Two Winter Skins

My eyes were open at 3.15 a.m. I spent the next hour alone in the darkness waiting for time to tick by. At 4.30 I got up and dressed and went down and crammed some breakfast down my neck. I later filled the sheep manger with a bale and let the sheep into a fresh paddock. I opened the gate for the cow so she could access the two bales of hay I had put into the covered yards. It was about 5.20 when the Nissan slipped off the property with lights on full into the blackness of the night.

There was not much traffic on the roads at that hour and it took me an hour and ten minutes to complete my journey to the road end. It was still dark as I released the straps on the trailer that were securing my quad and with motor running eased her in reverse onto the hard ground. I secured my pack on the back and slung my rifle on my back and eased the Honda out of the car park.  I negotiated the farm tracks and had to dismount occasionally to unhook the electric fences to proceed. Eventually after a while I entered the bush and that is when I heard a slight grating in the left rear wheel and that was only a short time before the wheel fell off.

The daylight was still in its embryo stage but the light was enough for me to assess the situation and to my utter disbelief I discovered that all four nuts holding the wheel had disappeared into the night. My mind raced back two weeks to the time I had had a puncture and taken the wheel to town to be fixed and obviously when putting the wheel back on I had failed to retighten the nuts after taking the jack away. Bollocks!.

I shouldered my pack and started the long walk back to the car park with the intent of bringing down the car and trailer and somehow hoping I could get the quad back on board the trailer. On reaching the car park I was about to leave with trailer in tow when I spotted the station owner. I hailed him and told him of the situation. He replied that he might be able to find some spare nuts in the work shed and told me to hop in and we would both have a look. I was amazed at his response and very grateful that he was offering me his time. He ended up taking four nuts off a vehicle that was parked up and we left for the sick quad.

In no time the wheel was back on and instead of me returning home with my tail between my legs I was pursuing my journey over the rutted bush track on the first leg of my journey. I left the station owner with the promise of me posting down to him four new nuts on my return home. “Just have a good trip” he said. Some ninety minutes later I parked the bike up and hoisted on my pack and started the second leg of a journey that was to take me the better part of six hours to complete. It was mid winter but the track was clear of the white cold stuff it was instead clinging to the high tops of which I would occasionally glimpse through elevated open spots on the track. I would be up there this time tomorrow I thought idly with any sort of luck and I would fulfil the mission of either a good set of Chamois horns or a good skin either would suit me down to the ground.

Completely knackered I reached the hut at 4pm I took off my pack with great relief and grabbed the hut bucket and went to the river to fill up. The pocket rocket was soon doing its job and a mug full of tea was soon prepared. I donned my mountain hardware down jacket and all was well with the world.   My daypack was readied for the early start I had planned and it wasn’t long after that I had my dinner and retreated to my pit.

I closed the hut door and entered the darkness of the new day with the help of my head torch. The plan was to head downstream for 30 to 40 minutes before cutting up into the bush and climbing for the tops. It was a long arduous climb before I finally broke out of the bush into a flax covered gut that merged with the tops some two hundred yards higher up. It was in the gut that the presence of the serious snow made its presence felt.  It was ice encrusted and would initially take your weight and then give way and leave you floundering knee deep. This coupled with increasing alpine scrub made for very slow going. The daylight was already two hours old and a light snow shower had started as I finally broke free of the alpine scrub. The snow underfoot was beginning to thin also and there was increasing areas of grasses and shrubs up ahead that were free of their snowy mantle. Good news I thought as the ridge I was making for was sheltered from the S.W. wind and was easterly facing which meant it could be the ideal place to find a chamois or two. Making progress on the edge of a scree I steadily climbed ever upward Stopping often to scan the terrain above and to the sides of me. I topped a slight rise and immediately froze in mid stride. Four chamois were sighted with heads down feeding hungrily around a hundred yards away. I ducked down behind the rise to try to get a more detailed picture and picked out another beast on the skyline a further 100yds to the side of the feeding animals and she was looking directly at me. We eyed each other for some moments before I finally slowly sank down to my knees and crawled slowly away and out of sight. Once out of sight I planned a route that would take me around and hopefully on top of all the animals seen so far. I wasn’t sure how the wind would be once I topped out but would have to hope for the best. Ten or fifteen minutes later and I was crawling to the edge of the lip and scouring the country ahead for the animals. Again I locked onto the steady gaze of the alert one and again she was boring into me. I lay prone in the snow and watched her intently for some minutes. Eventually her alertness waned and she started moving towards me. She had covered perhaps twenty yards when two kids appeared from nowhere and followed her. She was I hoped coming to join up with the animals I had first sighted but at the moment were under the lip that I was lying atop. The wind was not all it could be as it was gusting from my back and drifting on an angle towards but hopefully higher than where the animals were feeding. There was nothing I could do about that.

Cooling off a skin

I waited until she had covered enough ground and was out of sight before I crawled slowly towards the lip. Before I could wriggle to the edge, a young nanny appeared high and to my forward right directly down wind of me her head came up abruptly and without further ado was sprinting away. There was a ripple of unease amongst two more of the animals that were in my line of sight as they stared firstly in my direction and then in the direction the nanny had taken, After a few moments though they resumed their feeding. Meanwhile the escapee was whistling and carrying on, always on the move she stayed some two to three hundred yards away and slowly started to cover a 180 degree arc. She would often stop and stare at me. I lay prone watching her, the holes in my leggings letting the snow in and chilling my body. Eventually after about ten minutes she returned to the fold and settled in as if nothing had happened.

I now made up my mind that upon reaching the lip and eyeing the group, if no buck was there worth taking then I would take a couple of skins. Crawling forward my movement caught the eye of a nanny not more than thirty yards away her head came up sharply and stayed riveted on me. I wasn’t going to bluff my way out of this one so shouldered my rifle and let loose a 130 grn Barnes. She dropped pole axed and then all hell broke loose. At least ten animals were in motion all up until then hidden by the overhanging lip I was on. They were escaping down wind into my slipstream. Up until that moment I had been dragging my daypack behind me in the snow to be ready if needed for a hasty rest to shoot from. Now it was needed I draped myself behind it and rested Sako on top. I quickly scanned the mob as they reached the 100yd mark and there was no sign of a buck within their ranks. The nanny about five back started to slow her forward momentum and the duplex settled on her back. She paused and the light trigger was pulled toward me. The report and thud were one and she collapsed to the ground and slid down a gently sloping rise leaving a trail of blood in the snow. The rest of the mob did not look back.

A good winter coat

I skinned the two animals. I also took a couple of back steaks to supplement my dehydrated rations.

I then laid the skins hair side up in the snow to hasten their cooling whilst I enjoyed my lunch of sardine sandwiches and chocolate dessert. All too soon it was time to load up and find a route down off the tops.

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