Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Elk Camp

There is a tradition here among our friends, well actually there are several.  Elk Camp is but one.  And the hunters are home from the hill.  

Three small literary detours here:  
First, the line "the hunter home from the hill" was penned by Robert Louis Stevenson in his poem "Requiem", which he wrote to be his own epitaph.  Here is a reference to the whole poem.

Second, this line inspired a gem of a movie, starring Robert Mitchum.  It is a dramatic look at life in a  Texas small town and the characters that live there.  Read about it at this link.

Third, there was actually a Star Trek book and episode by this title, a portion of which you can read here.  Of course you will remember this as the episode in which Sulu is trapped in feudal Japan, Chekov in WWII Russia, and Scotty where else, in an 18th century Scottish revolt.

Thanks for putting up with that.  The poem was really worth it all, if irrelevant.  
Yes, we go into the great forests of the Olympic Peninsula, camp in luxury for about a week, and hunt the elusive Roosevelt Elk, noblest of big game animals.  For more information, follow this link.  In any elk hunt, weather is a factor.   This part of the peninsula is rain forest, and November is the rainiest month.  So we expect rain.  Not too cold though.  This year was very warm, highs in the 50's.

The camp is a little flat spot off an old logging road about 6 miles in from 101, at about 700 feet.  It gets a bit mushy, but considering the terrain, is a little haven.  If you look at a topo map, you can see this is an area of ravines and steep hills squeezed between the Olympic Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.  Every little depression holds water, most of it too inconsequential to be mapped, but making for a wet walk just the same.  

The maps don't show the vegetation either.  The land here is a mix of National and State forest,
 and private logging company ownership, mostly Rayonier's.  The
 forest is a working place, so most of the timber is harvested by the time it is about 60 years old.  There is thinning done to encourage growth, but this thinning makes walking in the forest extremely difficult for a person.  There are occasionally giant spruce or fir snags still standing, but more frequently stumps from the first cutting that are as big as 8 feet in diameter.  In other places, there is a wall
of what we call "dog hair", because it is so thick it is virtually impenetrable, except to the bears, deer and elk.  In all the forest it is dark, and with clouds and rain, it is very dark.  

The area is enormous, and places where you can see more than 25 yards are where you hunt.   You hope these are areas the elk will also be passing through on their endless roaming circuits.  If you can find such a spot with elk tracks, your optimism soars.  The other places to hunt are the clear cuts, but only in the few years after logging, after new growth has grown enough to be browse for elk, and before the alders and replanted hemlock and fir aren't too tall to obscure seeing and shooting.  

Or, you can head up to the high country, to the east and toward the mountains.  Here you are faced with a choice: On the one hand, you can stand on a landing carved out of a mountain so loggers can land logs they haul up the steep slopes on cables, and look to the east, see the mountains and glaciers that the Hoh river is born from, and you can look into mist filled valleys and there, 2900 feet up, you can hear the streams.  

And on the other hand, as you look down, you wonder what you will do if you see an elk down there?  Is it worth it, to kill one and then bring it up slopes that are in places more 60 degrees?  Really, try climbing that sometime.  Then try hauling 800# of meat up it.  Would you take the shot?  

Then to see the trail of elk going down and up those slopes in a way that suggests they don't even think about the steepness, or the obstacles, they just go where they want to.  When you put that kind of animal together with this kind of land, you get an intoxicating mix of all the best of nature, the elk hunt. 

1 comment:

M. Banbury said...

That was a great description of the hunt. Some day I hope to be along to experience it.