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 ...1