To get to “the spot”, we need to get up early. It's quiet. Not much is said as we eat our breakfast bars and drink our hot chocolate. I don't speak much in the morning. It takes my brain a minute to catch up with the rest of me. Someone starts the truck and we let it warm up. After fueling up with a delicious breakfast provided by encouraging wives and mamas, we head out.
After the trailhead, it's a good couple miles into the saddle. We rely heavily on our headlamps and the contours of the forest to guide us. Once we make it to Noneyabusiness Meadow, we hoof it to the dip in the timberline on the horizon. We usually find the fence and head up the mountain, the elevation rising in a short amount of time. Occasionally someone has moved said fence, so we miss our mark but eventually make it to the top as the light is starting to spread across the meadow. We find respite under a tree, hoping to see one of God’s majestic creatures getting its last bite to eat before bedding down for the day.
This last trip was a little different. It was Apprentice Dad, The Apprentice and me. No Grandpa this time, which doesn't happen very often. We sat under a tree and waited for about 15 minutes for it to lighten up enough to shoot. In a beautiful coincidence, there were three bull elk on all sides of us screaming while a wolf pack answered. Throaty growl, short yelps, bugle. I could feel my heart pounding. Was it hearing a wolf for the first time or the struggle up the hill carrying a little extra winter weight from 2014? Maybe both. However, it was a time of reflection, appreciation and excitement. I was going to hunt without the physical guidance of Grandpa and I had the uneasy feeling that I had been given the reins for the first time. I had gone out on my own in years past, but this time was different. It felt like the torch had been passed to me and Apprentice Dad. There was a need to prove something.
Finally, it was shooting light and we had to work on our ascent to the base of the mountain. It wasn't long before we caught up to one of those bulls we'd heard bugling in the darkness. We saw legs and hind quarters high stepping through the forest like the great Walter Payton leaping over the New England Patriots as he led the 1985 Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl championship. We never got a shot on that bunch, but with a little patience and a focused Apprentice, we eventually walked out to the truck at 11 pm with meat in our packs and a newfound appreciation of hunting in the high country. I felt like a Hunter.