The Forbidden Bear. Part 4: The Descent Down The Mountain

We left off with me all packed up, carrying upwards of 100 pounds of bear and gear in my backpack. I’m back tracking (or so I thought) along the sidehill, headed for the same spot where I came up through the alder trees, out of the canyon, and onto the side hill. I’m still on cloud nine. Who needs drugs when you can just get totally high and exhilarated on life? That’s what I always say.

My adrenaline took me quickly to the top of the canyon. That, and some gatorade, candy bar, and trail mix that I had been eating all afternoon. Sugar gets me high too, I guess. I made it to the canyon wall without incident, but was very puzzled when I hit the edge, and everything looked unfamiliar. I kept looking around, trying to figure out where I had gone wrong, and finally realized that when I was racing against the young couple to get to the bear before it was spooked, I was climbing steadily all the while. Now, I had come straight across the sidehill, and wound up hitting the canyon several hundred feet higher than I had left it. In fact, I was right beside the cliff face, where I had seen Mountain Goats hanging out, time after time.

When I broke out of the alders, I decided that I would start trying to head down into the canyon, but it wasn’t long and it started to feel dangerous. I quickly sat down and surveyed my situation. I wasn’t in imminent danger, but I was teetering on the edge of it. I realized that I couldn’t continue down any further – for if one thing went wrong, and I started tumbling, it would be all over. Below me was a line of jagged rocks that I knew would break me up bad, if not kill me. I turned to go back uphill the way I had come, and lost my footing. Reaching out, I got hold of a good alder tree to steady myself. I was on my stomach, holding on for dear life – but that damn heavy backpack was pulling me downhill.

I surveyed the situation. Going up, or down, the way things were -didn’t seem like an option, either way. There was only one thing to do. Slowly while holding onto the alder with one hand, I slid out of the backpack. For the moment, it was staying put – so I removed my gun, and shoved it in between two alder trees. I also removed a few other valuables – my Nikon Binoculars, my Leupold Rangefinder, my cell phone. After that, I let go of the pack. I hoped the pack would slide slowly down the hill, and I could recover it by coming back up from below – but it began to tumble, turning end over end, bashing off the rocks. As it gained momentum, it sometimes flew through the air for what seemed like ten yards, only to bash off another rock, slow down, and then gain momentum again. The last I saw, it was still together, but it rounded a corner in the canyon, and disappeared from view over 200 yards away. All I could think was, I was sure glad it wasn’t me.

Turning my mind to other things, I pulled myself back up into the alder trees, slung my rifle onto my back, put on my binocular harness, and put the cell phone and rangefinder into my pants pockets. I began back tracking through the alders – looking for a better way down. Twice, I came back to the canyon at a lower elevation, and both times, I returned to the alders to keep going lower – for it was still too steep. The alders were a veritable jungle.  Negotiating them was like making your way through a maze of wrist to thigh sized trees, criss-crossing and growing at every conceivable angle – as if to forbid you from going any further.

There’s that word again. Forbidden. For I had actually harvested my bear, and taken it into my possession, and now it was lost to me – hanging in the balance. I wasn’t sure if I would find it again, and if I did, what shape would it be in? All I could think about was finding a safe way into the canyon below me, so that I could begin my search. But the nearly impenetrable jail-like expanse of alders went on and on. I found myself wishing I could have a birds-eye view. From the air, the way would be much more clear. 

I found myself in a place where I could go no further. I got down on my hands and knees, looking for light. All around me, it was dark, but slightly uphill and to the left, it looked like there was more light coming into the alder jungle. I made for that, and soon found myself in a bit of a clearing. The bears knew this spot, and had made a trail along the hillside. I followed it in the direction of the canyon, and soon found myself dropping down a steep shale bank – the same place where I had come up. Finally, I could look for my pack!

When I reached the bottom of the canyon wall, I began hiking up the steep canyon. This was hands-and-knees crawling in the shale/talus slope. The afternoon was wearing on, and I began to think about my timing. I didn’t want to be stumbling down the rocky avalanche chute in the dark – for that would be dangerous, and I hadn’t thought to bring a flashlight either. I went as high as I thought the pack might possibly be, and then decided that it must be below me. In fact, for all I knew, it could have made it all the way to the ocean. Last I saw, it was really moving.

I turned and began sliding down the slope on my butt. Using my heels and hands, I attempted to slow my progress – so that I could watch for my backpack on the way down.  At times, I felt like I was going too fast. The country was flying by, and though I knew my pack wasn’t in the primary slide area – it could be hidden in the vegetation off to the side. 

A few times, I tried standing up and walking my way down – but each time, I fell, and decided I might as well keep sliding on my tush. Much of the rock was small, and didn’t bother me, but here and there, I ran into areas with larger rocks that were fist to basketball sized – with jagged edges. My buttocks began to smart, and I was aware that I must be ripping some skin off; probably getting some scratches and cuts too.

For several hundred yards, I watched as I slid, looking quickly left and right as the country flew by – but no pack, or no part of my pack presented itself. It must be even lower down the hill. Eventually, I came to bigger boulders – where I had better footing, and began picking my way down the hill. It was still steep, but using my hands, and another good firm stick that I had found – I slowly made my way down the hill. 

I came to the place where the water seemingly came out of the side of the mountain, and began it’s descent down the rocky avalanche chute. I slid over the edge of a 6-foot drop, with a beautiful waterfall beside me, to my right. This seemed like a likely place to find my pack, above or below the waterfall – but there was still no sign of it. 

The farther I went, the more hopeless I became. The area behind me was so immense. I knew the pack wasn’t in the rockslide itself, but it could easily be in the vegetation to the sides.  At times, the floodplain was mere feet wide, but in other areas, the canyon expanded to fifty yards wide or more. It was sickening to think that my pack was behind me; that I would have to think about coming back and searching again.

I began to get careless – hurrying too much, rushing when I shouldn’t. If the pack had come this far, it literally must have gone all the way to the ocean. Surely, it would be laying on the beach, where the slope lessens – right by where the canoe was tied up to the trees. But my carelessness cost me. I fell several times amongst the huge, slippery-sharp boulders. I fell on my elbows, forearms, thighs and hips. With all my skeletal issues, I knew by the time I got home, I would be wrecked. As darkness came on, I held onto the hope that my pack would be on the beach.

But it wasn’t. When I came out onto the beach, the tide was out, and looking left and right – there was no sign of my pack. It wasn’t in the ocean. It wasn’t in the brush to either side of the rock slide. It wasn’t along the beach to the left or right. I sat down on the beach, dejected. What to do? 

it was too dark to continue my search, and I had no gas left in the tank even if I wanted to. There was nothing left but to go home and sleep on it – but here’s how I felt right at that moment: I didn’t care anymore. To hell with the bear, the hide, the skull, the meat, and my supplies that were in the pack. I would chalk it up to experience, and never do such a thing again. I would cut my losses. It would probably take several hot baths, a couple of days in bed, and some major rest before I would be capable of looking anyway. By that time, the bear would be ruined anyway.

Untying the rope from the alder tree, I slid the canoe down to the beach, climbed aboard – kneeling down in the middle, and paddled out to my boat, which was moored in the bay in deeper water. When I reached the boat, I pulled alongside, and carefully climbed aboard my trusty Lund Tyee. Stowing my rifle in a side compartment, I pulled the canoe on board, put on some extra clothes that I had left in the boat, pulled up the anchor, and prepared for the trip home.

The trip home was grim. Though it was beautiful out, I was in no mood to receive it. It was a lonely ride home. No-one to console me. No-one to share in my grief. Heck, there wasn’t even anyone else out on the ocean. I never saw another soul the entire 40 minutes to the harbor, nor did I see anyone in the harbor. It seemed, everyone was fast asleep in their boats, or, all the fishermen had already departed the ramp and parking area.

When I pulled up alongside the public dock, and after I tied the boat to it, I stood to walk, and found it difficult. I was cold and stiff from the ride. I waddled like a duck up the dock, feeling pain everywhere in my body – but especially in all major joints: neck, shoulders, low back, hips, knees, ankles, fingers and toes. And all those spots where I had fallen probably had some big bruises, I thought. 

After walking to the parking area where my truck was, I became aware of the extent of the soreness in my hind-end when I sat on my seat, and began driving along the bumpy, pot-hole filled road that lead back to the ramp where my boat waited. When I twisted in my seat to look out the back window and back my trailer down the ramp, I winced. I straightened up and used my mirrors to back up, instead.

20 minutes later, I was at the house. I hobbled up the ramp, and went straight to our bedroom. All I could think about was getting into our jacuzzi tub – which is often something I look forward to at the end of a really hard day. Turning on the water as hot as it would go, I started filling the tub, and busied myself with undressing. It was awkward to bend over and take off my socks; my hips and knees didn’t want to bend that way. When I removed my worn Leviis, I noticed that the seat was completely ripped out of them. They went straight in the garbage, along with my underwear – which were hopelessly stained with dirt.

I became aware of a growing pile of dirt that was gathering on the tile floor in front of the bathtub. Maria wouldn’t be happy with that – but I would clean it up when I was through, maybe in the morning. Then I felt something odd, and reached back to find, literally, hands full of grit and gravel that was packed between my butt-cheeks. I was on such a mission to find that pack that I didn’t even notice the extra baggage I was carrying, or the extent of the pain in my butt. But when I lowered myself into the water, UFFDA, did that sting!

My wife Maria came to my side, and I told her the story of what had happened, while I soaked. When the water cooled enough to bear it, I turned on the jets to let the churning water work on my sore, tired muscles. After a good, long soak, I washed my hair, rinsed off, and stood to dry. When the tub was empty, I was amazed at the amount of filth that had washed off me, and needed to be forced down the drain with the shower head.

I collapsed into bed, and Maria went to work on me with her DoTerra Oils. And this is one of the things that I enjoy most about being married – for “touch” is my love language, and Maria speaks it well. She anointed my entire body with oil, from head to toe – using deep blue, marjoram, copaiba, aroma touch, peppermint, mellaleuca, neroli, and frankincense for pain and healing,  balance for stress,  console for grief, and lavender, vetiver and serenity for sleep. When she was done, she put more “sleepy oils”: in the diffuser, and that’s the last thing I remember. I slept like a dead man – as if I were klunked on the head and put out of my misery.

I didn’t go to bed worrying about tomorrow. I knew I needed to sleep on my situation, and reevaluate in the morning. But the overall feeling was that, despite having already harvested the bear, it felt forbidden to me. For I still didn’t possess it, and I knew not if I ever would.

Stay tuned for The Forbidden Bear. Part 5: The Recovery, on my next blog post. Will I find the pack, and all that it contained?

About now, the couple has made it to the top of the ridge, and is on their way back down. They peek over the hill to make sure the coast is clear, and I wave them down as my hunt is over. Then I ask them to take my picture with the bear.

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