My good friend and outfitter, Rich Moran of Extreme Adventures, invited me on a very special hunt in the Alaskan interior, a 75 mile float hunt with Moose as the primary species, but also with a chance for Grizzly and Black Bear as well.
I learned about this opportunity back in 2009, while hunting Dall Sheep with Rich, and finally was able to get set up to go this fall.
I departed NJ on September 13 and have just returned home. We were in the bush for two weeks and man, was this one ever a wild adventure.
The bull pictured above represents the tremendous trophy potential of the area we hunted. This is a very special opportunity to hunt a place that is seldom ever hunted by anyone but Rich. The reason he normally has the area to himself is the risk involved in getting out of there after the hunt.
The access is fairly safe, but a treacherous 15 mile gorge of class VI and V rapids must be navigated following the hunt, to get back to civilization. There is no place for a bush plane to land, at or downstream of the hunting area, so floating the dangerous canyon is the only way home.
Having done it, I now realize why no one else wants to risk the uncertainty of floating through that canyon with a heavily loaded raft, in cold weather and so far from any help, should things go bad.
Here is a look at one section of the river from the flight in:
So, on a rare, gorgeous bluebird Alaskan fall day, the float plane dropped us off on a remote lake with Rich's 16 ft AIRE raft and all of our gear.
Getting started on the 75 mile float trip:
We spent the better part of day one floating, dragging, and cutting our way down 15 miles of a beautiful and pristine creek, encountering many sweepers and log jams on our way through the stunning landscape, hoping to reach the main river, and the area we will be hunting for the next 12 days, before nightfall.
After a long day, we reached our desired campsite and set up the tents, as the moon rose over the distant mountains, through a cold and cloudless sky.
Tomorrow, the hunt begins.
Glad you all made it out ok!!!
Promise to post a bit more, later this evening...
We got a bit of a late start getting out of camp the first morning, but the early sun and soft light on the river and surrounding foliage was beautiful to see.
Anyone that has Moose hunted knows the significant limitation is the distance one can reasonably expect to pack a harvested animal back to camp, or at least to an extraction point. Figure on 600 pounds or so of quarters, shoulders and the rest of the meat, add another 100 plus for the antlers/skull, and add the cape as well, if you're planning a shoulder mount. Also figure on boggy, boot-sucking footing in the meadows, and navigating through some dense timber right along the river, and you quickly realize you are not going to shoot one of these giant animals on a hunt like this unless he is within a mile or so of where you need to end up with him.
Thus, the hunting style I'm most familiar with, traveling light with a camp on my back, and covering a lot of country, wasn't going to work on this one.
The "I wonder what's over the next ridge" mentality had to be tempered big time on this hunt. Admittedly though, it was just as well, as I've let my fitness slip a bit over the last year or so.
Our hunting strategy was really pretty simple; we left the river each morning and quietly stalked through a couple low meadows, calling occasionally, and hoping to hear a bull.
Our primary vantage point each day was this ridge, about three quarters of a mile from the river.
From the ridgetop, we had a fantastic view of the entire river valley, as well as a couple bisecting side drainages which fed into the main river valley. The Moose use these waterway's as travel corridors, and we were certain we would spot or hear any bulls traveling through the meadows and sparse timber, and within packing distance of the river from here.
The view from our lookout was really spectacular.
With spotted a big Grizzly on a far ridge on the other side of the river, gorging in a blueberry patch for most of the afternoon. We also saw some big caribou bulls in the saddles of some high mountains beyond the ridgetop we occupied all day.
The only Moose we saw today was one cow and one bull, but the bull was a giant, mid-sixty or better. But they were well upriver, at least two miles distant, and were not close enough to have any chance at. They were moving slowly towards the river though, and they were slightly angled our way, and we spotted them late in the day.
So as we descended the ridge back to camp, we had at least some hope that they may wind up within our reach in the next day or so.
Brats roasted over an open campfire for dinner, and tomorrow is just around the corner!
Good eye, EH.
And it will be worth waiting for, this one was wild...
"Get up, get up, there's a big bull coming across the river right here!", Rich hissed. I scrambled to unzip my side of the tent and grabbed my frost covered bow. Once outside the tent, I too could hear the Moose splashing in the river, and I knew he was close.
That's the way day two of our hunt started.
Although a big bull Moose in the rut may not be the smartest animal in the world, believe it or not, success rates for a successful Moose hunt, especially a bow-hunt, can be notoriously low. The fact is, even where there are a lot of Moose, there aren't many Moose. They are a low density animal, and that's all there is to it. You sometimes have to cover a lot of country to find a Moose and unfortunately, you can't always cover much ground because as I mentioned before, you gotta be able to get the Moose back out with you.
That's the paradox and probably why my taxidermist warned me not to be over-confident when I set off on this trip. Jim Kelly has mounted big game from all over the globe, he has a large customer base made up of traveling big game hunters, and he told me that the number one species that his customers come home without, is a Moose.
So, it's a good thing when a big bull just walks up to your tent for you. It's also a good sign that you are in the right place. In this case though, our "wake-up call" bull initially looked a little bigger than he was, we were pretty certain he was legal, that is 3 brows or a minimum of 50" wide, but he wasn't big enough for us, at least not at this early point in the hunt. There was another bull with him too, but this one was even smaller, and he decided to stay on the other side of the river.
So, after breakfast, back up the ridge we went. We climbed a little higher this morning though, and took up a lookout that gave us a slightly better vantage point of the river and the surrounding valleys.
We had another nice bull Moose cruise through the meadow just below us, shortly after we reached our lookout. Rich cow-called to him and he turned and angled right towards us. Unfortunately, this one was also just shy of what we were hoping for so we let him walk as well.
We spotted a Grizzly sow and cub in a big blueberry patch a mile or so away, and numerous Caribou were spotted again on the surrounding hillsides. This place was obviously game rich and I was very happy to be here.
As we descended the ridge we stopped at the lower lookout we sat at all day yesterday. "Did you hear that?", Rich asked. There, there it was, low but clear, the unmistakable sound of a grunting bull Moose. He was just below us in the sparse timber, but we couldn't find him with our glass.
"There he is!", Rich said, "And he's a shooter!!!"
I glassed in the direction Rich was looking and spotted a big, white palm, his left side, gliding through the spruce trees two hundred yards or so below us. I knew he was wide, with deep palms and a bunch of points.
We bailed off the ridge and worked our way in front of the quickly moving bull. Rich cow-called and the bull responded with another series of grunts, each one getting closer and closer. We were angling in front of the bull with a light cross-wind, and I was pushing hard to get on the other side of his path before we got too close, not trusting the late dropping thermals and light early evening wind.
We paused to hear sticks cracking and brush shaking, with the big bull raking a tree just 50 yards away. We were pinned down now and had to hope for the best with the wind. I backed into some cover, kneeling down as the bull advanced, knowing that whatever was going to happen, was going to happen very soon.
I soon spotted that big, wide, white rack thrashing a tree just 35 yards away. I raised my bow, waiting for an opening and a good angle to shoot. I remember looking up at that animal, in awe. We all know that a Moose is huge, but until you are there, at close range, staring up at this huge, enraged beast, tearing trees apart with ease, well, you really just can not know how giant they truly are.
Suddenly, with a flash and a crash, he was gone.
In the back of my mind, I knew the wind was not reliable as the setup unfolded. As a hunter, you just know what you can and can not get away with. I really knew it all along and was kidding myself thinking I had any chance.
But what a day! Four bulls, two at close range, one a shooter, a couple Grizzly bears, a bunch of Caribou, how could I possiblly be disappointed?
Settling into that familiar routine of "Sleep-Eat-Hunt-Repeat" is always comforting to me. It usually takes me at least few days to make the mental transition, seemingly back through time, away from the text messages, emails and the instant access world I live in. A world where I am expected to be available to communicate 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
I hate my iPhone.
I know the same transition will take place, sadly, in reverse though, once I'm out of the bush and back to the real world. But maybe the real world is the world that I'm in now, here in the wilderness? Maybe we've created an artificial world, one where everything we need to survive is done for us, albeit at a price? Back home, all I really need to focus on, through the miracle of our modern civilization, is my ability to make money. Shelter, warmth, food? No problem, all easily available, obtainable. At a price.
But here, on this gravel bar in the Alaskan wilderness, the focus is refreshingly different. Here, the comfort is minimized, but our real needs are simplified. Sleep-Eat-Hunt-Repeat.
That's the part I need the most, I think, and that's why I do these trips.
In the bush for four days now, the simple routine is realized and the modern world is really just a memory. Now all Rich and I have to do is kill a Moose, and maybe a Bear, and be safe in the process.
It's calm and cooler, but sill clear this morning. Four straight days of sun? Was I really in Alaska? I kept feeling like we were stealing money that we would eventually have to pay back, with interest.
We saw seven bulls and three cows today, from the lower lookout. One bull was a shooter, but he was too far from the river to chase. It stayed cool all day and the wind picked up a bit in the afternoon. Clouds started to build in the afternoon, and the mixed sky provided some great light for photos.
Keep it coming
We had a bull Moose calling down by camp mid-afternoon. He was steadily working his way down the river, through the heavy timber, and we had no problem keeping track of him from the sounds of his constant calling.
But he was moving fast and was out of hearing range before we could even think of descending the ridge after him. Rich tried calling to him but he either didn't hear the calls, or he ignored them. Rich figured the latter, and thought the bull was likely already with a cow. We never saw him so we'll never know.
We did see two cows on the other side of the river, later in the day. One was way up on the mountain, but the other was right on the river bank, and could have easily been the reason the calling bull had no interest in us earlier.
It was a little slow today but I picked up the pace on the way down the mountain when Rich told me what he had planned for dinner.
Brisket and Mashed Potatoes?
So, on day six, I celebrated my youngest son Conor's 12th birthday in Alaska.
We climbed to the high lookout this morning, and enjoyed a chilly and cloudy day. Once again, I felt like we had dodged a bullet with the weather, as the high winds and precipitation I've experienced so often on my Alaskan hunts stayed at bay, at least for now.
We've enjoyed a great few days so far, but with the exception of the bull we called in on the second afternoon, we have really just been observing. I was hoping for some more excitement today and it wasn't long in coming.
"I got a bull", and he's huge! I glanced from behind my bino's to see Rich locked onto the Moose, due North and up the river. I struggled to find the bull, as Rich scrambled for his spotting scope. I could tell from his excited state that he had spotted something special. Focusing, Rich realized how big this bull really was.
"He's got it all" Rich said, "he's pushing 70, maybe over 70, he's massive with huge, deep palms, and he's got a ton of points. He might be the biggest Moose I've ever seen in here, or maybe anywhere else!"
The bull looked like he had a snowplow on his head. He was with two cows and he was on a big, open ridge, just off the river, but north of camp about 2-3 miles.
His rack looked as wide as his body was long. I don't know how long a mature, giant Alaskan bull Moose's body is, but I'm telling you, his rack looked that wide.
He was incredible.
It was mid-morning and I knew it would take most of the day to get to him. I started to pack my gear when Rich brought me quickly back to reality.
"We may be able to get to him, if he stays put, but we can't get him out of there", Rich said.
He's only a mile or so off the river?
"The river flows down not up, and it's swift and deep between here and there, I don't think we can get the raft up to where he is, even if we swim in our drysuits, and we damn sure can't pack a bull that big all the way back to camp", Rich said.
I was crushed. I knew how rare an opportunity this was, I know from experience when you are fortunate enough to see an animal that big that you have to seize the moment, or forever regret it.
But the giant bull might as well have been on the moon, if Rich says it can't be done, it can't be done. And I believe him. I believe him because I know he is the toughest man I've ever hunted with. And I knew how badly he wanted that Moose, worse than I did perhaps.
The big bull never moved more than 300 yards all day. I know because we watched him all day. We spotted a nine foot plus Grizzly and we spotted a 400" Caribou that afternoon as well. Normally, I would have been pretty excited about a giant Grizzly and a giant Caribou.
But all I cared about was that giant bull Moose. I hoped his cows would lead him down to the river, and down to an area where we could deal with him. I knew it would never happen but I hoped just the same.
The day ended clear, cloudless, and promising a cold sleep tonight.
Three potential B & C animals spotted in one day.
Happy Birthday indeed.
Thanks for taking us along.
Heavy frost on everything made for a beautiful hike up the ridge as we tried to warm up a bit and shake off the morning chill.
We decided to shift gears a bit this morning and head out a little further from camp and up a little higher, up and over the ridge. We needed a different view, having spent almost a week looking at the same piece of country.
"Sixty-plus only", Rich said, declaring his personal limitations due to the distance of this new area. "You shoot it, I'll pack it", he said as we crested the ridge we'd been hunting all week and stared out at the vast landscape beyond. Rich's comments were no doubt in response to the dubious look on my face as I soaked in the rolling hills and ridges, scattered small lakes, mixed timber and berry patches and mountains beyond. "Vast" is the best word I can use to describe my perspective of Alaska.
It was beautiful, and I was thankful for the new view, but I was also well aware of the additional effort it would require, should we kill a Moose here. We were now about 3/4 of a mile from camp and the river, here at our new lookout, and we're hunting the far side of the ridge now. If we spotted a bull close enough to pursue from our earlier lookouts, it would have been between us and the river, but here, it would have to be in the opposite direction, and obviously farther. Any pack out here would certainly involve at least a mile plus hike, and some serious uphill packing. With a Moose hind quarter at 160 lbs and a front shoulder at 130lbs, I questioned my ability to haul that kind of load out of this beautiful new area. Only one way to find out though, so we got comfortable and started glassing.
We spotted a really big Black Bear on a nearby ridge, stuffing himself on the wild blueberries we'd been enjoying all week. Rich figured he was about 6"10" and his coat was perfect.
He was about a mile away but it was an easy hike and the wind was right. The Black Bear tag in my pocket was impossible to ignore. Initially, we decided to stick to the plan and wait out a big bull Moose, but an hour or so later, Rich started glassing up the bear again. I need a Black Bear and Rich knows it, and this was the ultimate way to get one with my bow, he was a giant and the chance to spot/stalk within bow range was a great opportunity that we were now reconsidering.
But the bear was no longer in the berries and despite our best efforts, we could not locate him again.
We spent the rest of this cold clear day high on the ridge in a brisk North wind, but other than a few nice Caribou bulls, saw no game. Although our primary species is Moose, and we'd both agreed to concentrate on that before chasing anything else, I'll forever regret not taking advantage of today's Black Bear opportunity. Of course, if we killed a big bull Moose this afternoon, I'd be singing a different tune.
That's hunting, I suppose.
Got a wake up call from Rich at 3 am, he went for a leak and saw the aurora and figured I'd like to have a look. Got some decent photos, it was a really good show watching the lights dance from horizon to horizon.
Back to our lower lookout in the morning out and sure enough, Snowplow is still holed up in the same spot we saw him two days ago, with just one cow now. He's moved just a bit, maybe 300 yards total in 3 days, and is one ridge down, closer to the river now.
"It doesn't matter if he's in the river" said Rich, "yea, it would be easier to get to him now, but we still can't get the raft up there".
Got some good video of 3 nice Caribou bulls late in the day, and these long distance photos of a big Grizzly across the river.
The bears are loving these berries (and so are we) but won't be on them much longer with these hard frosts.
I'm also loving Rich's lunch surprise's every day. He's packing all of our mid-day food and I find myself starting to salivate every time he begins to rummage through his pack.
The salmon, above, was caught and smoked by Rich, where he lives down on the Kenai. He had at least one pack of this delicacy everyday for us.
And yes, it was as good as it looks.
I'm wearing down a bit, even though we are not really doing anything too physical. So we slept in a little this morning. Actually, I slept in a little.
It was very cold up on the ridge today. The expedition weight gear came out and Rich built a mid day fire to warm up.
We've seen very little Moose activity in the past 3 days. Rich thinks the cold weather has them down off the ridges and in the thicker timber along the river.
We're running out of time now, as the Moose season ends in just three days, and we need to change things up a bit.
Rich explained that we have at least 5 miles between where we are camped and the dangerous, whitewater section of the river, and thinks we may do well to break camp a couple days early and float hunt our way down, stopping to hunt and call along the way.
Sounds good to me.
It is time for a change.
"You coming, or not?"
There was a ton of fresh Moose sign everywhere we stopped. The thicker areas down on the river were just torn up. I had the feeling we would soon be seeing a bull up close.
We stopped to call in one spot and hiked up the river bank a couple hundred yards to a low ridge. Rich called a few times, and after waiting ten minutes or so, we heard a stick snap close bye.
This is what I was waiting for, just like so many other hunts, we'd done the work and put in the time and I just knew we were about to have the Moose of my dreams walk into bow range and stop, upwind, and broadside.
He did just that, at less than ten yards, but unfortunately, it will be a few years before he becomes the "Moose of my dreams".
Pee-wee nearly slobbered on my hat.
We made camp 2 as we lost light, and enjoyed a big fire tonight.
We we're getting close to the canyon now, and all the worrying I'd done over the past few years since committing to this hunt was coming to a head. We'd almost certainly be running the gorge tomorrow, unless we killed a Moose very early, and as I lay in my bag, my focus changed sharply from Moose hunting to the "roaring rapids" that lay ahead. I was really looking forward to it and I knew it would be an adrenaline-packed adventure, but I was also aware how dangerous it could be.
It started snowing and blowing, ominously, as I lay there, and sleep did not come quick.
"You're getting two adventures for the price of one, a great hunt and a whitewater rafting trip!"
That's what my pilot had told me as we flew out twelve days ago. He made sure to swing a little lower and dip the wing on my side over the worst section of the canyon, on our way to the put in at the lake, just so I could get a very good look at exactly what I'd been wondering about for the past 3 years. And that brief aerial view of the tightly choked and raging white river was all I could think of as we broke camp the day before Moose season closed.
We tried calling a few more times but by mid-day, it was time to pull over, put on our drysuits, get a drink and a powerbar, and batten down the hatches.
Rich has run this 15 mile canyon every fall for the past 13 years. He's run it at flood stage, in the highest flow on record, and he's only ever been in the water once.
He had a sharp rock tear his raft years ago, and his client didn't realize the raft was sectional, that is, if one section leaks, it can still safely float. Well, the client panicked when he thought the raft was surely sinking, and jumped into the rapids. Rich momentarily lost his focus as he struggled to get the client back in the raft, and when he did he lost his line and flipped the raft.
That was many years ago, and before he started wearing drysuits for the float out. He and the client were both very, very lucky to survive and that one near fatal incident was all Rich needed to mark helmet and drysuit "mandatory" on his equipment list.
"I'm not planning on any swimming today but just in case, remember one thing, whatever you do, stay with the raft, at all costs, stay with the raft". These were Rich's directions as we prepared to enter the first hazardous rapid, aptly named "Preparation H" by the whitewater rafting maniacs that come all this way just to run the canyon.
I was relaxed, knowing that Rich had so much experience here, I was confidant in his ability to safely navigate through the canyon, and I was honestly looking forward to this part of the trip. But I knew that we were a very, very long way from any help, should things go wrong. The river temp was in the mid-30's and the air temps were about the same, so this was certainly no summer rafting tour. Rich had also explained that the canyon was very tight in most places, with no bank and sheer granite walls that towered above the flow. Simply walking down the river was not an option, and in many spots, just climbing out of the gorge was impossible.
I also knew that people had died running these rapids.
So although I was really, really looking forward to the excitement and adventure of it all, I knew that what we were about to do was very serious.
Here is Rich coming back to the raft after scouting his best line through "Preparation H".
It's called "Preparation H" because it's the very first section of serious whitewater in the 15 mile canyon, so you better be prepared, and because the huge boulder you see smack in the middle of the river will go right up your ass if you are not very, very careful, and a little lucky.
Some really nice pictures, good job.
Your adventure surely has me mesmerized and is taking up some of the slack and I will try to wait patiently for the rest.
I surely understand the need for "some quite time" in one's life. Time that recharges our souls, body and mind.
My best, Paul
We know you survived the rapids.... and there is only one day left!
Come ON Man!!! :)
Pretty funny I am seeing a lot of my gear choices in all these pictures...Busta's got some good stuff ;-)
As we pushed off, Rich slowly lined up the raft to catch a current tongue tearing to the right of the big, mid-stream boulder in the above photo. He’d ripped the hole in his raft years before on the sharp rocks lining the edge of the left side run, so he’s avoided that side ever since, even though that’s the way the river really wants you to go.
The thing I remember most about entering the first rapid was the roar of the river. It sounded like a freight train, terrifying because the blind dogleg right turn just below the big boulder hid everything beyond. The river just abruptly disappears on a horizon of big, scarey, foam-topped waves, and the frightening roar is the only clue you have about what’s around the corner.
Floating the big, slow pool dropping into to “Preparation H” was just like riding up the first slow incline of a huge roller coaster. You know that feeling, you’re moving agonizingly slow, as the coaster clicks closer and closer to the top, and the inevitable terrifying first drop. Well, this was just like that.
What happened next happened so fast that I’m not sure I can accurately describe it.
Rich attempted to clear the big boulder on the right side, but the racing current screaming to the left fought him the whole way. We were getting sucked right toward the giant, pickup-truck size boulder in the middle of the river. In the front of the raft I was relieved as I barely cleared the huge rock, but the racing left current caught the ass of the raft at the last possible moment and rode us straight up the front of the boulder.
I flew out of the raft before I even realized what was happening.
It was a brief and surreal moment. I don’t remember the river being cold, and I don’t remember being scared. All I recall was white foam, because that’s all I could see. An instant after I hit the water, the entire weight of the raft landed directly on my back and drove me toward the bottom of the river. I remember briefly thinking this must be what it feels like to get run over by a car, as the heavily loaded raft grinded over me.
Then suddenly, I was being swept along underwater with the raft, bouncing me off the submerged rocks of the rapids. At first, it felt like the raft was running quickly over me, but now, it felt like I was suddenly attached to the overturned raft, as it carried me, racing along through the current.
In fact, that’s exactly what was happening.
One of the oar locks had raked across the back of my PFD and caught me, and I was hooked to what was now the bottom of the upside down raft.
What I didn’t realize was how rough and dangerous the rapids immediately below the boulder were. And here I was, getting my money’s worth and then some, pinned under water by the heavy raft, bouncing, slamming and ripping through those icy rapids.
I vividly remember realizing that it was time to breath.
And as suddenly as I went underwater, I surfaced, gulping for air, fighting my way through the rapids. I can’t explain why but the river just coughed me up. Bubbles, lots and lots of bubbles, thats what I remember next, and the sight of the big green overturned raft bouncing downstream 20 or 30 feet below me.
“Stay with the raft!” Rich’s directions raced through my mind. I swam as hard as I could, but it was almost impossible to make any gain on the raft in the roaring rapids. My drysuit was now torn, from a hard rock impact below my right knee, and the leg was filling up with water, which made swimming much more difficult.
But I was gaining.
I remember finally being barely an arm’s length from the raft and the moment before I reached for it, we hit a wild wave and the raft was swept far beyond, and out of my reach. I had tried real hard to obey Rich’s rule but it was now time to get to shore.
I hadn’t seen a trace of Rich since we flipped.
I remember being exhausted and just dog paddling towards the rocky shoreline. And I remember watching the raft whip around a bend downstream just as I reached the bank. I dragged myself up on the rocks and tried to sort out what the hell had just happened.
“Stay with the raft” Rich’s directions echoed again. I ran, limping down the river, covering ground as fast as my aching leg and the rough terrain would allow. As I rounded the bend where I last saw the overturned raft disappear, I was relieved to see a long and safer, straight run and I was even more relieved to see Rich’s head bobbing alongside the raft 150 yards below me.
I knew Rich was still in trouble as I limped down the rocky bank, trying to keep up. Another dogleg blind turn, and white foamed rapid lay at the bottom of the long straight run. I watched as Rich (and I as well) slowly ran out of time. If he didn’t get the raft to shore before the next rapid we were both going to be in some very serious trouble.
Rich was halfway through the straight stretch as I saw him begin to ease the raft towards the bank. My mind raced as I calculated the rate of speed Rich was traveling and the amount of time and space he had left.
It was gonna be very close.
Keep it coming.
Well written too.
I will be popping some popcorn for this one. Not because it is a rehashed topic, but I am riveted! I might even buy some Mike and Ikes! Better than any TV show.
My background has me especially interested. I have done Alaskan moose hunts twice. Part of this hunt is floating through rapids on the way out. The rapids keep out a lot of hunters. This year, I couldn't shake the rapids. I would wake up having nightmares about getting through them. In the end, we easily got through them both time.
Obviously, bustaribs made it through but I can't wait to hear "the rest of the story"...
From the sounds of it, Rich was trapped beneath the raft a lot longer than I was. I was just getting to the point of panic when the raft and the river released me, but Rich was way past that point when he finally got out from under the raft and surfaced. He told me later that he was very nearly out of time.
Luckily, he came up right next to the raft and once on the surface, instinctively grabbed a hold before he lost it. As he floated through the long, straight section of the river below where we'd flipped, Rich tried desperately to steer the raft towards shore, but the strong current and heavy load made it nearly impossible.
I'm only about 5'9", I don't actually know how tall Rich is but you can tell from the photo above, taken the day we flew out, that he's not slam-dunking anytime soon. He told me that he was just amazed when the tips of his toes first brushed the river bottom. He knew then that he had a chance and started bobbing above and below the surface, slowly getting the brief footholds he needed to begin guiding the raft towards shore. It would have been easier if he was 6'6" but he used what he had and got the raft to the bank just in time.
By the time I reached him he was leaning heavily over the still upside-down raft with his head in his hands. I knew what I had gone through had been tough, but it was obvious that the strain on Rich had been a bit greater.
We both had close calls, but other than being bruised and battered a bit, we seemed fine and were very thankful to be on the shore with the raft, considering how much worse things could have been.
We were still a very long way from home and still had nearly all of the canyon to go, but we were safe, at least for the moment.
Great adventure...obviously glad you made it with no great harm. Being pitched into class V water is serious business...I can attest first-hand.
I don't think height has anything to do with it. I'm 6'4" and can slam dunk (or at least could the last time I tried about twenty years ago) and despite some serious pre-hunt training, he outpaced me on my sheep hunt like he was 8' tall.
I would never want to be in the position you found yourself in, but if I was, Rich is about the only person that I would want to be in it with. Glad you both made it out OK!
This story is a roller-coaster ... you never know what is coming next!
About that time, a big moose heard their teeth chattering and came to investigate.
Busta shot him.
Then loaded up the raft and floated out....
I'd rigged a GoPro mount for my whitewater helmet but my solar charger failed to charge the camera. That's a shame because the footage of our swim would have been fun to watch. I found the above clip online and think it's probably pretty close to what our wreck may have looked like, without the spectators of course. I know that the part at the 11 second mark is exactly what it felt like!
We had some trouble getting the raft turned back over but once we did, we were happy to see that most of our gear was still strapped down. A little soggy maybe, but at least we didn't loose anything important.
We had some minor injuries, my ribs were badly bruised, along with my right leg below my knee, and Rich was nursing a badly bruised thigh. Additionally, I was now pretty wet due to the damage to my drysuit.
We were almost 14 miles from the end of the canyon and still had some very serious whitewater to deal with. I was no longer looking forward to the adventure and adrenaline and was just hoping to make it through the rest of the gorge without any more swimming.
What followed were perhaps the longest two hours of my life. I don't know if it was my dropping core temperature or the fear of flipping the raft again, but I soon started shivering uncontrollably. The river never seemed to let up as we shot through one rapid after another. Narrow chutes, huge white waves, screaming drops and terrifying holes piled up, one after another.
I have never experienced the feeling of racing so sharply downhill, on water. The pitch of the grade that the river followed was hard to believe. I'm not sure what the vertical drop is per mile, but it has to be a lot.
Rich did an amazing job navigating the relentless canyon rapids, and I hung on as tightly as I could, shaking and chattering, knowing full well that another swim could be disastrous.
After what seemed like an eternity, the canyon finally let us go. We were both exhausted and very relieved to be back to a gentle flow at last.
I was probably hypothermic, or very close to it, and needed to get dry and warm fast. The rain that had been held at bay the entire trip, the rain I knew had to fall sooner or later, finally arrived, and of course, at the worst time. Most of gear had been carefully packed in dry bags, but despite our preparation, nearly everything was damp, at least, and in some cases, drenched.
We pulled off early and struggled to make camp and get a big fire going.
Although we still had a few hours of daylight left, Moose season was over for us, unless a big bull decided to commit suicide and walk up to our bonfire. Frankly, killing a Moose was no longer even on my mind, I was just happy to be out of the raft and off the river, warming up in front of the fire.
Thankfully, my sleeping bag was pretty dry, and I crawled into early that night. Rich wasn't far behind me. As I laid there listening to the rain pelt the tent I heard Rich start to snore very quickly. "Did you hear that?" Rich said. "Did I hear you snoring?", I responded. "That wasn't me", Rich said, "That was a Grizzly and he sounded pretty close". "Where's the gun?", I said. "It's in the boat!", Rich replied. "well go get it!!!", I said.
Rich ran out into the rain and thankfully was back very quickly. He racked a round into the chamber and laid the rifle between us. "The good news is, there is a 50/50 chance that the bear will grab me, not you, if he crashes the tent. If he grabs you I'll shoot him, If he grabs me, PLEASE DON"T SHOOT ME!", and with that advice, Rich quickly fell asleep.
I laid there and listened to the Bear's low growl for quite a while, until it finally drifted out of hearing range. Then I swallowed a Valium and knocked myself out!
Top it off with a ticked off grizzly; I'm not sure I would sign up for a return...I'm kind of a puss :-)
Busta, Great story.. Thanks.
What a great time and great memories! I would love to do this hunt.
Your scenic pictures are incredible!
Despite the unfilled tag, this hunt truly was an adventure, and one I will never forget. Make no mistake, I do these hunts to kill an animal with my bow, but over the years, my goals have clearly changed.
An unfilled tag is no longer the tragedy it used to be.
I think I’ve finally come to realize that the adventure truly is as important as the hunting. I know that’s easier said following an unsuccessful hunt, but I do believe it now. A Bighorn Sheep was the animal of my dreams for most of my life. And when I finally killed a big Ram it honestly was the peak of my hunting career. But what happens after reaching the peak? The fact is, it is all downhill after that. Because of that I’ve lost a bit of the hunting drive and ambition I’ve had my whole life. I do not live, sleep and breathe it anymore. Something has been missing over the past two years since killing that Ram.
This hunt helped me re-connect to what I’ve been missing. And it wasn’t the Moose, it was the experience.
Alaska is the wildest place we have left in our country. And when you're there you'll know it, you'll feel it. It's a vast, unforgiving place, where your mistakes matter. But even in Alaska, it can be hard to find good hunting, hard to get away from areas where others compete and deplete. You can do it, but there is a price to pay. Rich Moran specializes in finding these places, going to the extreme sometimes, to find adventure and to find quality hunting.
Running that canyon following our swim, shivering uncontrollably and dreading the possibility of another accident, I swore I wouldn’t consider ever doing this trip again. Of course my perspective has changed since returning home. I’m re-connected now. There’s an open space on my wall where my Moose will someday hang. I look forward to filling that spot but it is far more important for me to fill the space in me, the thing that has been missing for the past couple years.
Another “Roaring Rapids Moose Hunt” would easily do the trick.
When people say that and mean it it changes everything going forward. Good for you.
Glad to see you both made it out safely!
Good Luck on your return trip!!
Best of Luck, Jeff (Bowsite Sponsor)
What type of rain gear did you take along and how many days did it rain while you were on your hunt?
A friend of mine and I did pretty much the same type of float trip and it rained everyday except for 1 day. Goretech clothing didn't work past the first day of rain. Shivering and being cold was normal.
Did you lose any equipment when your raft turned over? Also, did you step into any of the grass covered water filled ditches or trenches along the river that can go over your head? What fish did you eat the most from the river?
I couldn't agree more on the lunch surprises. His smoked salmon is incredible!
Great story - thanks for sharing!!
And I'm relieved to be back to my old ways, spending way too much time shooting my bow, reading Bowsite posts and dreaming about future adventures.
I'm thinking about applying for a late season Chugach archery only Dall Sheep permit and hope to have another adventure with Rich to look forward to next fall.
Yes sir, big time understatement right there! Thanks very much for posting this; you're a fine story teller and I love the pics. Thank God you guys are OK and live to experience more adventures.
Best of luck in the future!
What an effin adventure! Maybe the best I've ever read.
The details of your journey as a bowhunter may have been the best part! Well, after almost dying, of course!
Happy I've been on an adventure or 2 with ya!
Thank you for taking the time to document and share this!
I can't believe that I missed this thread!!!
Incredible experience plus even better perspective about things at the end! Glad things worked out Chris & thank you for sharing it with us!
I hope that by bringing this thread back up, somebody else who hasn't read it will get as much enjoyment out of it as I & lots of other guys did.
Had a similar adventure years ago...as violent as that water can get, one of the things that probably saved your butt, was how well Rich had everything strapped down. Damp gear can be dried, lost gear cannot....especially the gun, dry clothes, and fire starting gear. Did you have most stuff in waterproof bags before running the rapids? Did you guys lose any gear?
Once you tore your drysuit, did it fit tight enough that the water didn't get into your body core, and was confined to your leg? If not, did you drain the suit before finishing the canyon run....or by then had it warmed up to the point where you left it as is.....since wetsuits work differently than the drysuits, I wondered what course of action you chose....
Congrats on another awesome adventure!!
Great adventure! I'm glad that Busta & Rich survived it to be able to share this story!
Great story covered with excellent photographs on an epic adventure.
I was sitting on the edge of my seat as I read. I actually had to put a sweatshirt on when you hit the water as it seemed to get a bit colder in our home! Thank you for sharing and sure glad you both walked away at the end of it.
I was thinking t0 myself... I wish I'd get to the point where achieving my goal and killing what I'm hunting didn't matter. That would be nice.
I thought... I'd have went after that monster bull if it killed me. Where there's a will there's a way. Especially after I saw that he had barely moved a day later. He was begging for me to shoot him! Once I see an animal of that caliber it's really hard to pull back on the reigns.
But I've stomped tundra before and I know what he means. But still... I wasn't even there and that damn bull is haunting me!!!!
The other thing I was wondering is... next time will Rich go to the right or left of that boulder?
Have I thought about returning for another try? Hell yes, I think about it all the time. A Moose is the last NA big game animal left on my wish list. And I hate having any unfinished business. Actually, that's not completely true, unfinished business gives me a reason to continue to dream rather than to just reflect. I do hope to get back on the river with Rich and finish what we started.
Stop a little further upstream and kill that monster for me.