By all portents, the winter season looked to arrive early and mean as a group of three New York gentlemen, plus two camp personnel, headed out from Kendrick, Idaho, for the Bitterroot Range, on the hunting trip of a lifetime. Also from the start, it was clear that camp cook George Colegate was in ill health. He claimed it was stomach cramps, but as the group pushed deeper into remote Idaho, his conditioned worsened, as did the weather and trail conditions. Culling from official military reports, diaries, a published book by one of the participants, and newspaper coverage, Hamilton imaginatively re-creates their days in the wild, centering the story on Colegate's final admission to his charges that he had knowingly left behind the catheters necessary to drain his prostate-enlarged bladder: They hurt him, and he thought he could make it unaided. Not so. The remaining guide urged retreat, but the sports continued until Colegate could no longer mount his horse, his kidneys now turning his body to a putrifying mass. The others cut and run, abandoning Colegate to his fate. They thrashed their way down the cruel, rapids-infested Lochsa River, freezing and starving, and were rescued at the eleventh hour. Back in civilization, they found a storm of criticism, not least from the Colegate family, who wondered why dad was left when a handful of men might have aided himback when expedition mates looked out for one another.
No one emerges unscathed here, except Hamilton, whose yarn- spinning reconstruction is a pleasure.