Where Eagles Dare

the group looking for an exit: The second nanny down can be seen under the blood trail on the highest finger of scrub

The lone buck chamois picked his way slowly out of the gut
and was moving up onto the ridgeline. When at last he got there he paused and
looked intently up to the higher ground. I traversed the Lecia 8×20 in the
general direction that he was gazing and found another buck some three hundred
yards further up the ridge. The top buck was posturing in a very unfriendly
manner and it looked from where I was, as if he was not exactly happy with the
interloper that was invading his space. I ranged the animals at 753 meters. The
intervening ground was a nightmare of near vertical gullies and ice and snow
chutes seemingly on end.

I scrambled out of my pit at 04.15hrs. and was leaving the
hut and plodding the snow festooned track a little while before 05.00hrs. I
needed to put in at least an hour plus on the track before plunging into the
bush and climbing for the tops to an area I had spied the day before whilst
glassing up the valley.

Daylight was a well worn hat at 07.10 as I emerged out of the bush. Bugger! Was my first outburst as I scanned the steep terrain for I realised that I was a little too far over from
where I wanted to be ridge wise. Other than that though I was certainly in the right
general area to encounter Chamois for as far as the eye could see other than where I was at the time was just white, white and more white. The immediate area however was so steep that all the real heavy snow had slipped with gravity and left all the alpine plants
uncovered for the foraging animals.

I scanned above me for a route that would take me a couple
or three gullies over to my left to a ridge that would afford me a terrific view of the
rest of the hillside and also looked a good way to descend later in the day. In
front of me though was a steep razor backed ridge of some twenty or so yards that led
to the base of a sheer face  that rose
for some twenty or thirty feet, it was covered with scrub and looked climbable, beyond
that I would continue to climb and hopefully find a route across to my “safe”

I rummaged in my pack for my crampons to cross the razor
back, knowing full well I would have to take them off again when I got to the
base of the wall- again bugger!  The
climb was both nerve racking and exhausting knowing that one slip would be
curtains in this soap opera. Eventually though I found some cherished flat
ground and was able to get my emotions under control. It was some minutes later
when I spied the two buck chamois over seven hundred meters away.

They soon became irrelevant to me as I now had enough
problems on my plate and hunting was not anywhere on the menu. There was no way
I was going to down climb the way I had just come so it had to be up and hope
to find a way across. It was a very stressful two hours in which I had climbed
to the base of a huge buttress of rock and was left with no alternative other
than to down climb and traverse those ice slopes that were sickeningly steep
one slip would surely mean terminal velocity in a very short time indeed.

The sun was now making its presence felt and also reflected
off the ice without mercy. Three points of contact at all times I kept
repeating to myself. Kick in left foot, place axe, kick in right foot and so on
and not daring to look down at the yawning chasm below my feet. It felt like a lifetime
to cover the twenty or so yards before reaching the haven of rock and plant life. Then
again and again it had to be repeated until at last there was only one more
gulley to negotiate before I summated my “safe” ridge. I was half way across
when my left boot contacted a slab of rock no more than an inch or two under
the surface of the ice it was quickly followed by my axe and my other foot.
There was not enough grip in the shallow ice and I began to scrape down the
wall. I thought “don’t panic” surely the rock cannot go on forever and soon you
have to find some form of purchase. I was also moving quicker to get some more
momentum for the crossing. I must have peeled down that rock for quite a few
meters before my crampons bit deep into some deep ice encrusted snow. When I
was safely fixed on three points I just hung there and my legs began to shake.

On "safe ridge" looking back the way I'd come

The funny thing with adventure is that when you are at home
you long for a double shot of it however when you are in the midst of it you
tend to want a double shot of being at home in front of the telly!…now who
was it that quoted that?

Wherever that quote came from I didn’t know or really care – but they were my
very thoughts as I carefully made my way to the top of “safe” ridge and glanced
down into the huge chasm on the other side. Immediately the forms of eight
nannies sprang to view they were oblivious to my presence and they continued to
forage on the alpine plants here and there on that steep face. I ranged them
for the hell of it and recorded 147 meters – a mere stone’s throw away.

I laid my pack out and placed Sako over top, picked out a
target and let fly. They scattered in all directions but nothing fell. Just as
I was aligning up with target 2 however I saw an animal drop in the edge of my
scope and fall on a snow chute and scream away at a rate of knots. I squeezed the
trigger again and the second one went down for keeps and lay inert at the upper-most  point on a finger of alpine pasture.

The rest of the mob were certainly confused and didn’t know
where to go. I kept a low profile and snapped off a few camera shots. I noticed
one animal break away immediately and proceeded to climb a steep slope alone.
The rest continued to mill about for some time before being led away to safety
by the head honcho.

It was time for lunch as I watched the mob finally climb
over the skyline in the distant. It was the same ridge the two bucks were on at the
start of this long arduous morning.

I did not want to think about retrieving the meat off those
animals so didn’t. I kidded myself that I was no way going to descend down a
vertical ice wall into that gulley for no chammy! Instead as soon as I had
finished my pit stop I was going to carry on down “safe” ridge and to hell with

Trouble is -you simply don’t shoot animals to leave them on
the hill.

I was weighing the odds as I sat munching on my sardine
sandwiches and I somehow managed to convince myself that my crampons and axe
were worth ten men and that with a little care I should be able to down climb
to the last animal retrieve the back steaks at least and then further down -climb
to wherever the first animal had slid to. The worst part was when I initially
had to kick my legs over the void, but once under way I seemed to gain
confidence with every foot hold. The ice was still in shade on this side of
the gulley and there was a slick sheen to its surface. The front points of my
crampons bit deep with every kick and little by little I made my way down into
the snow gulley.

I then traversed over to the young animal took her back-steaks
noted her coat was on the winter decline and then sent her hurling into space
onto the snow chute. She picked up speed quickly and tore down the slope. She
came to a sharp right turn and disappeared from sight. Right I thought when I
find you I will find the other one.

It took me sometime to negotiate that gulley- I certainly
didn’t want to compete against her for time!

The axe is holding her steady for a bit

I finally rounded the bend and immediately saw them both
side by side some hundred yards further on. I filled my pack with meat and
sought the valley floor via the snow gulley I was in.

There was much evidence of avalanche debris contained in
that gut all the way down to the river.

As a footnote;   I class this and all the winter trips I do solo, to sastisfy my own need for adventure. I am always looking over the next hill for new places to test myself. There is nothing worse in my eyes than to continually take animals from the same area. It also of course gives me great choice on where to take clients when the weather is more gentle and forgiving and I can tailor the trip for that person.





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