Then, with nightmare suddenness, the situation changed. Dennis let out a shout as his feet slipped and he skidded on his back down the rock. It seemed like minutes before he stopped and twisted his head around to look up at the place from which he had slid. By now we were only about 300 yards above the first spare shoots of timber line, but between us and safety was an expanse of smooth, almost vertical rock. There was no way of getting back up the mountain, and the way down looked impossible.
Balancing on a tiny outcropping, Dennis turned around on his stomach and told me to do the same. Moving by inches and literally clawing into the rock with fingernails, we began to traverse the mountain face. Dennis moved a foot and stopped; I did the same. Thus we progressed for a few minutes while fear built up inside me. Then suddenly I was sliding straight down the rock and grasping for anything to break my descent. Three times this happened, and each time whatever projection stopped my fall was so slight I couldn't even see it.
The third time I felt I had reached the end. Over my shoulder I saw boulders and jagged rocks clustered at the timber line some 200 yards beneath me. I realized that I was at the edge of panic. For an instant I felt a desire to close my eyes and let go. But with the strength that comes from fear, I took a deep breath and moved on. My mind shut out everything but the patch of rock before me.
We were two and a half hours coming down that 300-yard slab of rock. No mountain we met subsequently was as dangerous; nor was this one really typical of Alaska. But all of the mountains were rough. The country is big and wild, and unlike some of the other top hunting areas of the world, there is no easy way to take game. If anything, this makes Alaska more desirable to sportsmen—certainly it is a challenge—but this is no place for anyone who is not in top physical condition.
RAMS AND ROASTS
We stayed in camp three days, and during that time I saw 24 sheep at decent shooting ranges. All but four, however, were ewes, and not one of these had a big enough curl to consider shooting.
Mike and Nick found the situation different. On the third day Nick staggered into camp after dark, weighted down by a fine full-curl ram and tales of three others as good as the one he had taken. Mike got one, too, but we didn't know it until the next day. By the time he had skinned out his ram it was already growing dark. He and his guide were about eight miles from camp on the wrong side of a swollen glacial stream. They bivouacked there rather than risk an after-dark crossing and the possibility of meeting a curious grizzly in the thicket.
They got into camp with the trophy at 5 the next morning, only hours ahead of a storm sweeping out of the north. With the ominous warning of the sky's sudden change, we hastily packed our gear and flew back to Rainy Pass.
After several nights spent in drafty tents and cold sleeping bags, the lodge looked like paradise. It is certainly not at all what hunters expect to find—or generally do find—so far from civilization. The lodge is not one but a series of several log buildings. There is a cookhouse with kitchen, freezers and dining room; a series of cabins where the guides live; and a marvelous guest cabin, with bar, gun room and, the greatest luxury of all, a bathroom with steaming hot water.
The food also was excellent. Mimi, the head cook, a spritely little French grandmother who habitually wore garish "leopard skin" leotards, produced wonderful dishes of sheep and caribou (both fine meats), but my favorite was rare roast of moose—really a meal to remember.