here is the story of our recent hunt, told by louise, as it was her goat.
Tom dropped us off Saturday mid-afternoon, 2 trips in his arctic fox. It was a good day weather wise, SW winds and puffy clouds, and we set up camp on the lake about 11/2 miles down from the toe of the glacier. Went for a hike in the eve and glassed for goats on the mountain on the north side of the glacier, where we knew there was a group of billies, and spotted 5 hanging out at the base of some crags at about 3500'. We spent the rest of the eve planning out a route, and I woke up at about midnight to hear rain on the tent, but not too heavy. We left camp the next morning at about 8am, skies were partly cloudy, some fog at about the goat line on the mt., but nothing too thick. We used our inflatable kayaks to paddle up the lake as far as we could, which was about half way to the start of the climb. 3/4 of a mile further we started up the north edge of the glacier's lateral moraine. The first part of the moraine was piled till over ice, soft and pretty easy hiking, though there were some deep holes in it that you wouldn't want to venture too close to! We crossed a tricky waterfall that marked the boundary of the till and the the steeper, kind of loosely consolidated scree and rotten rock bands that led to the hard rock and alder bands we wanted to use to get to the upper slopes. Traversing that rotten slope about 80' above the glacier's edge, you could look down at the melted edge of exposed ice and hear the roar of the river running under the ice, really cool, but not someplace you want to slip. I was a little concerned about coming along that edge with full packs, the footing was really poor, and all the rock you touched crumbled, but we were excited to get up to the peaks and didn't spend too much time thinking about it. The climb up through the alder zone went well, fairly easy as far as alder goes, and we made pretty good time up the lower edge up to the steeper slopes where we starting side hilling on harder rock covered with a inch or so of rubble. We got to the first of the snow slopes, and kicked steps across the 35-40 degree snow to a band of cliffs, and crossed another similar snowfield. I was thinking then that I wished we had self arrest poles, or an ice ax, as the run out on those snowfields was not good, but we put one foot in front of the other and didn't look down. We got to the upper slopes on the approach to the goat crags, pretty nice though steep walking on goat grass and patches of scree, and decided to drop our packs and start looking for the goats we knew were somewhere not too far ahead. Finally spotted them after topping a small pile of rocks, about 200 yards away. Three billies were bedded down at the base of some crags, looking at ease and content. There was almost zero cover between us and them at that point, so Dave set me up where he thought I could get a good rest and we watched the goats for a little while. They were all mature billies, one bigger than the other two. I had the best shot at one of the smaller billies, and I decided he was the one I would try for. Seems he was ready to go, because he stood up and walked to a snow field, turned around and came back to his bed where he dug down a little ways, then moved perfectly broadside to me and lowered his head to nibble grass. I had a good clean shot, and he very fortunately fell into a small gully where he stopped any downward motion. The other two billies watched him with what seemed like confusion rather than alarm, and when they saw us getting up to come over, they walked away, didn't run, wasting no energy, and disappeared into the crags.
That was all the easy part, of course, and after we got the goat skinned, boned and packed, we started to do the real work. I think I had about 70-75 lbs, Dave probably had in the neighborhood of 95 including the hide, which was dry luckily. We talked about the best way to get down, and wanted to avoid the steep snow. Crossing with heavy packs was not a good idea, and we would have to make multiple trips back and forth if we went back the way we had come. So, we decided to take a different path down, a bad move on our parts and we should have known better. The devil you know is always better than the one you don't know. We headed for a lower, narrower patch of snow where we thought we could get across the mountain more easily, but after creeping along the edge of the cliff/snow boundary, we got to a ravine that was draining the upper snowfields and undercutting the path we were on. It looked really dicey, and sure enough the ice bridge over the water was too rotten to use, and Dave stuck one leg through it before we backtracked and reassessed our path. I really didn't want to ascend the 300' back up the cliff/snow edge the way we'd come, and so we dropped down out of the snow into the ravine thinking we might find a way to sneak around the cliffs below and continue crossing the mountainside. We dropped into a thicket of alders, which obscured the cliff edge we were approaching, and found ourselves in the creek itself, stuck between a rock and hard place literally. I thought I found a possible way out, but it involved climbing out of the creek on steep wet grass, clinging to alders. Dave tried it, and took a head over heels tumble into the creek about 8' feet down. He hit the creek bottom and rolled onto his face, about 20' above the cliff edge. I was scared, yelled at him to see if he was okay, he said he thought so, and got out of his pack. His face was pretty bloody, but there was nothing broken and other than needing about 3 stitches along his jaw and being rattled for a few minutes, he was okay. At that point we got really focused on getting off that mountain without another fall. While Dave sat for a few minutes to recover, I scouted back up the slope to the lower edge of one of the snowfields we had been avoiding. I kicked steps across, and went back to Dave to tell him my plan that we haul all the meat and gear back up to the snowfield, and make two trips each back and forth across to avoid having to carry too much across the steep snow. By this time, we had wasted a lot of time and energy getting dead-ended, and it was nearly 7pm. He agreed with my plan and we moved gear upslope in 2 trips. Unfortunately at one point in the falling and moving, the hide landed in the creek and soaked up about 10lbs of water. Anyway, we moved across the snowfield in 2 trips apiece, and got to what was sort of an island of rock in the midst of the snow. Dave decided then that we should stash the goat and try to get down to camp as quickly as possible, as the day was coming to an end. We found a shelf in the rock, stashed everything, and turned to leave across a narrow gap between our rock island and the next band of cliffs over. The crossing her was only about 40', but the slope was a good 45 degrees, which I don't even like to ski let alone cross with nothing but a hiking pole<grin>. Don't look down, that's the trick. We crossed the remaining snow, got to the top of the hard rock/rubble alder route we had taken up and made our way down a couple thousand feet through the alder maze in the deepening dark. I had my head lamp, but it wasn't much help beyond your next step. We got to the base of the alders, on the moraine and started our traverse above the glacier headed for the lake. It was dark dark now, and so we moved pretty slow. Bad place to be in the dark, but there we were. We got to the last major obstacle, the waterfall, at about 11pm. Dave headed up to the crossing we had taken over, about 50' up slope from where we had been traversing, but for some reason I thought I'd cross below. I started across, stepping in the plunge pools, clinging to the slippery rocks, until i found I couldn't get any further. So, I was momentarily stuck in a spot where I was clinging to the rocks, water pouring down my front, soaking me and filling my boots to the top. I really forced myself not to think about being soaked, backed out slowly, got to the edge, and climbed up to find Dave waiting for me, having a drink of water. We didn't talk much after that, we just scrambled slowly through the last stretch of till, let ourselves down the hard rock blocks that brought us to the alluvial flats, hiked to the kayaks, got in and paddled back to camp. We arrived back at 12:15, forced ourselves to eat, and dropped into our sleeping bags trying not to think about going back up the mountain in the morning.
Didn't sleep much that night, and decided not to rush the next day. The plan was to take it pretty easy going up, we were sore and tired from hiking 16 hours the day before. The weather was still holding, looked like it would be partly sunny and warm, and so about 9 am we headed out for the ascent. We took our 200 feet of rope, some flagging and as little as possible otherwise, some power bars and trail mix. We marked our route through the alders with cairns and flagging so there would be no time wasted coming down. It took us until about 2:00pm to get up to the rocks where we had stashed our goat, crossing the same steep snowfields we had been avoiding the day before. I was worried when we arrived; the sun had been shining on the meat bags, and they felt warm on the exposed side, but they were cool underneath. We loaded up the packs, made our way uphill to the edge of the first snowfield, and stopped to set up the pulley system Dave had figured out for moving our meat across the snowfields. We didn't want to ferry our loads across on our backs; too much energy wasted, so we used our hiking poles as snow anchors, attached the parachute cord we had to the rope we brought, and made a loop pulley system to drag our gear across the snowfields instead of carrying it. We had just enough rope, and it worked really well. About this time we heard a plane, and our friend Tom showed up in his fox. We contacted him with our VHF, and made arrangements to get picked up the next morning. (our original plan had been to float the river out to Kachemak bay, but we decided to do that another time considering how exhausted we were sure to be). In about 2 hours we had all the meat, the hide and all the rest across both snowfields and were looking at crossing the last one. It was late mid-day now, warm and sunny, and the rockfall started. The last snowfield was being bombarded every little while with large rocks falling off the crags above. And the climb off the snowfield was a steep, crumbling bank that we had to do multiple trips to get up. One of us watched for rocks while the other moved stuff across, we worked as fast as we could, and got across, up the bank just as some more rocks double the size of our heads came flying down, disappearing into holes in the ice. We took a break here, and had to make a decision about weight: Dave was getting tired enough that he was starting to need to move pretty slow. The hide had gotten wet, and so weighed a good 40lbs now instead of 30. We decided to leave it up there, along with half our rope. It was a hard decision, and we were both disappointed, but we couldn't risk getting caught in the dark again. So we left that beautiful hide, redistributed the meat between us and continued down, using the last half of our rope to lower our meat and gear down the 2 other places that were too steep to risk descent with full packs. We still had 100', and that proved to be enough. We got to the moraine, really tired by this time, and I have to give power bars a plug here: They work. I've used them before when doing long distance skiing or biking, but this was a true test. Half a power bar made a noticeable difference in strength in just 20 minutes. So, we traversed the ugly section above the open glacial lip twice with light loads, repacked our stuff, got to the water fall, crossed without getting soaked, and made it back to camp after the short paddle by 10:15 pm, in the light, unhurt, with all the meat and the skull.
I'm pretty sure that this will be the last time we hunt in terrain like that. We're both getting older, and want to raise our kid. So this hunt was particularly special. We really strengthened our marriage, and came away humbled and in awe of the mountains and the goats that live up there and get fat doing it. They are the kings.