As we neared the top, around one of the bends we saw a snow field off to the right. "Look!" Gene-o shouted.
"What!??" I asked, glancing all around, taking in the details of the rock ledges, the shear drop-offs, the deep pits and old mine shafts that we were slowly but skillfully maneuvering around.
"Jeezuz! I told you never to look around while you're driving! STOP!!" Our Chrysler POS careened off a boulder and came to rest with the left front wheel slowly loosing the gravel that had just been under it, as the mini-slide started down the slope. I carefully backed us away from the edge in confusion.
"But you said, LOOK!, and I......"
Sweat pouring off his brow, Gene-o fumbled for a cigarette with trembling hands. "If you drive us off the road just one more time , I swear I'm gonna kill ya!"
"But you won't have to, Gene-o." I started to explain. "If we go off up here......"
"Shaddup! Look over there. That cave. I wanna go check it out." Gene-o was pointing to the snow field about a half mile off to our right. "Can you get us over there?"
I didn't pay any attention to his screams as I slammed it into four-wheel compound ultra-low and headed across the field of boulders that separated us from where he had indicated. I just muttered "Can I get us there? Are you kidding?"
Gene-o hung on to the chicken strap and the dash board and just moaned while we closed the distance at an amazing rate. I stopped when I felt the tundra rising up over the bald tires of the POS. "Well, here we are," I announced as I helped my partner pry his fingers loose from the back of my seat.
"OK. Let's check this out." With that, he was out of the car, heading for a dark spot along the base of the snow. I caught up with him as he moved forward in a crouched position, holding a handful of shrubs over his head for camoflauge.
"Shhh! Stay back and get down." I stayed a pace or two behind him. He slowly surveyed the surrounding area, and said " 's CAT!"
Taking his cue, I stomped my foot menacingly and shouted "SHOO!", scattering the pack of picas that had been popping up from behind the rocks, watching us as we approached, slowly starting to surround us. He reached up and quickly pulled me down to his side, where I ended up nose-to-nose with him. "What the HELL are you doing?," he hissed.
I reeled backwards. "Gawd, you wanna borrow my Scope? Wheehhww!" I regained my composure. "I's just shoo-ing them away. SHOO works a whole lot better than SCAT, I've found out. Them picas can be nasty when they bunch up, I've heard."
"No, you asshole! I said, It's a CAT! Puma. Mountain Lion." He was pointing to a now discernable cave at the base of the snow. "Let's go take a look."
Together we moved cautiously forward. Just outside the cave was the skull of a bear, a sure sign that this was no pussy we were after. Nope, not today. Not now. Not yet, anyway. Maybe later, when we got back to Alma, we'd......
"Get back here and stay with this story. Do you see THAT! The sucker got himself a bear."
Gene-o steeled himself against the chilling wind and said," OK, Rossie. Go on in there and check it out."
"Well, yah..... but..... Gene-o. YOU'RE the one that saw it first!"
"Ah, Geez, John," he said with exasperation, looking at me like I was half stupid. "Somebody with sharp eyes needs to stay out here in case the big fucker comes creeping BACK, just in case he's not IN there.!"
"Oh, heh. Yah." I did feel a little silly, overlooking the obvious like that. But it never hurts to be a little cautious. I moved slowly into the mouth of the snow cave, taking note of the scattered and various sized bones strewn around the glacial rock.
An ice cold wind was rushing out of the cave, like somebody had a big cooling fan on, and wasn't afraid of running up the electricity bill. Once I saw the faint opening on the uphill side, I realized why. This cave went under the entire width of the snow field and acted like a natural wind tunnel for the down slope winds, cooling them even more by natural refrigeration. I sure hoped nobody was walking on the snow above me. Water dripped steady from the almost sculptured design of the interior ceiling and walls. They were beautiful.....almost cathederal-like. Sort of like providing the victim with a church-like atmosphere to pray his last goodbye from......
I quickly looked back at the opening, but didn't see Gene-o. He had probably stationed himself were he could see better, farther, to make things safer for me in here. Yah, that's probably where he was. I had been maddly groping for my flashlight, which I finally fished out of my waist-pouch.
When I flicked it on, directly in from of me were the remains of the last meal that something with a very healthy appetite had. It was the opened carcass of a good sized elk, minus legs and head, spread out like it had recently been left on a dining room table. I was outside in the bright sunlight before my eyes had a chance to focus.
Continued on THE NEXT page.