Dead animals, superheroes and skiing

Don’t read this entry if you have an aversion to blood and gore, teary women, superheroes, ski edges scraping against rocks or long-winded blogging.

The Wolfe boys have had a good hunting season. Pat killed a bull elk with his bow on opening weekend in September (the day I turned 30), then he, Mike and Tom managed a hat trick of buck antelope a month later. More recently Pat knocked down a big stinky muley buck in the Bridgers, and Tom came home with a nice whitetail.

Last weekend, Mike and Pat went out for another hoorah. Mike hadn’t shot anything besides that antelope in a couple years, and he wanted it, bad. They hiked into the mountains, high above the snow line. During an intense 24 hours of post holing and camping in the snow, they saw not even a single quadriped. All the animals had gone down to the valleys. On day two, the guys cooked their emergency bacon. When the calories reached their brains, they decided to descend.

Back at the truck, they looked at their maps and chose a couple squares of nearby state land in the valley bottom. At the first stop, they hiked three miles to reach the state land. Upon arriving, Mike spotted a buck deer laying down, facing him. The beast looked up, and Mike blasted him in the chest. They quartered him and hiked out. As they drove toward the next state square, a group of cow elk ran on private land alongside the truck. As soon as they crossed onto state land Pat and Mike parked, jumped out and snuck up. Mike shot one. They gutted it and dragged the whole thing into the back of the truck.

Meanwhile, I was home working on my computer. I hadn’t had an adventure in three weeks, nor a weekend. I was being very productive working toward some big deadlines. I was also feeling depressed. I knew the boys would be tired and hungry, so I tried to be a good housewife by baking a pie.

The next morning I woke up crying. I put on my ski pants and stormed out of the house dragging pack, ski boots, and Boots the dog. Pat and Mike drank coffee and looked at me like I was nuts (I was). When I opened the garage door to get my skis, I almost had a heart attack—the cow elk laid staring at me, dead. Her legs were splayed out. Somehow I’d forgotten about the two deceased animals. I shuddered, grabbed my skis, and squealed my truck away from Cherry Drive.

At the Hyalite Canyon trailhead I ran into Doug and Conrad, who were pulling on their ice boots. (This is where the superheroes come in; although the Wolfes already qualified for that status in the previous paragraphs.) These two guys are super-athletes and independent thinkers who know how to get shit done. I run into Conrad every year early season in the Hyalite parking lot, and every time he makes some very true statements.

I walked over to their truck, trying to paste a not-sticky skin to my ratty old ski. They asked me what was up, and I told them about the recent killing spree, complaining I hadn’t climbed with Pat at all this fall.

“It’s not just this fall. It’s going to be like that forever,” Conrad said. (TRUE) “That’s what you get for going out with a traditional Montana guy.” (TRUE)

I went back and got my other ski and other junky skin, then returned to lurk around their truck. “You should come check out this new moderate mixed route we established last week,” Conrad said. (TRUE)

I looked at my snow boots. Would crampons attach to them? NO. Boots (the dog) and I followed them five minutes up to the G1 cliff anyway, and checked out the ice (still really drippy and sorta unformed), and the new route. A short, steep M3 with big holds, good rock and plenty of bolts, this may be the 30’ section of cliff where I learn to dry tool this coming winter.

“You need to huck a lap on this thing,” Conrad said. (TRUE) I needed a lap on a climb, as bad a Mike had needed to kill those two animals.

I looked at my snow boots again, and Doug looked at his boots. “Size 11,” he said.

“Doug, I need to tell someone where I’m going today,” I said.

He smiled. “I’ll be your guy.” He’s always smiling, it seems. The director of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center, Doug was the ideal person for my request.

“OK, I’m going to Hyalite Lake.”

“Oh, that will be cool,” Conrad said. (TRUE)

Boots and I left them to scrape tools on rock, and ran back to the parking lot where another crew was also packing up to climb the new route. (I think it saw at least 20 ascents that day.)

I clicked in to my skis and started slogging the 5.5 rolley-poley miles to the lake. We passed two unsuccessful hunters, a father and son. The father had a thick Native American accent, and he chastised me for being in the woods alone. He asked where my bear spray was. The 15-year-old swung his gun around in Boots’ direction, and she growled and barked. We also passed two unsuccessful snowshoers. They carryied their snowshoes for lack of snow.

Where the trail steepened below the lake, we crossed a few 30-degree slopes, dug a quick pit, and found an old crust near the ground that was turning into sugar. The new snow was well bonded to it. Graupel fell as we reached the lake. Boots dug a hole in the snow and circled and shivered as I stripped my skins.

Then we skied down. Well, we did a lot of cross-country skiing down, with Boots leaping and bounding and me kicking and poling. But we also did some honest powder skiing for a bit, and then some honest bushwhacking. I teetered on one log, planning my next move, then pulled off a flying leap onto the snow.

Finally, a mile from the trailhead, Maggie found us. Maggie is Purcie’s very leggy and furry Great Pyranees mix. With her were Tyler and Kyler and Odie (another dog). Ty and Ky are superheroes too, mostly because their names rhyme. They were looking for ice to climb, but only found semi-frozen waterfalls. I descended to the trailhead with them, my ski edges scraping against rocks the whole way.


About Emily Stifler

I grew up in Vermont and live in Bozeman, Montana. I love topography: mountains, rocks, weather and people.
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1 Response to Dead animals, superheroes and skiing

  1. Lorna says:

    good storytelling emily. sounds like you will have plenty of good meat this winter. first snow in portland this week! it’s getting cold, but not as cold as montana. funny you say housewife… not exactly my mental image of someone working 80 hours a week editing… but i’m sure you make good pie.

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