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 back-dropped 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 occasionally glimpsed through the dense canopy high above me. The ground soon became almost vertical, 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 laid 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 in the sun. 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…Kabam! 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.