Well, not exactly epic, but dang, it sure was fun!
We floated the Ivishak River....Got stuck in the tent for three days due to 'the storm' (which I am sure others have mentioned in recent days).
We arrived in Happy Valley the late night of the 30th, after a marathon drive from Palmer....We were scheduled to fly out the following day, but found out that some poor weather prior to our arrival had caused a back up of hunters heading into the field. We anticipated the 'hurry up and wait' syndrome and crossed our fingers that we would be able to fly out that evening. Bob, at 70 north, was able to get everyone caught up and all 5 in our party made it out that night. The rafts would join us Monday, hopefully!
The flight out was spectacular and we all were trying to spot animals below us (none to be seen, however). That night I watched a dark brown grizzly on a ridge line about 2 miles away, across the river...He would be on my mind for the next several days...
Monday morning arrived and I gave a quick look across the river with my binoculars...1.5 miles away I spotted a pair of caribou bulls...And they were dandies...This is a photo taken from about 3/4 mile away with my little sony camera (30 power optical and 30 power digital allowed me to at least make them appear on the photo.)
A nice stalk put on by my better half and his daughter brought both animals down. It was rather nerve racking for me to watch those caribou for the next 35 minutes...but they stayed bedded down the whole time. Often, one would rest his antlers on the ground while the other 'watched'...then they would switch. Once, the right bull had his head so far slumped over I thought he'd been shot and killed in his bed. LOL
I told Em when they left to shoot the one of the left, as that was the nicer of the two...She did, and ended up with a double shovel, rough score of about 330" - a nice bull for a first time caribou hunter.
Larry's was also pretty nice -
Later that evening the snowstorm came, right about the time the happy hunters came back with their second load of meat and the antlers. (1.3 mile pack) Thankfully there were five of us to help pack!
The next morning a break in the weather revealed the same dark brown grizzly, across the drainage from which he had previously been spotted, but still about 2 miles out. I watched him and asked Caleb (one of our group) if he wanted to go with me to see if we could 'cross paths' with this goofy bear. (Sunday night I watched him, out of the blue decide to run like gangbusters up and over the ridge he had been on, it was like he'd had a fire lit under his 'x$$')...By the time we got across the river the bear had again 'had a fire lit' and was running directly toward us, but still 1.5 miles away.
We made a quick plan to try to intercept him...crossing a large gravel wash (dry river bed) as we anticpated his movement down the wash toward the river. We spotted him on a small hill/ridge..acting weird as all get out...first running one direction, then stopping and running another direction..then stopping again only to change direction in mid stride...The bear's antics continued while we closed the distance to about 400 yds..I figured he was after a squirrel..Shortly thereafter he went out of sight. Continuing on, thankful for snow, we cautiously crested the rise, stopping often to look and listen. No bear...but there were tracks...all over the place...Some quick deciphering showed the bear had gotten another 'fire lit' and was moving down the hill, toward the Ivishak, (basically the same direction he had been traveling all morning). Caleb finally spotted him..He was moving again at an all out run fully 3/4 mile from us, and I watched as he ran across the river and up into another drainage...crazy bear.. We emptied the chamber's of our rifles and got to looking around at the bear's tracks...It was then that I noticed the bear's tracks were chasing.....ptarmigan...of all things. Must be he had been successful in catching the young birds before they could fly..thus his weird antics......I thought for a time perhaps we had been winded and caused him to leave, but I think he was pissed he couldn't catch a bird and was just on the move, as his previous movements indicated. That would be the last bear we would see for the trip, unfortunately.
We decided not to go 'home' empty handed' from our 'bear hunt' and shot 5 ptarmigan for dinner.
That night (Tues) the storm came full force...we made ourselves busy gathering firewood and...gathering firewood...and staying dry.... I decided at this time that I do NOT like my Helley Hanson raingear...Sad to say, but I was highly disappointed in it...One of the other hunters had a Mtn Hardware 'DRYQ' jacket that was phenomenal...gonna have to get me one...Although Larry's frog togg did very very well...
We finally were able to leave our first camp, the evening of our 4th full day. We made it only 7 miles, but the going was good...no issues with low water or dragging. In fact the entire float we only had to 'drag' the rafts a dozen times. The worst and longest being at the takeout on the haul road.
The next day, the remaining 3 of us would fill our tags. Knowing our hunting time was very short, we all took the first decent animals we saw...Of which were in a group of about 25 caribou. Meat bulls, but we all were elated to know we would have great meat for the freezer. Mine was a little guy..
these are animals from the same group...they hung out about 150yds from us while we dressed out our caribou.
That night, after we all had filled our tags (no one wanted more than one caribou) this group of about 100 caribou crossed the river 200 yds upriver from our camp... this is the tail end of the group...I also took some great video of the group...Seeing these animals, in this type of setting, far and away trumps hunting them. (though I do love to eat them!)
Next morning we packed up and headed toward the echooka. We did not quite make it that far, but close. And we were joined the following morning by the chorus of 3 wolves (pup and parents) about 500 yds away... I howled back at them and they showed themselves...then we had ourselves a little 'howling' competition and I watched as the male walked over to a bush to pee on it, after answering my howl...LOL. The pup sat on his bum and took in all the activity... We would have gone after them, but time was not on our side, at this point...We watched them watch us, and then they headed up onto higher ground.
moonrise over the Brooks - just above the echooka.
What an incredible land we live in. I feel so honored to be a part of it, that sometimes it just humbles me to my core...An incredible hunt and awesome time with family and friends.... I would absolutely do it again.
One thing I would definitely do is plan for crappy weather (we didn't plan for it, but the trip was long enough to allow us to have some 'camp time')...at least 5 days...Nothing like being able to 'hunker down' if you don't feel like fighting the elements. Thankfully we did not have to. The sun was shining the entire time we were floating.