Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pemberton Hunting, Roughing It and Staying Alive

Pemberton Valley Lodge is one of Laura and my favourite getaway locations. We’ve come up here other years for hunting as well as in the summer. They have elegant rooms with kitchenettes, rural views, great walk along the river out back, underground parking, and 2 minutes drive to the town of Pemberton. Gilbert loves the dog friendly staff. They also have outdoor swimming pool and hot tub with indoor spa and steam room.
So it’s really roughing it as a hunting camp.  I began coming up to Pemberton to hunt in the late 80’s.  Mostly it was great for grouse hunting. I shot a deer or two as well.  But the real draw was Meager Creek Hotspring. After a morning of climbing mountains I’d find myself in the afternoon languishing in the scenic hot springs, thinking, now this is really ‘hunting’ and ‘roughing it"  It was nudist back then so everyone was friendly and young.
A couple of winter hunts I stayed at Pemberton Hotel whose rooms seemed mostly cubbyholes where drunks would sleep it off after a night in the rowdy bar. That’s changed too. The Pemberton Hotel has had a huge face lift as the whole town has.  Pemberton is now tourist central catering mostly to the cyclists,hikers,  climbers, photographers,  back country skier sand horsey set.
When I came up I would mostly tent by the river.  There’s great fishing around Pemberton. The young guys who run the  outdoor store, Spud Valley Sporting Goods Ltd.,in town also do fishing guiding.  I remember catching a Mountain White Fish that I pan fried by the river having one of those unforgettable outdoor meals.
My last wife and I would come up in the Vanagon.  She was terrific in those days.  I’d come back from slogging about in the woods, climbing the mountains, up before dawn and she’d have bacon and eggs and coffee ready at noon.  Then we’d go off to the hot springs together.  She was a whole lot of fun. My dog Shinto was the great companion back then believing that the Vanagon was his solely and letting us share it.  I had installed a great propane heater that made it doubly cozy.
Back in those days I’d made friends with the Wayne Andrews, the World Champion Indian Rodeo rider who lived in Mount Currie. We’d go riding. He had riding tours back then.  Later we’d ride together with him as a guide for mountain riding. My ex wife came along on what she called our ‘man from snowy river’ riding weekends. She was a good rider and very styllish. I just seemed to learn to stay on a horse when I began riding on my grandfather’s ranch at 6. I can’t say stylle is my long suit but I’d done a lot of 2 legged horse riding and even some broncho bucking but stayed on mostly.  Back then we just followed Wayne galloping down mountainsides and riding across moonlit meadows.  Now riding is what Pemberton is known for.  Everywhere there are stables and beautiful horses dotting the backcountry.
About 10 years ago I found the Pemberton Valley Lodge, long after the Vanagon and beautiful girl had gone. The dog had died and a cold night tenting in sleet and snow made hunting seem incompatible with traumatic arthritis and age.  Pemberton Lodge brought a whole new attraction to the idea of a weekend of roughing it hunting.
Laura and I came up here on motorcycle too.  Even Gilbert and I came here on motorcycle. The famed Duffy Lake motorcycle route starts at the Pemberton and goes up to Lillouett.  Great winding trail made better by the upgrade on the Duffy Lake road a couple of years back.  It travels through some of the most picturesque country in the whole world.
Well, this weekend we arrived up on Friday night early enough to enjoy the meat lover pizza we got from the hometown pizza place a couple of blocks down the road.
Gilbert hurt his back jumping out of the truck a couple of weeks ago. He’s fully mobile after being unable to move his flanks for a day, thanks to the good care of Oak Street Animal Hospital. But, as they would say in hockey, his ‘injury has benched him for the season’.  He’s the main grouse dog, finding and retrieving them after we shoot them.  He’d stay with Laura and suffer her loving care in the Lodge while Tom and I would go out into the cold.
6 am the alarm went off. Whose stupid idea was it to go hunting?  7 am we had our gear loaded  and were driving down the road with Egg McMuffins and Hash browns and coffee from the Macdonalds in the gas station near the lodge. That made the whole cold unpleasant experience tolerable.  Nothing beats Egg McMuffin on a cold morning.  We could see our breath. We’d had to scrape frost off the windows. I had long johns, quilted overalls, parka and outer layer of camouflage gear, with felt beret, scarf and thick work gloves on. There was snow deep on the ground and the road was icy. This hunting trip was a stupid idea.  The MacDonald’s Coffee marginally improved things.
Gilbert had got me up at 3 in the morning to take him out for a pee and poop.  That happens to him in hotels sometimes.  I stumbled around looking for shoes and clothes and leash and had waited out back of the hotel till he found the perfect spot to gift with his offerings.  I’d had trouble getting back to sleep.  Thank God for coffee. It was a while still before I got my head around the idea that hunting was a good way to spend a weekend. It was good that Tom was driving.
Without chains for the truck, I’d made the executive decision that Tom and I would park the truck and unload the ATV to drive with up the mountain logging roads. We’d stopped at one where a couple of young guys were setting up their snowmobiles. A lot of folk out enjoying the trails this day.
Further on we found an isolated place I had known about from previous trips ,unloaded and began riding up the mountain.  Pristine setting.  Beautiful mountain views. Pine trees.  Spruce.  Not a deer or bear in sight.  As Tom driving with me as passenger on back we got to the steep part and I got off.  I didn’t like the idea of being flipped over backwards having already done that myself on an ATV and found it wasn’t fun.  I suggested he drive on and I’d walk.  I waved him on.
I don’t know how I survived growing up in Winnipeg.  I began to have PTSD flashbacks stumbling and sliding around in that snow.  I should have brought snow shoes. The snow came up above the ankle and was half way to the knee in places. I trudged.  I had the 300 win Mag Winchester Model 7 over my shoulder, my Bushnell Binoculars and just trudged.  The trail just kept going up. There were a lot of big deer tracks but I didn’t see a single moving thing. I had my hat and scarf off and all my clothes open and despite trying to move slowly was sweating something fierce.  A couple of hours into this I collapsed on a rock.  We had our nifty matching yellow motorola waterproof radios but I couldn’t reach Tom.  Where’s a taxi when I needed one.  No wonder people stay in New York.  I called but the line of sight communications on these radios is affected by mountains and trees.  So I waited hoping for a deer to come along.  It didn’t and I hiked higher in the mountain my legs long dead and useless by this time Tom came chugging down the mountain again raving about the glory of the mountains and the wonder of creation. I could hardly get my leg up over the machine.  All he’d seen is day old bear poop.
Back at the truck we loaded up the gear.  We drove back down to the Macdonalds loaded up on burgers for lunch and joined Laura and an ecstatic Gilbert.  After lunch I collapsed on the bed.
Tom woke me a couple of hours later with the stupid idea of going out for the evening hunt. Apparently I’d suggested it.  So we geared up again. We drove out through Pemberton up the valley where I saw so much development.  Where there had been one dude ranch there were several. More wilderness lodges too. The great potato farm was still there. Pemberton produces the best potatoes in the world.
It was already growing dark when we got to the split on the Goldbridge road and I stupidly suggested we head up hill to Goldbridge rather than continuing along the river to Meagher Creek.
With the sun going down the road had iced and damn but the truck just stopped short, wheels spinning before the first level and turn.  Tom’s a great driver so despite my natural tendency to blame I had to confess that I’d have encountered the same problem if I was in the driver seat.  But I have a monster winch on the front of the truck so after chalking the tires with big stones to prevent the truck rolling back I began  smugly playing out the winch cable.
Oh no! No. No. No. The winch cable broke off at the connection onto the winch.  No more winch. Shit. A minor problem had now become a major problem. We were stuck in the middle of the road and on one side was a steep cliff drop off going down hundreds and hundreds of feet while on the other side was a mountain.  When Tom was trying to tie the cable onto the winch cylinder horror of horrors.
Despite being in park and braked  the truck began to slide back down over the heavy stones I’d chalked it with. Tom screamed holding the cable in front of the truck trying to anchor it but instead began snow skiing down the mountain in front of the rapidly accelerating truck. I’d been out pulling the winch to it’s full length when Tom called out.
I am not an athelete any more. I’m older and fat and given to the sedentary life of a desk jockey. Besides I’d used up whatever strength and leg muscles I had that morning.  My body had not recovered.
Despite all this, seeing my Ford F350 Harley Davidson Truck carrying  my Yamaha Kodiac ATV in its cargo bed accelerating downhill with Tom holding onto the cable and skiing before it in a futile attempt to slow it, I was a galvanized as they say in fiction.  Without a rational thought I ran like the wind and jumped into the open door of the truck and slammed my foot on the brake. This indeed caused the truck to slow with the back wheels just short of the edge of the great ravine.
I sat shaking as I realized I’d almost lost the truck and ATV but also put myself in a position where I could now go over the cliff along with it.  This seemed rather stupid. I wondered if the air bags would help.   Tom was truly surprised that I was alive and we’d stopped the runaway truck.
At that time a couple of young guys in a jeep came along.  We tied a rope to their jeep and to my truck and tried towing.  The rope broke immediately but the effort had helped straighten the truck out so it wasn’t pointing directly over the cliff. They headed on leaving us to our devices.
I told Tom that it was clear that we couldn’t go forward so I planned to back down the mountain.  The difficulty with this is that it’s hard to tell exactly where the wheels are turned. Normally I’d climb out of the truck and line matters up and then get a go at it.  I wasn’t leaving the brake under any conditions though so Tom thankfully was there to guide me backwards and we actually got the truck over to the mountain side. Only trouble then was we got a bit in the ditch and I was horrified at the thought of the truck rolling over on Tom .  He came to his senses at that point realizing that was a possibility and took up guidance duties from the other side. He was amazingly right that we could ride along on a slant in the ditch and soon enough we got to a flat area where with his direction I backed the truck up to the feared cliff side and had enough room to turn us around.
I drove back to Pemberton.  Tom was disappointed that we hadn’t seen any game but I told him that ‘come to think of it over the years a whole lot of hunting had been about arriving back alive”.  I was reminded of the times I’d been up on logging roads when the whole roads had given out,  the countless mechanical failures of equipment or the blizzards and such that had added to the hunting adventures.  I’d even lost my truck one night and after spending a night out in the cold been happy to find the truck in the day light.
We stopped at the great little downtown Pemberton food store and delli. I shot us all some barbecued chicken and whipped up some great delli vegetables and baked us some fresh bread and made a container of Hagen Daz ice cream.  It was a feast we had later with Gilbert very impressed with what great hunters we were.  Laura loved the caesar salad I’d found with folliaging especially as it came with it’s own salad dressing.
Now it’s morning. I decided I’d had enough hunting and without the tire chains and the winch now broken and still shaken by last nights adventure , decided against the ‘morning hunt’.  We’re going to drive back to Vancouver this afternoon and thankfully alive with equipment relatively in tact we’ll consider it a very successful hunt.  It was also good roughing it at the  emberton Lodge.  Gilbert let me sleep in but woke Laura to take him out to pee first thing in the morning then jumped in bed with Tom to lick wash his face for him.

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