CRUCIFIXION BY WIND
Today was one of those days whereby fate, life, mother nature, or even Murphy’s Law, if you like, dangles some incredible opportunities in front of you , only to snatch it away at the last second and leave you feeling as deflated and frustrated as finding out that the date you had with the beautiful women you just met, was not only the first, but it was going to be the last…… did I deserve it ? You keep asking yourself till you’re blue in the face and your brain just cant process the fact that it’s all gone south !!!
I spent my day wandering the hills and valleys of Torres Del Paine, where my search continued for a female and her 4 cubs, just one of 4 families of these beautiful predators I am in hot pursuit of these last 4 months. I awoke to a cold morning, promptly warmed myself with coffee and porridge and enough honey to walk to the Argentinian border with out stopping, then commenced my walk in the direction of where I had last seen the family at dusk the day before.
I arrived 30 minutes later and not surprisingly the film crew from Wild Chile was in place, and busy keeping an eye on a small clump of trees close to the edge of a lake, it appears our family were still hanging out in there. After an hour of waiting I decided to head in another direction as news had reached us that a female Puma, that we had all seen in previous days was in the area, calling loudly for males, as she was in Estrus, so I decided to head into the hills in search of her, and hopefully find a few ready, willing and able males in hot pursuit.
I headed in the general direction of the last sighting by 2 of the crew, but drew a blank in all directions, although I did spot a large herd of Guanaco that alarmed called on 2 occasions, but I could spot nothing. I had to decide which option to take, continue walking and searching for the female, head towards the Goic Lake, where a guide and his 2 clients had spotted 2 large cats feeding on a kill close to the trail between Laguna Amarga and the Lake Sarmiento, or head back and wait for our female and cubs to move out from their current location.
I opted to head back, as I was in need of more footage of this family and I knew at least 2 people from the Wild Chile film crew would be keeping an eye on their movements. It transpired that the 2 people watching them headed off on a little detour, and on their return found the family had moved off, but it took them an hour to realise this fact, when they suspected the normally boisterous cubs were not very active in the undergrowth. We agreed to head off in search, with myself heading around the west side of the lake checking all the small areas of woods and dense bushes for any sign of movement, a somewhat nerve-racking exercise, regardless of the fact I have done it a thousand times before, but in order to locate them it has to be done.
Nico the cat specialist and Tuco the cameraman headed around the other side, and thankfully I had not gone more than 500 mtrs before I received a message on the radio informing me the female and cubs had quietly moved about 200 mtrs further away to another copse of trees, we got lucky.
The temperature was below freezing , but thankfully it had been a day of very little wind, jus the odd gust, but I noticed a dark front way out west moving slowly but surely our way, it looked stunning, but it a harbinger of bad news, as to to me it only spelt wind, and lots of it. The female and her cubs eventually headed out and slowly moved around the east side of the lake, followed by Nico and Tuco, I headed straight over the steep hill in order catch a view of them from the top and radio in the location incase they could not keep up, due to the weight of their far heavier camera and tripod. I crested the hill and sure enough found them walking along the shore of a large frozen pond, and I immediately set up my camera as I was hoping one or all my venture out onto the sheet of ice, a few seconds later that is exactly what happened , when one of the cubs wandered out to the middle and stopped, would mum and the rest of the cubs follow ? .
I caught site of the crew on the hill as the cub headed for the side of the lake it had came from, then it stopped as if taunting it’s mother and siblings to head out and join it, no takers , so after a few seconds in started running to the far side and hopped onto dry land, the female and the other cubs slowly walked around to meet it. I was asked to stay put or join the crew higher up, and not go in pursuit as the cameraman wanted some drone footage, so I headed up the hill to cast my eyes over the Inspire 2 drone they were about to launch. I am self funded at the moment, while I shoot material for this teaser and short film, but I thought of how much incredible footage I could have shot with a drone, not to mention longer lenses, especially since my main Panasonic film camera had stopped working weeks ago. I am down to using a DSLR and my 80-200mm zoom, which is pushing one’s luck a very very long way when it comes to filming these felines, but I am determined to carry on until the funds dry up, regardless that I lack big zooms to film.
The drone returned and Nico and I decided to carry on behind them, while the others headed for the road. It was not long before Nico’s radio crackled into life, as he had spotted a lone Guanaco looking nervous below us. We were on opposite side of a small valley at roughly the same height, with a superb view of the surrounding hills spread out before us, we stood a good chance of spotting the family in the remaining light, which I estimated to be about 30 40 mins maximum.
I heard radio noise but I could not understand the message as the wind was picking up speed very quickly, I tried calling back, but no reply, then the fun began. I suddenly noticed Nico pointing his binoculars below and and then 2 seconds later managed to make sense of a crackly call on the radio, the cats were down in the valley a the bottom f the hill I was on top of, bingo !! Just as I reached for the camera in the pack to clip it onto the tripod, I was slammed in the back by a freezing freight train weight wind, and I knew right then and there that my tripod and camera were no match for winds of this force. Regardless I tried with both hands to steady the tripod, after I had focused and hit record, but with the weight of both arms pushing down hard, the wind was far too strong, so I managed a few stills from on high, then moved down the face in the hope less elevation might give me some chance of less wind.
I looked over at Nico who was ready to leave, the light was fading fast, my angle had been greatly reduced by moving down and to my right in search of less wind, and with this 200mm lens I would have to get a lot closer, so I had to admit defeat. As I sit in the warmth of my hut, with a fire burning and a thin veil of snow has recently been deposited, I can hear the wind, it is my constant companion, here, it is an element that dominates these latitudes, and love it or hate it…
You have to live with it.
I have just awoken to a park blanketed in snow, the snow intensified through the night and is continuing to snow as I leave the warmth of hut, for a days filming, if I can actually find anything to film in the low visibility !! I think it will be a day hoping to come across paw prints in the snow, but this is a dangerous game to play in low visibility, so one has to think carefully about blundering blind through the whiteout incase you get a little close than you might like.
But the great news is there is no wind