A hunter had been missing for 38 hours. We were working on what his partner had
said of him -- tough guy, in shape, no quitter, some experience in the snow.
Usually after so many hours in minus-30-degree weather, they do not make it, but
I somehow had a good feeling about this one.
A local outfitter had volunteered a cabin near the trail head and that was where
we were, the Search and Rescue team, poring over topographical maps and matching
the terrain with what we knew of the hunter. The graphic delineations, detailing
elevations and positions of the land, suggested he would funnel into an area at
the top of an old logging road, somewhere near 10,000 feet.
Deciding to set up base camp there, we called in a snow plough to clear the
road. I saw it lumbering by the cabin, its yellow revolving light casting eerie
shadows on the snow. At dawn, we would send snowmobiles out and I would join ten
teams to search the area on foot. A horseback team would also be dispatched to
ride the search area diagonally, to find tracks. A fixed-wing aircraft was
scheduled to fly over the area too.
It was 3.30 a.m. when I laid out my sleeping bag at the corner of the cabin,
hoping to get some rest before daybreak. I saw the yellow light moving back down
the gravel road leading to town. Just as I dozed off, someone started pounding
on the door. I heard someone in the front stir and mutter, then open the door.
"Oh man, we are glad to see you !" a sheriff's deputy said.
"You're glad ?" a man's raspy, exhausted voice replied.
I stoked up the stove and the man sat in front of it for half an hour before
we could get the frozen boots off his feet.
"I had some matches on me and built a few fires," he told us, "when I saw a
strange yellow light flashing on the snow far below. I ran, stumbling down the
steep slope but the plough was gone long before I got there !"
He had followed its tracks down the logging road and come knocking on the
first cabin he sighted, right where we were.
His partner was by now walking around, vigorously shaking our hands. "I can't
believe you sent the plough right to him !" he kept chanting.
At dawn, I took a short walk and stood looking out at the rugged glaciated
mountains and rolling prairies of Yellowstone Valley. "The last few hours
had been a matter of life and death for all of us. That," I thought, "is the
secret and the terrible beauty of the