The intrepid trapper: Week three – 24-26 January

Day 8

With 24 January being a public holiday, we had a long weekend, so Gerry and I finished digging a trench through part of our olive grove and installed a drainage pipe. Some of the trees suffer from wet feet, and with all the rain we had late spring, they don’t look all that good. Digging trenches and carrying gravel up a hilly property is no easy feat, giving the old gal a bit of a hammering.

On Tuesday morning, Ian met Nina and I in Ashhurst for a trip back to farmer Jim’s property to check the traps there. On the way, we picked up Jim in Apiti to show us the way around his property. Ian brought along a few new traps and some mechanisms to replace any faulty traps. The ones on farmer Jim’s are about fifteen years old, some quite rusty and others just not in good nick anymore. Ian will service these to be deployed on a public road that’s part of the project area. The rationale is that, being old and rusty traps, they are less likely to get stolen or vandalised. And if it does happen, the loss is somewhat smaller.

Jim’s property is such that there are two separate traplines. One with 16 traps and another stretch with 20 traps. Ravines, hills, and steep valleys separate the different sections of his farm. Both lines run along fence lines bordering on paddocks. Although it is very steep up and down, the going is easy on grazed grass. But with the rain the previous night, it didn’t take long before my feet were soaking wet. We also had to jump the fence a few times as having traps on the other side of the fence means that the sheep will not kick and accidentally set them off. 

Jim and Sandy’s farm is beautiful – huge areas of indigenous forest with some giant red beechwood trees dotted all around the property, with ravines, valleys and little streams. Since Sandy also has a horse trekking business, this is perfect for scenic treks with clients.

He showed us a few landmarks, or attractions that are part of a horse trek outing, among others an old cedar tree stump that still contained slits cut into the trunk as foot holds for the tree fellers to saw higher up the trunk. There’s also an abandoned old blue Bedford truck hidden in the bush since 1983 (last date on the licence) when the owner parked it for good. It is completely overgrown with lichen and hidden in plain sight right next to the road. A bizarre, but quite amazing sight, with an interesting history, I’m sure. Even though there are quite a few massive red beech trees on the farm, one giant in particular is a favourite landmark on the horse treks.

We also installed five monitoring tunnels on this stretch, which took us on a private bush track that forms part of the horse trekking route. The monitoring cards will be placed at a later stage, as they have to be collected again after three days. Doesn’t make sense to place them if collecting them means having to go back on the weekend.

The second stretch of traps finished at a private hunter’s hut on Jim’s farm. We could get these checked, and reset by lunchtime. Jim offered to make us tea while we had a quick bite to eat on the porch of the hut. A light drizzle started and I decided to don a rain jacket for the walk down to and up Cone Creek. It runs parallel to Knights Track, but is located a bit more north, and on private land.

This section had to be ground-truthed, so a spot was identified every 100 metres as the crow flies, where a trap will be placed at a later date. Jim showed us the way down to the creek from the hut and back up on a different track. Although it is very pretty, it is also very steep, and will be quite slippery when wet. Down at the creek, we just followed Jim who knew which side of the creek is the better way to walk at any given point. A few landslides and some waterfalls forced us to make detours around them, and I fear I might not be able to find the exact, easiest path by myself.

By the time we got back to the hut, we’d marked about 12 new spots for traps. The light drizzle persisted, but almost not worth bothering with a rain jacket. Back up and out of the valley, we gathered our stuff to make our way back to Jim’s, as it was getting late in the afternoon.

On the way back to Jim’s place we caught up with Sandy who was tending horses, so Jim decided to catch a ride with her. While chatting, the drizzle turned into rain and the mountain disappeared even further under a thick cloud.

All up, we got six hedgehogs and a rat on the 36 traps. He also has a few possum kill traps in trees, and we saw at least one dead possum.

Day 9

Nina suggested we go back to Deerford to move the traps that were left at the junction below the loop the previous week, further up the mountain.

Luckily Gerry could juggle his working hours, so came with us to help carry traps. The weather forecast didn’t look too flash, but it turned out quite nice for most of the day. We each carried two traps (#5-10 on the trapline) to their spots on Shorts Track, some 3km and 450 metres elevation from where we left them the previous time. The first bit is a reasonable gradual uphill, but then the climbing starts in all earnest on some super steep sections. Carrying the weight of two wooden traps and some emergency gear, food and water, is hard yards.

After baiting, setting and tagging the traps, we made our way down the mountain for another round before the weather turned for the worse. This time we took the traps only to the start of Shorts Track (1.6km and 270m elevation), past Deerfort. Just getting there is in any case one of the steeper sections on the trapline, and about halfway to the peak. On the second round, the wind picked up and the clouds grew darker. After dropping off the traps, we decided to take the other side of the Deerford loop back down, to check the traps on that side. Some windfall blocked the road in a couple of spots where one either has to clamber over multiple huge fallen trees, or take a detour.

On this stretch we cleared out a hedgehog and a rat, and had to reset some traps that went off without killing anything.

My legs went from tired, to sore, to cramping, to screaming by the time I’d made two trips up and down the mountain carrying the heavy weight. By the time we got back to the car, the clouds were thick, and the cool wind was blowing quite strongly.

We have 53 traps planned for these two traplines on Knights and Shorts Tracks, and have deployed 25 traps so far.

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