I awake at 2:00 am. A short hour later I stand in total darkness at the base of the mountain. The pack is checked and shouldered, rifle and flashlight taken up, and all is ready. Now, as if to gather strength from the sheer magnificence that surrounds me, I stop and stand quietly letting my senses come alive. Overhead a million stars shine brilliantly and far, far away I hear the roar of the mighty Salmon River. I feel the stinging cold and breathe the clean crisp air, and it is good to be alive. There is a presence you feel in the mountains at night which simply cannot be described. Only those who have felt it, know it, sometimes alone in the dark it is overwhelming. At some imperceptible cue, I flick on my light and step off into the shadows.
I follow a faint game trail at first, but within a few miles it fades and then finally disappears. No matter, there is only one direction now, and that is up. Before dawn, I have over 5000 feet of elevation to gain, and there is no time to dally. One foot in front of the other I climb like a miniature robot scaling some gigantic endless staircase. All too soon the sweat flows down my back and my wool coat becomes unbearable. I stop, shed the coat, stuff it in my pack and then continue on. If today is like all the previous days, twice more I will be forced to stop and discard clothing, ascending the last few thousand feet in only a tee-shirt. The fact that it is 10 degrees Fahrenheit seems ludicrous.
As I climb, my mind begins to play wicked tricks on me. The mind knows what still lies ahead and it tries to convince my body that it can't make it. It tells me I should turn around and go back down the mountain and then as if for spite, it taunts me with thoughts of a warm bed and level ground. I try to fight these self-defeating notions by concentrating on all the hours, miles and repetitions that were spent preparing my body for this specific challenge. From somewhere deep in my memory I recall a line from one of my weight lifting books, "The body can only go where the mind has already been," with that I force all negative thoughts from my head and think only of the top.
Somewhere, up there in the great meadow stately bucks and ancient bulls feed in the open unconcerned. This mountain is their protector and all who wish to see their grandeur must climb the mountain first. There are no roads here nor horse trails either. The only way up is the hard way and this is as it should be, for the animals that live here are naive and vulnerable. They do not run at the slightest glimpse or faintest whiff of man. Instead, they stand and gawk as if to say what type of creature is this that I see now but have never seen before. The fact that the game is so naive proves that the mountain has done its job well.
Following a flashlight beam for hours in the dark has a way of mesmerizing a person. Time and space begin to melt into delusion. I wonder how long I've walked, how far I've come and how much farther I have to go. There is a watch in my pocket that could answer these questions but I dare not look at it. The two hours and six miles I think I've walked may in reality be only one hour and three miles and it is better not to know. This blind mountain climbing is after all more a test of the mind than the body.
Slowly, but surely the sky grows pale in the east and the stars begin to wink out one by one. Dawn is coming now, irresistible, unstoppable, it waits for no one. Soon, up ahead looming against the ever brightening sky I see the encouraging silhouette of the top. With new found strength I quicken my pace and move with a sense of urgency that is known to all hunters who have raced with the dawn.
Though I have stood on this mountain top many times, each time I reach the summit I am simply filled with awe. And, unlike other experiences in life which diminish with familiarity, this feeling grows and intensifies each and every time. Below me puffy white clouds float by and the sky above is so clear you can look right into heaven. As I cast my gaze out upon mountain range after mountain range of majestic snow capped peaks stretching away into the distance as far as the eye can see, the rifle on my shoulder and the pack on my back are forgotten. This morning, hours and thousands of feet ago, I thought I was climbing this mountain to hunt. But now, standing on the peak I realize this isn't entirely so. Perhaps deep down I've really come here just to be here. To listen and hear only silence, to know solitude and serenity, adversity and self-reliance. Maybe, the real reason I come here is simply because no one else does. END