08 December 2014

After Action~ Trip One Recap

Before noon on Friday I pointed the truck north with trailer and sled in tow. Overcast and spitting snow with a north west wind, the very conditions I was hoping for. Being the day after Thanksgiving the highway was empty. It is rare to meet another vehicle on this road north even during non holiday times, more so now. The snow had accumulated slightly, though the wind was sweeping it across the road in eddy-like fashion. The display in the truck told me is was eight degrees, I looked at the steel grey skies and drove on.

An hour in and I made the turn onto the forest service road. I spent the next forty-five minutes thinking through the plan. I thought it was a good one but I was concerned about a few things. First the snow while there wasn't as deep as I'd hoped, the sled would run it but it wouldn't be the best of rides, it was enough but only barely. Second, while it was eight degrees it had been warmer over the prior couple days. Unseasonably warm with temperatures in the low 30s. Ice was forming but it would likely be treacherous. Third was untried gear. I normally vet all my gear prior to trips like these but there simply wasn't time to put the new tent to the test. I was also packing a titanium woodstove from Seek Outside loaned to me by Sweeneyguy. I knew the stove was good to go because he'd used it but it hadn't been used in the new tent I was running. I'd looked all over the web for information about a woodstove in a Sierra Designs Mountain Guide tarp/tent but couldn't find anything. I had no reason to believe there would be an issue but still, it was a concern. Finally was the wolves themselves. I had not had the chance to scout the area thoroughly this year, I was running off of last year's scouting and intel, nothing current. Populations year prior had been high, sign had been prolific but the winter had been one for the record books and I wasn't sure how that had impacted the population.

I parked the truck at the trail head and pulled the snowmobile off the trailer. Loaded the gear into the scow and hitched it up, tying on another plastic sled to the read of the scow. I intended to use this to get gear to and from the observation points and help get a wolf out if I connected. By 2pm I was pointed at the trail and moving fast towards where I wanted to set up camp.

I didn't make it all the way, there were trees down across the trail in several places. The first couple were easy to deal with between the axe and the folding saw but the last one was too large to get through so I had to park the sled. I unhitched and using brute force I pulled my scow over the tree and up the hill towards camp. I was kicking myself for having not properly scouted the area. Usually I'm pretty methodical about such things but life and work had gotten pretty hectic and there just hadn't been time for it.

The downed tree I pulled the scow over to get to camp further up the trail.
I should have brought the wheeler instead of the snowmobile but with images of what happened last year running through my head I decided against it. Last year we had a significant storm that dumped nearly 40" of snow on me during that week. It had been a monumental effort to get out. This year I was prepared for a storm that didn't happen. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say.

I pulled the scow and gear up the hill and made it close to where I wanted to camp, stopping about 500 yards short of the exact spot. Daylight was dwindling and I had a lot of work to do to get camp set and ready. The woodstove that Sweeneyguy had sent was still in the USPS package for example, I hadn't even had the time to set it up on a practice run. I had set the tent up once though, in my yard in order to install the stove jack and while it was in I hadn't actually cut the tent for the pipe exit. I needed to get enough wood together to go the night as well.

A couple hours later I had the tent set, the stove assembled and installed, wood enough for the night cut and in the tent. I had about a half hour to spare before darkness settled so my timing had been about right!

I had been excited about the tent since I'd found it. For nearly a year I'd been looking for a GoLite SL5 to no avail. Those that I had found, I'd found them at inopportune times where budget didn't allow their purchase or the current owner was looking for more coin than I was willing to part with. I'd also looked at alternatives like the Sierra Designs Origami 3 & 4 but they seemed rare as hens teeth. Then I'd found one but I'd also found a deal on the Sierra Designs Mountain Guide at roughly the same time. Due to REI discounts I was able to secure the Mountain Guide for far less than any of the other options.

At 109sf, a center height capability of 90", good venting, side access door and robust material I felt it offered exactly what I wanted at a much more attractive price point than the bigger names like Kifaru and Seek Outside who both offer a 6 man that is roughly the same specs but three to four times the price of the Mountain Guide. Admittedly they also have light weights but not by much. The Mountain Guide comes in at 5.1 pounds including stakes and pole etc. The SO 4 person comes in at 4.9, uses a UL fabric and has two doors as opposed to the one in the Mountain Guide. The fabric on the Mountain Guide is a robust 70d, not silnylon, has four vents instead of one, has the access door which I found nice for pitching wood into the tent, three times cheaper. The Kifaru version while very nice was more expensive, and turn around time wasn't going to work. For these and several other reasons I decided the Mountain Guide would be the tent for me.

As a side note the tent and the stove together come in at about 9.9 pounds and fit comfortably together inside a HPG C25M, a bag they no longer make, with room to spare. It's my intent to transport tend, stove, all miscellaneous associated gear via this bag. It'll fit inside the main bag of my pack.

While I had ordered a Seek Outside XL Titanium stove the reality was they wouldn't get it to me prior to the first trip. Sweeneyguy had volunteered his which is the exact same model. As mentioned before I really appreciated his generosity.

The stove is relatively simple to assemble though the first it took me about twenty minutes to get the stove and the pipe together and into position. Because I was camped in some high grass I elected to place the drafting holes on the face of the stove upside down compared to what SO designed. I was concerned about coals falling out of the holes. This concern was unfounded but the stove still did just fine assembled in this fashion. Later when I received my stove from SO I found they had changed the design slightly. Now there is a guard inside the stove in front of those draft holes that would prevent something like that from happening. I believe it also keeps the ask from blocking the draft holes as well.

With the stove assembled and in place I got a fire going. The change inside the tent was amazing. From below ten degrees to somewhere in the mid 50s in a matter of minutes. I shed some layers and enjoyed the warmth.

I set about getting the tent organized. With a ton of space I fell into the typical trap of putting stuff everywhere. Seems like when there is space available, be it in a tent or in a pack, I tend to find something to put there or in it. All said and done the tent was quite spacious, room for everything and then some. Practically speaking, with the stove installed I believe the tent would comfortably handle three people, five or six people without the stove installed.

Dinner for the first night was steak and fried mac&cheese which came out pretty good I think.

Enough space for a full sized camp chair inside the tent.

After dinner I went outside the tent to check the stove pipe and the tent in general. I'd gotten the fire going just before dark and didn't have a chance to really watch for issues. I also gathered some snow for the main pot so I'd have water in the morning for coffee.

The difference between inside and outside the tent was stark, I was amazed at just how warm the interior had become.

At this point I am more than pleased with the tent/stove combo.

Back inside and settled in it was time for some after dinner entertainment via my kindle. Extra points if you can name the movie...

There are several places inside the tent to either run a clothesline or hang garments directly from. This go round I did hang from those points, likely on longer runs I would make use of a clothesline.

I'd put the reflective blanket down, then the SoLite Thermarest, the Klymit Recon insulated pad over that, then Kelty bag inside the HPG Serape. Turns out that this is too warm at 10 degrees for me. I ended up shedding my base layer in the middle of the night.

Next morning I rolled over and pulled the serape off of my head, the sudden biting cold on my face was enough for me to pull it back over my head. Some time in the night the temps must have dropped off sharply. I didn't have a fire either though there were a couple coals buried in the back of the stove. I groaned and got started.

I pulled my base layer on quickly, along with another insulating top layer and got back inside the bag. Working with the serape pulled up around me I got a fire going in the stove and enjoyed the instant comfort it provided, again amazed at how quickly the interior of the tent heated up.

I put the water on for the coffee and some side pork on for breakfast, along with a couple dinner rolls too.

Before the sun broke the horizon I had my gear in the sled and I was towing it towards the observation point.

The hike out by headlamp was uneventful other than getting tangled up a couple times in the alders and worrying about the amount of noise I was making. I hit the spot with the tint of dawn in the distance and got the ground blind up and anchored as quickly as possible. The wind had picked up slightly and I listened to sleet smacking into the side of the blind.

The view from inside the blind.

I'd placed the caller about 125 yards or so from the blind but didn't use it right away. The idea was to let silence reign for a while, just be quiet and listen and watch. I pulled my jacket tighter and slumped lower in my chair. I could see the tree line on three sides and scanned them regularly. I was thankful for the blind as the wind had intensified yet again, so much so I zipped the windows on the north and west side to mere slits to keep it at bay.

Hours passed and nothing moved. This is the challenge to sedentary hunting where the hunter's primary adversary is himself. Placating the mind and holding a mental line while little is happening, nothing is changing. Only the elements change, beating on the hunter, wearing his patience down.

I fired the caller up, first I tried the common rabbit in distress sequences. I listened to the sound bounce and echo off the western treeline. I leaned forward and glassed the edges, I tried to see into the shadows therein, I scanned across from left to right and back again.

Nothing. The caller went silent and I waited again.

More hours passed, the sky did not change. Somewhere high above, the sun was walking its predictable arc but the cloud cover translated nothing but flat grey light. The wind slacked off and there was stillness for a time. In the distance I could hear a raven calling but nothing more.

I fired the caller up again. This time coyote territorial challenge howls, a full sequence that takes nearly a half hour to get through.

No responses and again I scoured the treeline looking and looking and looking.

Nothing. The caller went silent and I waited, again.

My mind drifted, it was my first day out and I was somewhat bummed out. This is the natural course of things though. Hunting is pure excitement that when meeting reality often results in a huge let down. In our minds we get all amped up, imagining the outcome, irregardless of what the reality of prior hunts have shown us we still get the fever. Then crushing reality meets our amped up imagination and dejection ensues only to be replaced with unbridled optimism because 'there is always tomorrow'. Such is hunting.

The sun I never saw was waning, there were no shadows to speak of, just deepening grey.

Darkness was coming.

By the time I made it back to camp full dark was upon me. I fired up the Primos micro lantern, got a fire going and set about making dinner. This process was mechanical in nature and I found none of it photogenic. In the back of my mind I kept repeating a question, over and over again.

"Where were the tracks, where were the wolf tracks that had been so numerous last year?"



  1. I really like your blog keep it up.. thank you for your time.

  2. Excellent as always. Looks pretty chilly, but that tent/slove setup looks dynamite. Thanks for sharing.


    PS. Book of Eli

  3. Glad to see the first action posted up Jim! Your way of telling a story and documenting it with pics intrigues me every time! Great post and happy hunting as it continues!

  4. Jim, as always, thanks for taking us along.