THURSDAY. The moment I met our outfitter in Boise last night I knew that this was not going to be an ordinary hunt. At least, there is nothing ordinary about Curley. When he finally showed up at my hotel he was 24 hours late and 100 proof. In flowing ringlets, skintight Levi's and high heels he looked like a Beatle trying out for Bonanza.
The other hunters—five men from Phoenix—were even more dismayed. Curley, it seems, had neglected to tell them that there would be six in their party instead of five, or that the extra hunter was female. They sat at the hotel bar looking shell-shocked as Curley gave instructions for our departure this morning, chug-a-lugged a double, charged it to my hotel bill and left. They looked even worse when we staggered out of rubber rafts this afternoon, after seven terrifying hours on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The Arizonans had a good reason for their glassy-eyed expressions this time, too.
Even those intrepid adventurers Lewis and Clark were intimidated by the fury of the Salmon. They took one look at that much white water and wrote the river off as impassable. The Indians had had more experience and were more specific: they named it the River of No Return. That was before some idiot—doubtless a sheep hunter—thought of floating down the Middle Fork in an oversized inner tube. Unfortunately for us, that is the only way into this part of the Idaho Primitive Area.
The men are friendlier now, after our mutual brush with a watery eternity. We are all huddled at the edge of the river in a place called Box Canyon. It is aptly named. The canyon walls rise vertically from the water, and shore is nothing more than a rock pile. Camp is 3,500 feet straight up which, to my relief, is 3,500 feet farther than we can get tonight. Most of our provisions are already up there, so dinner consisted of canned beans, bread and coffee.
My sleeping bag, I discovered after scouring through several strange bedrolls, is also on top of the mountain. I have made a nest of life vests in the bottom of the raft, but it is going to be a long, cold night. Curley has helped some by sending his Labrador, Rogue, over to keep me warm.
FRIDAY. Started the climb up at 7:10, and the mountain sheep can have it. We all carried backpacks, and today I was glad my sleeping bag had gone ahead. The only way to conquer a mountain like this is not to look back (too dizzying) and not to look ahead (too depressing). I made it into camp with the fast troops in 3� hours. The rest of the party followed in various stages of collapse.
Camp is a mess. If any preparations for our arrival were made they were purely accidental. Curley's "professional guides" are five teen-agers, and my guess is that any one of us knows more about sheep hunting than they do.
The larder is strewn haphazardly about and is smaller than my weekly supermarket load. Most of the cans look suspiciously like chili beans and Spam. Considering the $100 a day Curley is charging each of us for this hunt, he will not lose money on the cuisine.
Worse news, there is no water. All our water will have to be hauled up that impossible mountain from the river. A five-gallon vat weighs 40 pounds, so I suspect the water shortage is permanent. Thank heaven for Chanel.
Spent the rest of the day scouting the peaks above camp with Bill and Dan. The mountains average about 9,000 feet, and the scenery is spectacular. Centuries of erosion have garishly decorated the canyon walls and piled tons of crumbling rock into precarious shale towers. Far below, the river cuts through great, gray walls of granite. In places clouds sit like pillows on mattresses of dried, brown meadows. There is no sign of life anywhere.