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For two hours I fought the stubborn old roan on the steep shoulder of Fog Mountain as the storm marshaled its forces. If I didn't get him loaded soon and get back to camp before the blizzard struck, I knew we wouldn't make it.
Mountain storms and horse trouble were not new to me; I had been hunting elk in Idaho's wilderness areas with my older brother for the last three or four years. But this storm looked like the big one of the season, as uncompromising as the roan.
He was as ugly as he was huge, with a scarred hide, a long lantern jaw and oversized feet, as if designed for snow travel. He stared balefully at me, his eyes asking: Do you want some more?
Wet and miserably cold, I had dismounted from the little bay mare and tied her to a chaparral shrub, then snubbed the roan to her saddle horn. If the horses held steady I might be able to load the two whitetail deer, even on this sheer incline, slippery with slowly falling snow. But the big roan gelding had frantically declared war as soon as I dragged the first deer in his direction, almost as if a bear was attacking him.
Fog Mountain sits high atop the Bitterroot Range, which straddles Idaho and Montana on the western side of the Continental Divide. Lewis and Clark crossed nearby in 1805. Howling blizzards hit the mountain every year, and now such a storm, Canadian-born, was cresting the Divide and moving down upon us.
About that time, I learned later, in Boise, Idaho the Tribune was setting type for tomorrow's headlines: STORM TRAPS BIG GAME HUNTERS. 50 ARE BELIEVED MAROONED. In his warm shop, the printer couldn't have envisioned the clash of man and horse on the snow-shrouded mountain.
My older brother, Lorin, my hunting partner since we shot rabbits as kids, had earlier brushed aside the weatherman's predictions of heavy storms in the high country. "They're usually wrong," he said, "and anyway, Don, a good snow will be a break for us; it'll get the elk moving." The weather held, and he had been right—for two days.
In soft autumn sunshine we had driven his heavily loaded Oldsmobile upstate from Boise, east out of Grangeville, up the Selway River, and finally had climbed a forest-service road to a bare windswept saddle near the mountaintop. Several hunting parties had already arrived. Packhorses belonging to a hunting guide and his wife were bunched together in a hastily contrived corral.
After erecting our eight-by-eight umbrella tent on the frozen ground, we took a get-acquainted jaunt around camp. "A nice-looking string of horseflesh," I said as we paused at the corral.
"Yeah," Lorin agreed, "except that ornery-looking roan. I'd sure hate to mix with him." I stared at the roan. He stared back.