Well it all started last spring after the “january blackfoot” trip when 323 started asking when are we doing it next season? So we made a plan and set it in motion on the night of the 6th. The new guy from last year and our fearless leader ‘bronco’ are messing around in the sand so 323 invited another new guy. Bronco hunted Kodiak with him so we figured he couldn’t be too bad. The two of them came out and we transferred everything into the big trailer and headed north. I topped off my gas and fuel in delta and we crashed at the usual spot. Headed to the trailhead at a decent hour in the morning and threw the sleds together. I had scouted the trail the week before at 35 below and everything was kosher. Only pulling three sleds this year we definitely looked like the clampetts.
We left the truck and headed out at about 27 below. We had to skirt a bit more overflow this year but we made it in and found a good spot for the tent. I finally pulled the trigger on the AO12 w/vestibule this year and this was to be the maiden voyage. Tip: Set up new gear before going into the field! I never made the time to check the tent out before hand so we started setting it up for the first time. Everything went real smooth until it dawned on me we needed to stake out the vestibule! Oops, the plastic stakes that are supplied no doubt work great in the summer but are not exactly designed for use in january during one of the longest cold spells we’ve seen in some time. Just for the heck of it I tapped on one to see what would happen. Yeah, not gonna work. We pulled the 550 cord out and positioned the two bush sleds in front and tied the vestibule to them. This is awesome. I can stand up straight in the tent!
They finish unloading the gear while I monkey around with the stove. I have not decided on a woodstove to build yet so at the last minute we grabbed a Nuway from AK T&T and here we are testing it out. Super simple and I just hoped I calculated enough propane for a possible 9 day outing.
We get a late start the next morning but the weather is socked in and trying to snow. We head upstream and finally see a hillside come out of the fog next to the river. We get up on the ridge and run up it looking for sign as the weather clears enough to see into the timber in the valley bottom. See one moose and they start hiking down to it but they stop short as it slips into the heavy timber and disappears. We head back to camp later that night and plan for an early start for a full day tomorrow.
-30 in the morning and chipping ice out of the suspensions to free up the bogies is going to get old real quick. There is substantial overflow upstream of camp and we’re running thru it morning and night. We head off to where we saw the previous moose and spot one in the meadows before we get there. We climb the knob beside it and J man sneaks down over the side to get on top of it. It gave us the slip while we were out of sight so we sat on the top spotting. See a couple that might be doable but then 323 spots one in the river. After 30-40 minutes it finally commits to the open meadows and we head down to pick it up. We get in close and they move in on it while I hold back checking out some other fresh tracks. Well 323 is finally going to use his 375 ultra he picked up in may but as he squeezes the trigger nothing happens. Froze! J man pops it with the 300 ultra and it goes down. I catch up to them as he finishes it off. Beautiful healthy animal for the dinner table.
We strip it down, bone out the carcass and bag everything. We load the sled and notice it has gotten colder while we were processing. We hit camp at -40 a while later. Hmmmm looks like we may be in for another repeat of last year. Eyeballing the thermometer every once in a while that night shows it raise into the negative 20’s. My rig lost a crank bearing two days before getting the call to work last spring and I didn’t have it ready for this trip. I was nervous about the 4 stroker in the swt I borrowed and whether it was going to give me any trouble with these temps. Well we sure got a surprise the next morning. Stretching the legs at 0400 showed 26……. ABOVE!! Ah crap. I don’t have to worry about the sled starting but this is going to up the overflow to a whole new level.
By the time we get going it settles to a mild 5 above. We decide to pioneer a route past the overflow and go overland from camp. It’s good going but we noticed it was a bit breezy up valley. Well we got to the last meadow before the base of the hill we planned on going over and we sit there watching the snow devils and ground blizzard rage in front of us for a while. We figure it should be better if we can get above it so we head off in the direction of last years success. After a while of snow stung faces and deep drifts we get above it. We head up higher and drop over the backside ridge and find a cow with calf. They move out of country like something is chasing them so we study the terrain looking for any sign of predators. Finding no carnivorous types we spot two moose bedded in the brush. We stalk down on them and 323 places a magnificent shot behind the ear of one as it quarters away. I miss a couple head shots on the other as I continue my horrid shooting streak of the ’11-’12 season. The third shot I give in and place in the chest. It goes down and 323 walks in and finishes it since he is down in the bottom by now. We load his in the sled and pull it next to the other for processing. This whole time the weather is dead calm where these moose are located. No sooner than we pull the knives out a cool breeze kicks up just enough to say “gotcha!” Still better than 40 below though. We butcher them in record time and get the sled loaded.
It’s dark now and as we climb over the hill from where we came we run into the ground blizzard still raging on the other side. That morning’s track is long gone as we head in the general direction of where we thought our morning path had been. I eventually unhook the sled and stumble around by myself looking for anything that resembles our tracks with no luck. Last year was so cold I hadn’t bothered taking pics nor setting waypoints. But I made the decision we were heading for the river and once alongside it I could at least find the entry point we used last season. So off we went into the dark with a nice full moon hiding behind the clouds not offering much help. After stumbling around some more and missing the spot twice we drop onto the river, slog thru the overflow and find our sleeping bags after a long day. +20 that night.
The next day we decide to take a break and do some exploring around the area. Beautiful country. We see two cows each with calf on our way to check the double kill site for critters. A ton of ravens on the first moose but no luck finding any furry things.
We cruise around all day and head to camp in the evening. J man uses the Nuway to cook a batch of tenderloins and uses the torch to melt some cheddar and pepper jack on the top. Mmmm, mmmmmm good!
The next morning we pack up and head for the truck. 323 is running in the back and I could still hear him breath a sigh of relief as we passed the water hole from last year. Of course about a mile later I break thru and the swt with loaded doubles comes to a stop. I turn around to see J man powering thru and I wave frantically to pass me and keep going. Whew! He makes it and has to run way ahead before he leaves the last of the wet spots. I had not paid attention to 323 because my focus was on getting J man to understand my signals as I abandoned ship. Well he was going thru full on flash backs of last year as he made a beeline straight for the bank when the two of us hit the water! I was able to drive the machine out after unhooking the sleds and drove thru it a couple times breaking up the crust on top. Hooked up the first sled and yanked it out and threw a strap on the second and worked it onto dry ground. After regrouping we continued on to where we left the river to hit the trail. I pulled each sled up individually and let J man do his. Well after the laughing subsided we untangled the previously airborne machine from the willow trees and extricated the sled from inside the rear of the tunnel. The sudden stop had snapped the eye bolt off of the sled tongue so we looped a strap thru the tongue and made the rest of the way to the truck without a hitch. Pun intended!