As my feet slip out from beneath me on the steep grass slope, I automatically put my arm down to break my fall. I hear a snap. And then another. I let out a blood-curdling scream and see TJ running in my direction. I look down and realize that I’m lying on the ground with my full weight, including a 60-pound pack, on top of my left arm. TJ rushes to my side and says, “Get up!” I look at him and reply, “I think I just broke my arm.”
This all started earlier that year when a friend invited us on a mountain goat hunt in BC. In August, we met up with him in Smithers. He advised that plans had been changed because the usual trail into camp had been wiped out in a flood. He had devised another plan to hike the ridgeline and then drop down into camp. We spent the day climbing and, once we got to the ridgeline, realized that it would be an impossible task. We spent the night on the mountain and hatched a new plan. We got up early and hiked out, made some quick calls and, in no time, we were in a float plane heading to another camp in the same area.
Once we landed, we re-organized our gear and headed up to make camp just above the treeline. After many hours of climbing, creek crossings, fighting dense bush and swamp, we made it to a good spot to set up camp. Our daily ritual was to climb a peak and glass. We ate all of our meals at the top just so we could avoid the mosquitos. I even shared my mosquito head net with Jet, our trusty pack dog, just to give him some temporary relief. Day in and day out we climbed, but we didn’t see one goat. On the last day, TJ finally saw a nanny in his spotting scope. Unfortunately, it was about a kilometre out of our huntable area. Sunburnt, bruised, bug bitten and exhausted, we headed down the mountain. Our time was up. Goats 1, Vanessa 0.
Our buddy contacted us a month later and said that they fixed the trail into the camp we originally tried to get to. I arranged the time off work and we headed back to Smithers. We were all really optimistic that we were going to be successful this time out. The going was hard. There were a lot of blown-down trees that were covered in moss and everything was super slippery and wet. I couldn’t count the amount of times we all slipped and fell but managed to get going again without any injuries. As we climbed down a big sandy cliff to a ravine, and then up the other side, we knew we weren’t far from camp.
We’d made it through the toughest part, and it should have been smooth sailing from there on out. But, just as that thought went through my head, the mossy ground from beneath my feet gave way and I flew through the air, landing on my left side. I knew all was not right with the world after I heard the bones snap in my left arm. TJ rolled me onto my right side, slowly pulled out my left arm and rolled up my sleeve to reveal that my forearm was in the shape of a ‘W.’ He got to work finding four sticks and gave me one to put between my teeth and said, “This is going to really hurt, I’m going to straighten your arm.”
After my break was splinted and wrapped, he grabbed his long-sleeved pullover and tied my arm across my chest with the left wrist fastened to my right shoulder. The decision was made to split my pack between the two of them and hike back out. It was 4 p.m. and we had a long trek out. But, the only other option was to stay the night on the mountain and hope the weather was good enough for a helicopter to come in and get us. I was pretty certain I could make it out. After hiking for three hours, we made it back to the quad, followed by an hour quad ride back the truck, slow travel on a 17-kilometre logging road, and a three-hour drive and we were at the Smither’s Hospital by approximately 1 a.m. X-rays determined that I had broken my radius and ulna and smashed all of the bones in my wrist. They attempted to set it, casted it and sent me to my hotel. The next morning, the surgeon phoned and said I would need surgery. We headed immediately to the Banff Springs Hospital, 12 hours away. It was another overnight in a hotel, with lots of drugs on board, and back at the hospital the next day. They decided to set it again and see if it would hold. Unfortunately, after a couple of weeks, they advised that the bones were caving in on themselves and I would need surgery. Goats 2, Vanessa 0.
Not about to give up on my mountain goat quest, the following year I booked a hunt with an outfitter to try for a coastal mountain goat. We drove to Terrace to meet up with the outfitter and, from there, took a boat into camp. Now, I grew up in Victoria, BC, so I was no stranger to the coast and what kind of weather it could dish out. We met up with another couple and headed off to our lodge. It was raining hard and there was a small craft warning out. The small boat was being tossed about and we hung on for dear life. TJ caught me looking at the shoreline and asked if I was trying to figure out how to get up the mountain. I replied “No, I’m trying to figure out how we are going to get from the boat to shore.” From the moment we arrived until we left, we had zero visibility and rain for 10 days straight. Goats 3, Vanessa 0.
I was at the Sheep Show in Reno the following year and commiserating with Mac Watson and Luke Vince about my difficulty finding a good old billy. I kept being told that most people can get a goat in a day. Easy peasy. Luke suggested I book with him, as he has lots of goats in his area. I warned him that I have a bit of a goat curse and it seems to hit the people I hunt with as well. He laughed it off and, come October, I was on a float plane to his camp. It should have been a warning when there was a sticker on the dash of the pilot’s plane that said, “Don’t do anything stupid.”
As it was late in the day, we quickly set up camp, had supper and glassed the hillsides around camp. The next morning, we took a small boat and rowed down a river to glass the mountain range behind camp. We quickly spotted a number of goats on the mountain range down the valley. We hatched a plan to go back to camp, pack up the bare necessities and head to that valley for a few days. Both Luke and TJ were pretty optimistic that we would hike in, get the goat, and be back to camp in no time. I wasn’t so sure.
First thing the next morning, we headed out. We took the little boat as far as we could and then went on foot. After many hours of bushwhacking through the ankle-breaking alders, we made it to a “flat” spot. It was across from the mountain range where we’d seen the goats the day before. It would make a perfect spot to glass from and make a plan before heading up. The next morning, we saw the goat right where we left him the day before. We made our way across the valley and headed up towards the billy. All of a sudden, we noticed a black bear, just above us, going after my goat! The goat spooked and headed up and over the mountain. My heart sank. I really thought that might have been the one.
Luke started glassing and saw another goat further down the mountain range. We started across and ran into boulders the size of houses, with crevasses that could easily swallow one of us up. At one point, TJ dropped his water bottle and it fell into a crevasse. He slithered down a rock, with me just holding his feet, and managed to grab the lid of his water bottle and retrieve it. We eventually made it to a drainage where the goat should have been in view, when out of nowhere a bush plane appears and flies so close to the mountain range it spooks the billy. Up and over the mountain the big goat went. Now, the pilot had no idea we were there and in no way intentionally flew to disturb our hunt. He was just on his way to his destination.
The next morning, I’m sitting on the ground, drinking my coffee and glassing. My feet are blistered, and I’m exhausted from the last couple of days, when we spot a great billy and he’s actually up a relatively easy drainage. We quickly crossed the creek and started heading up. The only issue was that he was directly above us. We managed to work our way up to a large boulder, I made sure I had a solid rest and was just getting comfortable to take the shot when a gigantic golden eagle swoops overhead and heads straight for the goat. I drop my head in utter disbelief. The goat heads up and over the mountain. That’s three goats on the other side of that mountain. I gathered every bit of strength I had left, and we climbed to the top. Luke peeked over, but there were no goats to be seen anywhere. It was as if they had vanished into thin air.
The next morning, we glassed the mountain range but there were no goats to be seen. It was time to head back to main camp and see if we could find anything there.
As soon as we arrived back at camp, Luke checked his Inreach and found out that the horses from his other camp had left and were wandering around the town of Kwadacha. That’s a two-day ride! He scrambled to get a hold of the other camp and make arrangements to get back to town and deal with the situation. The curse had managed to work its magic in spades on that trip. Goats 4, Vanessa 0.
Not to be deterred, Luke invited me back the following year and said, “This is personal now.” We head to a different camp this time and arrive without any issues. The next morning, we are up early and get the horses packed up and head into a valley a few hours away. The sun was shining, and it was going to be a beautiful day. I was feeling really good about this hunt.
We set up camp, had some sheep steaks and spaghetti for dinner. There was a small hill at camp that we could climb and glass the mountain sides. It was our guide’s plan to stay put and glass until we spotted a good billy. We spent the next morning glassing and then the rain rolled in. Twenty-seven hours later, it finally stopped raining. We had wasted a lot of time in our tents. We weren’t going to sit and glass anymore, it was time to climb a mountain. Three hours and 10 minutes and 2,700 vertical feet later, we made it to the top. By 6 p.m., we had only spotted one small billy, in a rather precarious place, and four nannies with kids. We were just about to give up and head back to camp when we spotted a goat about 800 yards away. It had a big hump and pot belly. We all took turns at the spotting scope trying to determine whether it was a billy. We had to make a decision and make it quickly if we were going to make a move.
Finally, at 6:30 p.m., we decided to try and get a closer look. We scrambled as quickly as we could further along the ridge and got within 427 yards. We all felt really good about the goat, but it all depended if I could get a solid rest for the shot. I laid my 6.5 Creedmoor on my pack, rolled up a sweater for the butt and made sure that rifle wasn’t going to move. This was going to be a long and very important shot. Due to the angle of the shot, I put the 400-yard cross hair on its shoulder. I took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger. The goat jumped at the shot and limped a few yards across the mountain side and bedded down. My guide called out 423 yards and said, “Take your time, you’ve got lots of time.” But I knew the clock was ticking. I let another 139-grain bullet fly and at 7 p.m. the goat was down for good. Every emotion I had felt over the last five years came to the surface. The frustrations, the fear, the exhaustion, the pain and then joy that it was finally done. I was absolutely overcome; no longer able to control myself, I sat there and blubbered like a baby.
We were gathering our stuff when we noticed a beautiful Stone sheep travelling across a trail just below my goat. I believe the words that were exclaimed were, “That’s a toad of a ram!” If only I’d had a sheep tag as well. That would have been quite the day.
When we are about 10 yards from the goat, TJ stops, touches my arm and says, “Look at your goat. It’s a nanny!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. We all stood there dumbfounded. The goat curse still had one trick up its sleeve, but I was still thrilled with what turned out to be a 12-year-old-nanny.
We boned her out and filled our packs. By the time we made it back to the top of the mountain, it was dark. It was treacherous going with our heavy loads. We were all extremely sweaty and exhausted, both emotionally and physically, by the time we made it to where we had left the horses. We quickly filled our water bottles in a nearby stream and had a huge drink of ice-cold water and pounded down an energy bar. Needless to say, that wasn’t the brightest idea, for many reasons.
We got on the horses and headed back to camp. Supper consisted of goat tenderloin hastily cooked over the fire at 1 a.m. It was the best goat I’d ever tasted; chewy, but the best!
Two weeks later, both TJ and I were diagnosed with giardia. The goat got her last kick in.