We found ourselves in an escalating predicament. It had been two hours since Mike had made the shot and the weather was rapidly deteriorating. In that time, we had caped, quartered, and hastily packed the ram for the journey back to the glacier and our waiting tent. My adrenaline waning, my body chilled from the driving rain, we started the descent of the ravine back to the glacier. We had to move quickly, as darkness would soon envelope us. Our descent would be an unexplored route, as the ram’s fall had positioned him in a steep ravine. I silently prayed we would be able to get off the mountain, and back to the glacier, but given the terrain, this was an uncertainty at best.
Slowly, we picked our way down the ravine. Rain peppered us with a stinging force; the gusts of wind increased their ferocity. As we lowered in elevation, the ravine became steeper, the creek making waterfalls, and eventually, as I feared, it became impassable. Returning to the glacier on the path of our stalk was not an option, and would have led to a dangerous siwash. There was no time for indecision, we had to act, and act fast.
A sheep trail become noticeable that led out of the creek. I figured that if we were to make it off this mountain, the trail of the sheep would be what would get us there. This was clearly the path the sheep used to descend the mountain, although no guarantee that our human disadvantages would allow us the same ability. I followed the trail as it traversed away from the creek, onto the face of the mountain. Footing was satisfactory at first, but grew increasingly difficult as the slope became more extreme. Although still going downhill, we had increased a significant amount of elevation in relationship to the creek bottom; it became apparent that any fall would lead to a certain death.
I worried about Mike. This was his first sheep hunt, his first time negotiating the difficult terrain associated with alpine hunting. I checked with him often, making sure he was comfortable, and still mentally in the moment. This mountain, this situation, and these possible consequences had become intimidating, even for the most experienced of sheep hunters. I had to stay strong, stay smart, and keep us safe in an increasingly dangerous situation.
We made slow, meticulous progress down the rocky face. Then, much to my chagrin, a small ledge on our intended route proved to be a significant obstacle. With the immense weight in our packs, and the associated problems with balance, I knew we couldn’t negotiate it while wearing our packs. I asked Mike if he could get his pack off, he answered in the affirmative. Carefully, I took my pack off as well, and set it down gingerly, making sure it did not begin to slide. With the weight off my back, I was able to gently step down the ledge, onto the better footing below. I asked Mike to carefully make his way to my pack, and to attempt to lower it down to me. As he moved, rocks from above us both came plundering down. I ducked and hope for good fortune as to not be struck in the head and knocked off the mountain. Each rock tumbling became a small reminder to one’s possible fate if to suddenly lose his foothold, dire consequences obvious…