anˌtisəˈpāSHən: the action of anticipating something; expectation or prediction.
Jerud drives a couple of hours from his home in Illinois, meeting me along Interstate 70 near St. Louis. I throw my gear in the back of his truck and we continue to head west, destined for Frisco, CO.
It’s happening. We’re finally going elk hunting in Colorado.
The drive is uneventful, except for losing air conditioning in the truck. I reassure Jerud that the AC won’t matter on the way home, because we’ll be too happy and tired with a bull in the back of the truck.
We arrive in Frisco at dusk and eat dinner in an over-priced, too-cool-for-Midwestern-guys joint that’s nevertheless quite tasty. Our hotel lobby is crowned with the mounts of mountain monarchs; a welcome sight.
After another relatively brief stint on I-70 West, we leave society behind and begin twisting, turning, and climbing.
The road gets skinnier, then rougher, then ends. It took more than 1,000 miles and 15 hours in the truck, but we have arrived.
It looks like a Cabela’s and REI has exploded outside the truck as we perform final gear checks, shoot our bows, and load our packs with clothes, food, and hunting gear.
Finally, we’re bearing the load of our 40lb packs and ready to tread mountain soil. But, first, a problem.
Jerud’s inline quick-disconnect that will allow him to filter water into his bladder is seeping, while I am simultaneously pinching my water bladder tube together because the bite-valve magically disappeared as I put my pack on.
We’re both leaking.
There’s no way we are wasting time driving to town for something so simple, and so stupid. As much as you prepare, you can’t anticipate everything that could go wrong, nor can you have a predetermined “Plan B” or backup part for everything. It strikes me how something so simple – a water hose – could have such an effect on a trip. How am I supposed to live a week in the backcountry if I can’t filter, store, and drink water?
Jerud adapts, I finally find my bite valve, and we hike on.
Halfway into our hike we step to the side of the trail, yielding to a string of horses. A guide leads the pack of blaze-wearing muzzleloader hunters, who pass by with little more than a nod. We drop further down into the forest. Things level out slightly before falling even more dramatically. We switch back-and-forth, losing more elevation.
It’s obvious to see why this area has been called, “the hole.” Coming out is going to be a challenge; especially if we’re coming out heavy.
We’re Not Alone
Our descent is complete and we near one of our pre-scouted camp sites, but find that it’s occupied by a large wall-tent, and what looks to be an entire family. We have other camp site options in mind, so we press on.
Shortly thereafter, we cross paths with MacGyver. He’s sporting a gray beard, a cotton waffle-flannel shirt, and Army BDU pants. A spherical bubble compass is clipped to his lapel. Old school.
Although he’s been hunting elk in these parts for more than 20 years, his enthusiasm could easily fool you into thinking that this is his maiden voyage to the mountain. He’s hoping to fill his cow-only muzzleloader tag this week, but has mainly been seeing bulls. That’s not a problem for us.
Shortly after leaving MacGyver we come face-to-face with more muzzleloader hunters with cow tags – this time, a husband and wife from Minnesota. They tell us where their outfitter dropped them off, and invite us to stop by if we need anything from their outfitted camp.
It can be disheartening to run into other hunters when you’re trying to get away from the crowds – especially when you’re making the sacrifices of packing light and hiking hard. Jerud and I are relatively young and we’ve trained our bodies to go further than others, but we’re still not beyond the reach of anyone with horses.
My first feeling when seeing other hunters in the backcountry is disappointment, and that’s wrong of me. Everyone we ran into proved to be far more helpful than they were harmful, and much more encouraging than they were frustrating.
Its public land; let’s share it, get along, and maybe even help one another.
We decide to setup camp in “the old outfitter camp”, but no sooner do we get our tent staked down than an outfitter rides by and calls down from his high-horse, telling us that we can’t camp there. We cross a large meadow and setup camp on the treeline. It’s time to hang our food a safe distance away and then head out for an evening hunt. Hanging our food bags went about as smooth as finding a camp site, which is to say, not at all.
Here we are, not even a day into our weeklong hunt – not even hunting yet! – and I’m already tempted to have some sort of resignation about the way things are going. I don’t mean to make a big deal out of this now, as it wasn’t a huge deal then, but the temptation was nevertheless very real. Things can, and most certainly will go wrong. If you’re new to this type of hunting, don’t let that catch you off guard. Expect all kinds of setbacks, and don’t let them derail your hunt.
We leave camp in the later part of the afternoon to “take it easy” and hunt ’til dark. The hunting part we did, but we neglected the taking it easy idea. We started off fine – seeing some great game trails that led down to a swampy meadow and some wallows – but we soon found ourselves climbing over, under, and through deadfalls on a steep mountainside, busting at least a couple elk along the way.
They’re in here.
Despite the day’s setbacks, our anticipation remained high as the sun fell. We built a fire, heated our dinner, and prepared for our first full day of hunting. I now look back on that first night and smile at the ignorance that I had then, not knowing what incredible and miserable moments would soon come.