Despite having a cold developing, I decided to take a couple of days off from my weed spraying, fencing, tree planting, sheep husbandry etc and head back to the ‘Mystery River’. While I live I can yet journey on, one step after another – unlike my schoolboy friend, news of whose unpleasant death reached me as I was about to set out. The pleasures of my latest hiking adventure were somewhat muted eg as I listened to the Seekers sing ‘The Last Goodbye’ on my smart phone whilst reading Conan Doyle’s ‘the Lost World’ – none of these coincidences planned…I’m sure he would have preferred to be with me.
I spent the afternoon of the first day exploring some country upriver where there are some beautiful flats and clearings – unfortunately they do not join up easily with the flats where we camped. I essayed a riverbank approach but was continually bluffed out till I gave up. There is a lengthy traverse across the top of a promising grassy gully to get there, which would be difficult in fading light, should I take a companion/s with me planning to split the hunting opportunities.
My cold slowed me down somewhat and robbed me of energy so that I did not cover much new country. I continued to observe though that some much less ethical tally hunter had (again) followed my instructions to this spot and had been shooting numerous deer and leaving them quite otherwise untouched to rot mostly along the riverbank: half a dozen at least! Spot was keen to roll in them but was sternly rebuked for his ambitions as I certainly did not want to share a small even open tent with a foul-smelling canine. All the dead deer I found could have been shot with a telescopic sight from the other side of the river, perhaps explaining why they had been left (but not why they had been shot!) Some would have been very long shots.
The quite numerous remaining deer have quite naturally become a little warier! Except perhaps for this youngster stalking Spot and I as I went for water at sunset. So often I see deer whilst about this chore. It is next to impossible to ‘bag’ a decent trophy armed only with a billy and water bottle! She was just crossing the river towards me and was quite taken by Spot’s fetching new Tyvek raincoat which I had just put on him against the descending evening chill. (http://www.theultralighthiker.com/tyvek-jack-russell-rain-coat-13-grams/)
She had certainly never seen anything like that and was keen to get a closer look. She approached to less than 3 metres from us before fleeing in alarm. I was keenly snapping away with my new camera, and was so assured of some great shots I failed to snap his mother afterwards honking at us from the opposite shore from amidst some shrubbery as I reckoned (probably correctly) that the light was against me. When I returned to my tent’s glowing firelight I was appalled to find that the control knob on the camera was somewhere between ‘Auto’ and ‘Short Movie’ so all I had except these blurry shots was even worse blur of a deer face to face. Dammit! I will have to decide on a strategy to prevent this in future! Imagine how badly I would feel though if this had been the first NZ moose photo in @ 50 years!
Young deer @ 10 metres crossing river centre just below bank and right of overhanging tree.
Deer (centre) approaching Spot @ 5 metres with ears held upright in a questioning manner.
The same deer ears straight up @ 2.4 metres about to bolt.
The deer’s ear language is interesting. This deer is curious and determined . So many critters with mobile ears and tails express interesting nuances with them. I have spent thirty years observing body language in sheep, which is much the same. Everyone understands the meaning of a ‘hang dog’ look. You can certainly judge whether you have been ‘made’ (out) by a deer by paying attention to its ears. I maintain that looking it straight in the eyes is a dead-set giveaway. For example, a dog will wag his tail to his right side when he is feeling happy, positive or confident about approaching something. On the other hand, the dog will wag his tail to the left if he feels scared or wants to bolt from the situation. When observing deer, keep your attention on their ears and tails.
I just could not believe what my camera had taken!
The same spot next morning – it is a beautiful river!
During the night a very large deer approached quite near our camp (perhaps 3 metres away) before it honked deafeningly and bolted for the river. I caught a glimpse of its derriere in my torchlight before it hit the screen of shrubbery along the river’s margin, which is why I know that this shot is a deer print next to my glasses case – else I would have had to suspect a moose (!) or cattle. There is a small herd of wild cattle about. I saw a mob of approx six (didn’t think to photograph them). None had ear tags, and they were a long way from someone’s farmland, but may be rounded up some time I guess, if anyone suspects they are there. I would guess this print belongs to a resident stag who most like is only out and about at night, as is their wont. If his rack is anything like his feet, he is a monster. Mind you I have shot does with feet near as big as this. Foot shape and size is one of those myths of the tracking world: like people deer have different foot sizes and shapes. There is some correlation between size and gender, but the notion that rounded tips are stags and pointed ones does (or vice versa) is down to someone who has not paid any attention to the feet of the deer they have shot, or they have not shot many. I did once start on a collection of deer’s feet, but they were smelly things to have around and the dogs were apt to find and eat them! Clearly though a long stride bespeaks greater height, and splayed toes indicate flight (or downhilling). They will use their feet as tools betimes: to gouge out a lick or a bedding spot, or when jousting, preaching etc. Likewise their antlers.
There is a VERY large deer FOOT around there somewhere!
This was our comfy little camp for a couple of nights by the river. See: http://www.theultralighthiker.com/tyvek-solo-fire-shelter/) Amazing that all that gear can fit in such a small, lightweight pack. As usual I took too much food and came home with it. Exercise diminishes my appetite for some reason. I need urgently to undertake a very long journey…well, I am working on it!
Hard to believe all of this fits in the small grey-green pack right.
Spot likes to help with packing away!
The second day I decided to explore the pack track downriver I had stumbled upon before. I had decided to camp the second night on a river flat I had glimpsed from a hilltop in the distance previously, so I eschewed just taking my daypack (worse luck!) and set out with all my gear. I had a detour of a couple of kms exploring a nice clear double gully system: there is some beautiful grazing around there. Clearly in the past there was a grazing licence or private property which has reverted to the Crown as evidence of this old fence shows:
Historic remnants – hard to believe someone once building a rabbit proof fence in this terrain. A good deer trail Spot found.
Mostly I was marking the pack track (perhaps for a later machete clearing job so I can bring Della with me) by breaking the odd dogwood or manuka branch off along my route. It is very overgrown (mostly due to the fires a few years back), and seriously eroded and hard to follow in places, but altogether worth it on balance. Eventually after a few kms it met an old overgrown vehicular track heading downriver whose gentle gradient made easy walking. I guess I had proceeded along it a couple of kms before I noticed that one of my hearing aids was missing. These (Siemens Aquaris waterproof – highly recommended!) cost upwards of $7,000 each in Oz (though I bought mine from this guy in America for @US1600 each: (http://www.thehearingcompany.com/AQUARIS-Models_c_124.html) I guessed that I had flicked it out on some of the whippy undergrowth I had been pushing through. Even though I was nearing my goal, I had to make an attempt to find it before I forgot exactly where I had been, even though they are made deliberately of a size and colour that makes for easy concealment, and as it was likely it was whipped off my route entirely as happened to one of my hiking poles during my Snowy Bluff walk: (http://www.theultralighthiker.com/snowy-bluff-mt-darling-wilderness/).
So, instead of proceeding forward to a nearby camp and rest (!) I headed back whence I had come thanking my lucky stars I had been breaking trail as I went so that I could be assured I was looking in the right place (except for one enormous detour though mostly over clearish country). I had Spot sniff my remaining hearing aid in the hope he would get the message I was looking for one of them. Unfortunately hearing aids do not have four legs! In the end he walked right over it as I nearly did too. I had been expecting it might be hung up in one of the whippy branches but in the end it was lying on quite a clear patch of ground, still very hard to spot. It must have come off my ear and balanced on my pack for a time before sliding off. It was hard enough to find on clear ground; I would never have found it in a worse situation – though you can be sure I would still be looking!
Spot’s nose (or his training) might have failed him in the hearing aid hunt, but his breed (Jack Russell) really is a scent trailing type. I have noticed many times him ignore the clear sight of some game at distance whilst he proceeded to follow their scent instead. Mind you what passes for ‘clear sight’ to me might be quite different when your eyes are less than a foot off the ground! On the way in on the first day we put up a large animal on a stag’s rub line. These are boundary lines anyway, so it could be that it was a doe, though it no doubt adds a tingle of excitement to imagine it has a large tempting rack! There had been some rain recently, though the bush is becoming surprisingly dry and ‘crunchy’ underfoot, so its tracks were not so hard to follow. I showed his nose the marks and indicated ‘fetch’ (which would be no mean feat!). He led me on its trail a couple of kms downhill, (every now and again accompanied by a distant thump as it struck the ground in warning with its forefoot, or the crack of a distant twig) until it finally crossed the river and eluded us. I am certain that (properly trained – this may never happen to mine!) Jack Russells will make excellent deer dogs – their keenness would be accentuated wonderfully by shooting a few deer off them now and then, if only I had the enthusiasm (or hunger)to do so. They are wonderfully compact dogs who can fit inside your shirt or balance on your shoulders on difficult river crossings; their gear and food weigh so little, yet they are just as great a companion as bigger dogs, and just as useful in the hunt.
Downstream a step or two: Another beautiful river shot!
When I found my hearing aid, I confess it felt a bit like winning the lottery. I have just become used to hearing ‘properly’ again having found some wonderful people who WILL tune my hearing aids even if I bought them more cheaply overseas (http://www.hearingsavers.com.au/). Most won’t. Audiology is a huge scam costing the Federal Government billions – but I can assure you the pollies don’t want to know! I had been tuning them (poorly) myself these last several years. Only a couple of weeks ago these folk had tuned my aids for me – and I can hear all sorts of things now/again.
The birds, for example. Maybe when I was young I would have heard the very high pitched warblers which abound along this stretch of river. Small dun-coloured sparrow-sized birds they are. I was never able to get a good look at them (or a photo), though I tried, so I don’t know their species. They have clearly been breeding very successfully as there was one every 20 metres or so, but always concealed in dense vegetation. They must be more aggressive to each other than Isis – if the stridency of their singing is any indication. The riverbank also abounds once more with wrens, though in general the birdlife is much diminished especially further away from the river (on the ridges etc) since the fires of a few years ago. If conservationists would only join the Country Fire Authority they would ‘save’ much more of the bush than all their special pleading for National Parks etc ever will! I doubt they will though, as it would require work and effort, risk even, and indeed their presence in the bush they pretend to love so much – for too distant from the nearest latte really!
The search for my hearing aid was the reason I camped again in the same spot as the first night, the deer now giving me a wider berth. I only stayed the two nights as the temperature was warming too much, and I did not look forward to the danger of snakes to Spot or having to haul myself vertically the few hundred metres to my waiting vehicle in temps in the twenties. And of course at home, there are still plenty of weeds to attack & etc. Also my cold was dragging my energy levels down after a longer than anticipated day carrying my full pack. But, I shall return. I daresay come summer we will venture carefully down this river in our canoes. It is a big river with lots of water at the moment, though the rapids I have seen look manageable. We will have to feel it out carefully as my wife’s failing eyesight make negotiating large rapids treacherous for her nowadays. We have canoed much in the past, and expect a few riverine adventures yet. Hopefully the most dangerous rapids can be safely portaged. I may have to do the trip by myself the first time to check it out – or perhaps I can enlist one of my ever-diminishing group of friends to accompany me; though so many folk my age seem to feel they are safer home in their beds – ‘most people die in bed, therefore bed is a dangerous place and should be avoided,’ my grandfather used to say. Give me the safety of wild places any day!
Spot does enjoy his sleeping bag atop my pack! Of course, at night he nestles inside his sleeping bag: this one weighs 200 grams: he is soon to get a new one which will weigh 102 grams! Every little bit helps! This lady is a useful resource for those who enjoy making their own gear: http://www.questoutfitters.com/index.html You might think about making the ‘Bilgy’ tent and G4 pack or insulated clothing pattern, for example.