Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Colorado Elk Hunt Day 1: Welcome Hunters!
For over a year, the thoughts of heading back to Colorado have consumed me. Training, making phone calls, reviewing map data, and focusing on when to go had risen to the top making anything else seem secondary. As September 20 crept closer, there was a steady increase in text messages and emails going back and forth between Brett and I. The archery practice and packing of bags was high on the priority list, but as soon as the morning of September 20 rolled around, that all seemed secondary. We were ready to hunt elk in Colorado!
We made it to Cortez, CO in 10.5 hours and stuck to our plan of staying in a hotel the first night. That would allow us to get some rest before hiking into the Rockies to hunt. After dinner, we went back to the room to go over plans for the next day. Those plans were washed down the drain when at 12:30 AM lightning struck nearby. Then the rain came down.
The rain was still pouring down at 5:00 AM, so we slept in to allow the mountains to soak up some of the moisture. We hit the road at 8:00 Am and drove north, We nearly missed our turnoff as the maps, GPS, and Colorado road signs didn't even come close to matching up. Brett suggested we try one dirt road. We pulled over to look at the GPS and sure enough, that was where we wanted to be. A quick U-turn brought us back and before you knew it we were at the trailhead, but not before passing a dozen trucks from all over the country. It was the last day of muzzleloader season, so we weren't sure how long these vehicles would stay. There was some competition for the elk and we would have to work for it.
Before we left the hotel, we had followed The Weather Channel reports of a thunderstorm moving in early that afternoon. It was going to be a whopper, too. We had talked to my friend Eddy who mentioned that these storms hit quickly and they hit hard, so prepare for it. 'Keep an eye on the sky,' Eddy said.
Our goal was simple, find the trail, hike it and try to locate a spot to set up camp the next day. We would go in light and follow the routes that were shared with us. That would turn out to be a great learning experience for both Brett and me. The reports said the thunderstorm was to hit around 3:00 PM. We wanted to hike in and get on the main road by then. We focused on finding the two spots we had marked. The temperature was already starting to rise and was beginning to feel uncomfortable. It was going to be an interesting day.
Our path was blocked by thick vegetation. There was no way we'd be walking where we thought we could go. Instead, we took a higher trail across. It was nice to have a trail to walk on, but once we hit the point where we were supposed to break off, we make a decision...stay on the trail. We found fresh elk tracks heading right up the trail and we decided to follow. Unfortunately, the trail was slick as snot in many places due to the rain. We proceeded cautiously and after thirty minutes of hiking, we realized that the trail was going to switchback into the wrong direction. It was time to head back down and try to locate the marked spots on our maps.
We side-hilled across a meadow as we looked for the four ponds that was shown on our maps. I hate side-hilling. I really despise the way it turns your ankles and wears you down. We pushed on and listened. There were no elk bugling, no cow calls, and the temperature kept rising. A few minutes later, we cut through a row of pines lining a stream. As we climbed over the small hill, we spotted a pond down below and one far across. We ventured toward the one across the open meadow, side-hilling and watching our step the entire way. Not only did we find the ponds, but there were signs of recent activity. Footprints, trails, and beaver dams.
By the spot marked on my GPS, the first hunting site should have been less than a mile away. All we had to do was cut through some more trees and venture across a meadow. I'll be our faces looked white when we found the 'meadow' through the trees. The meadow was not a meadow at all. It was actually a granite rock slide that covered at least a half mile. We both shared the same look. One of disgust. There was no way we would be trekking across that. We would need to find another way.
We hiked all the way back down and around. It was lengthy, but the right thing to do. All this time there wasn't a single elk bugle. We knew it was because of the heat, but we were hopeful. We hiked another mile or so to a stream crossing. This was not where we had intended to be, or was it? We were not near the trail we needed to take, but our GPS units and maps were confusing us. Instead of venturing further, we marked our location and hiked out to the truck to stay in front of the storm.
As we were unloading our packs into the truck, another truck pulled in with Alabama plates. I like introducing myself right away to hunters and these two gentlemen looked to do the same. Come to find out, the two hunters, Adam and Chris, had driven 24 straight hours from Alabama to the trailhead. Talk about dedication! I asked them where they'd be hunting and they pointed exactly where we were going to go. We explained that we couldn't find a certain trail, but as good hunters will, Adam shared where the trail was and that they'd be camping nearby. While they planned on camping near us, they were going to hunt the East Side of the trail and our plans were to hunt the north and west. We wouldn't be in their way and they wouldn't be in ours. We owe Adam and Chris a big thank you and a beer for being down-to-earth good people. They had hunted this area for a couple years and had never harvested an elk here, but were confident. I mentioned the impending t-storm and they said they knew about it. The sky was blue and didn't show any sign of dark clouds, but they were aware. We wished them a great hunt as they hiked in and we loaded the truck to head back to the hotel. I hope we run into them again.
Back in town, we grabbed dinner and discussed the next days plan. Our plans were again challenged when we left the restaurant as we were greeted to a light show. The thunderstorm was coming in and the sky looked like something out of a movie. It was ridiculously awesome! We immediately knew that our hike in the next day would be a challenge and that we would need a good nights sleep.