To Fetch an Elk off a Mountain

Nearly every time I feel a deep ache in my lower spine or a weakness in my right hip, I remember the cause of it nearly fourteen years ago on a late September afternoon. I had taken a job as a cook for an outfitter in Southern Alberta. This was the first time working for this outfitter and the first time I tried my hand at cooking for the hunting camps.

Jake on one of the quads

Jake on one of the quads

This particular day started out innocently enough, with a simple enough job to do. Should’ve been routine. Instead it turned rather nasty in the end, and I look back and realize how bad it could’ve really been. Somehow youth and enthusiasm glosses over danger at the time and it’s only until you are older and responsible for someone else’s life that you become more aware that tragedy is just a breath away from us all.

On the last day of the last hunt before we pulled out of the mountains, Outfitter Glenn asked Guide Terence to go pull an elk off a mountain that a hunter had shot late the evening before––too late to pack off themselves. Glenn was driving the hunter to the airport that morning, before coming back to help pack up the camp. He told Terence that the elk was in a difficult place and he should take me to help him. Glenn knew it would be tricky to get to where the elk was and stressed that horses would be the quickest and best way to get there.

The horses we should've taken

The horses we should’ve taken

Terence, after discussing with Glenn for some time, figured that he could get a quad up there instead. After Glenn left, Terence was adamant that he could get a quad up there and we didn’t need to mess around with horses. I decided he knew what he was talking about and discarded what I had heard Glenn telling him to do. (Of course neither of us thought to defer to the wisdom of a man who’d spent a couple of decades in this very country!)

We took Terence’s quad and tried to get close to where the elk was, however we were thwarted by an old rough clear cut that wouldn’t let the quad pass through. So we returned to camp and I packed a few more items in my backpack because Terence knew of another way. This other way would take longer, as we had to go a long ways down the forestry Road and up another trail that took a more circuitous route to the place where the elk lay.

It was a twenty-six mile quad ride to where we could finally parked the quad on top of a deep gully only a hundred or so yards as the crow flies from where the elk lay. The elk was supposed to be on the other side of the gully, which was like a V slashed into the mountain. It was a hundred foot slide to the bottom, then a brief scramble over some boulders and a narrow creek, before fighting our way through a thicket of aspens and willows up the other side. We had to use our hands to climb in some spots, as it was very steep. We were well above the quad across from us, when we stumbled upon the elk.

It was an extremely awkward spot to cape and butcher the large animal. We both kept slipping and sliding and it was a good thing the elk was braced on a large stump or we all would’ve plummeted to the bottom. Eventually though, we filled both Terence’s and my backpacks with meat. It started to rain, making things even more slippery, when Terence told me to head for the quad.

Terence butchering the elk on the steep mountainside.

Terence butchering the elk on the steep mountainside.

I couldn’t even stand up with my backpack on, and I was on a steep enough slope that it was almost like I was standing to begin with––I just needed a few more vertical degrees to be able to walk. Terence rearranged the meat, and it took some adjustment before my pack was light enough for me to stand. Every grueling step I took down that mountainside was agony. It felt like my hips were going to collapse from the weight––twisting and grinding with every step. Terence was behind me with a smaller pack, but also carrying the gun, the cape and the horns as well.

I made it to the bottom and the plan was I would rest and do the upward climb in two or three trips. However, I knew once I reached the bottom if I stopped I would never get started again. By now it was also raining much harder and I was soaked from the sopping underbrush. I sloshed through the creek and around the boulders and reached the bottom of the sandy slide that headed up the to the quad.

It was sheer torture to survey, as I knew I needed to get to the top of that steep slope somehow. I gritted my teeth and hauled myself upwards bit-by-bit, handful-by-handful––certain that Terence would be yelling at me from behind that I was slowing him up. It seemed like an age and a half before I finally managed to heave myself over the rim of the gully. I lay gasping for breath and realized that at some point the rain had turned into snow and it was getting dark. I crawled over to the quad, dragging the pack behind me; I was too hurt and exhausted to stand up.

Terrence had just made it to the bottom of the slide, so I slid back down on rubber legs to help haul the cape up. The cape was very wet and heavy, and swung awkwardly, throwing me off balance. It took a lot of energy to climb with, but we eventually made it too the top and started strapping our packs to the quad.

The butchering job had taken us so long, and hauling it back to the quad even longer, that we were running out of daylight. Terence’s quad was smaller and lighter than the ones usually used by the outfitter and with all the meat, horns, gun, cape and two (thankfully smaller) people, it was highly overloaded.

By now it was snowing heavily and the wind had picked up. I had no idea how we were going to get up the long grassy slope that had no trail without having a rollover. (It was at the top of this slope, where it met the track leading down the mountain, that I had heard a friend of mine had a rollover down the side of the mountain earlier that summer.) I have to hand it to Terence, though I couldn’t see a thing in the whiteout conditions, he managed to find his way back to the track. From there, it was a slow cautious ride down that treacherous trail, trying to go fast enough not to freeze, but slow enough that we didn’t roll the quad.

Terence had commandeered my mitts as I was riding behind him and he hadn’t thought to bring his. At some point I was so cold, that I had to get off and run in front of the quad so I could feel my feet that felt like blocks of wood. (I was worried that they were frostbitten). I was wearing jeans and leather work boots that were definitely not waterproof, and thankfully a fairly warm jacket. I was just starting to feel pins and needles in my feet when Terence yelled at me to get back on. He was worried I was slowing us up too much and he could go faster with both of us riding and therefore get us back to camp faster. He kept saying he wouldn’t get off the quad himself, no matter how cold it got.

Well, just before we hit the main road, we both had to stop and get off and stamp our feet and shake our bodies up because we were frozen nearly stiff. It scared me a bunch to realize that we were soaked and covered in ice and snow and still had a long ways to go before camp. Both of us were shaking so hard and our teeth chattering it was impossible to talk anymore.

Fortunately, the main road didn’t require a lot of skill to keep the quad upright and so we did make it back to camp, only to find that Glenn had shown up and taken everything but the trailer and Terence’s truck. Even the generator was gone that heated the trailer. I was moderately hypothermic by this point. We struggled to get into dry clothes––which is extremely tricky when they are literally frozen stiff as a board and your fingers are stiff and clumsy! We piled into Terence’s truck with our sleeping bags and the heat going full blast. It took over four hours before both of us stopped shivering and shaking, not just from the cold, but also the adrenaline and the faint realization that we could’ve died if anything had gone even slightly wrong on the way back down the mountain.

There was a lot of explaining to do when Glenn found out about our experience. Outfitters always have that knack of uncovering trouble. “Why didn’t you just take the horses like I told you too?” He kept shaking his head. Of course I blamed a lot of things, including Terence, but eventually I had to own up to my own thoughtlessness and naivety.

The loaded quad the morning after.

The loaded quad the morning after.

Now there are a lot of lessons I learned from this. Namely: Don’t be young and stupid and think you know everything, but maybe listen to someone wiser than you and do what they say, as they probably were young and stupid once and learned their lesson and now are just looking out in your best interests.

Or that always ALWAYS dress for bad weather when you go on a trip in the mountains.

Or that blaming someone else for events that you participated in, doesn’t really solve the problem that you were part of it. You didn’t stop them, or stop yourself.

Today, though, this story reminded me of another lesson on a more spiritual note––about Adam and Eve strangely enough. In a way, this story of Terence and me trying to fetch an elk off the mountain, and the story about the couple in the garden have elements of similarity, though obviously not completely.

I was thinking about Eve today, and why the heck she caved to the temptation of the serpent. I mean, Eve I don’t think was the weak women that so many like to think she is––or flawed or easily duped. She was created in the likeness of God and no sin marred her existence yet. She was created to be a power and a strength that corresponded with Adam. Basically she could “pull her own weight” but in perfect symmetry with her husband and God. Something I think a lot of women today wish was the case in their lives.

The Creator had given instructions to Adam about the garden and it isn’t clear when Eve learns about the command to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam may have related it to her afterwards, she may have overheard God talking to Adam, or God may have repeated his instructions to them both. However, when the serpent suggest that she try something new, she, though intrigued, repeats the command with an addition that they should not even TOUCH the tree let alone eat from it.

Many have gone to the trouble to try and explain why Eve added this qualifier when conversing with the serpent, but I would like to suggest she was proud (and greedy). That she knew full well what God had instructed, but she wanted to add her own spin––maybe to show herself as a separate entity from God, as her own person, with her own brain.

Eve was alone, when the serpent came along. Why was she off by herself? Why did the serpent seek her out and tempt her instead of Adam? I don’t think it was because she was the weaker of the individuals or the most susceptible as some say women are, but maybe because she had the more creative mindset. Maybe she was gaining confidence in herself, outside of her relationship with Adam. Maybe Adam had to teach her the ropes when she was first created and now she was becoming comfortable with herself and her world. Maybe she was proud of what she’d accomplished and knew already, but she was seeking to do greater things and greedy to have more wisdom and knowledge than she already had. Maybe she wanted to do things apart from Adam or even God. No one telling her what to do. She being the brave one. She be the one with vision.

We don’t know the motives of her heart exactly, but we do know what happens, she eats the fruit and passes it to Adam, (who showed up at some point) and he eats it too. And everything falls apart.

I can guess why. I think it had to do a lot with pride. And ignorance. And a naïve self-confidence. But mainly pride.

We are still there, thinking we know more or better than others and even God.

Pride closes our ears and eyes, and shutters our hearts and minds.

Pride, I think, truly is the root of all evil. And I think that is why there is so many proverbs warning how much God hates pride and arrogance. Even when we think our ways are innocent, God knows the inner workings and motivations of our hearts. The root cause of much of our actions is pride.

I think, at the root it was pride that made Eve eat the fruit and I think at the root it was pride that made Terence and me chuck out the window what Glenn had told us to do.

It’s a story that continues to act out on a daily basis. Over and over. Generation after generation.

And pride is often there to disrupt and tempt and twist and trip me up. It is very subtle. It is very pervasive. It’s there even when I think I’m being humble and modest, buried deep in the motivations of my heart. And when I think I’m conquering the issue of pride in my heart, I find myself proud of myself.

And this realization drives me to my knees in desperation praying that God will stop this underlying rebellion in my heart––this rebellion that passed down from Eve to all her daughters. This idea that I could “know” better than God. That I could know best. That I could stand on my own. That I don’t need guidance or help. That I could be like God. That I could be god for myself.

They say “Pride goes before the Fall”. So thank goodness for falls. For they put us back in our place. If they didn’t I don’t think we’d ever learn.

For it is the falls that humble and remind us of the One who truly knows best. The One who works everything for His good purposes. For as we are warned, “God opposes the proud”, yet, always keep in mind, He is also quick to compassion and to offer grace to those with humble hearts.

Above the clouds. View from near where the elk was shot the day before we went to fetch it off the mountain.

Above the clouds. View from near where the elk was shot the day before we went to fetch it off the mountain.

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