ELKHORNS: Goat hunter vows to return after suffering altitude sickness

September 19, 2006 12:00 am

By CHRIS COLLINS

A rescue team brought a Grants Pass hunter to safety early Sunday morning after altitude sickness interrupted his plans to bag a Rocky Mountain goat in the Elkhorn Mountains.

Gary Martin, 64, was carted down the mountainside by members of the Baker County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team. The rescue workers used a stretcher and ropes to lower him down the steep terrain near Goodrich Reservoir in the Baker City watershed and then transported him to the hospital, said Sheriff Mitch Southwick.

Back at his Grants Pass home Tuesday night, Martin said in a telephone interview that he was making plans to resume his hunt as soon as possible.

The season, which began Sept. 9, continues until Sept. 24. Martin hopes to bag one particularly large male — "the biggest goat I've ever seen" — during his once-in-a-lifetime hunt.

Martin was one of two hunters who drew tags for the Rocky Mountain goat hunt in the Elkhorn Mountains this fall. Once a hunter draws a tag, he or she is ineligible for future drawings. Two goat tags for the Elkhorn Mountains have been offered to Oregon hunters since 1997.

One other tag is available through a raffle, and the winner of that tag can hunt in either the Elkhorns or the Wallowas; a fourth tag was authorized this year to members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Martin said he has applied for a tag to hunt goats in the Elkhorns since the tags became available.

"I was interested in the area because of the large animals," said Martin, who has hunted most of his life and began carrying a shotgun as a 7-year-old growing up in California.

Martin said he eats the game he kills, but he also has a collection of mounted heads of deer, elk, moose and other animals. His enjoyment of hunting has taken him on trips to Texas, Montana, California, Alaska and Canada.

"I like the trophies," he said. "I like the big animals."

Last Saturday, he found the goat he hopes to bag as he and his longtime hunting partners, John Holland, 75, of Soda Springs, Idaho, and Jim Hinnes of Grants Pass, who is in his mid-50s, began the hunt.

The three had scouted the area a week earlier. At that time Martin experienced no ill effects in traveling from his home at Grants Pass, with its 800-foot altitude, to the 8,000-foot mountaintop.

But Saturday, he had a different experience.

He and his friends parked their vehicle at Marble Creek Pass and hiked north on the Elkhorn Crest Trail toward Twin Lakes. They spotted more than a dozen goats early that morning. As they pursued the animals, Martin began feeling sick. That was at about noon Saturday.

"I had chest pains and was dizzy and sick to my stomach," he said.

Martin's partners immediately worked to get help for their friend, who they thought was suffering a heart attack.

Holland returned to the pickup truck and had planned to drive it up the road, shown on their map, that led to Goodrich Reservoir. Hinnes worked to get Martin down to the reservoir, not knowing that the way out was blocked by a gate that prevents trespassing in the city's watershed.

(Baker City uses water from Goodrich Reservoir to supplement its other sources during late summer and early fall.)

Martin said he and his friend slid down the steep shaly slope, making it to within about 500 yards of the reservoir, before he could go no farther.

Holland parked at the locked watershed gate and called 911. The search and rescue team was dispatched about 6:30 p.m. Saturday and made their way to the reservoir, Southwick said.

"The walls all around are straight up and down," Martin said. "I was surprised that all those guys (search and rescue) got up there."

The rescuers tied Martin on a stretcher and lowered him by ropes 200 feet at a time while administering medication to help ease his pain and nausea, he said. He was loaded in an ambulance and then taken to the hospital, where he arrived about 1 a.m.

Martin heaps praise on the search and rescue team and members of the hospital staff who treated him after he collapsed.

"If I was going to move from Grants Pass, your town would be at the top of my list," he said.

He was so impressed with the people who brought him down the mountain, in fact, that he has added the Baker County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team to the list of organizations his real estate firm will donate to this year.

"They were quite impressive," Martin said. "I felt so terrible, and they even had me laughing."

Bouts with kidney stones have sent him to emergency rooms in Arizona, Grants Pass and Medford, but none of the treatment he received in those communities can come close to the care provided at St. Elizabeth Health Services, he said.

"You guys are really lucky," he said. "You have a great hospital there and search and rescue, sheriff's office and Forest Service. They assured me I was their top priority. There's some nice people out there."

As Martin prepares for his return, this time without his friends who aren't able to make the trip again, he plans to hire a guide to help him bring the trophy animal he's after out of the mountains.

And he has learned that he should spend a few days acclimating himself to the higher altitude before beginning the hunt.

Martin said he is in good health otherwise and in good physical shape.

"This is the first time in my life I've ever hit a brick wall," he said. "This was rather embarrassing, to say the least. You think you know it all and then you find you're not so smart."

He doesn't expect to go home without claiming his trophy.

"If I get a goat, I will mount the whole goat," he said.

He's got just the spot for the animal when the taxidermist is finished with it.

"This is going to be the centerpiece of my new game room," he said.