Another fantastic day for woozle. Sickening isn’t it. I am paying for it though because I am as red as a post box and you could more or less fry an egg on me. I haven’t been this burnt since I was a kiddie.
I was up at 3.45 am and on the road by 4.30 am. The reason for the trip was ostensibly to try and count the cup markings at the Gardiola and I wanted to be there when the sun was still low enough in the sky to pick out the markings better. I couldn’t be bothered to walk the two hours up to the sheiling at the end of the road so I rode the Trekker up. Well mostly I rode the trekker. Some of the time I had to walk it up because it was too steep for its piddley little 50cc engine. But despite this I still did it (Vignassa-sheiling) in 90 minutes instead of 3 hours and got to the shieling just in time for a fantastic sunrise. Who needs a bigger car and bigger house and more money, life is made of stuff like this; totally alone with nobody around for miles and miles, sitting on a rock with a thermos of roibos, a couple of bikkies and a 180° multicoloured sunrise and whole day’s freedom stretched out before you.
The half hour up on the winding tarmac road loading up to the start of the dirt track was very interesting. As the trekker has only got a piddly little headlight you couldn’t see anything as you took the corners and nothing at all along the side of the road so it was just like time had stood still and there was almost no sensation of movement just of a sort of swaying sensation as I zoomed round what I hoped were bends. Every now and again you caught a glimpse of a purple glow on the horizon and then perhaps the next bend it was pink and then orange. All in all quite a lot of fun and much better than having everything illuminated like daylight. Black sky over a black road in black woods.
Every time I have been up this road before sunrise I have been accompanied by a hare which leaps out of the same place and zig-zags about a kilometer up the road in front of me until with a flick of its back legs and it veers off up hill and out of site. Today it went slower than usual. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s an omen of good things to come. In fact the wildlife was extraordinary this trip. The first thing I ran into about half an hour after leaving the shieling was another black grouse displaying on a rock right on the path complete with customary and lovely calls. This is now definitely my favourite bird call.
I also lost a few months of my life on this trip thanks to critters various, starting with another black grouse with a beautiful red poll which sat tight until I nearly stood on it and shot out with a clatter of wings. I lost about an hour then and had just about recovered when the other one burst off its rock and zoomed off in the direction of the other one.
Once I got to the top of the climb I was feeling really exhilarated and struck out across the more of less flat ground which leads to gard with a spring in my step. There was still quite a bit of snow, about six feet in places but it was rock hard and easy to walk on. I think I might have said something in the last blog but I just bought some trekking poles and I am now a convert. A whole new ball game and they came into their own on the snow. It was quite steep and I was just a little tempted to do some bum sledging but as I wouldn’t go missing until I failed to show up to pick the howler up from playschool at 4.30 thoughts of sitting there for 11 hours waiting to get rescued after breaking a leg as I slammed off the snow into a rock kept me on more adult pursuits.
The Gard sheiling was under a couple of meters of snow too and only the tops of the walls were showing and I cut down by the spring which was free of snow and from there on down steeply to the rock carvings.
Passing in the shadow of some rocks I lost another hour or so off my life as I ran into a chamois who luckily bounded the other way and not into me. I don’t know who was more surprised and I’m afraid I swore at it rather unjustly I mean, standing round corners like that.
When I got to the area where the carvings are I got out my tape measure and cord and chalk and compass and all the other bits and bobs I thought I might need to do a through census of the cup markings….. and then I hobbled around (terrific tendonitis) to see the slabs I hadn’t seen last time and gave up the idea even before starting. There are just too many; you’d need a week to do it all. So I just sat there and wondered. Why, what for, why here. What makes this place so special considering that it’s not that different from any other area on the mountain. Many of the carvings seem to be in groups of three or five, many more in lines. As the sizes differed enormously, some tiny some about the size of a billiard ball it was quite easy to fit them together. So I just sat and pondered. The site was obviously very important, the scant literature on the subject says ‘sacred area’ and seeing it I’d have to agree. It’s the fact that the cups are so very concentrated that makes it special. I suppose we’ll never know the purpose.
As I sat the breeze changed direction. This happens every morning and evening in the mountains, air comes down hill at night and up hill during the day and the changeover usually happens in a few seconds. And as the breeze wafted upward hundreds of butterflies came with it. Not just one species either, dozens of species and oddly, they all seemed to be in pairs fluttering around each other like a dance. I suppose, as there were so many of them that, short of landing they got wafted all the way to the top of the mountain probably to get wafted back down again just in time for supper. It went on for a good half an hour.
Actually this temperature inversion brought out quite a few birds too obviously taking advantage of the currents of air. A pair of seemingly insectivorous sandy beige, quite large falcons (though which ones I don’t know) were flitting here and there and the sky larks were soaring and crashing and then all in a couple of minutes a pair of alpine choughs at zero meters, literally (one of the advantages of keeping still), a few ravens and then a golden eagle. Being so high that you can look down on an eagle is quite amazing. A rare perspective indeed. But then something even better appeared, and something I’m still not sure I saw. A huge griffon vulture. It looked life a griffon, it planed like one and it was definitely way bigger than the eagle but it was flying over the ground and appeared for a couple of seconds and then disappeared out of site in a flash. If it wasn’t a griffon I’m really not sure what it can have been. I‘m also not sure whether to report the sighting or not as I’m not in favour of man interfering with wild birds (then they’ll start ringing them and measuring and all the other stuff ordinary thologists seem to feel they need to do to feel useful) so probably won’t. The more they get left to be wild the happier I will be. I will though make discreet enquiries though to see if there have been any other sightings. It’s another first for me if it was what it looked like.
After hunting out all the carved rocks on the level I was on I sat perched on a rock near the edge and started looking at the rocks below with binoculars. I was bowled over because on one rock I saw what looked like a red admiral butterfly but it was huge, palm size. I already had thoughts of naming this new species for posterity until I realized that I was not actually focusing on a rock 50 yards away, but rather on one 5 yards away. It had me chuckling a bit until, 20 seconds after putting the binoculars down a large, palm sized red flapping thing actually did shoot from right to left and off behind a big rock. I was dumbstruck, what to believe, my eyes or the binoculars? A further 20 seconds later and it was back but this time I got a good view. It was a wall creeper, beautiful red wings and it flits just like a butterfly. Amazing. It’s only the second I have ever seen. It’s amazing how a three second sighting of a bird can make me smile for so long.
Having given up on the counting idea I went even further down the mountain to look up to see if there was any reason for the site being where it was, maybe a change in rock type or colour or something but there was nothing. It’s just an ornery band of rock 150 yards long by about 50 wide perched on the side of a mountain. The sun, while I pondered got hotter and was soon about 35°in the sun though only 22 in the shade and the oddest thing, you could see your breath. Don’t quite know how that works.
I decided to abandon the carvings and move up to the top of the mountain to hunt out more isolated carvings and jeez was the slog up a slog and the hotter it got the harder it got.
I found a couple of other isolated cup markings but nothing out of the ordinary. It’s lovely just to be so high up, with time on your hands just to delve into odd places and peer under rocks and sniff the flowers and grasses rather than just look at them. My favourite smell came from the baking sun on the heather and juniper mixed with a little thyme. Wonderful.
So more or less I spent a couple of hours just rooting around aimlessly and as it turned out, getting frazzled in the process. So today I will be applying liberal quantities of after-sun and getting clucked at by the wife who is today off to Tuscany for a few days with the howler leaving me some time to get up another mountain I’ve been wanting to climb.