Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Spring is Sprung...

Just after my last blog, Spring suddenly put in an appearance. Overnight we went to plus temperatures and there the thermometer has stayed ever since.
We managed to get another week of foxing out on our far ground, but even there, bare patches were appearing by the finish.
Maybe just as well, what with our argocat out of action and the steering on the snowtrac then giving up the ghost. That left me with the skis but with the snow on the lower ground all broken up it meant I was carrying the skis as much as they were carrying me. It was a hard week but we did manage to catch up with another couple of foxes.
Since then we've been playing catch-up with all those other jobs that have been on hold for so long. Stoat traps have been set, middens set, firewood cut, grouse grit put out and heather burnt. And we're just getting warmed up (as it were)...
I'll try and keep you better posted than of late but I'm afraid my clappedtop can be added to the ever-growing list of equipment failures that I've been experiencing just lately. I'll bid you adieu before I break this borrowed one too.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Fright of the Navigator

As anticipated, Friday saw 3 of us head out to recover the argocat. The plan was simple;- drive out to it with the snowtrac, tie a strop onto it and tow it home. Better still, we didn't feel like we were losing a day either. A wind was blowing and the day was heavily overcast with the threat of rain on the air. Poor conditions for foxing.
The journey out took a little longer than expected. The grey light meant that reading the contours of the snow was virtually impossible. And it got worse the farther out and higher we got. The last mile was in whiteout conditions.
For those of you who have never experienced a whiteout, I can only descibe it as like wearing goggles with tracing paper for lenses. The snow-covered ground is the same colour as the sky, and as featureless. It's alarming just how disorientating it is.
We would never have found the argo if it hadn't been for one thing- it broke down right on top of a hill. Once we were on that hill all we had to do was keep going up.
By the time we got to it, it was blowing a gale, snowing heavily, and a whiteout with visibility down to 30 yards. We decided not to hang about...
We got the strop attached and were very relieved to find that the snowtrac was up to the job of pulling the argo in the soft snow. But, with our fresh tracks indiscernable, how to find our way back down??
Fortunately for all present, I have 15 years of experience on this bit of ground and this, coupled with a decent sense of direction saw me taking the procession off in the direction of home.
My greatest concern was there are two or three deep hollows in the face of the hill we were heading down. Just to be sure we missed the steeps leading into them, I had the third member of the crew walk in front for a while.It's amazing how deceptive conditions like these are, we seemed to be dropping our height for a long, long time.
Suddenly Alan, our guide, stopped and started peering about. As I looked, the mist lifted slightly. It turns out I HAD missed the hollows- by about half a mile! I'd been taking us down off the hill at about 90 degrees from the direction we should have been heading in. Oops!
Just where we could have ended up doesn't bear thinking about. As it was, we hadn't lost so much height that we couldn't angle out of that face, and back onto the right course. Luckily.
After that little detour, there was little excitement- well for me anyway. Dave, who was in the argo, reported that every time we came to a downhill the argo (with a centrifugal clutch and, therefore, no engine braking)would take off towards the back of the snowtrac. And when he applied the brakes the thing would slide 'like a petrol station plastic sledge'.
Suffice to say, we were all delighted to get back off the hill safe and sound. And it only took us 6 hours..........

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Skidoo? Skied oot !

Another day out on skis looking for foxes. Michty me, but it's hard work. I suspect (from the tracks) that the fox- or foxes- are favouring these rock faces to lie up in. But can I spot them? Er, no.
We have to take great care near these places. It would be so easy to end up falling through a cornice or slipping on ice and sliding until you met a rock- or the edge of a cliff. Best avoided, I say.
Although falling is a real danger in these wintery conditions, they are also ideal for falling in with Foxy. We've been working in close cooperation with one of the neighbouring estates and another vixen was caught up with out that way today. Between the two estates, that makes 14 foxes since New Year. To put that into perspective, that's more than we might get in our whole 'foxing season' (den time). However, going by the signs, there seem to be plenty left.
They might get a reprieve tomorrow, too. It looks like we'll be going to try and recover our stricken argocat. I'll be very surprised if it's straightforward.....

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Brokedown Mountain

Every day this week we've been heading out to the far reaches of the ground, looking for foxes. The landscape is more reminiscent of Greenland and the amount of snow out on the hill is beyond anything I've ever experienced. Yet when I look to the distant Cairngorms, I can see there is even more snow there. Even near-vertical rock faces are plastered.
And we're seeing plenty of fox tracks. Where the makers disappear to during the hours of light is a mystery; you'd think there was nowhere to hide in this landscape.
But today was not such a good day. My colleague, Dave, and I were all set to head out in our tracked argocat when we found the brake for the left side had gone AWOL. A greasy investigation found a broken linkage to the master cylinder and it took 3 hours to bodge a new one and install it. When we eventually got 'oot the hill' we found that we'd missed the action and our Head 'Keeper had already been there- and shot a fox forbye!
So we ventured further...and further...and when we got to the farthest limit of the ground our gearbox died. Big time. Popped it's cogs, you might say.
We might have been in serious trouble if it wasn't for the fact that both Dave and I had our own travel insurance- for just such an eventuality.
His policy took the shape of a pair of snowshoes, mine a pair of cross-country skis but even with these, it was a long slog home.