hunting link

On the tops

On the tops

Winter time

Winter time
Time for doing


'Begin doing what you want to do NOW ! We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand- and melting like a snowflake'

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Extracts from an early winter sojourn

div>The alarm on my watch delivered it's message twice, each time for an eight second duration, a minute divided the tones. It was wasted this particular morning. The candle stub was already flickering, causing dancing shadows that wallpapered the hut. The only window was frozen and thick vapour clouds escaped me in the dark, they were only glimpsed whilst backdropped to the candle, but testimony to the freezing temperature. I had awoken some five minutes before hand, sat up out of my sleeping bag and quickly clad my upper body in my pillow. My pillow being a mountain hardwear down jacket. This being it's very first trip and already I was wondering how an earth I had managed for thirty odd years without it.
The pocket rocket soon had it's chores done, and with a brew and a backcountry dehy breakfast stowed away, I was swinging my daypack onto my shoulders and stepping out of the door, into the all encompassing darkness.The Blackness was spoilt only by the Petzl led lights atop my head. The way ahead was a track covered in frozen snow that meandered through open bush and down to the river. A careful piece of boulder hopping, resulted in me not getting my feet wet, or breaking my neck on the icy outcrops.
I was now in untracked bush and the aim was to climb to the tops as quickly as possible, before the yellow enemy cast it's light.
The velvety sky, was awash with a myriad stars, that were occassionally glimpsed through the dense canopy high above me. The ground soon became almost verticle, thick with vegetation that strangled movement, and rock outcrops that demanded respect. Within time, the darkness gave way to shadows ,and the light increased, to the point that "Petzl" was removed and put away.....[thanks mate]
The more height gained , the more abundant the snow, the beech tree branches were now
hanging low under the weight of it, pushing through them resulted in micro avalanches cascading down my back. The snow was the fine powder stuff, that clings to uncovered skin with a mission to numbing bones.Gloves were donned and the hood of my Tahr coat was pulled tight over my head, I was certainly beginning to question what the hell sort of pastime is this.
After maybe ten or so more minutes of this bliss, an opening was spied, which looked like I had reached the tops. In fact it was the start of a long slip, that appeared to the right of my position. On placing my Meindl boots tentatively on it's ice covered edge, and looking upwards, I could see it's scree and lightly scrubbed covering, reaching upwards to join with the snow covered tussock tops.Slinging Sako across my back, and grasping hold of any branches and scrub that was available, I proceeded to kick footholds in the ice, and so slowly began to ascend.
Breathing hard and knee deep in fresh snow, the slip was now behind me, out in the open at last. I was now being buffeted by a fierce wind, who's origins lay in the craggy bluffs away in the distance, witness to this were the heavy grey clouds that hovered above the high tops.
No self respecting chamois would want to loiter here, were my grim thoughts. The cloud though , seemed only to be hovering over the heads of the creek to my left, and seemingly channelling all the wind down it, for there was blue sky for Africa either side of it , and everywhere else for that matter.
I strode off to my right, with the intention of putting as much mileage as I could between me and this phenomenon.
Climbing back to the general vicinity in which I spied a group of animals a couple of days ago, I reached an area where the tussock was now giving way to a more rocky terrain. I could feel the sun on my back ,and the wind was no more, it was if someone had turned a fan off in a room.In fact in was a different day altogether.
........I was now Crunching through snow ,above the dried creek bed I was contouring, and near a slight rise,over which was a large basin. Eureka! the group materialised from nowhere ,five in all, they had their heads down enjoying their brekkie, I quickly made use of this and ate up the remaining yards to the rise and lay prone, fishing for my binos.......I did not see the buck, he was maybe thirty yards away from the main group and was watching me, like a man watches a beer being poured after a long hard day.It was a nano second later he was off and into his harem shouting the odds, there was the inevitable confusion, I locked the bolt down on Mr.Forester,waiting for the instant he paused. The duplex reticle in Leupold's housing settled unwaveringly on his shoulder.. Kabalm! The shot reverberated amongst the towering cliffs, the buck seemingly unhurt dashed downhill and away from me and the remaining group, for some eighty yards or so, before piling up in a heap. He was no world record, but coupled with a good winter skin, he was worth taking.

Broken Horn

The stars twinkled overhead in the frosty morning, as I pressed the latch home and locked my main gates. The heater in the Nissan was on full and the blower was blasting out air, but I was yet to feel the benefits. It would take a few klicks more before the heater was working to its full potential. The weather window was good, at least three of four days of a high system hovered over the South Island.
Exactly ten minutes later a quick glance in my rear view mirror confirmed that the Senator silver shark was still affixed to my toe ball, as I pulled off the gravel road and joined up with S.H.6. The further thirty minutes of travel was uneventful.

Not far out of St. Arnaud, I noticed with some concern the manuka at the side of the road was swaying with some violence, and it was with some apprehension that I drove down the remaining stretch into Kerr Bay. The wind was howling and waves were crashing onto the pier with regular monotony. The ducks too had unanimously and unashamedly decided that the wooden jetty was the place to huddle en-masse, and there must have been at least twenty there wing to wing. I was stunned to say the least, and just sat in the car hoping things wouldn’t look as bad when the light strengthened.

I swamped the boat on the first attempt at launching, then retired to sulk in the car for a couple of hours in the hope that the wind would abate. Nothing doing and the morning was getting on. Attempt no. 2! I backed down the concrete ramp, as soon as the boat began to float I ripped out of the driving seat and hared over to the boat and pushed until it cleared the trailer. By this time the boat had taken a good few waves stern on and there was a good six inches of ballast. I grabbed the long rope and ran down the jetty turning the boat to face the oncoming tsunamis. I made a few half hitches on the nearest post and rifled back to the car to park it up. Just coming to a halt, I looked to see the boat been hurled onto the concrete ramp. The rope had broken! Racing back to the boat with heavy pack and rifle, I dropped them both on the jetty. With each successive wave, and by pulling on the remaining rope, I was able to inch the boat back into deeper water. Securing it once again I proceeded to load it up. I gunned the motor, unhitched from the post, and was as good as launched. Christ I thought what a start. Just then the motor died and the boat immediately swung around. Straight away it began ingesting huge quantities of wave material i.e., water. My eyes glazed as I frantically sought to find out what had caused the motor to cut out so suddenly. The jetty was looming menacingly nearer. Then I noticed the fuel line had come adrift. JESUS!! I almost parted company with the craft, in my haste to reach the parted umbilical cord, as a wave crashed into the boat as I was midships.

.I finally gunned the motor and was once again heading into the maelstrom. Sudden gusts would render the steering useless and I slew across the lake. Eventually I reached the sanctuary of the Mt Robert shoreline, from there I hugged the coast on the remaining leg of my journey.

Pulling into the Coldwater hut on the glass like surface of the water, it did cross my mind to wonder if this was still all part of the same day. I faced the boat in the direction of travel for the return leg and moored it securely. I then slipped my arms into the straps of my pack and heaved it onto my shoulders. I Picked up Mr. Forester and filled his belly with .308 cal. Rounds, slipped the bolt over the topmost round and left the bolt in the half cock position. The way ahead would be easy, I mused as I entered into the bush. It was around midday.
My spirits began to soar at the prospect of a few days hunting, new country to explore and seemingly I was not going to share it with anyone…hows that for selfishness?
I was at my destination in the late afternoon and it was with some relief that I shrugged off my bondage that was my pack, and threw my rifle on the top bunk. I never tire of the delight of reaching a hut and brewing up with a biscuit and evaluating the hut book entries. Soon however, and with evening shadows lengthening it was time to look around for some firewood, there was a ton of branches and assorted twigs in the wood box, but it would take some axe work to maintain the fire once alight. Lying in my bag later that night, the fire embers glowing, and casting their eerie shadows around the hut, my mind “time travelled” back over the years at warp speed and conjured up a collage of like memories, of huts and campfires up and down the country. Different faces of dogs and humans alike, clamoured for recognition and status. It was amidst these visions that I snubbed out the candle, and then tugged the sleeping bag tightly around my neck and closed my eyes.

Climbing high in direct competition with the early morning sun (I hoped it was breathing at least half as hard) I casually glanced at my pathfinder watch and realised I had put an hour of travel behind me since leaving the hut. Looking over my shoulder down to the creek, from which was the start of my vertical stress, I noted it still in deep shadow, and also seemingly miles below. I took a rest and again scoured the creases and folds of the undulating hill above me. The little Leica 8x20’s gaining more and more definition as the day wore on. Satisfied, I again bent my shoulders into the hill and pumped ole shanks.

It was perhaps no more than twenty minutes later when the chamois buck lifted his head in front of me. Our eyes locked for the briefest of nano seconds, before he decided “you can overdo confirmation!” He was up and away from his lying up position and cresting the ridge behind him before I could close the bolt of my Sako Forester. Shit! Breathing raggedly and without an overdose of too much optimism, I eventually reached the ridge, a very poor second. I did a double take, because the animal was still there and only fifty yards further on, completely bluffed in some particularly nasty sheer rock faces.
It was at this point that he should have put his hands up and then taken into custody.
The rifle recoiled against my shoulder and at the shot the chamois buck sailed spectacularly out into the void and away from the dizzying heights out of view. It was quite a few seconds later that my ears picked up the fact that he had indeed landed. It was quite a scramble, to get down to where the beast lay half buried in scree. It was also hugely disappointing to discover that one of his hooks had splintered and broken off; his skin too was much the worse for wear. I removed the back steaks and rued the decision I made in pulling the trigger.
I sat some time on that scree in deep contemplation. The thoughts ranged through hunting and life in general. The sheer magnificence of my surroundings was not lost on me either. It was though, the ever increasing warmth of the suns rays that eventually broke the reverie. Urging the hunter on, before the day got too much older.

After the storm

The word DOC put out regarding “Keep out of the National Park, due to snow damaged tracks” etc... With hindsight was a good one, however, in defence of my actions I was waiting for a substantial break in the weather since early June. It was now late August. So when the forecast was for fine weather from Wednesday to possibly Sunday, I was already gone.

The first part of my virgin forage into this area of the park involved a pushbike. Now a pushbike with a man and a heavy pack including rifle, does not come under the heading “fun to be had”. It was quite obvious right from the start, when I proceeded to hit a large stationary object, i.e, a rock, with the front wheel and the handlebars ripped into my ribs, that this would be a trip of few laughs. Much of the three hour journey resulted in skirting around windfalls, over the top where possible, but I learned fairly quickly that to try and push straight through was a non starter. Leaves and twigs are hyper magnetic to the workings of chains and cogs. I would like to say that time passed quickly and in no time I was leaving my bike and starting my series of footfalls. Alas, the truth is it was a veritable eternity. However even eternity has an ending, or at least in this case it did...

No bike on this leg but the vein continued in as much as nothing had changed as respect to windfalls and vegetation obstructions. The track got vaguer and vaguer and the further in I progressed the worse it got. Then just by way of change, there was snow to contend with. Again the further I progressed the deeper it got. Then to further the change, the friendly little orange triangles started up the game of “Now you see me, now you don’t’” he he. Yes and you guessed it, the further I progressed the less of them there were.
Although I did not rest throughout my trek, I felt I was travelling at sloth speed .It was Ten hours from when I started from the road end that I found myself at river level, up to my knees in snow, and it was 6p.m. This special day was loosing daylight fast and there was no refuge in sight. I looked around for the friendly inn, but there was nothing with neon lights and certainly no vacancy signs. After much ado, I sought solace under an isolated patch of scrub, which was actually free of snow under its canopy. Wriggling under, I spread my bivvy and sleeping bags out, had a quick cheese sandwich, brewed up, and turned in.

No need for the alarm clock the next day, I was up and running at daybreak. Running not exactly being the most accurate adjective. The heartbreak was a ditto of the day before. It took me a further four hours to reach the opening stretch of what once was tussock leading up to the hut of my choice. Upon embarking on that long snowfield on my last leg, there was considerable movement a long way ahead. That movement turned out to be a chamois. It was eleven fifteen; the animal had just crossed the river, and was diagonally moving ahead and would likely converge on my heading just about where the hut was situated. My first instinct was to call out and say “put the kettle on mate”. There was no adrenalin left in the system, I was too tired for that, instead, I kept a wary eye and trudged on in the same manner. The chamois suddenly disappeared in a depression, I thought that likely it had seen or smelt me and made off, for there was a steady breeze at my back. A hundred or so yards further and I came to an abrupt halt. That is some tree stump I mused! I stood there looking at that stump for at least five minutes. I was just about to dismiss it and move on, when the stump moved. I slowly raised my scoped rifle and peered through the lens - a chamois neck and head, and looking this way. We admired one another for some time. Eventually it turned away. It was about now that I was beginning to take this seriously .I unbuckled my pack and let it slide to the ground. I then slipped into a dry creek bed and proceeded with much haste in its direction, upon raising my head out of the wash I was rewarded with a broadside view of the animal at around the 100yds range. On one knee I lined the target up. I was alarmed to see the duplex reticle dancing the cha cha. There was nothing I could do to dampen the movement, so with an ah well here goes…let rip… Kabalm. The Chamois about turns it’s body length and vaporises toward the river. Out of sight, I myself converge on the river in time to see it make it to the other side. The Sako ejaculates its deadly 150 grn round and slams the chamois into the ground.

Right at that moment, I did not have the gumption to cross the river and assess the animal. I turned my back and retraced my snow prints back to my backpack, picking up the empty .308 case en route. It was a long three hundred yard trudge to the hut. At the hut I did the usual chores, first being to take the empty water buckets down to the river to fill, I then unpacked my pack.
I noticed the heat in the sun all the while, which also registered to me the need to inspect the chamois and take any meat that I needed. So with daypack on, and always with rifle in hand, I plodded to where the chamois lay.
For the first time in my Meindl boots short life, water filled them to the brim, as I crossed over to the fallen one. On inspection, I deduced the first shot had been amidships. “It” could now be formerly referred to as a nanny, she had 8” horns and was negotiating her life and the country with one eye. So I had shot a one eyed nanny…not something to be remembered by I thought. I took her back steaks nonetheless.
The rest of that day was spent in glorious rest, copious amounts of coffee and tea and mounds of nuts, raisins and chocolates. Despite the rest or because of it my ribs began to get sorer. That thwack with the handle bars yesterday was beginning to make itself felt. The next day was Saturday and I could not move without severe pain, to go hunting was completely out of the question. I began to worry about the prospects of not being able to get myself out of there. The balloon would not go up until Wednesday at the earliest, and I fantasised how nice it would be to ride back in style in a helicopter. No windfalls or deep snow to contend with hmmm…..
The reality though was if a man can get himself in, he can damn well get himself out, so I resolved to see what Sunday would bring, hoping all the while that the weather would not pack in. I was up before the morning dawned, and although still in much pain, I was resolved to having a go. It was with much reluctance that I left my wilderness world and crunched over that now solid foundation of snow across the frozen open stretch towards the distant bush. The trip back was a little easier, for I now had my footprints to follow to negotiate the really bad parts, and also there was a decidedly downward gradient.
It was six o'clock Saturday night when I turned the key in the Nissan and pointed her for home. The weather packed in the next day. As a footnote the ribs eventually took over 6 weeks to heal.


view from "Riverstone Cabin"

view from "Riverstone Cabin"
Hope River