Photo of Lake Helen, location of this story.
(For the first two parts of this story about a night on a solo backpack trip in the Bighorn Range, check out the previous two posts on the Adventure Blog.)
Elks. Coyotes. Mystery whiners making laps around my tent. Noisy grass-eaters. And now, rain. What next?
Never ask, “what next?” In my case, “what next” turned out to be fitful dozing punctuated by measured repetition of the sadistic plan of the elks by its many contributors. It also included another trip outside with light to investigate the sounds of the vanishing mystery whiner. This went on until 4 AM.
I am not sure which woke me up, the hangover-worthy headache or the stomping, rattling, and loud chuffing sounds. I once again grab the light, and while getting the tent open I can also hear that, once again, the whiner is back. What the heck!
I finally get my shoes and light into the right places and head out to solve this complicated mystery. The noise is at a new level, with brush breaking, antlers rattling, snorting, and chuffing all happening at once, and on two sides of camp. I immediately locate four elk just over the rise where my cooking rock is located. They move off into the trees, making a lot of noise as they do so. Not very stealthy, it seems to me.
There is still loud crunching and crashing, snorting and chuffing on the other side of my tent, so I get up on a rock where I can see over the crest of the small hill. Suddenly, silence. All I can find are four deer down at the water’s edge. How could four deer make such a racket? I mean, what kind of noise-making tools do deer have with them? Sticks? An axe? A drum set?
The noise starts again, in earnest. I move further toward the lake, and shine my light into a low thicket. There is the source of so many of the noises of the night. A bull moose is in the thicket, finishing strong in his part of the sadistic plan of the elks. He is pushing the brush with his antlers, stomping on branches, grunting and chuffing like he is angry. I am hoping his anger remains aimed at the bushes and not the new resident tenting in what must be his favorite meadow. And when he is not making all this racket, he whines a little with each step. Here at last is the identity of the grunting whiner. I wondered if he has an injured leg, or if it is just a lot of work to move around with that very large rack of antlers on his head. Perhaps he has asthma or sciatica or some other issue. Poor fella. I hope he dies a slow and painful death.
The elk have moved on, and the deer do so soon after. I spotlight the moose until he moves off. Time to retrieve some Tylenol and Advil from the food canister to try to deaden the roaring of the headache and settle the sickening feeling that goes with it. After downing a pint of water, I crawl back into the tent, hoping that since the hooligans had been identified, the noise would abate.
The coyotes did not see it that way. After listening to them practicing for their glee club concert for a while, I drifted off to sleep somewhere around 5:30 AM. Coyotes have a knack for waiting until you have drifted off to sleep to start their next song. For that matter, the elk never really shut up either, but by now I was used to their intermittent attempts at sleep interruption. At 7:30 am, I finally decided to get up. After laying in the tent or hiking around my little “Animal Planet” with a flashlight for more than ten hours, I think I got about three hours of good sleep and a few more of fitful dozing.
Elk hunting is very popular in these parts, and I am thinking that perhaps I should take it up myself. As a matter of revenge.