Sunday, April 10, 2011

snow walking with animals

One year ago...
walking through mountain forests, along paths that follow river streams that flowed because of the hot springs feeding into them. The snow was quiet deep after late falls and the paths were marked by previous walkers. All the way along our human footprints mingled with animal tracks...
including lots of monkey prints..

and hare foot prints- although we saw monkeys, and two weasels bouncing through snow drifts, we didn't see any hares.
In some areas the river had large amounts of animal tracks, either as a place were it was easy to get down to drink, or get in were the springs of hot water where entering the river. We didn't see any monkeys bathing but a lot of evidence of monkey activity.

One day we walked up to try and get over mountain ridge to get to a perched swamp surrounded by higher peaks. The snow was deep close to the top and being completely unused to walking in those conditions, in a landscape we didn't know, we turned back. On the way back almost at the end of our walk, near the onsen, we had an encounter with a mysterious creature.
Just ahead of us we saw a large animal clamber up the rocks near the path. My first thought was that it was a wolf, but I remember reading that the Japanese wolf was extinct. Haico was dancing around singing "It's a bear, it's a bear!" I wasn't sure, although it was large enough to be a bear (on the Tokyo subway on our way home there was an add with bears in it that was uncomfortably close).
The animal looked at us and we at it. Luckily I had my binoculars with me and while not being able to identify what it was we could see it had small horns and was therefore was no bear. It stood its ground and we walked slowly along the path towards it. It kept its eye on us on as we passed it and went behind. Close up we could see it was like a large hairy goat, or a stocky hairy horse?

Back in the onsen Haico looked up all the possible words for goat and mountain goat and deers but there wasn't anything that seems right. We entertained a fantasy for a moment that it was a figment of our imagination, that being both Capricorns, we had conjured up a mythical mountain creature that had resisted being photographed. At dinner we showed out photos to a experienced walker who was at the onsen as well (and who had made it over the ridge that day), he was totally surprised and asked us where we saw the rare "kamoshika"- a Japanese Serow (antelope) -Capricornis crispus.

The next morning along the track we had walked in on, we saw several groups of monkeys, including a family group with alpha males and females with babies, looking for the young bamboo shoots coming through the melting snow.

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