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.
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
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
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.
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.
Lorin agreed, "except that ornery-looking roan. I'd sure hate to mix with
him." I stared at the roan. He stared back.