Saturday, 8 October 2016

Snow Leopard Expedition Day 8

Watch No 8 - blank. Did see a Mountain Weasel by the camp this morning. It was much colder when we surfaced from the tents at 5.15am and feeling grubby! The anticipation is mounting as we only have 3 more days here to find this damn elusive Snow Leopard. I’ve been sleeping better and we are all getting more used to camp life. It’s extremely dry and quite dusty here but much better than camping in the peak Leopard viewing months of February & March (in my opinion) when for me the cold (down to -30 degrees centigrade) would be unbearable. Still, I’m optimistic about our chances, although the fear of dipping is putting a cloud over the whole experience. Where the hell is this Leopard?

The crew brought breakfast up to us at the watch point above camp and the meal was again excellent. Then the 4 of us walked up the valley towards Yurutse but only got as far as the second valley. It was only to relive the boredom really and to get some exercise. Anyway, we were glad to get some distant Tibetan Partridges and 2 pairs of Guldenstadt’s (White-winged) Redstarts this morning. Most of the birds one would expect to see later in the year have not returned from their breeding grounds much higher up the mountains yet. Oh and I’ve forgot to mention we’ve had some rodents running over our bags that are stashed in the tent annexe directly behind my head when I’m sleeping, and they make quite a noise! And we all had a lovely bucket wash as well, so now we are feeling great!



Camp life goes on....

So we began Watch No 9 at 3.15pm. All of this time I’ve been wanting somebody to shout out “I’ve got the Leopard”. Well at 4.10pm it was me! I scanned a distant hillside about a kilometre away and panned the scope across a rocky outcrop and then panned back as something caught my eye. I looked at a pale blob for a minute when all of a sudden a head turned and I was looking at the head of the fabled Snow Leopard. I calmly said: I have got it, I’ve got a Snow Leopard”. 

Just spotted the Snow Leopard

Then all hell broke loose as directions were given and I put the other scopes on the beast. And I didn’t even swear! With everyone on it I walked behind them and punched the air like Jurgen Klopp in celebration. Oh the relief! Then we were shaking hands and bear hugs all round. I then frantically tried to phonescope some images but the heat haze and distance made it impossible to obtain anything good, but the video through the iPhone worked ok and is better than nothing. After 15 minutes the Snow Leopard got up and we could see the whole body and the extraordinary long tail. It walked slowly along an open area between some large rocks, then downhill a bit before climbing up a steep section of rockface, scratched in a bare earthy area before walking off across a grassy slope and over the ridge – never to be seen again by us. Wow! 



In all it had been on view for 20 – 25 minutes and I couldn’t believe we had finally seen it. The jubilation, the excitement, tremendous high of finally catching up with the Grey Ghost of the Himalayas. I haven’t got the words! We did scoot up the valley to try and relocate it but that was a waste of time. So we returned to camp, celebrated, then celebrated some more. The Godfather beer tasted quite good tonight!

Let the celebrations begin...!



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