Just five days after returning from my sheep hunt, it was time to head back to the mountains. My buddy Steve and I met up at Meekins Air Service in the middle of the Chugach range to try and fill the mountain goat tags we had drawn. We both arrived late the night before our flight out, and after packing gear and getting a good night’s rest, it was time to go. As we were going over final plans, we found that the weather was too nasty to get into the area we wanted to hunt, so we were going to be dropped on a glacier instead. We had no idea what we would be in for.
For this hunt, we flew in what is arguably the most iconic Alaskan bush plane: the Piper Super Cub. These lightweight planes, with their large tundra tires, can go absolutely anywhere an airplane can be safely landed. We were limited on the gear we could bring, however, with a maximum of 70 pounds per person, so we packed a little lighter than we did for sheep hunting.
The Super Cub is an awesome plane, but it’s not for the faint of heart. What makes them so versatile is that they are small. They have two seats, and the passenger sits right behind the pilot. After spending some time in a Super Cub, you will either be terrified of them or discover the “need” to own one.
The ride in had incredible scenery. The Chugach Mountains are beautiful and extremely rugged–one of the two most rugged ranges in Alaska, in fact. They are very steep and filled with glaciers.
Steve and I flew in two separate planes, and as my plane swooped down over the glacier in the rain, my pilot Matt said, “It sure looks dreary out there.” To which I replied, “‘Dreary,’ says the guy flying the plane and sipping a hot cup of coffee.” We both got a laugh out of it, but I was also serious as I surveyed the conditions we were about to be left in.
Even though it was early September, the snow was already beginning to fall in the Chugach, and that can push goats down out of the cliffs they inhabit but can also bring a lot of challenges and danger to a hunt like this.
As dreary as things looked from the plane, after we set down on the ice it became much more real. When they said they were putting us on the ice, they really meant ON the ice. With the tundra tires, and a fairly smooth patch of glacier, we had no problem setting down safely. We quickly unloaded my gear as Steve’s plane came in to land.
As soon as we got Steve’s gear unloaded we were faced with our first problem: Where to camp. This was the first time we had been landed on a glacier; normally there is a decent spot to set up a base camp near the air strip. Although we were only 300 yards from the edge of the glacier, the mountains shoot straight up, giving us nowhere flat enough to set up a tent.
We ended up settling for the only spot we could get our tent stakes in–a patch of hard snow on top of the glacial ice. It was less than satisfactory, but it would have to do. After the pilots took off the weather quickly deteriorated, so after setting up camp we had to spend the rest of the day in the tent waiting out the wind and rain.
The next morning we were happy to see blue skies and promptly took off up the glacier to get a closer look at two big billies we had spotted on a mountain about three quarters of a mile from camp. Luckily, as a last minute throw-in, I had brought a set of crampons. They made walking on the glacier much easier.
Although most of it wasn’t too bad, the glacier was full of crevasses and holes to jump over, and it can be downright dangerous. If you aren’t careful and happen to fall into one of these holes, you could be there until the end of time. There are a lot of spots where water on the glacier drops down into a hole that you can’t see the bottom of.
We hadn’t gotten very far up the glacier when we were dead-ended by crevasse fields. It’s pretty intimidating how rugged this country is. I was quickly developing a kink in my neck from staring at the mountains above us. They shoot 2,000 feet straight up out of the glacier. Goat hunting in Alaska can best be described as “miserable.” The goats call the nastiest parts of this rugged country home, and the reality of what we were in for was setting in. Not being able to get to the two goats, we went back down the glacier to the one big valley we could actually make it to. We climbed up a steep slope to a plateau about 400 feet above the glacier, which we figured would give us a good vantage point to glass from.
As we crested the top of the plateau, I spotted this large billy about 700 yards up the canyon, bedded in a grassy area between patches of last year’s unmelted snow and the cliffs. The wind was good and he hadn’t seen us, so we backed up. Steve stayed on the spotting scope while I climbed up to the goat’s elevation and picked my way through the rocks to a shootable position. I closed the distance to 170 yards and the goat and I saw each other at the same time, so I laid down and got ready. He slowly stood up from his bed and I put a round from my .25-06 in his lungs. He reeled and took off running. I hit him again on the run, then a third time, dropping him. As is pretty standard with goat hunting, he took off and rolled about 500 feet. He is a great goat: A 6-year-old billy with 9 ⅜-inch horns–quite a bit bigger than the Kodiak goat I shot last year.
I was able to recover the bullet from my first shot, which had stopped right under the skin after a near pass through. I was using 117-grain Hornady SSTs–the same bullet I used for sheep–and they worked great. I shot him three times, but that’s goat hunting. Mountain goats soak up lead as well as any big game animal I have seen. They are built tough, and they have to be to survive on the cliffs they inhabit.
As I cleaned my goat, Steve went to take a look at the rest of the drainage. This country sure makes a guy feel small, but we had one goat down, and another 8 days to find another. Things were looking good.
After cleaning my goat, we couldn’t complain about the pack out. We walked almost straight back over to the top of the plateau and had an amazing evening view of the glacier. The descent was pretty hairy in some spots as it was extremely steep, and it was tough to keep our footing on the slick grass and patches of alder.
After about an hour we made it back down to the glacier and found a huge hollowed-out edge in the ice. I’m pretty sure the entire glacier would have collapsed had I not been there to hold it up! We were in good spirits, but the weather was quickly turning. We got back to camp just before dark as the wind and rain started to pick up.
As it turned out, we were in for it. We spent the next five days in the tent, weathering out the storm. I’ve been in some nasty mountain weather, but this was second to none. All day and night there was a deafening roar from the wind and rain pounding the tent. We found out later that a huge storm had hit the whole Chugach Range, and winds in excess of 100 mph knocked out power to most of the city of Anchorage. Eventually, though, the rain stopped, and we were able to get out and see that the two huge billies were still on the same mountain three quarters of a mile away. This time, we climbed up off of the glacier to see if we could find a way to get over to where they were.
The goats were about two-thirds of the way up the mountain, but our hopes of getting to them were quickly dashed as we got a better look at the surrounding area.
We saw that there was literally no way to cross this crevasse field, even if we had full ice-climbing gear. It’s not uncommon for people to die or be seriously injured while goat hunting, most often by taking stupid risks. No goat is worth risking your life for, so the glacier was a no-go.
We thought we might be able to go up the canyon to get around, but the crevasse field led right into this 6-mile-long iceberg lake, which ran into another glacier at the top. It was completely impassible, which is probably why these goats have lived to be as big as they are. With another dead end, we decided to spend our next day checking out the drainage that I shot my goat in. We climbed back up to the plateau, and as we got to the top we spotted a grizzly sleeping on my goat’s gut pile. With a closer look from the spotting scope, we saw that he was a big one. Again, the wind was right, and with a perfect route to stay out of sight, Steve took off after him.
While Steve was closing the distance to the bear, a raven tried to get a bite to eat. The bear ran him off, swatting at the air wildly. He wasn’t going to give up his prize easily. Steve made it to 140 yards, but didn’t want to shoot the bear laying down, so he hollered at him and waved his arm. It took a minute, but eventually the sleepy bear saw him and got bowed up, preparing to stand his ground. Steve hammered him with his .270. It was a very nice mountain grizzly, squaring 7 feet, and Steve was just as happy with him as he would have been with a goat. Although we both shot brown bears in May, Steve was able to legally shoot another grizzly this year because the regulatory hunting year ends June 30, making this a new year. However, now he can’t shoot one again until next fall. But it’s been a remarkable year, and this was quite the trophy.
We decided to have a cup of coffee before skinning the bear, but first we had to get some water. This snow did the trick, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the water running on the glacier. We didn’t even need to purify it, and it was awfully tasty–you just had to strain the mastodon pieces out with your teeth!
After we got the bear skinned out, we once again made the steep trek down the mountain to the glacial moraine. Pictures don’t really do the steepness justice, and it was very treacherous. If you slip in the country where we sheep hunt, you might twist an ankle or break your leg. In most of this country, however, if you slip you are going to end up at the bottom, either dead or in really bad shape. We took things slow and carefully, though, and once again made it back to camp just before nightfall, completely exhausted.
We woke up the following morning to snow just a hundred feet or so above our camp. We were worried about getting off that glacier, as the weather had been so terrible and was seemingly getting worse. Luckily, the wind died down enough for the pilots to land. They told us they had two other hunting parties that were snowed in at their locations. One of the groups had a foot of snow on the ground, and they were going to have to kick snow off of the air strip so that the Cub could safely get in to get them out. Once again, we safely made it out. It was a pretty miserable trip, but one we couldn’t complain about, having taken a nice goat and a grizzly. It’s the miserable trips you remember best, and I won’t forget this one anytime soon.
Live Hunt host Tyler Freel and his buddy trekked through dangerous glaciers and mountains in the hopes of filling two goat tags. See the photos and story from their adventure here.