Not long after I first took up hunting I ventured out on my own one weekend to a spot called Cannonball Flats. It was named for the round boulders that covered the river flats, rough to walk over but fast to warm up when the sun hit them. A perfect place to look for a deer in spring, when they might stay out on the clearings into daylight, feeding on the new grass. Only, it wasn’t spring. It was early winter and the flats had stayed frozen all day.
I had been living in Cairo for a couple of months when I caught wind of a mechanic who specialised in classic British bikes. His name was Zein Hussein and after a bit of sleuthing, an address was procured for his garage. One free afternoon a friend and I took a taxi to a working class suburb called Saiyeda Zeinab to track down Mr Hussein and see what kind of bikes he had.
Like many taxi rides in Cairo, the driver didn’t know exactly where he was going but after a few enquiries shouted out the window to passersby and a bit of vague gesturing on our behalf we settled on a direction and took off. A short time later we spotted the Brookes Animal Hospital which was our cue to leave the cab and continue on foot. We entered a narrow street that smelled of manure and looked around for the garage. We found Zein’s place just around the corner, a small tiled garage barely big enough for a couple of bikes and assorted hardware.
Edited version originally published in Rod & Rifle magazine.
The bush around me was quiet. Peering down the game trail into the dusk I knew I wouldn’t see anything. By the river I sat to watch the light fade. I laid back in the gloom of the bush edge and looked up at beech leaves falling silently like snowflakes. A grey robin joined me. I had seen them throughout the day, until I had the feeling it was the same bird each time. The sky purpled and then darkened as I glassed the flats. Over the valley the moon rose, nearly full.
I sighed, standing on aching knees, cold now from sitting in damp clothes, frustrated at the last three days. It was too early for roaring in the Kiwi Burn. The blood rushed to my feet and I was momentarily light-headed. As I walked back to the hut the feeling returned to my legs and the moon illuminated the tussock as if by streetlight. In the morning we would walk out. We were going to Fiordland next.
A wedding had been the reason to return, its timing at the end of March the deciding factor. For two years overseas I had missed the bush. An old friend from home was keen to hunt the South Island with me while I was back. Then, shortly before leaving Cairo, a serendipitous phone call; we were offered a wapiti block after another party pulled out.
So I’ve received a lot of nice messages lately from friends wanting to know that things are ok. They are, mostly, aside from little things like not having got paid in nearly two months. Thanks for the concern guys. Read the rest of this entry »
This was a feature I wrote for Alpinist magazine. It is available on their website for subscribers. Here it is for my clippings.
The first warning was a sharp crack that punctured the stillness like an exclamation mark.
At 4240 meters, Urdukas camp sits on a series of terraces among the looming boulders of a moraine wall. More rocks perch precariously on the mountainside above. Most expeditions stop here on their way up the Baltoro Glacier in the Karakoram Range of Pakistan. It’s warmer than the sites on the glacier, but the truly notable feature is the view: on a clear day, you can look out on mountains that jut like jagged teeth over the glacier’s tongue. Uli Biaho, Trango Towers, Cathedral Peaks. Names that resonate with mountain lore and forms that evoke a silent awe.
On August 16, 2011, the summits were obscured by a low ceiling of cloud. The mountains, the sky, the glacier—everything was a gunmetal grey. It was early afternoon. A gentle drizzle fell. The trekkers were in their tents. The porters huddled under sheets of plastic or in whatever dry spots they could find. Eight of them sheltered under a large boulder. The stone was the size of a house, but at some point in the past, it had split in two. One half leaned way out, creating an overhang, cantilevered in place by the weight of the other half and by a few smaller boulders wedged underneath.
I had plenty of time to reflect on things on the flight back. The plane was two thirds empty, probably an accurate reflection on the current state of tourism in Egypt. I read a National Geographic article speculating that genetics might explain why some people are compelled to seek out distant horizons. I cogitated on my restless genes as the golden light of a beatific sunset suffused the cabin.
A year ago I was also leaving England in a haze of emotion intensified by a hangover. The anticipation of the unknown was replaced this time by weariness and wariness.