Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The Caribou Are Safe...
So...I got my first chance to see the mountain up close and personal this last weekend. My fellow Jr. High warrior Tim asked me if I wanted to take a camping trip up to the mountains near Quinhagak here. Of course I jumped at the chance, even though I didn't have much of my gear. We took off Friday night around 5 pm and headed up river with his flat-bottom boat and 40 horse Yamaha jet engine. Jet props suck in water and propel it out the back pushing the boat thought the water. They run in really shallow water, which is need the farther you go.
We ended up going 40-45 miles up river to the real middle of nowhere. Kipnuk, Quinhagak, they are close to the middle of now where, but this was right in the middle. It must have taken 3-4 hours to get that far. It rained off and on, but that has been the norm the last few weeks up here. We took a couple of breaks to gas up and listen for other boats coming down river in a few tight spots. Tim asked me my first impressions of "Her" when we were using the facilities and I commented "she" was gorgeous and totally different than in town. The river that is. The trees get bigger, they change colors. Salmon were all over the place, red and spawning, really cool to see. All Tim said was "Just wait".
Get this, once we hit the 40 mile mark and came to one of Tim's favorite camping spots there was someone already there. We kept moving on, remembering that there is a lot of mountain up there. We stop at the weir, where they count salmon during the summer. It was abandoned for the winter and we decided that the tundra would play fits on my back, with just a sleeping pad for comfort. The tundra is rather bumpy up close, not totally flat, I think I have mention this before. Anyway, we drifted downstream a couple of bends and found a sandy spot next to the river and set up the tent, ate a mountain house, and tried to get some sleep. The .375 H&H, was right next to Tim all night ready to light up any bear that tried to join the party. I was almost asleep, when I thought I heard footsteps in the river, I woke totally up and listened real hard, before determining that it was the same sound over and over and over and not a bear. Tim was snoring. I should mention real quick my bear fear was well founded. Every time, we got out of the boat, there were tracks, some fresh, some not so much, but every time tracks. Tim said in fact, he believed that bears were over populated on the river. We ended up seeing 8 in two days. Nothing close.
So the next morning, we set out looking for caribou herds. After locating 4 different small herds and trying to cover as much ground as we could with binoculars, we got some lunch and headed for the closest herd. Problem was, a sow bear with three cubs had moved over lunch and was now right between us and the herd. They laid up in some brush. We decided to make a huge arch around them upwind, so they would smell us and go the other direction. This worked and she took her cubs away. The caribou were moving our direction and as we got closer they finally noticed we were getting closer. When they looked up at us, we raised our hands up in the air and tried to look caribou. It seemed to work and they are naturally curious and came within probably 150 yards. I was set up for the shot, but we thought they would get closer so we waited and finally they spooked and ran over the hill. We chased and got within a 150 yards and this time I let one have it. Except I missed and they jumped a few yards to the right. I re-loaded and shot again, and a caribou fell to the ground. Legs kicking, good shot to head we thought. Tim said nice shot and I ran back up the hill to get the packs. As I came back to my surprise, the caribou had gotten up and ran off. I didn't hit it in the head. Probably just grazed it, or maybe hit an antler. We followed the heard another couple of miles. Exhausted and watching the caribou running around healthy, we decided there was nothing we could do. We hunted the rest of the day, with gorgeous weather and also the next day. We never got close again and headed home Sunday.
It was a great trip and I was impressed with the magnitude of the mountains. The pictures I took are terrible and do no justice to the area. A true wilderness, with a few Quinhagakers sprinkled in favorite camping spots. It is just so different out there. So large, I felt very small, very isolated.