Friday, September 9, 2011

Under Cover at the Triple B Wild Horse Gather ...

(2011.AUG.27 - SAT) -

Just before sundown on the evening of Friday, 2011.AUG.26, I was dropped off on the western side of the Egan Mountains, not far from where Sun J/BLM had established their trap site, the previous afternoon. I carried a small tarp, bedroll, thermos, four bottles of water, and some granola bars. And, of course, my camera gear, and a small 2-way radio.

My plan was to spend the night on the hillside, and be there under cover, before gather activities commenced in the morning. Initially, my plan had included another person, and an ATV. The second person did not arrive in time, and I changed my mind about the ATV at the drop-off. It would be to noisy and too visible. I later determined that would also have been true of any extra people. Solo worked out just fine.

As it was rapidly growing dark, and there would be no moon, I walked just a short distance, found a suitable juniper tree to shelter under, tucked my sleeping bag between the folds of the tarp, and crawled in. I was exhausted from the previous days' activities, and had no difficlty falling asleep, even as I heard a few raindrops beginning to pelt my plastic tarp.

When I awoke, it was still dark, but the Milky Way was a white lamp. I couldn't feel my legs, and took some time to uncurl and get the circulation flowing. I checked my camera for the time: 3:18 a.m.  Other team members would already be on their way to the morning briefing in Ely. I rolled my sleeping bag into the tarp - dull side out - tied a white trash bag to a lower limb (so as to make locating it easy, later on). I poured a cup of coffee and left the heavy stainless steel thermos on the bedroll, along with 2 bottles of water. Before the coffee in my cup was cold, I would be tired of carrying it, and left the mug on a the crown of short juniper tree. Maybe I would get it back. Maybe not.

Although it was still dark, the ground was light in contrast to the knee-high sagebrush, so I was able to pick a trail through. I thought about rattlesnakes, and decided to trust thet would all be sleeping in their holes, this time of day. Resolved to not shriek, if I happened to encounter one.

Skirting along the treeline, I began working my way north and west, aiming in the general direction of a gap on the horizon, that I thought to be northwest of the trap.

Ideally, I wanted to be as close to the trap as possible, while still maintaining visibilty of the wider field of operations the pilot would be flying in. Although I would keep a good distance from any activities (so as not to be accused of disrupting the gather), I hoped to go undetected.

After about an hour, I saw a light emerging from the direction of Hercules Gap. Behind it, another .... and hence, the convoy became visible, and I could see them advancing toward me, as the horizon began to lighten. I moved deeper into some trees and continued toward the road. I had lost my bearings, and was not sure now, where I was in relation to the trap. I could tell by the changes in terrain, that I was approaching the road. "Creator, guide my steps." 

As the line of trucks turned, I realized that I had walked farther than I should have, and would be too far north. I began working my way back, now being more careful to stay close to the trees, as the first rays of sun had broken over the crest of the mountain.

Soon, I heard a pickup go past on the road. A ranger's white rig pulled up into small a canyon and stopped. After a while, he drove back to the road and parked facing the trap (to the south). He was so close to me, I could hear his radio, and I nearly "surrendered", for thinking that he must have spotted me.  When nobody yelled, or came looking, I grinned and shrugged just a tiny bit smugly, for having pulled off the maneuver, so far. I deer crept a ways up the hill, moving from one tree to the next. I didn't want Mr. Ranger to hear my shutter. (Eventually, I devised a "muffler"  by pushing the behemoth lens down through the sleeve of my stretchy camo sweatshirt.)
This would be the outside perimeter of operations, and since I was confident that I would have a clear field of vision, I determined to stay just beyond the edge of it. I was doing everything within the guidelines of observation AT the trap; EXCEPT keeping both feet inside the restrictive fluorescent tape boundary that I later heard BLM people refer to as "The Box". I was dressed in camo, and as often as possible, I followed Ruth Thompson's edict: "BECOME the tree." 

Before long, I heard the helicopter approaching. He swept over the trap site and proceeded up to a location that appeared to be about where I had left my kit.
I thought about my friends just over the ridge, and wondered if they could hear any reports on their handler's radio, of some crazy person skulking around in the trees.
Indeed, he must have seen my trashbag flag, and gone to investigate. People observing from the trap later commented that he had hovered in one spot for quite a long time, and that they had worried then, that my cover had been blown.