It had been foggy the previous evening most of the early morning but broke just enough to lure us from our tents. There was enough mountain exposed, so Operation Buckingham was a go.
As years further separate you from your high school buddies, friendships can slowly fade into the past tense. Especially when college is out of state and the start of a career is in yet a different state. It is difficult to stay close when your lives are so different and far a part. It’s not a bad thing. It happens.
But Rob and I, good friends in high school, became close again when he and his wife Mandy visited me in Klawock six years ago while I was spending the summer at Mom’s house. Within months, they were leaving Montana to move back to Southeast Alaska.
A few weeks ago I pitched another trip to our home island complete with an alpine deer hunt, so they accompanied my wife, Abby, and me to Klawock for a few days of fishing, campfires and assessment of how much had changed and how much stayed the same since our days as Chieftains.
The first day federal land opened for non-federally qualified hunters, the four of us, along with our high school Alaska history teacher and his wife, were camped at the base of the alpine, ready to get Rob and Mandy a deer.
We split from Don and Teresa and started to stalk toward the edge of timber where we had seen bucks the evening before. There was no doubt we’d see one. It was just a matter of how close and whether both Mandy and Rob would get a shot.
We were maybe 100 yards from clearing brush and having the chance to glass to our left from a knob when we heard a series of gun shots, a pause, then two more from maybe 400 yards away.
So much for claiming the mountain. Two hunters had lawfully parked next to our truck, climbed up and reached the deer before we had. We dropped into a chute and continued to climb toward a few more deer that were on a shelf above the action. Just over 1,000 feet from the top of the mountain, we cleared another knoll, saw no deer, then looked down to see two men hauling game bags with meat toward two more dead deer that looked gutted and ready to be boned out. If I were not such a sore loser, I would have mustered a more congratulatory attitude toward these guys who, from what we saw, had probably taken four deer in about 30 seconds.
With the deer spooked off that side of the mountain, I encouraged the group to head for the ridge, if for no other reason than to leave no doubt.
So we staggered up the last 1061 vertical feet in .6 miles into the thin and fragile but stubborn fog. The mountain was steep and consistent, not rocky and technical — the type of terrain that best reveals the exact type of shape you are in. You can catch your breath while deciding which line looks the best. When it’s just steep, there are no excuses. You either need a break or you don’t, and if you do, there’s nothing wrong with it.
We stayed on the ridge in the fog that never relented, then worked our way back to camp and eventually the truck. Despite Mandy and Rob not getting a shot at a deer, it felt good. Why? I don’t know. Is it a feeling of accomplishment to simply get to the top? Yeah.
But there is also a trap in feeling the need to explain.
The point is actually doing what you say you enjoy, and trying enough things you know for sure that what you say isn’t for you, actually isn’t.
• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer based in Ketchikan. His book, “A Miserable Paradise: Life in Southeast Alaska,” is available in local bookstores and at Amazon.com. “I Went to the Woods” appears twice per month in the Sports & Outdoors section of the Juneau Empire.