Writeup #3 - Elk hunt

The roar is the favourite time of the year for most hunters with only one trip being. That is a trip into Fiordland for the bugle. On the 8 April Fraser and I found ourselves on the side of the isolated Lake Grave in the Dark River. This block is often referred to as the orange block because on the topo map it appears mostly orange. Very steep mountains and rotting vegetation make both the light and water dark in the appropriately named Dark River. Making this beautiful terrain even more formidable is the house sided boulders covered in rotten, soaking wet vegetation. Because of this we wanted to get out of the valley asap. After landing at 2pm we headed straight for the tops. This was steep, thick, slippery, wet and not an easy 600m climb to where we camped for the night. Finding a campsite in a swamp halfway up a mountain was not easy. Eventually we found an old streambed that was somewhat flat and relatively dry considering the surroundings.

After not hearing any bugles (or roars for that matter) overnight the second day was spent climbing further up the mountain. This included lots of bush bashing and climbing up an extremely steep gut trying to keep out of the thick bush. During the climb we saw a pair of kaka and two elk hinds with no stag across the basin. We found ourselves on a ridge with cliffs either side and a great open flat spot to camp. We used the rest of the short day to warm up around a roaring fire and use the first clear view of the tops we had to look for animals. After seeing some chamois and hearing a few roars from the basin below we spotted what looked like a big bodied elk with a few smaller red skinned animals very high up on a face about 3km away. We came up with a plan for the next day and went to bed as it started snowing.

No animals showed themselves in the early morning, so we slowly started making our way along the ridge which lead to where we saw the bull the night before. Back in the tops gaining height we started to see increasing amounts of sign, so we set up camp then climbed up to the nearest ridge for an evening of glassing. After hours of glassing and starting to freeze we decided to check out over another ridge as it was decided that was the logical place the animals from the night before could be. Climbing around a couple of faces, across some icy rock ledges we got to the next ridge.

Within 5 seconds of popping our head over Fraser had spotted the bull about 250m down the hill with two red hinds and their fawns. We pulled back from the ridge losing height and getting into about 160 meters away. After debating about who should shoot it, with snow coming down hard and the setting sun reflecting up of the Tasman sea I let 2 shots off. After tensing up after the first shot the bull almost instantly dropped on the second as the other 4 deer silently sneaked off into the undulating terrain.

As the snow was quickly starting to build up and it was only 15 minutes from dark, we got down there to check out the magnificent animal and take what we could. With this we made the nearly 40min walk back to the tent which was not easy to find in whiteout conditions and covered in 10cms of fresh snow. A big feed was followed with a good long sleep. A good part of the morning was spent chilling out in the tent waiting for the sun to melt the overnight snow.

After packing up we made it up round the next peak which opened up to 3 amazing basins. Spending the rest of the day glassing only a few Chamois were seen. We had started to question or plans of continuing around the top. It looked nearly impossible with the only possibly passable terrain being on the south side and having a fair amount of icy snow.

One of the many amazing basins.

Camp before and during the snowing.

That night it again began to snow getting even heavier in the morning. Having received a weather forecast in which we were told that the weather was possibly getting worse over the next 4 or so days which caused concern as we could be in there no longer than 3 more days. Now with the extra snow it was unsafe if not impossible to carry on around the tops. This forced us to climb down the valley down we were currently in trying to find our way down steep faces which we couldn't tell if they were solid rock or tussock in the deepening snow and we decided to make the long and difficult trip back to the lake for a ride out. Once we got into the bush the going was agonizingly slow, using rotten trees as bridges from house sized boulder to the next. At times we travelled no more than 300meters in an hour. After over 10 hours of walking we hit the beach and waited for our ride out.


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