August2015

Dust to mud: a fishing trip’s early demise, Part 2

Continued from Part 1.  That means you should read Part 1, first.

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Marck’s 11th hour fish.

Downstream of camp the fishing was slow and over a couple of hours I managed only one small cutt while Marck did quite a bit better, as expected. He landed a beautiful 17″ cutthroat just before I decided to head back upstream and work through some water with a streamer before returning to camp. The sun had given way to cloud cover and as I rigged up the streamer I smelled rain. Immediately thereafter large drops began to fall, gently at first—spread far apart. Ominous in a way that small drops close together are not ominous. Shortly thereafter the drops, still large, came with increased frequency. I decided to call it a day and began hoofing it back toward camp. By the time I got there it was raining hard and I was pretty well soaked through my lightweight shirt.  My first thought was to grab my rain jacket from the Man-Van; a decision I did not soon regret as the temperature had begun plummeting significantly. Thunder boomed repeatedly in the distance and with each concussion the rain came down harder. Marck showed up and joined me under the relative shelter of a large spruce tree; its canopy doing a fine job of keeping us fairly well protected from the downpour (we just hoped lightning didn’t choose to strike that particular tree). We figured the storm would blow through so we did what anyone would have done: we cracked a couple beers and waited for it to pass. And then we waited.

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Firehole Ranger Lake

It didn’t seem possible that it could rain any harder until it did just that. And then the wind came from seemingly nowhere and hail the size of one’s fingernail pummeled the ground, and everything else. It wasn’t long before the big spruce tree was no longer capable of keeping us dry (OK, technically we were already soaked, but you know what I mean).

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Casualty #1

Nash’s tent was the first to cave under the pressure as a gust of wind picked up the front of the tent and began to topple it ass over tea kettle. Thunder roared. I sprinted through the lake that was rapidly forming in the middle of camp and grabbed hold of the tent frame to keep it grounded as hail beat down on my knuckles. Shit was getting real. Soon the tent began to sag under the weight of the rain water and the threat of it blowing away lessened. My work was done There was nothing else I could do. We continued to be hammered by rain and hail as we noticed Morris’s tent had crumbled under the pressure of the storm. I wanted my mommy. It was worse than Nash’s tent. By the time we could tend to it Morris’s air mattress was floating; his sleeping bag and other gear soaked. This storm wasn’t messing around, nor did it appear to be short-lived. Perhaps the smart thing would have been for Marck and I to retreat to the dry safety of the Man-Van but we stood in the face of the storm trying to salvage what we could, which we couldn’t. We placed Morris’s wet gear in the back of the Explorer, not that it would do much good at this point.

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Casualty #2

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Even Marck’s tent, despite being new and properly set up, couldn’t keep its contents totally dry.

For the better part of an hour the rain continued to come down in sheets. The lake in the middle of camp grew to a depth of 12 inches (fortunately we still had our wading boots on). The picnic table held previously dry boxes of crackers, potato chips and paper towels and many other items that are best off not being waterlogged. However, the true mark of the storm’s severity was a plastic cup that filled with 4 inches of rainwater in less than an hour.

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A glass half full, or half empty?

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Put the waders on and have a seat!

After an hour the storm’s ferocity lessened, though it continued to rain steadily. After an hour and a half Jimmy, Morris and Nash slogged into camp. The appearance of camp told the story of what had happened there, but they had stories of their own. Since I wasn’t there I can only touch on the big picture as they relayed it to us:

When the storm hit upriver it did so with concentrated intensity as it funneled into the narrow river canyon. Thunder boomed all around and the wind snapped tree tops. Sheets of rain blew across the river’s surface and the three Rangers were instantly soaked, save for Jimmy who had a light rain jacket in his pack which gave him some protection from the elements. Nash and Morris soon began to shiver as the temperature went from pleasant to unpleasant in an instant. With nowhere to run and nowhere to hide they huddled under some brush by the side of the river where Jimmy put his arms around the other two and told happy stories to keep them calm. The hillsides began sloughing mud into the river, which in turn began to raise and turn the color of chocolate milk in very short order. The 3 lone Rangers had several river crossings before they would make it back to the trail, the thick dust upon which had turned to a quagmire of slippery muck.

For the sake of authenticity I asked each of the 3 to weigh in with their own words.

Nash recounts the harrowing details:

“Well it seemed like a nice enough late afternoon to go out for an evening session of fishing.  Warm, overcast and according to Ranger Rick, only a 30% chance of rain later that night.  So of course, I confidently left the rain jacket in the tent.

 I decided to go straight to the “Swimming Hole” where rising fish haunted me the day before.  They had not wanted any of the bugs I had in my box.  I started at the riffle at the top of the hole and landed a nice, fat, 17 inch cutty.  I decided to move up stream a couple hundred yards and that is when it began.  It first started out quit calmly. Large rain drops, but spread very far apart.  I fished for a bit with Trevor Morris and Dave Jimmy down stream from me. Then the rain got harder. The thunder and lighting started, so I made my way down to them, and we all huddled up in the bushes by the Swimming Hole.  We were far enough way from the trees, in case shit broke loose, which it did. The sheets of rain could been seen blowing across the hole. The thunder became louder and the lighting closer. We decided to stay hunkered down until the lighting passed.  Easy decision for Dave, because he was all comfy in his rain jacket. Trevor and I just had on our light weight fishing shirts. The the wind picked up, and started to snap some trees up on the mountain behind us. The snapping trees were very loud. So loud, Trevor thought it was the ones immediately behind us, and he jumped up and towards the river, like a cat being burned with a hot poker. I did not know he was so quick and agile, nor I didn’t know his eyes could get so big. The rain became hail, and Trevor and I got chipply (chilly nipples), so we decide to get the hell out of there even though we had to cross the river 4 times in a lightening storm.  I blame it on Ranger Rick and his shitty weather forcasting!”

Morris offers his traumatic account:

It was fun. Until it wasn’t.

A short story by Morris

“One-hour into the storm of the century as the buzz was wearing off and our humor faded, we were still huddling in the thick brush, soaking wet and shivering uncontrollably. As the temperature dropped by what felt like 30 degrees, I knew we had to risk a move. We attempted three failed departures held back by falling trees, close lightning, waves of heavy rain, wicked wind gusts and one guy with a gore-tex jacket. Finally about an hour later, the decision was made to make a run for it. Running like three gazelles being hunted, fight or flight instincts take control as we sprint back to camp making several river crossings along the way. As I led the team from the depths of hell, happiness erupted with high-fives all around as we entered camp safely. A completely destroyed camp site didn’t even matter compared to prison raping we just endured. Pinned down by the storm of the century on the Joe is no way to die. Or is it.”

And Jimmy recalls it this way:

“Rained hard, got wet, glad I had a coat.  Fishing buddies got wet, got cold, shit pants. I think lightning hit the top of my 3 wt and broke off the eye (he means the top guide—ed.). The fine Redington cork handle took all of the impact and saved my hand.  Be nice if they covered it under warranty and sent me a new rod end.”

So there you have it—just like Reader’s Digest: Drama in Real Life.

The end result what that Marck, Morris and Nash realized spending the night would not be a pleasant undertaking so they tossed their wet gear into their car and departed at 9 PM, driving home through the night. Upon their departure Jimmy and I took shelter in the Man Van, thankful for a solid roof over our heads. The rain had continuted well into the the night but had ceased and when we awakened the next morning to low clouds. We decided to take a look at the river before making a final decision as to whether or not we should go fishing. The Joe had cleared nicely as far as visibility was concerned, but it was a good bit higher than it had been prior to the deluge the evening before. We decided we would take advantage of the lack of rainfall and pack up all the remaining gear before heading out to do see about some fish. We hiked a short ways up the trail and dropped into the river, hopeful that the fish would be aggressively feeding after the water-freshening rain: The infusion of rain was certainly good for the fish but it was not good for the fishing and after an hour, during which Jimmy managed only one small fish, we decided to cut our losses and head back to camp. During our hike back it began raining steadily, again, and continued to do so. We hit the road and it rained for the next 3 hours, all the way back to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho before finally drying out. What had been a small chance of a thunderstorm had turned into a widespread system that cloaked the Idaho panhandle in a Seattle-like shroud of gloom.  At least the fire danger was temporarily lessened.

Hopefully when we go back next year we won’t encounter a similar fate. In case we do, I hope that Morris and Nash will have acquired new tents by then.