There are many opinions as to the fitness level and capabilities of those who wish to hunt Alaska Big Game. Certainly, a fair amount of fitness is required of any physical sport and hunting is no different. There is a difference however between the rest of the world and Alaska. With her ever-changing and completely unpredictable weather and completely insane variety of terrain, Alaska is for the tough. So my question to you is, “Are you tough enough to hunt Alaska?”
Let’s find out! Let me share a recent and completely typical day with you and then you tell me what you think.
“The rain is snaking it’s way down my back, I can feel my jeans at the center of my back getting wet under the belt of my chaps. My long rider is weighing down with water, I found out a couple of years ago, even treated they only take to shed just so much water.
Crossing the last channel took a lot out of the crew and clients behind me. We’ll stop up at the Narrows’ camp and build a fire. Rest for a bit, have a bite to eat and I’ll make some coffee and hot chocolate for everyone before we ride on.
The Narrows are such a pain in the ass. The channel gets pretty deep there, because it has to, but the quicksand makes it stressful. The turn in the river is tight and the channels all converge here. The banks are high and I can’t see but a couple of spots that may be able to stay solid for the horses to climb.
Persuading Thunder to go back at it, into the icy, deep and fast water to find the spot everyone can cross has to be done as teamwork. Thunder has to do it, but he’s already hit quicksand twice and is getting tired of being the guinea pig. I’m soaked, tired and really don’t want to go for a swim, so I hold him in and put both heals to him, holding steady, so he understands, I’m not asking. I sit deep and give him the word, out he steps, back into the water.
I can feel him shifting, I let him choose and say “hep!” to let him know I see it too. He climbs out and stands as I point to my trainee and he marks his target on my side of the river. One by one, the riders enter the river, some single, some leading the pack string, into, through, out and up to the bank, three feet above my head. Last rider out, last horse through, and I’m on the bank with a smile for each as I pass them to take the lead.
~Cripes, I need a Red Bull…
It takes us another hour to get lined back out and hit the camp at the other side of the bend. Tying up all the horses, gathering up squaw wood, while my wrangler unties the pack horses from each other and reties them to trees that will hold them from fiddle-fartin’ around while I try to mentally pump up my group for the remaining four and a half hours on the trail.
The good part is, it’s pretty much a straight-shot to the camp we are headed to. The bad news is, they have already spent five and a half hours, riding in the non-stop drizzling rain, crossing channels that are raging muddy waters, they are exhausted and I might mention, a bit cranky. To top it off, it’s a black night. (Kinda hard to distract people with scenery and critters when you can’t see the horse you’re sitting on!)
“There. In the distance. Did you see that? I thought I saw a light!” I hear this going up and down the line that follows me, 2 trainees, a wrangler, 2 other guides and four hunters. (The guides are stubbornly tired and I can hear the crankiness in their obvious silence to the excitement.) I give Thunder a heavy pat on his big wet neck, and urge him gently just to see if he can give me a little more.
Now, the grumbles start. Ok, I’m up ~ I drop back and start chatting with the guides and my trainee as I pass them, check the packs and my wrangler as I loop the entire group. Explaining that they’ll see the fire that was lit as a marker, anytime and the tents would already be set up and a hot dinner and coffee would be waiting for them, hold on just a bit more.
Our furthest away camp. King City, just over 30 miles down river from Chisana. They say it got it’s name from Old Simon, the man that would bring in the goods and mail with his pack-horses up the Chisana River and as it was, the girls for the old Chisana whore house, to keep all the miners happy. It is repeated and said that Old Simon tried and failed to beat the first winter storm. Stranded, Simon and the two new ladies spent the winter down river at the original King City cabin and it was said, “He must have lived like a King.”
Following the visible flickering light from the fire some of the time, letting Thunder step out when there was nothing to judge by, re-telling every funny thing I can recall from leading this trip down the river too many times to count, wishing for another candy bar, we pass the time as miserable as a bunch of humans can get when they are basically fine.
~Where is that damn fire? Sheesh…
Seeing the fire for real and not only the beacon of flickering light brings back a little lift in the horses step (yes, they know better than we do how close camp is) and a shush in the grumbling lets me know that everyone has seen the big (and just how big) bonfire and knows we are close.
Trusting Thunder, I ride beside the fire and hang a hard left. There, close enough, Thunder, “take me home,” as I always tell him. Down the trail about 600 yards more, water splashing (crossing the creek), up the bank, and I nudge Thunder to the side to watch the group pass me again. Getting everyone down, here come the floating lanterns, oh, it’s Master Guide Terry Overly and another trainee, with lanterns, dry clothes on and warm fingers on their hands.
“Good Time. Everyone ok? (meaning humans and horses)” Yeah, just wet and tired, I tell him and head to the cook cabin to drop my rifle and saddlebags. Pumping up the lanterns to super-bright and letting the 40 pound long rider coat fall to the floor, I feel like I could just float away! No, not really, but what a relief it is to drop that weight off my shoulders.
Back out into the drizzle, patting shoulders, pointing the way to the big wall tents that are used for sleeping in this camp, letting our guests know to bring their wet gear into the cabin, we’d get it hung to drip after everyone had rested and eaten. Good, damn near wonderful thick stew and bannik was proof that Terry had made this dinner and it was bound to help smooth over the ruffled feathers of more than half a dozen cranky, tired men and boys after their 11 hour ride.
Laughing when I am handed a cup of coffee and told to take a hike. Back to the cabin and ladling up big bowls of stew and cutting bread to hand out to the exhausted guys as they come in the door. One thing for sure, it’s not a big cabin, but it’s certainly the most appreciated one! Terry comes in to give a few words of encouragement to his guests, has a bit to conversation (mostly, the goal is to keep everyone awake and focused enough to eat) and pull out a bottle of Jim Bean to share a glass with the entire group (not me!).
~sneakin’ a back-up Red Bull outta my saddlebags while they’re all sleeping or gone!
After everyone has eaten and the clients have headed to their tent to sleep, the gear gets put back on, bells distributed, hobbles checked and the entire string is led out by 4 of our guys to the feeding area. I wash up, clean up the cabin, put the food and dishes away, got out some sausage for breakfast. It’ll take another hour for the guys to get back, so I’ll just drink coffee and read my book, till they get here. What the heck time is it anyway? Oh. Now I feel better. It’s 3:30am. What a day.
That was the first day’s ride. All fun and games for the rough and ready crowd. Yeah. Right. Now, we’ll go hunting for some of the heaviest and biggest moose on the planet. Tomorrow.”
Are you tough enough to hunt Alaska?
Remember that I truly believe, that it is the passion in your heart for your dream to be a success, certainly, but there is more. It is to appreciate what an incredibly wild and unchanged place there is left in the world and it is for you. All the raw and un-tameable forces of both Mother Nature and the wilderness, surrounding you and becoming part of you, filling you…
Most of the “tough enough” comes from being open to what Alaska truly is. Amazing. Breathtaking. Inspiring. Challenging. Rewarding. Motivating. Are you tough enough to hunt Alaska? I’ll bet you are!