Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mother Natures Wrath, Mother Natures Bounty

At one point during the day it was wishful thinking.  I’d hoped to depart in daylight for my weekend spring drive to the Green River.  With the weather forecast putting some of I-80 under me before darkness engulfed the landscape would have been sensible, but typical of most of my departures I hadn’t even breached my driveway before evenings last light began to fade in the west.  

After stopping for java and gas rocking the in the free world is a traveling necessity, especially at this hour. Randomly “It’s too dark to put my key in my ignition” overcame the sound of rubber on the road as one of Neil’s classics permeated a budding emptiness.  Although the morning’s sun was far from rising over my hood ornament, the song and opening line were more than appropriate.   Thankfully my travels were uneventful and void of ungulates and other four legged wanderers that find springs warm pavement an attraction or often deadly impediment to historical migrations.

Under a star studded sky I threw pad and bag on the ground; a place I’m most comfortable.  Sleep came quickly after a long day at the shop and the ensuing drive.  During the night the wind awoke me on a number of occasions.  At first light, the landscapes alluvial terraces rimmed the eastern horizon their silhouettes dark yet fluid, once shelter for some of the west’s most notable outlaws. Scrub oak, sage, and juniper strained against morning gusts.  While coffee was brewing pink and red hues painted the eastern sky. “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning”.  Note to self.

I met Emmett and our crew of guides along with Geoff, Kat, Jim, and several others on a piece of common ground that’s familiar to all who fish these waters. For those who fish seriously the formality of such gatherings along with the scrambled disconnect that is associated when marrying diverse agendas creates a certain level of anxiety.  It was evident this morning, yet the mood was still very light hearted.  For the first part of the day, we needed light and to sideline our efforts for some kodachrome moments.  After that, all any of us cared about was sticking a few fish.  Actually if the truth be known, that’s all any of us really cared about. 

Below the Bureaus mass of concrete the Green River emerges cool, crystal clear, rich and undeniably one of the west’s more prolific trout streams.  With varying agendas we scramble to launch with any kind of efficiency.  Being the only ones to do so our efforts were more humorous than a distraction the only urgency prompted by the oncoming storm and the loss of good light that was needed for some decent underwater footage we’d hope to get. For the moment the narrow canyon and river lay bathed in sunshine, yet to the west there was growing evidence that any morning pleasantries regarding the weather were eminently temporary.  Eventually anchors were lifted and we were free to pursue what the day would yield, any anxieties quickly washing away.

In the early part of the day dark eddies sheltered sporadic rises the approaching storms violent squalls rarely giving us an opportunity to present a fly. Overhead slivers of deep blue exposed above the narrow sandstone walls were slowly eclipsed as the storm continued to evolve. Later in the day eddies held pods of trout leisurely feeding between gusts on troughs of scum laden with spring’s mutilated midges. We took turns picking them off till our arms gave out from holding our boats against the relentless wind finally driven to move on.

For two days, other than a brief morning reprieve, Mother Nature punished us. At times every fiber from ones body fought to keep boats from being pile driven into the shore.  Columns of water ripped from the currents spiraled upward filling the canyon, On the edges still waters churned in chaos, dried grassed ripped from the surrounding landscape flew adrift in the air, yet it was Mother Nature’s wrath that compressed a sporadic afternoon hatch of Blue Wing Olives attracting the rivers residents to gorge unfettered.

Although we could have had success from the boat, we found opportunities best on foot. With heads bowed when gale force winds ripped through the narrow canyon and across the water one could stand their ground.  Off guard and remaining upright left one stumbling for balance.  Between the gusts left little time to find a target and cast before another rip would send any cast still airborne haplessly off target.  When casts were true and you could find your fly the game was pretty easy, in fact at times too easy.  After a short while rather than cast at random pods of feeding trout we took turns casting at bigger bulging backs and trout with their heads agape as they took in the struggling mayflies.

At the end of the last day as the wind and the storm intensified I left Geoff and Kat culling the herd.   After a spring drive home last year I was a little gun shy about staying longer.  By now rain pitted the surface of stillwaters, drenched our raincoats and pierced our souls when the wind tore into us. All the way down the bank trout continued to rise and temp me, yet acknowledging the intensity of spring storms made me come to the realization that one more trout wasn’t going to make my day.  Staying alive was; a decision that proved quite prudent in the end. 

For a brief moment just past the Clay Basin turnout a few column of sun broke through illuminating portions of expansive vista.  I barely had time to roll down the window for a photo before the moment was lost.  To the north a black wall engulfed the landscape awaiting a reluctant arrival. By the time I reach I-80 the freeway lay obscured under driving sheets of horizontal snow.  I talked to several others who made the same drive somewhat later.  At one point tractor trailers were sliding backwards on Seven Sisters.  It wasn’t quite that bad when I went through, but not much better.   By the time I reached Evanston the pavement was lost to ice and snow.  Although last years drive home from an early season visit to the Green River was far worse, this one definitely rated.

Rounding the corner to Park City the storm finally lay behind me and I could relax and reflect on the past two days. Looking back on the trips I’ve taken this time of year I‘ve had my share of nail biters, none worse than last year.  When snow plows can’t stay on the road you know that life’s going to get interesting.  There were many aspects of this trip that were just that.

To enjoy one of the west’s great rivers in relative solitude is rare these days.  A good storm will give you that most times.  Yet while Mother Nature is dishing out here worst she can simultaneously hand you and unexpected gift.  On this trip we saw her many sides.  By days end all things considered no one was complaining. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

All's Well in Montana

This isn't one of my typical Blog posts since it has nothing to do with wandering the world’s waters, or casting flies. Although I was in Montana where there happens to be more than a few noteworthy waters, wetting a line this trip just wasn't in the cards. Can't say I was disappointed since it was still early in the year, and Montana does have other recreational options besides fly-fishing, especially early in March.  

My wife and I headed to Missoula to see our daughter, take in a little skiing and partake in a few other activities while visiting, some unexpectedly. Seems my daughter has been competing in a series of local telemark races through the winter and there would be several races while we were there.  We kind of knew this, but she wasn’t too specific about races or particulars, which for a young daughter isn’t out of character or concern.  It’s been a rather poor winter in Utah, so we haven’t had much of a chance to ski this year.  Getting to possibly get some turns in, hang out on the slopes, enjoy the local scenery all worked for us.     

Shortly after arriving we went up to one Missoula’s local ski areas, Snowbowl, to lend support at one of my daughters evening telemark races.  Snowbowl isn’t your typical ski area, and by today’s standards this wasn’t your typical telemark ski race. Although the competition was fierce, and quite good the extra curricular activity surrounding these races made them incredibly entertaining and simply a blast.

As an X-racer, preparation are key to ones success and here they played an integral role, yet their pre-race measures were a little more entertaining than what I was accustom to.  For one, the lodges bar played an integral role in getting everyone focused for the evening challenges. Being from Utah, just being able to see the bar was refreshing, but that’s a whole other story.  Local après’ ski enthusiasts, race supporters and competitors shared a few local Montana brews, one of the bars infamous Bloody Mary's, or a shot or two of a favorite liqueur to loosen up the joints and dilute any potential pre-race jitters. Then there were the costumes. Yep, as bystanders I don’t know who was getting the most out of the evening. 

Up on the hill, many of the competitors simply could shred even under the less than ideal condition. We were both impressed. Where most race hills are neatly groomed, this dual slalom course looked as though it hadn’t seen a decent going over in weeks, let alone the day of the race. Add a foot of fresh snow on the steep course that covered ruts and moguls just enough to make conditions even more demanding.  Didn’t seem to bother most however, neither did the rather poor lighting.  These guys and gals were good, mastering the hill and course with an inebriated expertise that was impressive.

Day two we hit the slopes, not exactly rested from the day before. Crack of noon club, but at this local ski area there was plenty of fresh powder to go around. If you enjoy tree skiing, tight trees, you’d rarely cross another track. We found the relaxed pace and pleasant atmosphere of Snowbowl quite a refreshing change from the vibe that exudes from today’s mega resorts. Utah skiing isn’t too shabby by anyone’s standards, yet we’d have to admit that this quaint ski areas very reputable scene on and off the hill was rather alluring and a nice change.

Saturday evening found us back at Snowbowl for the telemark series final race; a race that would determine team and individual champions.  Similar to the first race we observed teams dressed in costume, but being the last race of the season the teams pulled out some stops.  Now guys and gals in drag are an ordinary site on Duvall St. in Key West, but in Montana not exactly what one would expect to find.  Good thing it was a mild night.  Everyone got a kick out of Team Subaru, car body, headlights and all.  On the dual slalom course their skills were even more notable.  Telemark racing without such bodily obstructions is challenging enough, yet this team made it look rather effortless.  They didn’t beat the team in drag, but they did come close. For all it was a ruckus affair; fierce competition, great laughs, good food and thoroughly entertaining.

The awards party afterwards put icing on an already eventful evening.  By the looks of things it was a good night for the bar, especially since our evening tab nights end wasn’t itemized. Not that at that point it mattered. Through boisterous chants of USA, USA, USA, the crowd acknowledged each competitor or team as they received their respective awards. The rally cry carried on late into the night!  It was awesome.  After the awards we stayed around for a round of leg wrestling, butt darts, and jump rope again to ruckus ovations of USA, USA….  Butt darts, that was a new one for us. 

Now for the fish part of the story!  The winner of the men’s division was a local fly-fishing guide.  If he’s half as good a guide as he is a telemark skier, I’m in.    Note to self!