Packing for the 2015 Bob Open

The weather forecast is good, even a little excessively warm. The rivers aren’t high. The snow will be minimal. Attendance at the start promises to be the highest ever, possibly by a lot. The Bob Open should be a good time.

I’m taking a more relaxed approach this year, with a bit of extra time built in to accommodate unexpected conditions or excessive coffee breaks. See ya’ll next week.

My rifle, the Kimber Montana

R0001888Back on my first real elk hunt in Montana Dick and I got to talking about a lighter rifle for the backcountry.  Many ideas were thrown around, but after some consideration it was decided that a new Kimber Montana in .308 would be the best, most versatile option.  Shortly after he headed back to Ohio Dick took matters into his own hands and before the end of that hunting season I had a new rifle in hand, one which shaved almost 2 pounds off my Remington 700 in .30-06.

R0001889My Montana has a Leupold 4×33 scope, and Dick cut 2 inches off the factory barrel, bringing it down to a practical 20.  After hunting out the last part of the 2013 season I proceeded to monkey with it a bit over the coming year; installing a larger and incrementally lighter titanium bolt knob, a lighter (and black) aluminum trigger guard, flush cups on the left side of the stock, and giving it a Duracoat paint job (Desert Warrior Dark Earth).  I also used JB Weld to build up a bit of a palm swell on the sides of the pistol grip.  The first set of mods dropped weight, while the later half added it back.  As pictured, my rifle is just a hair under 6 pounds empty.

R0001892Flush cups allow for a slung carry over your back which does not have the trigger guard poking you.  Installing these on a Montana bears some explication.  The Montana stock is a very hard kevlar/carbon shell filled with fairly unsubstantial foam.  Even with a brand new Forstner bit it takes a lot of effort to get through the former, even though it’s less than 2mm thick.  To give the cups a bit more to bite into, I back filled the inside edges of the holes with epoxy, and added a bit to the exterior as well.  Once this cured I tapped it, coated the flush cup threads with more epoxy, then screwed them in and let the whole thing set.  Thus far they’ve proven both handy and durable.

The Duracoat has proven quite satisfactory, though after a lot of use it’s showing plenty of wear.  I used a shake and spray kit, which is effective so long as you keep the whole thing well warmed (tough in the dead of winter).  I like the color very much; they ought to rename it Mule Deer.

IMG_1299The light weight of the Kimber has proven to be a massive asset, but the improved balance and ergonomics have let me take to it in a way I never did with the Remington.  In fact, over the winter I purchased a Bell and Carlson mountain rifle stock for the 700 which almost copies the dimensions of the Kimber stock, and while I haven’t really wrung the new .30-06 out yet, I think this version will get a lot more use.

I did have a few feeding issues early on, which is a problem with a blind magazine.  These were solved definitively by two things, making certain all the roads are fully to the back of the magazine (there isn’t much extra, and if they’re a bit forward the nose tends to catch), and polishing the feed ramps of the follower and edges of the magazine box with 1500 grit sandpaper.  Since I did this I’ve been able to run through magazine as fast as I can work the bolt, with no issues at all.  The larger, “tactical” ti knob helps with this.

R0001893Big variables are in fashion, but I find the small Leupold exceptionally effective and easy to use.  The eye relief is considerable, and the eyebox exceedingly forgiving.  Unlike the 3-9×40 on the 700, the 4x always gives me a perfect sight picture immediately upon shouldering.  At my current skill level, the magnification and reticle do not hold me back.

The .308 cartridge has been effective on a variety of deer-sized and smaller game from 50 to 300 yards.  Not having yet used it on either bear or elk, I haven’t given it much of a test.

R0001898While backpacking I always carry my rifle in a gunbearer, but I occasionally use a sling day hunting, and always bring one on backpacking trips for easy carry around camp.  You just never know when you’ll see something, after all.  My sling is a length of extra thick 1″ polyester webbing, with a single triglide for adjustment, mounted on Blue Force gear swivels, which are expensive but a lot trimmer and generally more quality feeling than similar offerings from Magpul and others.  Field accessories are rounded out by a neoprene scope cover, ammo, and electrical tape over the muzzle to keep out obstructions, as well as extra tape around the barrel, and the drop chart and angle compensation ratios taped to the scope.

To quote Evan Hill, “…the best parts of material culture are the ones that are both utilitarian and expressive.”  Aside from good shoes, there is nothing more utilitarian than something which allows you to feed yourself and those whose continued existence you prize.  This goes a long way towards explaining why, in a short period of time, I’ve become so attached to this rifle, moreso than bikes and skis I’ve had for far longer.  It’d be one of the first things, along with my packrafts, I’d grab if the house was on fire.  A rifle is similar to a mountain bike or ski rig in that optimal function isn’t as simple as trouble-free operation, but is found in a close bond between tool and user.  Given my brief history in shooting, I’m very happy at home at home I’ve become with this rifle.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence, but rather the result of good design.

After all, there’s a reason Kimber did not name it the Colorado.

Dean Potter

It is probable that you know about Dean Potter’s death this past weekend; flying into a cliff while wingsuit flying in Yosemite.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 10.35.53 PMLike most attentive climbers in the 90s, I first heard the name Dean Potter in a tiny Wild Things ad in either Climbing or Rock and Ice, showing the above photo (or one close to it) with a small notation that Potter was doing the first ascent, free solo, of the 5.13 King Tut. Soon after came a series of Prana ads during that brands golden age, including a particularly striking one of the very lanky and ripped Potter spanned out on King Cobra in Yosemite, and soon after that came speed soloing in Yosemite and then Potter’s 2002 season in Patagonia, which cemented his status as one of the most influential climbers, ever.  In many ways the Delicate Arch controversy, base jumping, untethered slacklining, and wing suiting have all been afterwords to five-odd years of phenomenal climbing around the turn of the century.

M and I lived in Moab for most of 2004, and saw Potter around town occasionally.  Out of all the several thousand Moab residents, and the endless tourists passing through, he was by far the most easily recognizable in the grocery store, just as impossibly tall and chiseled and wild-haired in real life as in print.  2004 was the end of my serious involvement in climbing, and I had enough fitness and skill left to attempt to follow the inspiration Potter had given me.  I climbed the Crackhouse in 2 segments, free soloed the Owl, never got past the third move on King Cobra, and onsighted Coyne Crack .  These days I climb a few days a years, and my fingers can never keep up with residual skill, strength, and muscle memory.  I followed Potter tangentially over the past decade, more than well enough to be saddened by his death.

The front page of Potter’s website says “Let go, when I do this whole new world opens up…”  And this is the real value he leaves behind.  The sudden death of such a defiant figure has brought more than the typical number of armchair critics out of the shadows, with the usual cries of a selfish and myopic life life ill-spent.  Apparently Potter leaves behind no children, and thus in my mind public comment is out of bounds.  What does seem relevant is the vigor of the vitriol, and the great extent to which it is detached from reality.  The people most critical of Potter are not climbers themselves, almost without exception, and I do not think this is a coincidence.  Ours is a society constantly looking for ways to let go, while at the same time being terrified of actually doing so, and lashing out at people like Potter who demonstrate that actually letting go could be a daily event.  There are many ways to let go which do not involve a reasonably high probability of death; I’ll never base jump, and had an early retirement from ice and alpine climbing, precisely because the numbers were so bad.  All paths to letting go do not involve unusual exposure to death, but they do without exception involve exceptional exposure to failure.  This, and the challenge to social appearances it inevitably entails, is why our society would prefer to put letting go off on drugs and media experiences in private, dark rooms rather than on small, daily choices.

Dean Potter, and his life and death both, remind us that we all want to let go and exceed our present selves.  The only ambiguity ends up being what we want to let go, and how.

Trophy Country: the Thesis

“For all the grace and delight of hunting are rooted in this fact: that man, projected by his inevitable progress away from his ancestral proximity to animals, vegetable, and minerals -in sum, to nature- takes pleasure in the artificial return to it, the only occupation that permits him something like a vacation from the his human condition.”

-Jose Ortega y Gasset, Meditations on Hunting

R0000239New Zealand chamois.

With a powerful, spare, and comprehensive account of what it means to and for modern humans, Gasset and his book of essays justifies it’s seed as perhaps the best book on hunting yet written.  He portrays hunting as both an essential and a decadent pursuit, one which in the modern world is never necessary and always close to our ancestral hearts.  Gasset is important, and his book well worth reading, because he shows how the difficulty of hunting is central to its vitality.  And an alternate way of formulating difficulty in modern hunting is why the concept of trophy country is worth talking about.

In many ways, we are currently living in a golden age of hunting.  We do not have the (relatively) undisturbed herds Lewis and Clark found in the early 19th century, but neither do we have the severely depopulated herds of the early 20th century.  While species like Mule Deer are suffering due to habitat fragmentation, thanks to agriculture Whitetails might be more numerous now than at any time ever, and for the same reason elk my be as large or larger, if not more numerous, than ever before.  This is something I consider a dirty secret of hunting, that the best hunting insofar as best is defined as either larger or more numerous is to be found on the edges of civilization, rather than deep in wilder areas.

This is important for many dedicated hunters because of trophy hunting potential.  Trophy hunting, defined as the specific pursuit of larger critters, is important in modern hunting because as Gasset tells us challenge is a prerequisite to relevance.  Hunting can be plenty tough, even with dense populations and a rifle, as I found this past fall, but in most places in the world tags are a limited commodity.  Hunters understandably want to maximize their experience, and the most efficient way to do that is to pursue a rarefied and more challenging subset of the species.

Trophy country, a phrase I first heard here, is in my formulation an alternate way to refine challenge into hunting.  Rather than saying I want to hunt a deer or elk of a certain size and selecting an area or unit based on that, select an area and hunt the deer, elk, or bear there and only there.  This can be plenty tough, and the appeal is to me obvious.  Rather than hunting a whitetail here in the Flathead valley, where there are many deer hiding in the woods and eating crops, hunt whitetails in the upper South Fork Flathead valley, where whitetails never eat anything other than indigenous plants and limit their interactions with humans to looking at hikers and hunters.

The end I’d like to cultivate with the idea of trophy country is a list of great destination hunts across North America.  My own small version has started with shooting a whitetail, mulie, elk, black bear, and mountain goat all within the Bob Marshall complex (2 for 5 thus far).  The unlimited bighorn sheep units in Montana would certainly qualify, both because they’re over the counter tags and because they’re gorgeous places to be.  In the realm of small game, Dusky Grouse in the sub-alpine zones of the northern Rockies would make the list, as would the introduced Himalayan Snowcock in the Ruby Mountains of Nevada.  It will be a while until I can present a good list, but I look forward to the process.

Those inscrutable bears

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Griz postholing, Bob Marshall complex.

A few weeks ago on Philip’s blog a comment-er admonished Mr. Werner for leaving food in his car while it was parked in the mountains of New England, contending that by doing so he was tempting the area black bears into becoming habituated to breaking into cars for food.  I thought this suggestion ridiculous, and said so, but ever since have been pondering the significant regional variations in bear behavior found across North America, something that has proven to be a worthwhile pursuit.  I went in with two questions: why have the bears in Yosemite and the Sierra been so problematic for so long, and why have the bears in Yellowstone never developed similar habits?

For me Yellowstone is the more curious question. The bears there, both Grizzly and Black, were fed in an organized fashion out of cars, in campgrounds, and in dumps for close to a century, from shortly after the parks creation in 1872 to the final closure of the dumps in the late 1960s.  Reports suggest that injuries from bears were quite common during this period, but fatalities were notably rare (5 of the 7 reported deaths have occurred after 1970).  There are lurid accounts from bears breaking into cabins during the winter and early spring, mostly from very early in the 20th century, but no reports I’ve been able to unearth of a bear breaking into a car, ever.  The Grizzly population hovered around 250-300 up to the dump closure, at which point it dipped, likely quite drastically, due to the presumably substantial number of bears the NPS was obliged to kill due to continued habituated food-seeking behavior.  A full account of this period has yet to be published.  After this purge, the Grizzly population has rebounded and is currently well over 800, though this growth is mostly due to more bears living sustainably in the parts of the ecosystem outside the park, places they were previously likely to be shot due to predating on livestock and things of that nature.

My thesis here is that aggressive treatment on the part of the Park Service prevented what could have been a serious rash of food-habituated bears being ever more invasive, as well as teaching their cubs to do the same.

Black bears have been a problem in the greater Yosemite area for at least as long as Yosemite, and in the early 20th century were fed garbage for entertainment in a very similar fashion.  I’m unclear on when Yosemite bears began to break into cars for food, but my sense is that it was fairly recently (last 30 years?).  The late 90s seemed to be the apotheosis of this, with close to a million dollars of damage done to various cars.  Aggressive education and lots of metal food lockers has brought the damage figure down exponentially since, though the number of human-bear incidents and the number of bears hit by cars continues to be high.  Interestingly, the number of black bears in Yosemite National Park is similar to the number of Grizzlies in Yellowstone (just the park), with the former being a fair bit smaller.

My thesis here is that the density of human traffic in Yosemite valley combined with the proximity of major population centers explains why bear habituation continues to be such a durable problem.  Yosemite gets a bit more visitors than Yellowstone (3.8 versus 3.5 million in 2014), but I would suppose that the average Yosemite visitor is more likely to be a sloppy car camper, and thus more likely to feed bears whether by accident or on purpose.

Looking at other bear and human dense areas such as Great Smoky Mountain NP (10 million visits in 2014, 1500 Black bears) makes Yosemite seem all the more exceptional.  While bears going after the food of backpackers and picnickers has been an issue in the Smoky Mountains, I cannot find any accounts of them breaking into cars.  I’m left to assume that the circumstances in Yosemite were and remain unique, and that a combination of high and uneducated human traffic and perhaps a reluctance of the NPS to kill too many bears has allowed the problem to persist.

If anyone has further resources on this question, to which they could point me, I’d be thankful.

(Yellowstone has a great bibliography of articles concerning bears, which makes for enjoyable reading.)

7 months

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The kid is due in just a little over two months, which means that life is already unalterably different, and that the rules of engagement have already changed.  As a matter of course M is now carrying around the equivalent of the heavist pack she’s ever had on a trip (which is not necessarily saying much as I carry most of the stuff anyway).  Last week I realized that the number of weekends until prudence would keep us close to home and the hospital were few, so I declared a last-minute vacation, took a day off, booked a cabin, and threw a bunch of stuff in the car for a few days in Yellowstone.

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Hikes were limited to 3 or so miles.  Thankfully the weather was flawless and an early spring had greened up even the higher river valleys, making the animals abundant, obvious, and from an outsiders view, profoundly happy.  We saw elk, whitetail and mule deer, bighorns, pronghorns, a large and glossy black black bear, and what seemed like close to a third of approximately 3000 bison which live in the park; as well a mallards, canada geese, an unusual number of very vocal sandhill cranes, and countless smaller and less singular birds, most of whose names I have in my haste and indifference never bothered to learn.

The first day we spent on the Blacktail Plateau and in the Lamar Valley, where you were hard pressed to look in any one direction for more than 10 seconds without noticing bison somewhere.  Curiously, we saw almost no calves.

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The answer presented itself the next day, driving in along the Madison River.  We pulled over to put the spotting scope on a few little orangish-tan patches bedded in the grass, sure signs of bison calves.  M then noticed a smaller light lump, the above calf, who was unable to stand and upon examination at 30x had obviously (umbilical cord) just been born.  Mom gave it a few licks and nudges, which prompted it to wobble up on stilt-like legs.

Soon enough the family came over to say hello and give encouragement, and the newest bison in Yellowstone (for the next ten minutes at least) was part of the herd.

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The rest of the day was given over to touristing.  We’ve both been to all the easily accessible sights, overlooks, and boardwalks, and while the infrastructure can tend to frame all those things in a way which disguises it, on a good day the wonder of the place trips you in mid-stride and rudely rubs your face with a place whose stature defies language and often, understanding.

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I can’t speak for Canada and Alaska, but I can say definitively and with absolute certainty that the heart of North American in the lower 48 is Yellowstone.  Geographically, hydrologically, epistemologically, and spiritually.

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It is, naturally, my favorite National Park, just like bison are my favorite animal.  The kids’ in utero country count stands at 3 (NZ, AU, USA) and park count at 4 (Grand Canyon, Zion, Glacier, Yellowstone).  There are a lot of years to come to work on both, as well as the numerous NPS units I’ve yet to visit myself.

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Today, we’re both enjoying the weeks with anticipatory leisure, and deeply looking forward to what it to come.  I know it’s the sort of thing that can never be told to you in way that you’ll hear (or maybe I’m unusually deaf in my obstinance), but I keep wondering why no one every told us how enjoyable and satisfying pregnancy would be, how good it will be for us and our marriage.  And presumably the good part is still to come.

Interval training for hiking and backpacking

When preparing for something like the Bob Open, I know for experience that two things will slow me down: my aerobic limits and sore feet.  This is in contrast to most folks, for whom muscular fatigue or connective tissue issues almost always form their distance and duration ceiling while backpacking.  I have enough base fitness built over years that for me these things usually aren’t an issue anymore, unless I really push things.  If they do limit your hiking, the following will only be of limited utility.  Interval training is an enhancement for, rather than a shortcut around, lots of lots of miles on the feet.

I wrote a more comprehensive article about training for backpacking last spring at BPL, which I’d suggest if you’re closer to starting from scratch.  I consider it one of my better pieces.

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The only way not get sore feet after 30 miles of trail hiking is to hike a lot in the months prior.  So far as I can surmise, there are no shortcuts here.  This year, like every year, I’ve addressed this via high mileage trips on the weekend, with many hours (8+) of continuous walking on consecutive days the goal.  In the past I’ve effectively augmented this by walking to and from work and school rather than cycling, but our current living arrangement and my job demands driving, so that is out.

I enhance my aerobic capacity via interval training, which I do in the early morning mid-week.  While out in the Bob I want to be able to power up a steep climb or keep my speed up through a postholing section without building fatigue which will linger into the next day.  To do this I find a nice hill, like the one pictured above, and do repeats.

I’m currently in the middle of my second interval block this spring.  By mid-March my hiking fitness was such that each Wednesday I started visiting this hill, and hiking up the steepest section five times.  Each ascent takes 70-90 seconds (my times have dropped as I get fitter), and walking back down to the base takes about twice that time.  With a leisurely 20 minute warm-up walk to get to the hill, and the 15 minute walk back to the car, the whole outing is well under an hour door to door.  I did four weeks of one interval session every Wednesday, took a week off, and am currently 3/4 done with a second sessions where I’ll do two weeks of one session a week and two weeks with two a week.

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These intervals are quite painful.  In the doing they don’t stress my muscles too much, but my lungs feel torched by the end of the third ascent and fully on fire by the end of the fifth.  A few hours afterwards, when I’m usually on the phone and computer at my desk, the twinging of sore legs starts to make itself known, and I have to take a few strolls around the building to keep the blood flowing and discomfort at bay.  For the first time this spring I’ve been sleeping with calf compression sleeves the night after these sessions, which has sped up recovery significantly and kept me from waking up at 2am with the crawling cramps.

I’m beginning to notice significant benefits from the last few months work.  This past Sunday, after an 11 hour day of hiking around looking for bears, I carried a 60 pound pack 18 miles out in 6.5 hours.  I was tired by the end but able to keep my speed up the whole time, and most importantly my feet felt 95% normal the next morning.  You never know for sure how training will come together, but generally if you put in consistent and intelligent work the results will follow.

My origin of hunting

Origins are important because they give context to our passions. I wish I could remember exactly where I first read about the Wilderness Classic, or first heard of Alpacka rafts, but I cannot. Both of those things happened in the last fifteen years, and both have shaped my life. As readers will know, hunting has been a primary influence in the last few years, and thankfully I can pinpoint exactly when that interest germinated. I’m writing it down now so it does not become less clear with time.

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Hunting was always on my radar growing up, mainly because of my maternal grandfather. My grandparents house on the lake in southern Michigan was a fertile exploring ground for a 5 year old, where I learned to shoot a rifle, and where I shot my first squirrel. The pieces existed, but the recoil and noise of firearms always scared me just enough that I never connected with them. So too with bowhunting as a teenager. My stepdad taught me how to shoot and put me in good treestands and eventually I shot a doe, but the process of hunting was at that time and in that style always a trial, and never resonated.

Over a decade later and M and I were living in Arizona, and for mysterious reasons had a free subscription to Outside which started magically arriving one day.  That magazine has always been a bit goofy in its yuppy pandering, but a decade ago really employed some solid writers who produced daring content.  Steven Rinella was one, and his November 2006 story “Come Herd of High Water” (available online in full) put the seed in my head that hunting could be the foundation for an outrageous adventure which would be both close to and far apart from the climbing, canyoneering, mountain biking, and backpacking with which I was occupied at the time.

It took a long time for that idea to produce leaves.  In the spring of 2007 I applied for and drew a cow elk tag for unit 10, an opportunity I was not in a position to fully appreciate until a few months ago.  My mom and stepdad came out, and I made a few gestures towards scouting and practicing with my .30-06, but an elk hunt was a step too far, too soon.  I was not shooting near well enough, hadn’t digested the basics, and grew impatient with the hunt and ended it after two days.  That first day out is still the most bull elk I’ve seen in a 24 hour period (including inside Yellowstone).  Had things evolved just a little differently, if I for instance had taken time out of my cycling to hunt deer and javelinas that fall rather than elk, hunting might have become more serious many years sooner.

It took a few years after we moved to Montana for me to buy a hunting license, and even then my preparation was minimal and chance of success all but nil.  After 3.5 years I’m still trying to float a kill out of a packraft, and have learned enough that perhaps this fall this desire will finally come together.  I’ve put a lot of words lately into explaining what hunting has given me and what I’ve taken from it, and rather than recapitulate that I just want to thank Steven Rinella for starting me on the road almost a decade ago.  Thanks Steve, I owe you one.

Zamberlan SH Crosser Plus boot review

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Last fall I needed some boots, and now. My LaSportiva Boulder X Mids are a little small and were harsh on my feet after this packout, and rather than wait for a larger pair to arrive in the mail I paid full retail for the lightest waterproof things I could find that fit properly.  Waterproof footwear is a good idea for hunting, when snow combines with slow walking and sitting around.  Stiffer soles and maybe even some drop are both things I want when carrying a potentially very heavy pack, along with good durability for off trail work, but even hunting I want footwear light as possible and fairly flexible.

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The Crossers weigh 18 ounces each in size 11.5, which is satisfactorily light.  They fit my narrow heel very well, and have just enough room in the midfoot for a light liners and a pair of vapor barrier socks.  That said, they are not for the wide-footed.  The rubber toe bumper and fabric “rand” provide nice protection in rocks are holding up decently after quite a bit of rough use, though I expect the tread to wear down and the upper to start falling apart at around the same time.

The only alterations I’ve made was some precautionary seam sealing on the toe stitching, shortening the very long laces, and swapping the stock footbeds (which had a bit of an instep bump) for the thinner and thoroughly neutral Inov8 3mm footbeds.

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I was skeptical of the low tread, but it has worked out surprisingly well, mostly because of the nice sticky rubber.  The formula of large tread blocks, to put plenty of rubber down, with large spaces between them, to cut through dirt and mud, is very effective.  The only place they struggle, compared with a deeper tread pattern, is in nasty sticky mud (like I had this past weekend).

The Crossers have a decently stiff sole; in this respect they are definitely a boot rather than a tall trail runner.  They have what feels like 10mm of drop, which is a lot for me but low enough to be stable.  I adapted easily enough.

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The Goretex lining has proven to be only somewhat waterproof over six months of use, which I’ve come to expect in all non-leather boots.  My theory is that flexion and dirt go to work and separate the membrane from the fabrics in short order.  As of this weekend the boots were waterproof in driving snow and rain, but leaked a hair during stream crossings.  Not ideal, but a compromise I’m willing to live with, as that level of leakage keeps my feet warm, if not dry.

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The Crosser Plus’s are not a perfect boot, but perfect footwear is a promise best discarded.  Like those damn Lone Peaks the Crossers do the truly important things well enough that even with some glaring flaws I’d probably buy another pair, even at $160 a pair.  Ideal fit and on the ground performance make almost anything else worth tolerating.

1 bear and many, many elk

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That one bear came late on the second day, when my feet were tired and it was hard to see for all the snow. At first it was a distinctly not-elk shaped lump swimming the river, and when it emerged on the bank it instantly became a griz. No mistaking the leading shoulder hump and casual walk of a big adult.

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Thanks to that snow, the photos are nonexistent from day two, but day one provided more wildlife gawking than I’ve had perhaps ever. The drumming of male dusky (below) and ruffed grouse echoed almost constantly, no matter where I went. I saw sheep, plenty of whitetails, and several hundred elk.

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There were satellite groups of 3-10 elk in many places, including the burned ridge above my camp, visible as they were against the haze of both dawn and dusk.  They stared at what must have been my vague form as I moved through the trees gathering firewood and making coffee.  There was also the herd.

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At first I saw them up on, and then bumped them off, a big grassy knob.  I later bumped them again when I caught back up at a swampy meadow in the middle of the forest.  Lastly, just as the snow was rising on the air in early evening, I saw the same group of ~100 moving at a steady 3mph north along a chain of small meadows.  The majority of the herd was always walking, and a strong minority was always eating grass, and their collective rate of travel was inexorable.  I lost them to too much snow in the air and a stand of dense evergreeens around the same time.

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Four thoughts about hunting rarely leave my head these days:

-I’ll never be able to look at the woods and take trips there quite the same.

-My desire to walk a lot for enjoyment and in training for other things results in an approach which is at times less than optimally efficient.

-The parallels between hunting trips like this one, and the point-less ramblings of my youth, investigating backyard corners of tiny midwestern woodlots and creek bottoms, is strong and satisfying to contemplate.

-It took age to find the patience to sit in the cold and look through optics for long periods, though I still have a ways to go here (see #2).

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Because they are so few and far between, bear hunting is a very good excuse for wandering around seldom seen places.  Which I like.

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