Tag Archives: Backpacking

Reflection

cbwThey say the eyes are the window to the soul. When, if ever do we see our own? Throughout life, our shortcomings and judgment from others shapes our self image. Those things that we may think we really are. Who are we?

Staring down at the cold, moving water of the river, it began with a simple question. The journey to this water was difficult. As all “uncharted” sections of river are. I asked, “Why?”. Why did I drive for three hours to get to a place that required over an hour worth of hiking to get to? There was not a person to be seen in the canyon, not a single car in the parking lot. Emptiness. The river rushed through a place untrodden while a similar river rushed through my heart. I was here not because it was exciting, but because I needed to connect with something so similar to who I am. Searching for fish is only an excuse to search for something within myself. For the first time this year, I was able to think.

My fingers dipped into the river, the cold water like refreshing air, a gasping inhale after holding your breath too long. It brings to mind those visionaries whose psychic abilities only function upon touch of an old item to see if it has spirits attached to it. That water moving against skin flashed visions of those spirits. Among all of this, this canyon, the coyotes, the eagles, the heron, there is a river that represents life. More importantly, it bore my own reflection. Looking upstream to waters I have seen before, this day I had to move beyond my comfort zone. Downstream, to the future, to the heart of the river, to the heart of me.

I hiked down in an attempt to wear myself out, to get the feeling that I would never make it out. I needed to feel like I was alive and that life is fragile. Continuing on, I passed beautiful sections of water that held fish, passing bend and pool, log jams and riffles for no reason but to get to a destination that I never knew existed. To see if the river stopped where no one was looking, to see if it ever gives up or gets tired. What I found is that the river is absolute, it is relentless, it shapes the world around it yet allows the world to direct it.

Even though I was not aware, I had stumbled upon what I was looking for. It was a hole containing an abundance of fish. With every few casts, the river began to yield the treasure it held beneath that magical separation of water and air. As good as it seemed, above and below this hole seemed to be dead and void of fish. Even hiking out from the canyon I fished to no avail. Looking back at the path I had taken, I realized what the river was trying to say. I had taken this path that lead to a place. That path is where I stand now and looking upstream at the sunset, that path is directing me to a new horizon. To a sunrise that never seems to lose her grandeur. Reflecting upon the looking glass, I saw my reflection conjured by the river. Maybe I had found what I had been searching for all along.cbrowncbow


20/20 Hindsight, Foresight Perscription Needed

Trail maps usually list the length of the trail followed by the difficulty. In this case, things seemed normal. There were three levels of difficulty; Easy, Moderate, and Difficult. The map showed “Trail: 1.2 Miles; Difficulty: Difficult; Elevation Change: 800 Feet”. In my mind it said, “Trail: 1.2 Miles“… A walk in the park. In New Mexico, every single element here is out to kill you. There is no soft cushion of grass or a nice tree limb out there to hold you up when you fall. If there is, there is a rattlesnake in that grass and a black widow in that tree. I had forgotten what an unrelenting place this is. Soft and well worn Colorado spoiled me. No worries about cactus and yucca, just big wide trails. Colorado does have some tough trails made for equally tough people. I know trails that have taken lives. Each time I hit a “trail” in New Mexico, I find myself surprised. However, it is no surprise to me that the fishing a quarter of a mile upstream is so good, if you make it alive.

the steep climb

Looking over the map, lights turned green and I was off with haste. Within 5 minutes I was bleeding and suffering from a twisted ankle. 10 minutes, torn shirt and bruised elbow. 1 hour, soaked from the shoulder down. 1 hour and 10 seconds, the smile on my face would not go away. As I chased fish too big for the stream down river, I dropped into holes that instantly dropped four to five feet from ankle deep. I was wet and sore, bleeding and smiling, cold and thinking.

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Losing track of time is not alright when you are deep in a canyon. The sun sets at five and sunset is closer to six, giving a false idea of how much light you have left. With the idea that the trail is 1.2 miles, I poked around the stream a fraction of a bit too long, the fishing was almost too good. Before long, I was fishing in the actual sunset and light faded quickly. Not knowing where exactly I was, I figured simply hiking up the steep hill behind me would reveal the trail. A shortcut, back country style. When I could see the point, to my right, there was also another parking lot. I had hiked in well over a mile upstream. I remembered passing a large dead ponderosa and could see it in the distance, but light was fading fast. It was time to put the screws to the hike. Scrambling over sage and cactus, the incline began to become steeper with each step. Then again, the burning in my legs could have simulated the effect.

When in peril, sunsets begin to fade exponentially. The same can be said about life. They say that just before you die, your life flashes before your eyes. I began to think that if your life flashes before your eyes like the fading twilight, the time is not nearly long enough. Before I die, I want to relive my life entirely or not at all. Every scratch, bruise, the time I crashed my bike for the first time, when I laid in some long lost trail for hours not able to move on, the heartbreaks, and every moment in between. They also say hindsight is 20/20, but no matter how well we can see something we can not feel it, nor can we bring it back. If we planned it all to work out perfectly in the end, where would we be in life. If we saw the future, we would know what to expect and every moment leading to that one event and would be diminished by knowing. I had found my old tree. It came to me then, the tree never asked to be in this place. It just happened to tumble here and take root. Such is life. We can plan and make goals, but our actions do not make our future position. Our lives are one big beautiful tumbling accident. Sometimes, we take root and grow where we never expected. If we try to change it, our roots will be in sand and we will not be able to grow to our full potential.

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Duality and Dichotomy

Many lump the two words together. Replacing one with the other and vice versa. To me they are two very different words. Dichotomy is the simple division of a whole in two. As much as one can divide by two there are still extraordinary complex ways to cut a pie in half, evenly. Whereas, duality is the bridging together of seemingly opposing ideas through one commonality. Humans are dualistic in nature. One life leads one direction and another in the other, but coexist in a strange harmony as one. When we divide something entirely from its original by half to become its own entity and live in harmony with its divided half… What have we created?

Que reality. Something that we see on a daily basis. Streets, cars, rivers, and fish are completely tangible objects. Real objects. It’s our way of life and everything in it, it’s that guy that greets you at the gas station, It’s the traffic you fight everyday. Even when it comes down to something out of the ordinary, it is still reality.

Our next performer on stage is art. There are many classifications of art and unless you want to pause here and read a million page book, I will focus on one simple term. Surreal. No matter the art, it is a portrayal of actual events. From music to architecture, there is something surreal about art. Even realism has, to some degree, surrealism. In some cases there are circumstances that cause events of reality to be surreal, dichotomy. These circumstances also require you to enjoy duality of your surreal reality, the high country.

This photo credit belongs to DiBiasio Photography and was a blast on the weekend trip. If you ever find yourself on an outing with the man, ask him about the “Dog about town”. You will never regret it. Joe is a remarkable photographer with a keen eye for his end product and a few of his prints are available for sale. If you see his union station photo and think it is neat, you should see the real print. Silly data, photos are for frames!


Lost and Found Pt: 4 (Redemption)

They were ghosts of past fish, protecting the lives of the future. Legends, protectors, guardians. Through the gin clear water I spotted the residents feeding in the seam. Their red flashing sides a remnent of stocking in the early 20th century. They were legendary in their own right, carrying genetic code from both steelhead and redband. Like messengers to the future about what not to do and the ghosts protected it, kept it sacred. I knew they were there, just beyond the seam, either out of sight or invisible. The only evidence of their existence was a hookset, a screaming reel, then nothing. For two days I tried to land one, the third day brought a new feel for the fish. When I connected with the fish, I felt the movements. Dancing against one another. Playing the game of attrition. Watching the head shake and dive as my rod pointed left and right. Then it ran. I could feel the strain in my line. I had a ghost. Down the chute it went. I ran along the shore, through bushes and over rocks keeping tension against the ghost. In the slow water I felt it growing weaker and the power it still had. I worked it in close and saw Hail Mary sunk just above the maxillary. The ghost was real. image

Sorry about not wearing a shirt… It was hot. Here are a couple more fish for ya…
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Lost and Found Pt: 3 (The Last Straw)

Maybe I’m committing some sort of phrase crime, but “the last straw” reminds me more of “drawing straws” than it does camels. In movies, to up the ante of suspense, the last guy to draw the straw always gets the short one. Camels are obviously no exception to the rule. The idea is that something so miniscule is piled on in such a way that just one more can wear you down completely. This thing on day 3 was the mosquito.

Some things force me to randomly burst into dance, old funk is one of those. Mosquitoes also make me dance. In a way that is much more frantic and uncontrollable. Sometimes even running is involved, but this isn’t the first time…. *cue dream sequence* July something, 20 something. The day and year aren’t important. The place, San Juan river, New Mexico. It was something like 322 degrees outside and the only way to cool off was to stand deeper in the 30 something water. The fishing was insane on dries and I couldn’t leave. 3:00pm came, I had been marking the time of day to change flies. It was time, a tan foam top emerger. Why? The mosquitoes. Millions of them, so many that i was the only one left on the river and no amount of bug spray could keep them away. The fishing became better, but there is nothing you can do to fan bugs off of you when fighting fish. When I made it home I counted… 133 bites. I remember it well. I was almost in tears and the fever made it worse. *cut dream sequence, present day*

When we arrived at lake #3 you could hear them looming in the distance. The idea was to get low, wear some camoflage and wait, bayonette ready. Although armed, no weapon could defeat this enemy. It was 2 against a few million. It seemed that even the fish were hiding. We moved to lake #4. There were less numbers, but more aggressive beasts. Interpretive dance was the only escape. Fishing improved. Lake #5. We were on the front lines, dancing, running, and screaming. Lake #6. More front lines fighting, and fishing was awesome if you could sit still. Lake #7. All was calm as the sun set. With one fish to hand at this lake, I was alright. There were only a few mosquitoes. Was it worth the 40 some bites? Fishing is always worth it.
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Writers Block

I think every writer in the world writes about the block to get rid of it. It reminds me of that song in your head. You sing it out loud hoping that it goes away, or that skunk that rides along on your back. The blog here is giving me the smell of a good skunking and the rivers are yielding fish. The “Frenzy” really reminded me that I am an unpopular writer in the blogging world. Heck, even in the fishing world I’m not really known for anything. By no means is this a pity party, but you can feel free to bring some beer. I’m not a guide, I don’t work at a fly shop, I didn’t write a picture book of flies I have tied, my work isn’t published in a magazine, but I do spend well over a 3rd of my life on the water. Because of that, My writings and my trips sound the same to me. Walking away from this for a couple weeks was to get in order what I wanted this for. I want to make it more exciting for you guys. Here is a quick summary of the past two weeks:

Chased Brook Trout in the high country!

Climbed a tree for my last yellow sally.

Fished in the snow!

Ran through rambling rainbows .

Fished a great new river with John T. 

Caught a handful of Brown Trout this size.

Finally, although no pictures were taken, I fished with the boss again. In the same place as last time and it was even more fun this time. That was the past two weeks in a nutshell! I’ll Get you some fresh new posts next week!


Hurry Up and Wait

Anticipation is a powerful thing. It has the ability to make you forget, no matter how prepared you are. This was a day that anticipation would lead to a forgotten camera, but even after that moment, it became the word of the day. 

Erin of Mysteries Internal decided to finally break down and go fishing with me. She is one incredible writer, and I’m sure that every reader of mine has also read her blog. If not, I would suggest that you do so. She is quite talented and the read will not let you down. We decided on a place in the Rocky Mountain National Park after debating a few more lengthy hikes. This was not so long of a hike and I really wanted to do some fishing in new water and do it fast. Prior to meeting Erin, I was kind of nervous. One particular reason was due to the fact that I would more than likely be out fished by a girl. Sometimes girls can be malicious about it. Upon meeting her, all of the thoughts I had, dissolved. I knew I would get along with her just fine. …but there were no crullers. Luckily I had scored a cheese danish and pumpkin spice coffee at the gas station on the way up. 

Our arrival to the lake was swift and efficient. After I almost died from all of the fluid in my lungs from being sick the previous week. Looking upon the lake was nearly startling. Everything about it just looked fishy and everyday at a new place it always starts with a layer of ice. That ice is only broken by catching the first fish. Erin quickly laid out 50′ of line on the water flawlessly as I fumbled around in my box thinking, “I hope my casting looks that good”. I’m still not sure that it did. At times, we spotted big cruisers and putting our flies on the nose of these fish only startled an already spooked fish. I blame the clarity of the water and the underestimated fish brain. Two hours went by. Not a nibble or tug. Just eerie silence and wind. We moved to the outlet side of the lake… Life…

We hooked into a few fish, but not long enough to bring them to shore and the previous fishing had been disappointing to say the least. There was only anticipation. It was Erin that broke the ice. Erin would catch that first fish. The rest of the day, it was on. A fish every handful of casts and bigger and better fish to be had.

The fish we were catching were supposed to be Greenbacks, but they are obviously tainted Colorado River Cutthroats.

The cold blew in and the rain began and we decided to leave, and in the end I had more than just a great fishing trip, I made a new friend. …again.

Thanks for the amazing trip and the wonderful photos Erin!


Up To The Knees In Cutts

Ah yes… Back up in the hills, back up in altitude, back to fresh air and fresh water, back up to snow and alpine peaks, and most importantly, back up to the Cutthroat that reside in that pristine world. All is right and perfect until that moment you realize it is a couple more miles to your destination. Those miles more filled than the previous miles with steeper climbs and other obstacles that tax the already burning muscles. Some might say a trip for the more rugged man, but it is a trip for the focused. One would never make it hiking alongside a river loaded to the brim with fish. Not that anyone in the party knew at the time, but you could tell the pools held fish and scores of them had never been caught. Keep moving past the perfect glacier water, past the porcupine munching on leafy greens, past the rock that curved around into the valley that held the lake.

Both the inlet and outlet to the lake seemed perfect. I’m sure every fisherman that continued this way knew the same. The Cutthroat knew and denied scores of flies. Partially because they were aware and partially because the meals were readily available. This combo always results in poor fishing. Not for John, the one in the group newest to fly fishing. This was truly his day. For Sanders and I, it was punishing. The fish were so quick to attack and quick to let go that it seemed as though we were doing everything wrong. Bumps on the indicator resulted in a fly with no fish attached and the dries seemed to just drift through the mouths of the fish.

Sanders, John, and I dined on bagel sandwiches for lunch and decided that it would be better for us to fish the inlet. Another walk past fishy water. The inlet showed us mercy and it wasn’t long before we were all into fish. The water was skinny and loaded with hungry cruising and rising fish. It seemed like the fish were still strangely attracted to John, who threw everything from giant hoppers to san juan worms. While Sanders and I were stuck with tiny midges and dries.

I was happy that Sanders made his way into the Greenback club. The first one is always the hardest, but on the way down he scored a few more. Even after his back injury, I’m glad he was able to join us on our mission of Cutthroats and maybe he will find himself on a few more back country adventures before the year is through. 


A Prolonged Goodbye

Lately, I have been fishing almost too much. Every second spent not working has been spent fishing. There are a few times that I have been out that I still have yet to write about. One of my favorites was a day on South Boulder Creek below Gross Reservoir. In that same area and the headwaters of Boulder Creek are the places I have been exploring lately. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the high mountains, in the still water butted against high alpine peaks and the most recent place was teeming with feeding fish.

The weekend started when Joe came to visit from New Mexico. After settling into Denver, we decided that a high country camping trip was in order. As far as my knowledge of Joe’s fishing adventures go, I can not remember a time that he has been to the high country to fish. At least not this high. We hovered around 11,000′ in one of the most spectacular mountain valleys I have seen to date. It was almost otherworldly. The flow out of the lake spilled down a cliff and the story was the same for the inlets to the lake. Like strings held by mountain peaks to hold up the lake.

The trek began the day previous, with Joe, Jace, Jacob, and I fishing some beaver ponds about 1,000′ below the lake. We fished while we waited for John to head up the mountain from work. It didn’t take long for “Dave’s roller” to start pulling fish from the river. Still small, but very feisty critters. The roller seemed to be the ticket for the whole trip. When John arrived we mentally prepared for the “2 mile” hike to come with sandwiches and other assorted tortilla holding material. Not to mention the unbelievable Cool Ranch Doritos and bean dip. If you have yet to try it, do it.

I woke up early to tie some extra Rollers and a quick breakdown of camp and we were off. Wait…

Ok, we’re off!

After hiking the 4.25 mile trail we couldn’t wait to get catching fish. Even at the entrance, they rose to the surface in numbers I barely fathomed. Early on in the day the fish were ultimately aggressive, but as the heat of the day wore on, the bite slowed to deeper water. We saw that water from a distance and there “Chewie” and the soon to be famous (not really) “R2D2” shined in glory. 2 deepwater bugs found fish hovering around the bottom. Looking into 20′ of absolutely clear water is a sight to behold and watching a fish cruise through what looks like the air is even more spectacular. One of those things that you long for when your eyes close. Joe, John, and I had no trouble getting into the fish, but the kids seemed pretty intent on taking in the world around them. More than anything, the snow.

As each second of the day ticked by, it was one more cast, then we will go, one more fish and we are gone. So far from the truth. After quitting with the excuses of staying, we descended. Then ascended. Then descended again. Strange trail. The four of us were exhausted when we made it back to the truck. About a minute into the drive to John’s car, the kids were out like wet noodles in the bed of the truck while we relived the amazing day that we had.


Lesson #12: Don’t Die!

Lately the lessons for the posts have been slacking. Today the post will be dedicated to the lesson. This could be the most important lesson to consider during your trips to the mountains. In fact, you might use this lesson on a day to day basis in normal life (ie: non fishing days). You may even feel that you should share this bootlegged secret in the dark corners of a speakeasy. Share this information at your own discretion. In fact, you may be wondering at this very moment where I, myself came across this highly confidential and curious lesson. This is that story.

The sun was still lofted high in the sky, like some great creature pierced the veil of our big blue atmosphere. Peering in through the peep hole into our world the giant could see the melting snow and fresh new grass trammeled over by a few sets of wandering feet. The world was happy, not the grass so much, but in general. Birds sang new tunes with little musical notes spewing from their beaks, lullabyes to the bears to sleep the day off. The trees could have been dancing and somewhere in the forest, bigfoot could have been baking an apple pie. All was right in the world as two wayward fisherman made their way up the mountain.

Ascending to well over 11,000 feet in elevation was easy when it is fueled by the anticipation of catching wild trout (at least as wild as brook trout come). The trail was more of  a creek ready to wade through, rather than solid ground that is easy on the feet. The quality of the trail made a difficult ascent. Scratch that, a better phrase would be falling up. The happy world pointed the direction with a few precariously placed and super swinging signs. Two fisherman stumbled, as happily as one can stumble, onto a lake that dreams are made of. Accented by the contrast of blue sky, green trees, gray alpine mountaintops, and soft snow, each thing added to the next. The giant artist’s brush strokes were filled with intent.

Then, with all the help of positive and negative charges, the sky blackened. Fury could not remotely describe what was about to happen. The trees went back to being trees. Bigfoot decided to give the apple pie a rest until another sunny day. The bears of the sky were awakened. The two fisherman were in the line of fire. 60 vertical feet marked the alpine. 60 feet of error. 60 feet away from lightning. Finding a place to wait it out in the trees could have been a good idea, if it didn’t start to hail. A hurried resting place still made for wet and slightly painful spot to reside. The lightning struck everywhere, some futuristic weapon firing upon its enemies from the sky, fighting a war against electrical conduits to ground. It turned sand into crystal and humans to potential ash. Beneath the canopy of trees being beaten down by hail and the potential fear of a lightning strike, the two fisherman waited.

The storm had passed and the two fisherman emerged from the sanctuary feeling as though they had cheated death, cheated the wrath of the clouds. Then, it was time to fish.

It is always good to have an indian guide for when you lose the trail. Sometimes better than GPS.

At first the take was slow, but quickly picked up. The fish were small but aggressive and would only eat “chewy” the aptly named woolly bugger.

On the way down, they only fell on the slippery surfaces a few times and spoke of the day that they just had, the adventure. It is always pure adventure when your life is at risk, makes you think about the ordinary things in a different light. This was one of those ordinary days where we learned, “Don’t Die”.