I was only a kid. My best guess was that I was somewhere between the ages of 8-10 when our paths crossed in a very unique situation, in a very special place.
We’ve always hunted the high alpine around the Lillooet area. We typically go late in the season, when the temperature drops and the snow flies.
The snow is deep and over your boots. The mountain environment in November is rugged and remote to say the least. In order to pull it off you need to be well organized and prepared, or just really gritty and insanely tough.
It takes a full day of travel starting in the dark and finishing in the dark. In order to access these locations, we usually drive the truck and horse trailer for several hours out of our small town on logging roads into where most people would describe as “the middle of nowhere.” When we get to as far as we can drive, we load up the animals and head out even further on foot.
Then we climb. Up and up to places no machine can take us (minus a helicopter). Typically we climb 3,000 vertical feet over another several hours until we reach our sheltered camping area. From then we will spend every daylight hour reaching out covering ground and scouring with our binoculars.
A place of character building. There are many challenges to camping in this kind of environment. It helps to keep moving. If you can’t keep moving to stay warm it’s best to light a fire while your fingers still work to run the lighter. A lighter is the biggest key to survival.
It was after dark as we sat around a raging bonfire. You could hear the wind howl along the ridge systems that surrounded and protected our camp.
Just out of the warm glow of the fire, the silhouette of a man on a horse appeared against the white snow visible in the moonlight.
His name was Shadow. A leathery faced native with no toque. His chin and ears tucked in and sunk tight to his jean jacket. His collar popped for extra shielding to the back of his head and neck.
He didn’t say much. Just that he had been caught up on the ridge above camp when the darkness set in and held him at the mercy of the mountain. 3 hours from the truck with no head light or gear for a stay over… and then he spotted our fire from far off.
He was our special guest. We tried to give him some hot food but he wouldn’t except it. He just pulled out a bag of jerky and trail mix and snacked on that instead.
He was just happy to be there. As we took turns telling stories and basking in the heat, he just sat quietly smiling and laughing along. I remember being especially interested in and quizzing him on his rifle.
It was a 30-30 Winchester. A true cowboy gun. And it matched mine except his had a scope.
I remember, because I was at the stage in my life where I knew it was time to start using a high powered rifle, but I was runty and intimidated by the kick they delivered. Non the less, the 30-30 is a good starter gun, and he had one just like mine except better.
When the time came to go to sleep he again would not accept charity and sleep in the tent with the rest of us. Instead he just laid down some horse blankets next to the fire and pulled his hat down over his eyes.
I can remember being in the tent warm in my bag as the light from the fire began to dim less and less. The fire slowly dying down to almost nothing. The darkness rolled in again.
Off in the distance a pack of wolves let out a faint howl from up on the ridge.
We all could hear it. It was like someone flipped on the light switch. Almost instantly the fire became huge as Shadow stuffed the reserve firewood on to the coals. Within seconds the flames ragged. The entire camp alive and awake with the roar of the blaze.
Dad says that he kept that thing stoked all night. As we slept the fire danced.
The next morning when daylight broke the man mounted his horse and rode out back to the truck and home to the reserve.
It must have been 7 or 8 years since that meeting when he rolled into the ginseng farm looking for work in the hot August sun. It was a no brainer for the old man to give him farm duties. No resume required.
When I got thrown in the mix, I had doubled in age and was transitioning into manhood. I always got put with Shad, and that was fine by me too. We formed a bond that night on “pig spine” mountain that I will never forget.
Your story has impacted my life, and it’s an honour to share it with the others. I miss you brother.