IT WAS THE LAST ELK HUNT of the season. Three of our four clients had been successful early in the week, and we were hunting hard to make sure the other guy didn't get skunked. No luck. On the next-to-last day of the season, the snow came: wet, heavy, and deep. Alex, my boss, made the judgment call: "We've got to get these guys out of here. We'll ride out today, then you and I will come back and take down camp."

We loaded their gear, meat, and antlers on the pack mules and started out. The mules U-shaped feet were better prepared for this winter work than their equine half-brothers. Snow balled up in the horses' rounder hooves until they were walking on stilts of packed ice, making them prone to stumble—not a good thing on the narrow trail that switched back across several deep canyons. It took most of the day to get down the mountain to Willow Creek, where the trucks and horse trailer were parked. From there we had forty miles of dirt road to navigate before we hit the pavement, then another thirty-five miles to our homes in Apache Creek.

Ten animals would never fit in the trailer, so we left the four mules and one horse behind in a nearby Forest Service pasture to be picked up the next day. We drove most of the night in four-wheel-drive low gear, sliding off the road on two different occasions, having to winch ourselves out of the drifts. We said good-bye to our hunters as we dropped them off at the Rode Inn motel, drove home, caught two hours of sleep, ate breakfast, then started back up the mountain. During the night, the snow had stopped, the sky cleared, and the temperature plummeted. The snowplow had been up the mountain past Rainy Mesa to the Gilson ranch but had turned around about ten miles short of where our animals ...

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