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 with Rob Miskosky

Taking Risks Can Be Rewarding... Or Not!

Trappers are often faced with many challenges when they are on their traplines but I think for most of us, it is the trails that we use that present our biggest challenge. At least for me, trails are always a concern and usually seem to need something done to them, whether it’s simply removing a fallen tree, clearing overgrown willows, trying to reroute around bogs or building bridges, trails present a challenge.

And the time of year and weather quite often dictates when or how you can use a trail. Often the first time I can even get to some of my trails is in colder fall weather once the ground is frozen. In fact, one of my main trails I won’t even see until the season is open because of six creeks that cross it. Four of these crossings are narrow and two much wider, but short of building six bridges across them; waiting until things are frozen is the only way through. One day I may have those bridges built but for now, it’s a matter of waiting for colder weather.

There has been several times where I’ve been forced to abandon a trail but none of those occasions has ever hampered my trapping operations. That was until recently.

Sometimes taking a risk can be rewarding; other times, it’s just plain crazy. Here, the author is looking back down a hill he just spent an hour and a half trying to get up.
Trappers are constantly watching the weather and often formulate their plans around that forecast. The difference in a few inches of snow makes all the difference in what mode of transportation is required. I personally like using a snowmobile because of the speed I can run my line at and the relative smooth ride it gives me compared to a quad, which is much slower and rougher. I can also carry much more with me by loading the sled I tow with whatever bait and supplies I need. Sometimes that’s a lot of stuff.

My trapline is in the foothills of the Rockies and I have many elevation changes over the 50 miles of route I run. Some of the elevation changes are as much as 800 feet but I’ve planned my route to avoid these places wherever possible. But there are still several long, steep hills that are unavoidable.

On this trip, I decided to bring my quad because the amount of snow dictated I should and it worked fine running the first half of my line. The next day, however, everything changed. I awoke to a foot of new snow and knew I was going to be in for a long day.

Things started slowly and stayed that way but I made my way pushing the snow ahead of me. The quad was working extra hard but at least it was working. It took me a long time to get to what I call the Crossover Trail and twice I had to shovel and push my way up a couple of inclines that weren’t even that steep.

To the Crossover Trail normally takes about 45 minutes by quad but today, I was already three hours into the trip and the snow was coming down hard and getting deeper by the minute, slowing me down even more.

There is one good-sized hill on the Crossover Trail and I knew that it would be the deciding factor for whether or not I could complete my journey. If I could get up that hill, I should be able to get up any other hill the rest of the way. However, the rest of the way was a fair distance with about 30 traps that needed checking, so it was important for me to try to get to each of them.  

When I finally reached the hill, time was becoming a concern, but so was the hill I was now looking at. And so it began, I’d take a long run at the hill as fast as I could and once I spun out and couldn’t get any higher, I’d get off the quad and start kicking the snow out of the way for another 10-feet or so ahead of my high point. Then I’d back down the hill to where I could get a good run at it again, and repeat the process. Bound and determined to reach the top, an hour and a half later, I finally succeeded.

Once I was on my main trail south again, my problems began anew where the trail gets boggy. Unable to tell where the proper ruts were to follow, I kept getting sucked into the wrong spots, being stuck in the muck and snow each time. I was now sweating profusely, which wasn’t good, and starting to question my sanity when I finally reached the top of another hill I call Broken Bridge Hill. Looking down the hill, I had a decision to make. It had taken me four hours to get to this point, more than three hours longer than normal, and I still had at least the same distance to go, maybe even further. If I committed down the hill, there was no getting back up it. The hill has a four-hundred foot drop in elevation from top to bottom over a short distance. If I was stuck on the other side somewhere and unable to get out, it would be a long walk home. In fact, a fire and emergency shelter would most likely be required before I’d get back.

I wracked my brain trying to imagine every possible problem spot I’d encounter and the more I thought about it, the more I questioned what I was doing. Twice I nearly went for it, but something held me back. I’m not sure what; maybe it’s my age or maybe it was just fear, I’m not sure which, but I turned myself around and headed back to my cabin.

Sometimes taking a risk can be rewarding; other times, it’s just plain crazy. Today was one of those days. ■

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