So, last week I took my gun for a walk and my dog Griz came with us. The gun in question was an Evil Black Rifle, my FAL Queenie with the Hensoldt scope. The lake where we were heading had generated reports of a big aggressive problem black bear getting into camps the last two autumns. If I spotted a bear on a far hillside foraging, I could reach out and touch him with the Hensoldt’s BDC. And if a bear waddled into camp at three o’clock in the morning, it’s nice to have twenty rounds of semiautomatic .308 close to hand and not have to mess around with all that silliness of working a bolt.
We hiked five trail miles up into the local wilderness area to our destination lake. While I was hardly adverse to filling my bear tag if the opportunity presented itself, the trip was more just to get out in the boonies for awhile.
As you can see, it was a pretty high mountain lake. We (the gun and I, the dog had no say in the matter) had originally intended to hike up and over the pass in the background of this photo, to get above timberline and spend another night up there somewhere. However, I ran into a couple of bow hunters who had come all the way from Minnesota for their grand Rocky Mountain elk hunting trip. They were hunting hard, but we were having record high temperatures in the 80’s, so the elk weren’t exactly sprinting to their calls and I figured the last thing they needed was for us to go tromping through the middle of their hunting area.
Below the lake there was a burned over area from an old forest fire, kept fairly well watered by a series of spring and seeps trickling down through the rocks. It was a berry bonanza; red raspberries, thimbleberry, black currants, elderberry, mountain ash, and rose hips, the last not a berry but a good source of Vitamin C which stays on the plant all winter. I really feasted on thimbleberry and raspberry. They were both just about done for the year. I had to be careful with the raspberries, as the ripe ones would fall off the vine at the lightest of touches. Actually, I got more berries by picking them up out of the crevices in the rocks where they had fallen. Eventually, I decided I’d better stop lest I wind up able to shit through a screen door at 20 paces that night. Griz kept pushing in and sniffing around trying to figure what I was eating, but couldn’t quite grasp the idea of eating berries.
Further up, in the shade of the timber, there were wild strawberries, Oregon grape and dwarf huckleberries. As usual, I could find no strawberries on the plants. Oregon grape are as sour as those hideous candies the kids eat which make your face shrivel and pucker up, but they are supposed to be “better” and “sweeter” after a frost. It had gotten down to 22 degrees a couple of nights before so, as usual, I tried a few grapes but certainly couldn’t discern any sweetness to them. The huckleberries were done for as well, and I only found dry shriveled up ones, but at least they still tasted good.
So as not to disturb the Uff Da’s bow hunting, we set up camp at the far end of the lake and just chilled. I had planned to have a fire-less camp and just eat my home-made survival food (pemmican, survival bread, hardtack and pinole…not as bad as it sounds and I’ll share the recipes one of these days), but I got to casting a line here and there and landed this nice rainbow. The lake was full of fish this size; you could see them cruising around in the crystal clear water. I should point out also that my K-Bar knife, used for size reference in the photo, is actually the Super Rambo He-Man Special K-Bar and is 28 inches in length. Honest.
As the sun went down behind the 8,600-foot peak behind us, I glassed for animals. I try to set up camp on a slope facing east or southeast so I can get the morning sun right away. It’s tempting to set up in the warm afternoon sun on a west slope, but you regret it in the cold air the next morning as you shiver in the dark shadows waiting for the sun to finally clear the mountain and give you a little warmth.
As the evening coolness began to seep into the air, I sat on the lake shore rocks in my Crazy Creek stadium seat with my compact binos and glassed the far shore and hillsides for wild critters as the single big shadow of the west ridge slowly moved and spread across the lake and into the mountains to the east. I didn’t see hide not hair of a damned thing. Trying to glass the old burn and the berry mother lode for my bear didn’t work well as the white bones of the dead lodgepoles were mostly still standing and pretty thick; one’s view couldn’t penetrate far into the dead timber. The dog enjoyed paddling around in lazy circles in the lake.
Not sure whether there was a fire ban in effect or not (there wasn’t) I built a tiny fire about dark using “squaw wood”, small sticks no larger than a pencil, to make an all but smokeless fire to cook the trout and make a cup of coffee in my canteen cup.
Lest I make it sound like the mountains are some kind of cornucopia of wild edibles just waiting to be picked up off the ground and stuffed into your face, I must stress this was an unusual case. I can usually find something in the high country…glacier lilies, wild onions, Oregon grape…but not enough to fill one’s belly, especially not on a regular basis. I usually end up putting some lily corms and onions in with a canteen cup of rice and soup mix as a “bonus” but that’s about it. Sometimes, you can’t find shit, but if you were starving you could peel the bark off a lodgepole or Doug fir and scrape off the soft inner cambium for a treat that tastes about like you’d expect. Hint: not ambrosia. Glassing for an hour or more and seeing absolutely nothing in the way of critters also goes to show you can’t and shouldn’t plan on living off wild game or fish on a trip into the wilds either. You sure don’t see Survivor Man coming home having gained 25 pounds after a week in the bush.
I broke the Crazy Creek chair down flat for a ground pad in lieu of an Ensolite sleeping pad or Therm-O-Rest. We used to call these things “snivel pads” in the Army when we were young and dumb and full of cum. Their purpose, however, is not to cushion the rocks and roots you’re sleeping on. It’s insulation from the cold ground. The real world’s not like ol’ John Wayne laying down on the bare ground with his saddle for a pillow, his hat pulled low over his eyes, and a trade blanket over him. You’d freeze your nards off that way in the high country.
At times packing ultra light and going without a snivel pad, I’ve built old-timey browse beds from pine and fir boughs and they work pretty good as insulation. I’ve also piled up pine duff and spread it out into a bed between a couple of lodgepole lengths.
With clear skies and no rain forecast, I just spread my East German shelter half and poncho liner on the pad and folded it over me and we slept under the stars. The shelter half has a button and eye system( rather than snaps like American, Brit or former West German shelter halves) to connect to other shelter halves or to close up the side and bottom. Those damn Commies from the former “Democratic Republic’s” Workers’ Paradise no doubt manufactured them under some kind of Collective 5-Year-Plan, kind of like Obama and Geithner running GM, and the buttons come off about as fast as you can use them. My next project is to sew some Velcro along the bottom and the edge.
I don’t take a watch with me into the wilderness, preferring to go by Boonie Standard Time, so I can only guess that it was about three or four in the morning when a small herd of elk moved through the dead timber across the hillside on the far side of the lake. When they’re just ambling along you can hear the cows and calves “talking” the whole time. An hour or two later, they ambled back the other way. Of course there was no moon so it was blacker than the inside of a cat and we never actually saw them.
In the morning, an adult bull moose came out of the dark timber on the far side of the lake and slowly worked his way through the shallows. The rack was nothing to brag about, but it was very nice to actually see a moose these days. These days, the vast majority of the moose in our neck of the woods are wolf shit. Eventually, the moose waded ashore and worked his way up the lake towards us. The dog, of course, while used to stock animals, went nuts over his first moose. He sure sounded tough and fierce, but he showed no inclination to actually run over there and tangle with the thing. His growling and barking did make the moose kick it up a gear and he trotted right past camp, although at a speed and through timber that kept me from getting a good photo.
Oddly enough, the moose was accompanied by a flying squirrel, but I shot it with Queenie and Griz ate it; a satisfying experience for all three of us.