By Peter Muennich, Founder, President on March 31, 2015 in Member's Stories
The Ghost of Garfield Mountain
By: Jason Kurrasch
As I kneeled next to my Mountain Goat, perched on a ledge at 13,300 feet, all of my adrenaline was now gone. I looked at this animal that fights the high country Colorado elements its entire life and I felt small in comparison to my surroundings. As my dad and two friends, Brian and Ronnie, took in this alpine grandeur of fall colors mixed with gray sprawling cliffs with white patches of snow and the expansive Colorado blue sky with me, I couldn’t help but remember the elation I felt when I saw “successful” next to Mountain Goat on the Colorado Division of Wildlife website.
After 13 years of patiently waiting to draw the coveted Colorado Mountain Goat tag, I quickly got my calendar and blocked out a handful of dates for scouting the Sawatch Range. Previously, close family friends, had harvested mature goats in this area and they had provided me with a litany of key places to find these majestic animals. The first trip was made in late June. My Dad and I saw few goats but it was a limited effort as we could only go so far due to restricted travel from the great amount of snow still in avalanche shoots and snow drifts across roads. Ronnie and I made a trip in mid-July and it was an overnight camp spent on the Continental Divide. The goats we saw were assumed to be nannies and kids as they were in very big groups. We watched them go back and forth over the divide through Vortex spotting scopes and while they were a fair distance away, it was a turning point in the scouting process as I made my decision to focus on this area of the Sawatch to purse a goat opening day. The following trips did not provide a lot of goat sightings; however, I was confident this was the area I wanted to hunt.
Two days before opening day, my dad and I set up camp next to a pristine crystal clear blue lake that reflected the passing white clouds. We made small talk with campers who were enjoying the last days of summer as this was Labor Day weekend and typically signifies the last get away or last camp for most summer recreational activities. After camp was set up, we headed out to find what I had come for. We spent the afternoon looking high into the grey cirques, crags and crevices above timberline yet were unable to spot a single goat. The next morning brought new hope as we set out before sunrise. After hours of not seeing a single goat we headed back to camp to get lunch and meet up with Brian and Ronnie. These friends had spent the previous hunting season helping me harvest my Unit 10 Bull Elk and I couldn’t think of a better group of guys to help on this monumental task. That afternoon Brian and Ronnie headed up toward a big glacial lake to see what they could find while Dad and I headed back to the head waters of a drainage. We were able to view a group of 22 nannies and kids that had found their way out into a wide alpine valley. We next spotted three billies who had come out from the deep recesses of a mountain crag and found a ledge where they spent the rest of the afternoon. It was this small group that I was planning on going after in the morning. When we met back up with Brian and Ronnie, at the start of the trail head we saw across the valley and straight up a vertical rock wall a huge group of goats that were easing their way down. It was a moment of complete wonder watching these sure footed animals making agile movements up and down what seemed like a playground to them. These animals that seemingly live above the clouds would be the topic of our evening conversation over our jet boiled back packers pantry dinner.
The night was restless and full of excitement and fear at the same time. I tossed and turned thinking of how to get to the billies we had seen, how to retrieve one, and how to anchor one to make sure he didn’t fall hundreds of feet. The alarm rang and the four of us came to life with the excitement of what was to come, even though we didn’t know how it would unfold. Upon leaving camp, Dad and I were followed up the mountain trail by Brian and Ronnie. Upon getting to the turn to take us to the spot where Dad and I had last seen the billies the night before, Brian and Ronnie were stopped in the middle of the trail glassing up the opposite side of the valley. As they raced towards us, they were pointing excitedly up towards a completely different mountain and drainage than I had intended on hunting. The elevation we left the trail at was 11,020 and we commenced a switch back to maneuver the vertical hike. The first 1000 vertical or so feet we lost complete sight of the billy as we had to work our way up a steep section of mountain that was below a clearing. At this point Ronnie went ahead so he could direct us to come out at the most inconspicuous spot in between the crest of the ledge and the pines. Once we reached the pines we took a break as to watch this single billy. He was in no hurry and he had found a high ledge where he laid town to sun himself in the high mountain air. Once we had rested a bit, we continued our assent through a high alpine valley and headed towards a boulder field as to keep him in sight, but yet not push him. When we got within 800 yards he began to stand up and head into a rock field. At this point we made a full effort to get as close to him as possible. My adrenaline was in full force and pushing to get to a good spot. We found a rock that was 409 yards. It was this spot that we stacked our coats and packs to make for a comfortable rest. Looking through the scope vertical I found the billy in my scope and fired off the first round. I missed but after a few more attempts, I regrouped and connected as he slipped into what looked like a deep craggy recess. It was moments later that the confirmation of the billy goat on the ground caused me to lose all composure. In that moment I was flooded with every emotion of what being a hunter is.