Outdoor Life

EL MACHO

WHEN JORDI VAQUER AND I FINALLY LOCATE THE HERD, it’s nearly noon and the big ibex males are bedded high in the rocks, soaking up the sun and recovering from what had sounded like a boisterous morning of rut-season sparring.

Hours earlier, long before the sun had warmed this limestone canyon in Spain’s remote Aragon region, Jordi and I had stood on the rim, the December moon luminescing an overnight snow, listening to what sounded like a succession of rifle shots in the cliffs below.

Los machos,” said Jordi, his native Spanish momentarily trumping his excellent English. “The males are fighting.”

Below us, the wild goats were crashing their immense horns in a violent demonstration of dominance. All day, the ibex have remained hidden from us by the verticality of the limestone canyon, and it takes hours of hiking to find them. By the time we spot the herd above us in the rocks, any chance of approaching them unseen is gone.

A few nannies and their short-faced kids graze lower on the south-facing slope, but their movement is slowly, methodically uphill, toward the crenellation of van-size boulders where the rest of the herd, including at least four trophy billies, alternately dozes and scans for danger above in this valley stitched with old stone walls, fuzzed with fields of wild thyme, and studded with the ruins of ancient huts.

Jordi and I, huddled on a limestone ledge a good half-mile away, review our options, which will be familiar to any mountain hunter.

We could back out from our perch, keeping our profiles low, and sneak into the stand of windblasted pine trees that cloaks the north-facing side of this mountain. The timber promises to hide our approach to the very top of

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