We were running out of time to get it field dressed, caped and meat on the frames. We finished a little after 8:00. We decided to take a different route down. Even though we would have had to pack him back up the mountain, we knew the route was passable back to camp if we had backtracked. Instead, we chose a canyon directly in line with our camp. Big mistake.
10:00pm.. we had scaled down three waterfalls, my dad made two unsuccessful attempts to rip his knee caps off from falling in the creek bed, I tore one leg completely off my rain pants and were now facing a 45’ sheer cliff waterfall. By this time it is pitch black and we are both using flashlights. We can't go back up the waterfalls so our only option is to head straight up the side of the canyon which was just solid alders and hope to land in the next valley that is also in line with our camp. The alders were so thick our progress was limited less than 100 yards per hour.
There is a point when the perfect storm of events makes for seriously poor judgment. Mix these nasty alders with two 80+ pound packs, 17 hours of physical abuse, exhaustion, fatigue, dark, disoriented and borderline hypothermia. Not the best time to be deciding anything. It was now 1:00 in the morning, we couldn't move 10 feet without taking a break and collapsing in complete exhaustion, so we had to make the painful decision to drop the packs or they were going to kill us. We had the presence of mind to put the packs near some sort of landmark where we could locate them the next day. We found a large mound of rocks to place the packs against and called it good. After another hour of walking blind through this alder nightmare with no sense of direction, we finally reach the creek bed of the next valley. To help you understand what we were going through, imagine yourself a couple miles up a mountain, completely engulfed in the middle of acres and acres of alders, with no vision past 10 feet in any direction with flashlights, having nothing to gauge your location, barely being able to hold up your own weight, 1am and maybe 35 degrees. On top of that, hoping to God that the next valley is more forgiving then the one you just crawled out of.
2 hours later we reach camp. Just beaten... that doesn't even describe the feeling as we crawled into our bags.
To get an idea as to how far back this was, we left camp at 8:30 the next morning and didn’t get back to camp until 10:30 at night. It took us over 14 hours just to walk up the mountain, jump back into that god-forsaken nightmare, find our packs, which no doubt was a miracle in itself, and walk back down.
No matter how much you prepare for these sheep hunts, walking, running, climbing mountains, you are never quite prepared for how tough they can be.
It took us another day to get out, but it was worth every bruise and all the sweat. Unofficial measurements when we got back to camp had the ram at 11 ˝ years old and horns at 45” with 14” bases. This is what you get when you have a carpenter do the measuring (that would be my dad). We had the official measuring by a Boone & Crocket representative and the actual measurements were 44 5/8” by 13 5/8” with a total score of 173 4/8”. We’ll have the final official measurement taken after the 60 day waiting period. Where you place in the record book is less important than if you are on the book. Everyone wants to be number one, hopefully this ram will be in the top 150 of the largest rams ever taken. Not bad.
My father, age 67, has hunted about every North American big game there is. I have hunted with him since age 8 (now 27) when I got my first caribou. He still to this day is the reason I make an extra effort to train so hard before a big hunt. If I don't then it is a challenge in itself to keep up with him. My brother, Mike Gratland, I believe said it best that even though he hasn't said it, I think his goal is to be 85 years old and still be on these sheep hunts with his grandsons and be everyone's model of what can be done at 85.
If there is one thing I have learned from this trip is something my dad said, "Always go with the winner." As you noticed I was put in the same terrible situation twice, having a waterfall in front and behind me with the side of a canyon being the only escape. Both situations could have been avoided if we just went back the way we came. Instead we were exhausted and wanted the straightest shot going back to camp, but it meant traveling an unfamiliar path. But hindsight being what it is, now I know that even though it may appear a longer trip back to camp, I will always go with the winner.
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