By Mike Tontimonia
The distance between Northeast Ohio and a remote mountain top campsite: Considerable but doable.
This week is a travel week involving three days in a diesel pick-up truck and another on horseback. We left Monday morning well before dawn with Topeka, Kansas in our sights.
The truck is capped and stuffed with coolers, duffels, and a slim but better-than-nothing bunk. Our rules for travel are simple: Everyone drives a shift with the four persons aboard rotating every two hours through the driver’s seat, the navigator’s post, the torture chamber, or back seat as some call it, and the slim but better-than-nothing bunk.
From a cheap room and free breakfast in Topeka another road trip to Gunnison, Colorado is on the schedule for Tuesday, a trip that includes our voted on and mandated two-hour musical chair routine, a ritual that is effective and safe.
We’ll overnight again in Gunnison and attempt to acclimate to the increasing altitude. From another not-so-cheap room in Gunnison we’ll head west for an hour then north on a U.S. Forest Service mud and whatever road, a trail riddled with hazards, for another three hours to the “ranch.”
Another night, this time in a tent with no free breakfast, and on Thursday we saddle up horses and load mules for the pack trip to our mountain top campsite. Each stop along the way is higher, a stepping stone to altitude acclimation.
Our camp site is a wall tent equipped with a wood stove. Surprise, surprise, there is no firewood cut but there is a saw and ax. We’ll have a full day Friday to suck air, stock firewood, and tote drinking water from a creek.
Every serious hunter dreams of hunting elk in the Rockies. Our group of four is no different.
We’ve dreamed the dream and after a year of planning, packing, unpacking, mapping and those things which are such an enjoyable part of adventure trip hunting, we are living the dream.
On Saturday, the first day of rifle season for elk, we will roll out of sleeping bags at sometime between midnight and morning, boil a belly full of oatmeal, and head out for a day filled with hundreds of trophy elk parading past.
Oh, that was the dream part.
This is the live part and we all know that just to see an elk will make the trip, to actually kill one would be just short of a wonderment since the success rate for Colorado elk hunters, especially for unguided hunters from Ohio on their first elk hunt, isn’t real impressive.
But we are here for the ultimate in wilderness hunting adventure and we come prepared for weather extremes, campfire cooking, and a week absent of road noise, phones, TV and news.
By midweek I’m sure to be missing my wife, children and grandchildren. I’m sure the others in the group will feel the same tug. But we will fill our memories with animals, shooting stars and trails so steep and narrow that they require our full attention.
Thus, the week will pass quickly and by Thanksgiving, we’ll all scratch our heads in unison, wondering how anything that charged us with such anticipation could be already a distant instant in our past.
So for this week and that ahead, we’ll work hard at savoring every moment, every smell and every high country vista.