The absence of game is disappointing, but the absence of game sign—new or old—is even more discouraging. We came across two of the natural licks Curley talked about in his letters. They turned out to be ancient game department salt drops. Curley had also written us about spotting a band of more than 200 sheep on this very mountain. They must be the only housebroken sheep in Idaho, because they have certainly left the countryside clean.
SATURDAY. My bedfellow, Rogue, was bitten by a rattlesnake today while going for water with two of the boys. The dog is about halfway down the mountain and apparently in bad shape. The boys radioed out from the river for serum. Traveling in this country without serum is like crossing the Sahara without water. The wind is so strong that our expected airdrop will not be possible this evening.
This mountain is loaded with snakes. Besides the rattler that got Rogue and another one the boys killed closer to the river, Bill and Dan each killed one on the saddle above camp, and Curley almost stepped on one. He was pounding it with a rock not six feet ahead of me when Bill let out a yell right behind me. Bill threw off his pack and started hopping on one foot. A rattler had struck him in the boot. The snake's fangs did not go through the leather, but Bill still looks sick to his stomach.
We all feel a little green. For two days Curley has been telling us not to worry about snakes because they will always warn us by rattling before striking. So far not one of the snakes has done so. We are also trying to figure out why there is no serum in camp, since this obviously is Rattlesnake Ridge.
The mountains southeast of here are just as rugged. Curley, Bud and I explored a few today that even the goats want no part of. I have gone up, down and over some tricky peaks from the Alaska Range to the Elburz, but these are wicked. We climbed walls that no sensible mountaineer would attempt without equipment, and once we crossed around an overhang on a ledge that was barely two inches wide. Slipping on this one did not mean a broken leg. It meant a free fall of about 2,000 feet.
Bud had a particularly rough day of it. He has not complained, but he seemed to be in pain and kept rubbing his knees. Curley did not make things any easier for him. Every time Bud slowed up or his hat rubbed against a bush, Curley stopped and scowled. Since we could have climbed these mountains with a brass band and disturbed nothing, his point was lost. Bud finally gave up and headed in. For all the game sign we saw, we should have done the same.
SUNDAY. No word today about the dog. The airdrop finally was made this morning. The wind was stronger than yesterday, and the pilot had a hard time getting in between the peaks. Besides serum, he also dropped some canned food—more Spam and beans.
Bob and Bud took off before noon for the ridge north of us. It looks within shouting distance but, like all the ridges around here, is separated from us by a 2,000-foot canyon. They took along one of the teen-agers, who held them up half the morning while he crawled around on his hands and knees looking for his contact lenses. The boy then insisted on taking his own rifle. It seems he has a sheep permit, too. At least he was willing to carry his own gear.
Spent the morning glassing the Bighorn Crags east of here. I have never seen country so devoid of life. Not even a bird flies by. There is virtually no food anywhere, and water is at a premium on all these mountains. We did spot two goats on a distant peak. They probably wandered there by mistake. To date we have sighted one elderly ewe, which was doubtless too feeble to seek greener pastures, two goats and seven snakes.
Surprised a four-foot rattler not 100 yards from camp. I am now concentrating so hard on snakes that I probably would not notice a sheep if one turned up in our stew. The Arizonans think the reason the snakes are not rattling is that they are shedding their skins. This also makes them strike at any sound. I feel as if I am playing reptilian roulette.