The Sadistic Plan of the Elks, Part 1

Apparently, I miscalculated the amount of liquids I needed to drink while hiking six miles at 10,000 feet in elevation.  I had forgotten just how much liquid I would expirate while gasping and wheezing uphill at that elevation, I suspect.  This miscalculation would come back to haunt me in the middle of night.  It would have to stand in line to haunt me, as a matter of fact.

When it was finally the time for the dehydration to work its magic, it did so in the form of a terrible, sick-to-your-stomach kind of headache that wakes you up and keeps you awake with all kinds of thoughts as to the size of the tumor or severity of the stroke that is causing you this agony.  What else could cause this much pain?  Well, a hangover, I guess.  But there had been no hangover-inducing activity on this trip.

I was camped alone in the Cloud Peak Wilderness on a trek to spend time alone with my God, conversing with Him and deepening my friendship with Him.  I was also out to explore new wilderness, and Wyoming is a beautifully wild place.  It was my hope to summit a few 12,000 to 13,000-foot peaks as well.

When I went to bed, I felt fine.  This night I would sleep the sleep of the exhausted and I was anticipating a long and serious rest. Due to a late start from the trailhead – highway construction, repacking the pack for the third time, and other delays – arrival at Lake Helen was at dusk.  This was not my intended destination.  Misty Moon Lake was still another three miles further up the trail.

Being unfamiliar with the area, I did not want to set up camp in total darkness.  Lake Helen it would be. Which was good as it was a beautiful lake, especially in the waning daylight.  My campsite was high above the lake, with a great view of the lake itself and the ridges behind it.  Normally my camps are hidden in timber, but there were only pockets of timber available, if you can call  skinny, short, and gnarly trees “timber.”  I chose a prominent point so I could enjoy the view.

What I did not realize was that I had chosen what could have been a set for the television show, “Animal Planet.”  I would soon find this out, however, as I finished making, eating, and cleaning up my evening meal after dark.  The animal sounds in the trees around my camp area and across the lake became more and more frequent the darker the night became.  “They will settle down soon.  It is a moonless night, so they will sleep,” I said in my ignorance.  What I did not realize was that they were warming up for what would be an all-night party, the likes of which would rival a frat-boy epic.

Earlier, while getting water from the lake, I spotted four elk feeding on the meadow grass and drinking at the water’s edge.  It seemed they were enjoying the experience, for they trotted back and forth along the shore of the lake, going in and out of the water.  In retrospect, it is more likely they were expressing glee at the thought of the sadistic plans they had in mind for me that evening.

As I was getting ready to hit the sack, the bugle calls of the elk in the lake basin began.  Short, not challenging but more like announcements of their presence, the sounds grew in frequency.  Some were very near my tent, and others across the lake. It was almost like they were saying “Good night, my friends” to each other.  Or perhaps, “Let’s get in position so we can torment this fool with stereophonic brilliance.”  These calls were to continue all night.  Thinking little of it at this point, I crawled into my tent and drifted off to sleep.  Around me, the sound of something like a marching band warming up was a portent of things to come.  I did not realize the long night in store for me.

More to come on this story….

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