Excerpt from my field journal…
“I woke up early to the young dog I’ve grown quite fond of barking nonstop. That’s when I heard the faint familiar, mournful sounding call of a camel echoing across the steppe in the direction of the dog…
Today’s hike was just up the ridge behind camp again. A shorter, 7km hike. We needed to reset the camera trap our neighbor removed. He showed up last night, proudly handing it to us. Why?! Gah! Our shocked faces gave away that we weren’t pleased. Locals know we are out there camera trapping and know not to touch them. Our neighbor was even with us when we set that one! Along the climb, almost to the top, a pair of bearded vultures graced us with their magnificent presence, soaring low directly above our heads. We couldn’t help but stand there and admire them for at least 20 minutes, until they continued on their way.
To our annoyance, the spot where the removed camera trap was, there was fresh snow leopard sign. Nooooo!!! ::falls to knees to yell at the sky. Sobs internally:: While we were around the area of a couple other camera traps, we checked the SD cards. On two of them we got a snow leopard!! Three images on each! I feel like my energy has been rejuvenated. We were sure to get more!
We decided to move one of the camera traps that kept getting goats to another area with fresh sign. For every ONE image of a snow leopard we get, there can be over 1,000 images of livestock to sort through. On the way to that section of the ridge, I think my free climbing skills graduated from “ibex” to “snow leopard”. I’m not sure we could’ve gone a more complicated route. The thick, bushes of thorns wasn’t even the concern. Slipping and falling was. One huge boulder/rock face in particular had a very steep grade and was completely polished down. Add the frozen lichen and sections of snow hiding crevasses that dropped to….who knows…and it was a recipe for a potential disaster. The “hand/footholds” were mere divots, hardly visible but for their tiny shadow. I dug my fingertips in and braced myself as close to the rock as I could.
The rest of the way up to the ridge-line wasn’t as bad but still had plenty of spots where you had to be creative and flexible to pull yourself up or across a section and reach around boulders or ledges. The rock was smoothed down all over and areas showed evidence of where snowmelt has continuously worn it away. I have come to the conclusion that if you want to to study a high altitude cat, you must aspire to become a mountain ninja…”