Back to base

Back to base

Entering base camp wet, hot and caked in mud feels like arriving at a five star hotel. It’s strange how one’s point of reference changes. When we first arrived here and set up base camp it felt very basic and rudimentary. Two nights on the mountain and it feels like the height of luxury.

The discomfort, the mud and if you can believe it the rain, were however more than worth it. The forest of Mount Lico is a special place, even more so given its unspoilt nature. There is however, a mystery. Where are all the birds?? To an ornithologist’s eyes the forest seems as suitable as any other area in the region but the lack of birds was not only notable, but to my sensibilities, eerie. I can’t remember ever having been in a forest with such little bird activity. I stayed two nights and recorded just 12 species. Just for the record, all were species known to science.

However, my role wasnt limited to birds, and myself and Ben were there to record the mammal fauna too. The area is covered in droppings of, I would suggest, four different mammals (it always comes down to faeces for a mammalogist). The size of one type suggests some sort of antelope. The others? Potentially Rock Hyrax and Gambian Giant pouched rats. We have put out remote camera traps on Lico and Secone. We’ve yet to bring them back in, but it will be very exciting to see what we’ve got.

Ben and I set out the following morning to explore the forest, ostensibly to record the birds and look for potential net sites to allow me to catch some birds. However, due to the almost complete lack of birds we quickly switch to looking for mammals. We have a load of sherman and tomahawk traps out in order to record the small mammals, but Ben and I are on the hunt for bigger things. Hopefully a sighting of the antelope. We do however have a problem. In order to stand any chance of seeing a mammal you need to walk silently and very slowly, and this flies somewhat in the face of the advice for avoiding snakes and the army ants! Putting this to the back of our minds we creep onwards through the dark, cool and eerily silent forest. Our ears straining for any sound that would alert us to the presence of another animal. Suddenly there is the sound of crashing vegetation and a sharp bark like call, repeated four or five times, and then silence once more. Ben and I freeze and for five minutes we don’t hear anything more. Then it comes again. But it’s not on the forest floor, it’s in the trees. We wait again and then there’s a movement. Just a glimpse of something moving through the trees. We wait and there it is again. At last we get a good view. It’s a primate (a monkey?) running up a branch. As we wait we see a group of ten pass through the trees. They obviously know we’re there and are curious, but they very much keep their distance. Given the ability of all monkeys to climb, it’s highly unlikely this is a new species, but even so we make mental notes of the key features so we can look in the mammal guide back at base camp. Just as we’re about to move on I get the agonisingly brief view of a squirrel like animal. But then it’s gone.

The forest camp up here is a very basic affair necessitated by the fact everything has to be brought up the cliff. A huddle of tents in a small hollow next the only running water on the mountain.

On our second night it’s only myself Ben and Jules the climber so we decide to move some tents on to the edge of the forest and cliff.

The views are breath taking and we spend half an hour taking photos of the sunset.

The intention is to cook dinner under the stars while looking out on the plain 400m below, where the only lights are of the cooking fires of the small holdings dotted across the plain. That was the intention but then it starts to rain. A month after the end of the rainy season!! Of course we don’t have waterproofs, so there we are, standing around a cooking fire in the wind and rain waiting for our pasta to cook!! Not quite what we envisaged. It rains on and off all night and until midday the next day. By this time we’re all soaked and caked in mud. All we have to do now is abseil down 125m of cliff and walk back to base camp. Easy!! We check the mammal traps and make our way to the top of the rope. I’m first to go and just as I start, the cloud lifts and I can see just how far away the ground is. Deep joy!! Of course it all goes fine and I’m soon making the hike down the mountain and day dreaming of a bath in the river and an outside chance of a cold beer!