The snow was deep, the mountain air cool, the ridge frighteningly steep in places and my sweat was pouring. Fresh mountain lion tracks in the snow and the bawling of the hounds ahead urged me on even as I wondered how smart it was to bring my 8-year old daughter along. One look at Sydney’s flushed cheeks and excited smile, though, dismissed that question and refocused me on the task at hand…catching up to the hounds that were bawling “treed” just up the canyon.
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Fourteen miles into day one and I was spent. This was supposed to be an easy day; Make a quick trip into the backcountry, cache my tent, sleeping bag and a few other essentials for next weeks trip, then scout my way back out to the truck. Trashing my mountain bike on a snowy, frozen trail two hours before light cost me a lot of time, scored me a few bruises, and set the tone for the day. An hour later, after reading my topo map via headlamp, I headed up the wrong drainage for three miles before realizing my mistake. This cost me six miles of extra trekking with a heavy pack and ticked me off because I know better. The rest of the day completed the twenty-two mile grind, but I was able to stow my gear, and get back to the trailhead shortly before dark.
Despite the inauspicious start, I couldn’t wait to get rolling the following week. After months of conditioning, planning, sorting gear and scouting, the hunt was on!I left the trailhead with fellow backpacking crazy Jason Snyder at 11pm on Halloween night with six inches of new snow on the trail, wind-chill of -20, and fully loaded packs on our backs. The plan was to walk nine miles in during the night, set our camp, catch a few winks and be ready to hunt up high in the morning. The first couple hours of our trek were uneventful with the stars out in force and the moon bright enough to cast shadows through the forest, temporarily negating the need for head lamps.