Hunting in a Hurricane

Hunting in a Hurricane

Written by: James Nash 

I glanced at the weather forecast on my phone after muting the alarm and watched the graphics of a storm with hurricane force winds moving north towards Kodiak Island, Alaska. 

I had 36 hours to climb a mountain through vegetation I’d never experienced before, find and kill a mountain goat and get back off before the storm hit, or risk being stuck in a tent while being buffeted by 90mph winds and inches of rain for an untold number of days.

I thought back to 2011 during my time as a US Marine Corps tank platoon commander. I had been at the tank gunnery range for a month with limited cell service and no way of really knowing what was going on in the world. The tanks had to be ferried across a straight of water back to the main portion of the base, and I recall being transported by one of those precarious ferries, sitting on top of the turret of my tank looking at a darkening sky to the south when I got the news that a category “oh shit” hurricane was due to make landfall the next day on the base and the little island I lived on. In the next 24 hours, I felt like the forecasts for the strength and timing of that storm changed half a dozen times. The storm hit. I spent weekends for the next month running a chainsaw to help folks with tree damage, but altogether it could’ve been a lot worse. I came away with a fresh understanding of big wind and low confidence in the accuracy of hurricane forecasts.

With that understanding in mind, I now had to decide how to pack for this hunt, with the knowledge that this storm could speed up, slow down, get mean, or completely fizzle. Most dangerous course of action: The storm gets bigger, makes landfall early tomorrow and I have to figure out how to survive in it. Most likely course of action: the storm does as predicted. Marine Corps doctrine and my personal experience says plan for the worst but don’t plan for every contingency. Execute a simple plan, boldly.

I added three days of food to my pack, put on a pair of lightweight Hoplite merino bottoms under my Takur pants, Hoplite quarter zip top under the Arma hoodie and put my Takur and Ghar jackets inside my pack. Besides the gear, I had my normal hunting kit and an extra pair of socks. If I brought gear for every possible problem, I wouldn’t be able to carry it up the mountain.

Packed and ready for the most predictable conditions, Nash sets out on Kodiak Island, AK.

Not knowing what the climb was going to be like, we took off. Starting out, I wore a pair of Simms G4 waders and boots. The island had been getting a lot of rain, but the creek coming out of the mountain range was going to be a good route to avoid brush for a distance of about 1.5 miles. At that point, we ditched the waders and wading boots in a tree and I put the Takur jacket and pants on with just the Hoplite top and bottom underneath.

Takur Ghar is a mountain in Afghanistan where US Air Force, SEAL’s and Rangers had a short but intense battle with the Taliban in March of 2002. Although seven US troops lost their lives, their brothers won the day and destroyed the enemy position. As the namesake for Kryptek's Takur series, it is good to remember the hardships endured by the men who made that mountain famous. And if you ever feel tired or conditions are just too tough, think of them and get on with your task. As such, I pushed on through the tumultuous weather.

The climb was choked with brush. Visibility was limited to three feet or less in most places. The verticality and slick hillside made progress difficult as well. The rain saturated hillside gave way on more steps than what held, and great caution had to be used for which branches you could grab hold of due to the Devil’s Club and Salmonberry thorns. Devil’s Club is covered in spines that are noxious and irritating; the only portion of the plant not covered in spikes are the berries and the roots. If ever there was going to be a test for rain gear, this was it.

Pushing through rain-soaked thorns and brush proved the ultimate test of Nash's Kryptek rain gear.

We climbed through the brush in the rain for four hours before reaching the summit of a ridge where we could clear the alders and start glassing. I immediately started seeing mountain goats. Now we could move fast along the openings and into the rocky country of the mountain peaks. One of the great advantages of the fabric used in the Takur gear is how it expands when warm, allowing sweat to escape easily. On the other hand, when I stopped to glass with wind hitting me from all directions, the fabric cooled and condensed, keeping my body heat in. I was amazed at my degree of comfort in these difficult and changing conditions.

We traversed the edge of a basin, and after spotting a nice billy, climbed into a near vertical cliff face. To my puckering disappointment, the rock near the summit of the ridge, where it was steepest, crumbled everywhere I could reach a handhold. I slid backwards with my knees grating into the rock and my fingertips and toes digging into whatever would hold. Eventually I got over the top, made an approach on the Mountain Goat, and killed him with two well placed shots at close range. The first shot was to destroy his lungs, the second was to anchor him on the hill to keep him from sliding and tumbling off the mountain.

Despite challenging conditions, Nash connected with a beautiful Mountain Goat.

I skinned, quartered, deboned and removed rib meat into the packs. We spent the night in the basin below then headed down through the brush again. This time I slid on my butt, fell on my face and caught thorns and limbs even worse than on the way up. My Garmin InReach weather told me we had three hours until the storm made landfall, and I could feel the wind freshening and see the sky’s color turn into a bruise.

Between the storm approaching and the downhill climb with bloodied gear and a heavy pack full of meat on an island containing the largest bears in the world, I had plenty of incentive to hustle.

Once at the bottom, we dawned waders and followed the stream out, surging more water now than yesterday. Throughout all of this, I was never cold, wet, hot or uncomfortable. I expected my gear to be as badly mangled as the Taliban who tried to fight the US military on Takur Ghar, but like the US troops who fought on that Afghan peak, my gear was undefeated, as was I, victorious with my first Mountain Goat.

Nash, claiming victory against harsh weather, precarious conditions and a beautiful Mountain Goat.

Posted in Stories from the Hunt