Journal Entries from Sheep Survey 2013

In August of 2013, I conducted a ground survey by foot in the area. Myself and a fellow hiker backpacked 25 days and traveled approximately 250 gps miles carrying Alpaca packrafts. We hiked up a large tributary and paralleled the continental divide to the east. We floated out the lower part of the river. We looked for overall sheep numbers, lamb to ewe ratios, recruitment of upcoming rams, and trophy rams to be harvested. What we saw was outstanding! Our overall population of sheep was strong with great lamb counts and survivability. There were large nursery herds of lambs and
ewes. We observed many rams, of all ages, from small groups to groups of over 40. From the ground, I saw 12 trophy rams, with 3 of them being over 40”

August 3, 2013

Flew from Fairbanks to the Canning watershed with Wrights Air Service in a Helios-Courier. We flew up Spring Creek and landed on the main strip of the Marsh Fork, dropped a bear barrel with resupply and pack rafts. Flew down valley and over to the Canning where Jack and I were dropped off. The weather was calm and sunny, 65 degrees. Flying in is humbling knowing we have 30 days of food and 200 plus miles to travel out. I said to Jack, who accompanied me on the trip, “there is nothing more humbling than watching an airplane take off leaving us behind at the beginning of an expedition style trip”. You instantly think “if you don’t have it now, you don’t need it and fear for gear failures”. The topography is made to hunt sheep with open bottoms that climb sharply through rough rock talus slopes benching off to rolling green hillsides. Jack is quiet and I can tell he is absorbing where he is at, but humbled. We have 8 days of food on us to pack over to our resupply, 50 air miles. We started up valley late afternoon crossing multiple braids of the Canning River.

August 4, 2013

Camped last night 3 ½ air miles up from drop-off point heading up West Fork of the Canning River. Sunny morning with scattered clouds and mild temperatures. Buggy with light wind out of the south, down valley. Last night scattered showers. No sign of humans and eager to head up valley. Pack feels good approx. 75lbs. I have a small cut on my heel and wet boots. Jack is still quiet and his pack appears to bother him. He is probably carrying just under 60lbs. He is using a Mystery Ranch internal frame pack. I worked on getting it to sit better on his back, so far I am not impressed with the pack. There are great sheep trails traversing just above the river. Our goal for the day is 10 gps miles.

August 5, 2013

Sunny scattered clouds, lows in the 40s. Camped on green knoll east of river at the base of a side drainage. Above camp there was a band of sheep feeding. One full curl ram, half curl and 7 ewes. Yesterday, we saw 1 adult ewe down valley feeding low. Two rams high feeding under the spine of a ridge. Fresh grizzly tracks traveling up valley. I swapped packs with Jack. His pack seemed to bother him. His pack is extremely uncomfortable compared to my Barney’s pack. We made it 5gps miles yesterday. We are still traveling up valley. The walking is excellent, some of the best I have ever had in Alaska. Very sheepy. We are seeing scattered bands of sheep along the main valley. There is Aufies (sheets of ice) scattered across the valley bottom. The ice is up to 6’ thick and caused by overflow in the spring. We are heading for a high pass today. Climbed 2000’ of elevation out of the valley bottom to the west. 19 rams above us, mixed with all ages. Scattered showers with broken clouds. Reached top of ridge close to midnight. Set up camp overlooking beautiful drainage to the west. Watched a full curl ram and a sickle horn close to camp. While setting up camp we had 7 rams come over the ridge and bed near camp. The largest ram in the group was ¾ curl. We watched two rams butt heads and it echoed through the box canyon. I went down ridge to glass at 1a.m. and watched 7 sheep in a group feed across valley. There were 4 more off to the side and I am sure they were bigger rams. 2 large rams bedded in the rocks above camp under the peak.

August 6, 2013

Woke up to sprinkles on tent fly. Just a squall and it quickly cleared. I glassed from the tent up valley to spot two large rams, both full curl. Feeding in the bottom below camp was one very large ram over 40” flaring at the tips with large bases. Up valley were two more mature rams. Up on the west side there were 6 large rams bedded in the rocks. All were legal rams. Three of them were old broomed rams. Our goal today is 5 gps miles up valley and camp at last water below the continental divide. Had to be 65 degrees mid-day. No sign of predators. We hiked up left fork camped on last flat bench. We saw a ewe at camp. I can tell we are climbing out of sheep country into black rock with little feed. There are great sheep trails.

August 7, 2013

Packed up spike camp and climbed for low pass at 5,500’. Easy climb but no sheep. Some tracks but little feed. Windy in the pass, 40 knots. I want to head over to the south but the drainage cliffs out and doesn’t appear to be navigable. We’re going to drop to the west into a fork of the Marsh Fork. Great sheep habitat. Camped along drainage. Beautiful evening.

August 8, 2013

I feel healthy and in shape. Jack is showing wear. His feet are suffering from wet boots and his back is sore from pack. We found a nice ram dead from old age. He made it 11 years and was 38” long and broomed on one horn. Great walking. We should make it to resupply tonight and we are looking forward to bread and cheese. We’re trucking now down valley.

August 9, 2013

Camped on Marsh Fork strip. On strip there were two super cubs with one inbound. I visited with the pilots and they were friendly. They had been hunting the area to the south for the last few years and shot nice sheep. I asked the pilot to fly an ammo can with garbage out for us. I traded whiskey. Shortly after, a Cessna 206 from 70 Degrees North landed with two sheep hunters and then quickly returned with two more. There were 16 total sheep hunters on the strip, camping. I could see 6 rams from the strip, two were full curls. Across valley I could see 20 plus sheep with one being a large ram low on the mountain. We ate real food and relaxed all day. Talked with most resident sheep hunters. Most were eager but ill prepared for the country. That evening at 8p.m. we packed out and went light. We slept in the creek edge that night at midnight. We were at 4000’ camped under sheep. ½ curl and ¾ curl ram and 12 ewes and lambs. Rained through the night. We had climbed through a tight gorge to where we camped.

August 10, 2013

Awoke early and peeked up valley. The bowl was full of sheep feeding. One real nice ram 37” long that we had not seen the night before. We walked up to 200 yds. and took video of him. He didn’t seem to care we were there. Lots of sheep scattered around. The weather was colder but quickly cleared. We climbed for a side pass at 6000’. We side hilled across a mountain on loose scree and we could overlook the upper Marsh Fork. Mountains as far as you could see. I would love to get up in some of the side drainages. Lots of sheep beds. We could see sheep below us and one small ram. We dropped off losing elevation. Seen one ½ curl and I am sure he had never seen a human, he didn’t know what to think. We took photos of him at 20 feet. We worked our way down a side chute through a canyon that was very broken with large rock cliffs between grass ledges. Rough ground and tough going. Lots of 50’ water falls with no way around. We had to keep back tracking to navigate. We really need ropes to be here. Long day camped at midnight.

August 11, 2013

Residents were camped up valley from Marsh Fork strip. Group of four who flew in with 70 Degree North on the 9th. They had only made it 2 gps miles from the strip. Rained most of the night but nice by morning. Slept in and ate lots of food. I feel good and strong. I shuttled gear to river, two trips. Now I have a bear barrel to carry the remainder of the trip. We walked the pack boats down river 7gps miles. We could see sheep low on the mountain along river. The river is very braided and we camped at dark. More water coming in here and tomorrow ought to be better going. We were gaining water all the time.

August 12, 2013

Jack’s bag is wet and we attempted to dry it mid-morning. I had wet cloths. Two hunters walked over to talk. They were frustrated we were there and they were camped up valley. They had hunted here six years ago and had both shot sheep. They were surprised to see us. On the strip there were two more tents, where-abouts of the owners unknown. He said there was also a barrel with paddles stashed and he thought they were ours. We loaded pack boats and floated down river. Plenty of water now. The canyon has narrowed back up and not braided. We floated 7 miles. Seen 3 rams, two were ½ curls and 1 very large 42”. The rams appeared to be feeding on minerals low in the valley. Seen multiple rams while floating. Six very “sheepy” canyons. They would be great to hunt up. We don’t have the time, we have to keep traveling. We had a nice fire with down wood. Great sheep trail traversing the valley above camp. We hiked over and took pictures of rams. Lightly rained all day, definitely a chill in the air with mountain fog.

August 13, 2013

Dry socks last 10 minutes in this country. Fogged in and getting colder. Built fire in morning and watched sheep above camp. Wind out of the north first time all trip. Put on another layer. We have used 120 minutes so far checking in every day with our new camp coordinates. Our supplies are getting low. Jack ate all of his energy bars and we were on a quota of 3 a day. We have 20 freeze dried meals left, 4 energy bars, a little peanut butter and cream cheese. Water is high and fast.

August 14, 2013

Left camp floating down river through boulder gardens and rapids. High water from the rain. Caught two grayling for lunch with my spinner and line that I had in my First Aid Kit. Lots of sheep on side drainages. One group of 200 sheep. There are lots of sheep scattered feeding. Lamb to ewe ratios look real good with many yearlings. That’s good. I am very impressed with the overall population of sheep. We have been traveling fast on the water and pretty wet and cold, not really stopping to glass much. Wind 50 knots with ice.

August 15, 2013

Spiked late no visibility. Morning was nice with lots of warm sunshine. Jack is physically beat up. He doesn’t complain but he also doesn’t talk much. I hiked up out of camp to glass. Great side canyons to hunt with great sheep habitat. Mountains are still socked in. Floated down valley through more boulders. Really need a wetsuit for this kind of boating.

August 16, 2013

Camped along creek very wet. 50 knot winds with ice. Waves were breaking over bow of boat. No gravel bars left and water everywhere. Everything is wet. We’re a bit hypothermic and Jack is in bad shape. I got him hot water and food. He was visibly shaking.

August 17, 2013

Awoke to blue sky and fair winds. Cooked Grayling I had caught over fire and attempted to dry some clothes. Beautiful spot but we have to keep moving. We still have a 100 gps miles to go and less than 6 days of food. Cameras are wet even with pelican cases. We hope to make it to the confluence with the Canning River.

August 18, 2013

The Canning is swollen muddy body of water. Surprised by the hydraulics and power of the river. We are paddling little and traveling fast. Sheep hunting looks good to the west but still in the clouds. We have been living on one mountain house freeze dried a day. The thought of real food at a real table with chairs is on our minds. Jack is handling his boat well. We are planning to float 15 miles downriver to a place to portage. Camped on a gravel bar off of the Canning River. The rugged mountains have turned to rolling hills and tundra.

August 19, 2013

Packed camp and started our portage over to the Kavik River. Tough going on the tundra. We’re showing the effects low food and are lacking energy. Jack is physically beat up. We camped on top of a ridge. A few straggling caribou in the vicinity.

August 20, 2013

Awoke to fog. Hiked out of camp pacing ourselves. I was counting 100 paces then short break. Hiked down out of fog mid-afternoon. Spotted some nice bull caribou down river. We stalked down and Jack shot the biggest bull. I set up camp while he cleaned the bull. We had tenderloins for dinner. Rained through the night and turned to snow.

August 21, 2013

Shuttled boats and meat down river to where we could gain enough water to carry the big load of meat. For breakfast had Buffalo Chicken freeze dried and backstraps. Floated down river. Very cold with freezing rain and snow, gusting winds. Many nice bulls along river. Bad visibility. Jack seen a black wolf along the river, first one we had seen. Camped on gravel bar with good drift wood for fire. Ate steaks over fire.

August 22, 2013

We have 25 miles to go to make it to Kavik. Floated hard and dragged boats on braided part of river. Stopped mid-day to warm up by fire and eat meat. Camped on bank of river.

August 23, 2013

Broke camp early and our goal is Kavik. Horrible weather, blowing snow and ice. Cameras don’t work anymore. You can tell it is an Arctic storm. Brutal, couldn’t look up head down and paddle into the north wind. I kept climbing up on cut bank to try to get a visual of Kavik. No signs. I called my wife to have her give me accurate way point for gps. Less than a ¼ mile of visibility. Made it to Kavik at 7p.m. Walked in and enjoyed the external heat. Sue Aikens in Kavik said we were one of two groups to show up in Kavik by ground since she has been there, maybe 6 years (?). We enjoyed real food while sitting at a table.