December 09, 2013

Looking for Cameras in the Snow

That scout camera is near here somewhere.
Hardly anyone climbs this ridge. In fact, until last November 1st, I had not been up it in years, although it is quite close to home.

That day, working my way up through the thick trees and rocks, I found myself looking at cut stumps from spindly north-slope Douglas fir. I had wandered into the edge of the burn, and here, at my feet, was the ragged "scratch line" dug through the rocks by the San Juan Hotshots on July 3, 2011. Theirs were probably the last boots on this part of the mountain.

I remember the day of the fire, hearing their chainsaws whining way up the slope. I was with our department's water tender on the Forest Service road lower down. It was our job to refill our brush truck's tank, emptied as its crew chased hot spots up and down the road — the fire kept wanting to jump over it.

Sure, it would have been more fun to be in the thick of things, but my assignment meant that I could literally run 200 yards home and warn M. if the fire changed direction and headed for our house. That it did not do. A fast initial response with federal hand crews, two or three volunteer departments' engines, and air assets stopped its run, and we slept in our own bed that night.

And the ridge was given back to the deer, the bears, and the foxes. 

Even before the fire, I had been placing a scout camera on a certain game trail low on the ridge, where the bears in particular follow their own parallel way to the road.

Finally late this autumn, I got more ambitious. I put one camera, call it #2, midway up the slope, and on November 1st, I revisited the ridge's crest and placed another, #3,  at what seemed a likely pinch point.

Two days ago, with snow on the ground and temperatures well below freezing, I figured that all the camera batteries were probably dead and that I really ought to get the cameras down off the mountain.

The trail to camera #1 is easy, a walk in the park. I pass it and keep climbing. Where was #2. It's so confusing — the thick woods, the shallow ravines. Which is which? I should have brought my GPS receiver, since I waymarked it back in October.

Now I know that I have climbed above it. I might as well keep going for the crest, look for #2 later.

It's cold, maybe 15° F. I need to pee, so I face downhill, and realize that the tree trunks are all scorched on the uphill side. I have wandered east into the burn.

I move fifty yard west, detour around some fallen trunks, and I think that I am on the right path, more or less. There are deer tracks going up, and I follow them. Will they crest the ridge at the right point? Underfoot are tumbled rocks, a sort of lightly forested talus slope, covered with snow. Maybe the deer know the best way up and over.

Following the deer tracks, I climb to the top — and I am staring right at camera #3. It was well-placed!

I unstrap it from the tree, sling in my shoulder, and start down, following the 2011 fireline (I think). The snow has covered my little marker cairns, most of them.

I am making good progress going down — and not falling! — until I look out through the trees, spot a neighbor's house, and realize that I have now drifted too far west. So it is time to contour to the east until I intersect my upward-bound footprints.

Still no camera #2. I will just have to come back with the GPS receiver and find it. I make my excuses: everything looks different in the snow.

And then I see it. And I see my tracks not six feet from it. I had walked right past it while looking off to the other side. Some woodsman I am!

I sling #2 on my other shoulder, continue on down, sure of the way now, collect #1, and walk down the snow-packed road to home.

Photos to follow. I need to learn that piece of country better.

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