from a huge moose and caribou that Lance shot earlier. We head over the flats and down into a swamp 10 hours and 35 miles through the crappy weather. We arrive at a camp site , unload the horses and head into the downpour for a couple hours of calling. 5 minutes from the place we tied up the horses Chad drops to his knee and says he just saw a huge moose 60 yards ahead on the trail we are walking on. He says to shoot right away. I see the bull but there is too much brush for a bow shot at 80 yards. Chad grabs his rifle and gives it to me . He says it is a huge Boone and Crockett bull. I see huge paddles as the bull stares at me, but as soon as I start to aim the rifle he evaporates. We try to chase, but he is long gone. We hike 30 minutes more to the bank of Butterfly lake swamp and sit down on the hillside trying to stay out of the rain. I sit miserably in the rain arms, legs and chest shaking uncontrollably probably in the early stages of hypothermia. Chad starts calling and immediately a bull answers and quickly starts coming in towards us. It takes an hour and I am so cold I can't stop my shaking as the bull appears at 300 yards. My binoculars are so covered with moisture that I can not even see through them. I can see with my eyes that he is huge. He circles towards us and then stops at 150 yards. He will not come any closer without a cow that he can see, so I decide to go after him with the rifle. Chad carries the bow and we race to intercept him. I get a shot at 160 yards and break both his front shoulders. He falls down and we race to get close. I hit him twice more at close range to finish him off and then marvel at the huge beast. Now I am really exited. I got all three. I do not even care that it is still raining. I am warmed up and the pictures and caping for 4 hours in the dark is not even too bad. We take the cape, antlers and backstraps back to camp where we have a celebratory Mountain House and then crash.
Sunday 9/24/06
It is pouring still in the morning but we sleep late, break camp and pickup the rest of the meat with the horses. The ride back is great. 10 hours of freezing rain and horrible wind on a horse slogging through deep mud. We stop at the caribou camp to visit with Blair, Rebecca, Rita and Lance. Drying my gloves on the camp stove feels wonderful. Then we ride back to camp and a nice bed.
Monday 9/25/06
Because of all the rain, the stream that usually runs by next to the cabins has flooded over and now goes right through camp and under the cabin and tents. We spend the day working on the moose cape and are visited by 2 conservation officers in a Bell Jet Ranger who are polite and visit with us for 45 minutes before leaving to check on some other hunters. Rita and Rebecca return with a string of horses and we have a nice moose steak dinner. Lance and Blair return later in the evening with a whole mess of Ptarmigan. We have both filled out all our tags and had a super hunt working hard to be successful. We stay up all night and talk about what a great time we had. It continues to rain.
Tuesday 9/26/06
Morning is as foggy as can be. I can not see the lake from the cabin even though I am 6 feet from it. We wait around all morning, eat a a bunch of fried Ptarmigan pack our stuff and wait for a plane to get to us. The fog clears eventually and an old Beaver serial number DHC-12 from 1948 takes us to Spinnell lake camp to go over our paperwork with Bryan where I decide I want to try a stone sheep or grizzly hunt here in 2 years. I was really impressed with the operation, area, animals, and Chad and Randy. We are out again on the Beaver then to a Norman Britten Islander twin engine wheeled plane back to Smithers just before dark. We are met by Suzanne Morgan and brought to the taxidermist for the compulsory inspection and shipping arrangements. Then to the Hudson Bay Hotel and a quick meal visiting with some other disappointed guys who did not do so well on their hunt. Quick night.
Wednesday 9/27/06
I wake up, grab breakfast , take the shuttle to the airport and head home to Minneapolis on three more flights. Customs is a breeze and soon I am home to be picked up by Sarah and the kids.
What a trip. It was the hardest mental and physical thing I have ever done. It was also the most satisfying. I can't wait to do it again. The preparation was all worth while. I will have to work even harder to keep the success rate up. I challenged myself, worked for 2 years to get ready, and passed the hardest test I have ever taken. The only reward is an almost unexplainable feeling of accomplishment. I never even considered quitting, but it sure was not fun. The process is pure torture and misery, but the result is euphoria. Being on top of the world and climbing there on foot is a real high. I am addicted.