Thriving Above 12K

Thriving Above 12K

Posted In: The Hunt, The Reward

Posted By: Lane Walter (November 2, 2016)

Seven years ago my mom fell 15 feet while working in the barn, breaking her pelvis, leg, and ankle in multiple locations. I would check in on her during her recovery and we would pass the time by watching hunting shows along with the entire Band of Brothers series. One day I was talking about applying for hunting tags and my mom told me that she wanted to start applying as well. Being a strong tournament archery competitor, she told me that her new goal was to go archery elk hunting with me that fall. I told her which units to apply for and before she knew what was going on she had applied for every big game hunt that Colorado has to offer.

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About a month before the season opener I got a call to meet my family at the house for dinner and received some of the worst news a son could ever hear. The doctors had ran my mom’s blood work after the fall and had found some abnormalities… my mom had cancer. Despite starting low dose chemotherapy, my mom went hunting that year. That winter she was hospitalized for a more intense treatment that involved stem cell transplants and chemotherapy. After months of treatment her cancer went into remission but her thirst for living had done the opposite.

Lynn Taking in the View Over 1200kLynn Taking in the View Over 1200k

Over the next six years I would call my mom every spring to tell her which units to apply for and every fall we would find ourselves hunting elk or deer in the mountains of Colorado. Despite some very close encounters, she has never connected an arrow during those awesome hunts.  last spring I told my mom that she had a legitimate shot at drawing a Mountain Goat or Bighorn Sheep tag and as luck would have it, I did not have to put my boot in my mouth; my mom had drawn a Colorado Mountain Goat tag.

I hit the ground running as soon as I got the “unbelievable news” from my mom. A few years prior, I had helped my Father In-law Randy, on a hunt in the same unit, but I still wanted to gather as much new Intel as possible. I spoke with my boss Trevon Stoltzfus (from Outback Outdoors) who had hunted this unit eight years ago, John Bielak (from Whaletail Outdoors) who works close to the unit, and an old friend from my fire department, Mike Aragon who lives up in the unit.

Our first scouting trip was a huge success. We found goats almost immediately and it seemed to stay like that all day. Right before lunch we stopped on a trail that overlooked a large valley to glass the valley below. My mom was standing ten yards behind me but all of a sudden she was running right for me yelling as she jumped behind a bush! I had no idea what was going on, but before I could ask any questions, a herd of mountain goats came around the corner! I’m not sure who was more surprised, me, them, or my mom! They took off up the mountain as soon as they saw me but almost trampled my mom, who was hiding behind the bushes!

Archery elk and deer season here in Colorado came and went in a blur of arrows flying and lots of heavy packs. We planned to hit it hard on the second day of my mom’s season, hoping that some of the other hunters that were using a rifle would tag out before we got there.

The weather leading up to the hunt had been perfect right until it snowed the night before, covering the higher elevations that we would be hunting with a light dusting of snow. Glassing for white goats against a white landscape was not ideal but it would take a lot more than a little snow to put a dampener on our enthusiastic mood. As we worked our way up the trail in the Ranger, the wet ground turned white and we broke through the clouds to find the sun glistening off from the white peaks.

Lane Walter Mountain Goat PhotoPhoto By: Lane Walter

The first morning consisted of working our way from one ridgeline to the next, glassing for a while and then moving on. By 11:00 we had not seen a single goat but our hopes for the day were still high as we set up to glass from the same ridge that Randy had killed a goat on a few years back. After looking for a while I spotted a herd of 7-8 goats on top of a ridge that was about 1.5 miles away, with 2 deep valleys in between us, working their way over the top.

It took us two hours to navigate the Ranger down the valley bottoms and back up the other side. We found ourselves parking  ¾ mile away from where we had last seen the heard, with only a few hundred feet of elevation to gain. We quickly, but carefully, made our way up to the edge of the ridge, hoping that we would be able to locate the goats and make a plan for a stalk. As I peered over the edge my heart sank a little; all that I could see was a steep rock slide and a small trail leading around the far side of the ridge… no goats. The trail would have been risky for me to try, but there was no way I was going to have my mom attempt to hike it with the neuropathy that she has in her feet from the chemo therapy.  We were a little discouraged that we could not continue the stalk but our spirits were high because we had seen some goats in the area. We made our way back to the Ranger and continued our process of working ridge tops and glassing.

That afternoon we spotted another herd of goats but this time there was no easy way to get to them.  We attempted a stalk but it was quickly ruined by a blizzard and steep, icy terrain. By the time the weather broke it was getting late but we decided glass one more point before we packed it up for the day.  When we were halfway to the glassing point, I pulled my binos up and spotted some goats on the exact same mountainside they had been on that morning! We gunned it up the trail and were soon bailing off the ranger to start the stalk. As we made our way over the ridge top we found ourselves looking down on a nasty, high elevation, thunderstorm with dark, thundering, clouds and lighting flashing below us. We were less than a thousand yards from the goats but it was not worth getting zapped, so we rushed down the mountain with plans to return in a couple of days.

During the next two days at work,  all that I could think about was getting back up in the mountains and I soon found myself riding shotgun in the Ranger gaining elevation. The entire morning of hunting was a bust with no goats to be found in any of the spots we had seen them before. That afternoon we started to explore some new country and by 3:30 we had found some amazing views with only one thing missing… goats.

We started to make our way back towards the truck when we finally spotted some movement on a new hillside that we had explored earlier in the day, Goats! They were coming from the far side of a large, U shaped, ridgeline, so we worked our way toward the middle hoping that we would be able to get set up for an ambush without being seen. The hike up and over was fairly easy and we were soon set up about 50 yards below the top of the ridge.

The wind was in our face as the goats worked their way towards us and when they were 50 yards away, they dropped down out of sight behind a finger. The first goat to come out of the finger was a young billy and he was only 30 yards away with the rest of the herd behind him! Right behind the billy was a mature nanny followed by a few younger goats. The nanny kept walking and turned broadside to look down the mountain when she was 25 yards away. My mom was ready with an arrow knocked, as she drew back, I told her to breathe and settle her pin right behind the shoulder… The arrow sailed through the air and connected perfectly with its target. The heard scattered a little bit and disappeared in a flash of white as they ran up and over the ridge line.

Lynn With her Trophy of a LifetimeLynn With her Trophy of a Lifetime

As soon as the herd disappeared over the ridge my mom collapsed on the hillside and lay there in a flood of emotions. This journey had started over 7 years ago with many highs and lows along the way but this was one of the highest of highs. I cannot describe how I was feeling at this moment and every time I look back on it I am filled with the same rush of emotions.

When my mom filled out her first hunting application over 7 years ago she had no idea if she would be able to walk without help, let alone climb a mountain. That September she started chemotherapy but she was also climbing through the mountains chasing elk. Some people get a cancer diagnosis and say that they will survive. My mom is not surviving, she is thriving… Thriving Above 12,000’.

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