Unfortunately, my story isn't one of those where I didn't get an animal but still had an awesome trip. No, this is a story of true failure. My story begins January 2012 when I tore my ACL and meniscus in a training accident. A couple weeks later I had a complete ACL replacement and a partial menisectomy. My recovery seemed to go well and I even completed the 5-mile Haul Road hike out, complete with packing a caribou back. I was pretty encouraged and when choosing my draw hunts I believed I would be physically fit enough for a mountain hunt.
Draw results came out and I drew a coveted Mills Creek goat hunt. I was elated to say the least. These goats are some of the most accessible goats in Alaska, but they aren't a cake walk. You can easily see the goats from the road and this leads some to believe it's an easy hunt. I knew better and planned out a several month long conditioning and scouting program so that I could capitalize on my luck.
Then disaster hit. I was told I would have to undergo another knee surgery for another tear in the same knee. This past spring I had the tear removed with another partial menisectomy and my recovery did not go as well. My muscles still hadn't completely recovered from the last surgery and this recovery started with a much more conservative approach to my healing. I did little to no activity for six weeks and my muscles atrophied even further.
Instead of spending my summer training and scouting, I spent it going to physical therapy. I've spent almost twice as long in physical therapy as a normal recovery would take and there's still no light at the end of the tunnel.
Things looked up when my doctor gave me the green light for the hunt and prescribed some anti-inflammatories in case things got bad. Unfortunately my scouting was almost non-existent. I spent several days glassing from the road over the summer, but never put actual boots on the ground.
At this point I need to thank AGL4Now, AKHuntinFool, and 4merguide. All of them lent me a hand with information about the hunt. The information I got from 4merguide led me to a local Forest Service Ranger who gave me a couple routes up the mountain. Thanks guys!
A lot of guys do this hunt in an up, kill, and back down in a 24 hour marathon day fashion. My doctor's advice was to go slow and take my time, which I took. I planned to spend an entire day getting up, camp for three to five days to kill my goat, and come back down on the final day.
The day of the hunt came and things were looking pretty good. There was supposed to be a few good weather days in the middle that would help with spotting the goats. My path was going to take me over a half mile and 2,700 foot gain, then sideways along a gradually sloping ridgeline for a mile and a half to a nice spot with fresh water and a level spot to camp. My wife couldn't accompany me on this complete trip because she had to head back to the slope, but she came along on my climbing day to pack up my food and some other miscellaneous gear then head back down the same day.
We made it a total of 900 vertical feet and about a quarter of a mile and I was done. My leg muscles were exhausted and my knee was starting to show signs of swelling from the muscles inability to stabilize the joint. I've had plenty of unsuccessful hunts, but they never felt like failure like this one did.
So as I sit here disgusted at wasting a tag and debating if my mountain hunting is done, I wonder what the take away is. What lesson should I have learned? I don't know. But what I do know is there's a nice quiet stream outside of Yakutat with a nice cabin 100 yards off of it and a short walk to riffles packed with brown bears feasting on salmon. If I can get everything planned in the next couple of days I'm going to drown my sorrows over a dead bear.