It was a sunny morning again yesterday, so we set out on the first day in the mountains. Breakfast was early, so we could make good time up a nearby valley. As we ascended we were on the lookout for prey species – this is always hard with such a large group, as prey will flee at the smallest of noises. However, it was important we stick together on the first day.
The main objective of the day was to recover camera trap data from the high ridges and survey the upper valley moraine for scat and scrape evidence. When we reached the moraine we were in luck, numerous scrape marks were found as well as scat. Data and samples were recorded, more evidence for previously unknown presence of snow leopard in this area. Part of the group stayed in the valley to continue surveying and those feeling strong tackled the ridge. It took an hour of climbing up the scree slope to reach the ridge and set our first camera trap. We walked along a short way and found the previously set camera. No luck with leopard, but to our surprise we captured another Pallas cat, a very rare species of small cat not usually known to be up this high. A further walk along the ridge presented us with another scrape and a chance to set another camera trap.
After a very successful day we managed to return to camp at around 18:30 just in time for dinner. Nina cooked up a vegetable stew with rice for our return as well as organised a few celebrations for those with birthdays this week!
This morning it started to rain steadily at around 02:00 and continued until 09:00. A quick look up the mountain revealed that the snowline has dropped around 300 meters. Although the rain stopped, there was low cloud and my decision was that conditions on the ridges were too treacherous. This gave Jenny time to work with some of the group to sift through yesterday’s data. The afternoon brightened up, so some of the group went for a trek with Oleg to look at some ancient rock art nearby.
The summer is short here in the Altai and predictions are that it is going to get colder in the coming weeks, so warm weather gear is essential (note this group 5)!