It was one of the hardest climbs of Mark Kemp's life, but the La Grande resident was not complaining. The difficult ascent was a small price to pay for a feeling of exhilaration few hunters will share. Kemp had just shot a state record book-caliber California bighorn sheep in the Murderer's Creek Unit of Grant County. The bighorn died instantly around 9 a.m. Aug. 16, the third day of his hunt, and then slid about 75 yards down a rugged hillside. The slide created havoc in the quiet of the Murderer's Creek Unit. "The rocks came crashing down,'' Kemp said. He knew that the fun part of the hunt was over and that the work was just beginning. Kemp, who was alone, went to the bottom of the slope, dressed the ram out, skinned it and then carried its head and cape up the hill. "I've climbed up steeper hills but never while carrying so much weight,'' said Kemp, who estimated that the head and the cape weighed 60 pounds. The ascent might help Kemp climb into the state record book. Kemp's ram was later unofficially scored at 163 points by an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist. If this score becomes official, the ram would rank 90th on Oregon's all-time California bighorn sheep list, according to David Morris of Long Creek. Morris is the editor and author of the "Record Book for Oregon's Big Game Animals." Back to the Murderer's Creek Unit. Once up the hill, Kemp faced another challenge — a 1.5-mile walk over rocky terrain to a four-wheeler he was using. The hike took an hour and 50 minutes. Kemp returned the next day to pack out the meat. He had to remove the bones from the meat first because they would be too heavy to carry out. "If I hadn't boned it, I would have had to make three trips,'' he said. The meat was in good condition because it had been left in bags under the shade of a tree. The second hike out was easier. Kemp had much less weight to carry because he no longer had to carry his gun or his pack. The La Grande outdoorsman's success is a tribute to extensive preparation. Kemp had gone on two scouting trips to the Murderer's Creek Unit prior to the hunt. Kemp made the trips because of the magnitude of his hunt. He had applied for Oregon bighorn sheep tag drawings annually for about 20 years before winning one this year. Just two tags a year are awarded in the Murderer's Creek Unit. Information on how many applied for the tags this year is not yet available, but in 2005, 335 hunters applied for the two tags, said Kemp, a La Grande attorney. He credits his successful hunt to help he received from a number of people including Wendell and Ike Rock of La Grande, who loaned him their four-wheeler. "That saved me a tremendous amount of climbing,'' Kemp said. Jeff Roberts of La Grande also played a key role, loaning him a scope and scope rings and helping him sight in his rife. Kemp took the bighorn with a 30-06 rifle from a distance of about 50 yards. He speaks like he would never tire of watching bighorn sheep from close range. Watching them gracefully traverse mountainous, hilly terrain is inspiring, he said. "They literally thrive in steep, rocky terrain. That is their home,'' he said. Kemp's hunt was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. "It was pretty exciting. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat if I could.''