Sometimes you see something you know you'll never experience again. This is where these stories lives on beyond the campfire.
“It was the last week of February, which for my friends and I marked the last week of the Special Limited Entry Hunt for late season mountain goats.”
We had been lucky enough that year to have been drawn for two mountain goat tags, giving us permission to hunt either sex, but a nanny wasn’t what we were after. We were out for a couple of big billies.
It was still dark out. Early morning on a cold February day, around 15 below celsius. We loaded our snowmobiles up, grabbed our hunting gear and headed out the door. There were four of us going – in the event that we had to split up in order to pursue two different groups of goats. Our group consisted of brothers Kevin and Keith (the lucky tag holders), our good friend Garret and me. We piled into one of our trucks and hit the highway.
Expectations were high for a successful hunt, as friends of ours had been in the valley a few weeks previously and spotted many goats. We unloaded the sleds and hit the trail. A trapper had been in the valley ahead of us that season and the trail was well used, making it easy to navigate through the forest. We would stop at random openings and glass the cliff bluffs looking for the familiar nicotine-stained-white hairy creatures. Mountain goats are fairly easy to spot in the snow – they stand out due to their yellowish looking hide late in the season.
The further we ventured into the valley, the more goats we saw – nannies, kids, and some small billies – not what we were looking for. Nearly half the day was gone when we spotted a huge group of goats. There were more than ten in the group, two of them being really nice mature billies. It was a good hike and would take a few hours and we wouldn’t be back to snowmobiles until near dark. A quick plan was made and all four of us started the hike. We were so pumped! All of us were fantasizing about our inevitable double header. Two big billies, some photos and some great memories.
After a couple of hours of trudging through the waist-deep snow, we arrived at a very steep section. We had to take turns breaking trail so that we could all make it up the wall of snow. It was a welcome challenge, as we knew that our prize awaited us just over the hill. The sun was shining and the day had all of a sudden become warm. We peeled layers of wet clothing off, soaked with snow and our own sweat as the sun warmed us.
When we finally reached the peak we had been chasing all afternoon, we sneaked into the gorge to see where the goats were. They were already there! Less than two hundred yards in front of us! They had made us, and started moving up the bluffs and across the peak. Pandemonium set in with Kevin and Keith. Who was shooting? Which billy was going to be taken first? Decisions had to be made very quickly. It was decided that it would be Kevin to shoot first. A shot rang out of his 7MM Magnum. Missed! “Reload!” we yelled in unison. Kevin’s second shot connected. The goat went down… And then down further, and further still, to the bottom of the gorge. At this point, the rest of the goats headed up the cliffs and circled around overhead. The decision was made that Kevin and I would go down to retrieve his goat and Keith and Garret would pursue the others above us.
We hiked down the steep craggy cliffs and reached the prize goat. We were over the moon! This was Kevin’s first mountain goat. We took some pictures with the goat, and some shots of the breath-taking scenery. We were just about to start skinning when a very faint eerie noise caught our joint attention. I looked over my shoulder just as Kevin yelled “Avalanche!” A cloud of fluffy, white powder was racing toward us, engulfing the rocky cliff bluffs. We had no time to climb out of the rocky gorge. We had no time to do much of anything. Could this be it? In the story of our lives, this is how we die? We scanned the cliffs quickly for a way out. Time stood still. Seconds felt like an eternity.
All of a sudden, a giant boulder that had been right in front of us the whole time caught my attention. It was sticking out of the side of the mountain and was steep enough that the snow just might go over us. We ran as fast as we could to the boulder leaving everything behind. Goat, rifle, packs, camera, spotting scope: all abandoned. Survival was now the only thing that mattered. We reached the boulder, curled up, and locked arms, in the hopes that if we were buried, we could dig out. Fear took over. Was this going to work? Darkness had now consumed us as the snow was catapulted over the boulder and blanketed us from the sun. A strange hissing noise whistled in our ears as the snow rushed over us. It was so dark for so long…
Suddenly the hissing dissipated and we could feel the warmth of the sun. We popped our heads out of our huddle – we were alive! I am not embarrassed to tell you that I kissed a man for the first and only time in that moment! Keith and Garret had viewed the entire event from above. They had expected to be digging frantically for their friends or planning to attend funerals. We joined back up and hugged each other. Happiness overcame us all (as well as a healthy appreciation for our own humanity). Immediately after our short celebration, we realized that everything was gone. Goat, gear, rifle, packs… everything. The gorge looked like two massive snow graders had plowed both sides in. The snow was rock hard, packed so firmly that a boot could barely penetrate it. We started the descent back to the snowmobiles empty handed but wearing the biggest smiles possible despite it. We had our lives.
A few months later we went back to what we had now nicknamed Avalanche valley. We made our way up the bluffs; all the snow was melted now, making the terrain more challenging than the level platform that the snow bed had offered months earlier. We started finding shards of fabric from our packs. Then there was a spotting scope, broken binos, a pack frame, a rifle and even a camera… but no goat. The bears or other critters had most likely not let it go to waste. Amazingly, we were able to develop the photos from our camera. Among them, some shots taken only seconds before the walls of snow came down on us – an experience not to be forgotten, and a survival story not to be taken for granted.
This is a story we hold dear to our hearts. It’s a story we tell around campfires and to new friends.This was an experience that taught me how precious life is, and reminded me of what is important in the grand scheme of things. Now we hunt for the experience. The trophies we claim, the meat we put in the freezer and the gear we take with us are all replaceable, but the bond we share as friends and brothers, and the memories we create are not.