Sunday, 15 July 2012

The day for doing something stupid!

I hadn't done anything stupid for a while now, this was about to change! In fairness, it was collective stupidity, not just my brilliance alone! Why do we always get up in the pitch dark? We arrive at the selected mountain pass far too early, maybe a couple of hours too early! It is bitterly cold, where did all that sunshine go? I look skywards, I don't like what I see! Fast moving dark clouds, filled with snow! A Tibetan guy stops on his motorbike, he warns us about the looming storm. I seem to be the only one listening. The lure of the rare calls, it is an obsessive call, one that all answer.

 We start to climb up the mountain. Steep, you don't know the meaning of the word. But it is not the legs that ache the most, it is my lungs! We are very high and it shows on us. We toil upwards, until we reach some small bushes which dot the hillside. The habitat for another rare and rarely seen species - the almost mythical Koslov's Bunting! We find them quite easily, but are stood at quite an angle, difficult to use the scope here! We all gorge our eyes on this brilliant bird! It is an absolute cracker!

Koslov's Bunting

Tibetan herb gatherers
The weather starts to close in on us,
as we ascend the mountain.

 Reluctantly we move upwards. We are reluctant on two fronts, one to leave such a brilliant bird and the other -  the other looms over us, a succession of false ridges. We trudge and as we trudge, we wheeze & puff. I eventually get to ten paces before each rest! Did I really do all this crap all those years ago in South America? I look across at the others, everyone is knackered! I am to the left of the main party and I see an easier way to the summit. At least I think it is an easier way. I use the contours and gain height rapidly (or kind of rapidly)! The rest of the party get further and further away, up a very steep incline. I leave them be and turn my attention to my goal. My goal lives on the very tops & I mean the very tops! Anyone who has looked for Snowcocks of anykind, knows what I am talking about! This time it is the Tibetan Snowcock that I am looking for. It is getting darker and it starts to snow! I climb higher and get to the summit, just as the snow swirls around me & makes visibilty difficult if not impossible.

It is one - honest!
Then I see it in the swirling mist of low cloud and snow. The snowcock runs towards me & I freeze! I get good views through my bins & manage to rattle off a few shots in the deteriating conditions. I look around, all the landmarks have been swallowed up in the snow. It is time to find a spot to sit this one out. A large boulder gives partial shelter from the fiercely driven snow. I can hear a snowcock nearby, but can't see more than a few metres in front of me. The snowcock goes quiet & so do I. Two hours later I am still there. The weather doesn't look good. I have to think about getting off this mountain. A short break in the weather allows me to make a break for it & I head straight down the mountain, virtually in a straight line. My reasoning is to get as low as possible before the storm returns. My descent is fast but not without danger. The terrain is uneven & pretty sheer. It is also getting very slippy in the snow. I shudder at the thought of taking a fall. I concentrate harder! Two thirds of the way down a see a friend looming out of the mist. Pete has the same idea as me, get as low as possible, as fast as possible. I then walk through some kind of barrier, as suddenly I am no longer in snow & I can see again. But just a few metres higher, the snow is carpeting the ground with renewed vigour. I plod on knowing I made the correct call. I then see the others straggled across the mountain, doing the same as me. We all make it safely back to the road. Remarkbaly, everyone saw at least one Tibetan Snowcock. Amazing considering the visibility. All of us know we made a bad call. We should have birded lower today & not scaled the mountain. No chance of walking the entire summit ridge for Grandala today!

Dramatic roadside scenery.

Ironically, now we are all lower & on the road, the sun comes out. We bird the scrub, next to the road and see several Himalayan Rubythroats.
Male Himalayan Rubythroats singing.

The sun shines in late afternoon & we bird the braided river just on the outskirts of Nangqian.

On the outskirts of the town.

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