It is November 17 and the limited daylight of winter time Alaska has us trekking out before sunrise. In order to make it back to camp by dark, we needed to locate and assess a good billy and make a good shot by noon, 2 pm at the very latest. This is a tight schedule, but we know where some goats are bedded. In the gray light of predawn we sneak into a location to watch them wake up and graze.
The hike up the mountain that morning was been grueling. We put on crampons as soon as we left the tents. It was so cold my headlamp would not stay on. I hiked up using the light from Mike ahead of me and Chris behind me. I am wearing wool baselayers under GWG mid-weight pants on the bottom, wool baselayers under GWG performance t-shirt topped with GWG midweight vest on top and cover it all with GWG rain gear. Thank goodness for all the layers. Ice, snow, rocks and loose dirt all threatened to collapse under us as we pulled our way up the steep mountainside on overhanging branches and exposed roots.
It was worth it. We reached the first plateau just before sunrise and were treated to the most beautiful predawn vistas. Everything was a lavender hue, the sky, the river below, the snow on the mountains. A thick frost blanketed the entire valley, from the river all the way up to the snow-covered tree line. As we carry on up the mountain the crunch of snow under our boots disturbs the early morning silence.
The sun starts to rise and the purple landscape tinges pink, then cream before becoming white in the light of day. Our troupe has made it to the desired lookout. Last night we watched a herd of goats bed down in the alders below us. There were a few good billies in the group, but we could not get close enough for a shot yesterday. Hopefully our early morning start and new vantage point will offer us an opportunity today. The spotting scope is set and we wait in anticipation.
Even in the sun, it is cold. The rays glisten off snow banks and bounce across waterfalls of ice. It is beautiful to behold. I add another layer to my ensemble. My GWG puff jacket compresses into its bag and fits perfectly into the side pocket of my pack. The puff jacket provides another layer of warmth for what I think is going to be a long wait.
As we watch the group, which includes a couple decent billies, a lone goat appears on the mountain behind us. At first glance, we think he is the young billy we spotted at first light. I take some photos of this goat and we go back to watching the others. This billy then comes closer. We evaluate him closer and realize he is no young billy, but rather, a beautiful old lone billy. The decision is made, the shot is fired, and at 11:17 on 11/17, I have what I hope is my “first” mountain goat is. Three months in Alaska and seven days hunting led to this moment.
An Alaskan mountain goat, the hunt of a lifetime, a dream hunt, a bucket list hunt, an adventure I never thought I would experience. Yet, here I am, looking over a landscape of snowcapped mountains and frozen rivers meandering to the sea. My fingers are nestled in the thick, warm winter coat of a beautiful old billy. After the obligatory photos, further inspection reveals how old the goat really is. Eleven years old with only one tooth and a partial tooth. The ultimate trophy, a billy past his prime, solitary and on the way out. Even in his old age, he is the largest bodied billy my guide has ever taken. I never want the feeling of the moment to end. The exhilaration, the reverence, the euphoria, the thankfulness. This culmination of months of preparation, moments of doubt and utter determination to succeed is more than I could ever hope.
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