Man, am I dirty.
Today we trekked for 7 hours up a glacier valley, searching out trap sites. Hussein Ali lead the way, followed by Boone, Goodrich, Dave and Anthony. Tony and I were on camera, and working hard. Sprinting at 10,000 feet is tough enough – doing it over scree fields and boulders is something else entirely.
But the search bore fruit. Our best chance for cat sign were the small caves – some little more than overhangs – that lie amidst the rocks and boulders. First we just found scratches – then, in a dry riverbed, an amazing find. A set of perfect snow leopard tracks, preserved during a muddy rain about a week ago. In a nearby cave, Boone and Goodrich leaned in close to the rock to smell for cat piss. “Huh, kind of a sagey smell,” says Goodrich. “Almost minty. Nothing like any cat piss I’ve encountered before.” Boone reaches in and plucks something from a rock: a small, stark white hair. His face lights up. “I promised my boy one thing when I left,” he says, “a snow leopard hair!” Spirits are high, and the excitement is tangible.
Higher up: fresh scat, two days old at the most. But this might be a bad sign. The cats range over a wide territory, and if one was here two days ago, it might not be back for three weeks. By the time our full snare kit arrives, we’ll have just one. Thinking on this and other challenges, we eat lunch and head back.
That’s when we first spot it: a massive brown cloud heading up the glacier channel from the valley below. It looks almost like low lying fog, but the texture is wrong, the color, the way it moves. “Dust is coming,” says Hussein, and start hurriedly tying his scarf around his face.
It’s an onslaught. We huddle behind a rock in screaming winds, shielding our faces. Then the rain hits. By the time the droplets strike they’re mudballs, blinding and stinging. The temperature plummets to nearly zero. We put our heads down and move as fast as we can, taking shelter behind rocks along the way. We’re not even close to the valley floor.
In all my travels, I’ve never seen weather turn around that fast. Tony told me on the walk home he was glad he’d skyped his daughters that morning, because he thought that was it. Apparently, though, it’s fairly common – and it can last for a month. I think it’s the Wahkan’s way of saying hello.
Despite the weather, I have to say – this place is amazing. I’m working harder than I ever have before, I’m here with a great project, and I’m running up glacier valleys in the mountains of Afghanistan looking for leopards. Life is good.
Thanks for reading!