Tuesday, December 24, 2013

New Year Dreams

Christmas Eve. I'm watching my wife and girls make sugar cookies, I'm stuffed by a wonderful pizza lunch; yet my mind wanders.  I can hardly stay in the moment.  It is a beautiful moment, mind you, but I'm already in AK.  I blame it on the Gov.  He has since gone underground; but he started it with forwarded emails from our bush pilot... writing about the fly-out schedule for next year.  Cuss him. We've already booked the tickets.. it's on the calendar, yet the anticipation is building early.  I've got to stop this. Anticipation is usually greater than the actual event; not counting this years expedition.  "The greatest ever", though I've heard  Gov utter that sentence before. Tonight my dreams will be filled with sugar plums and steelhead, hoping that the fat man will bring me some great piece of gear for the upcoming expedition. I know he will.. I bought it for him. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Base Camp and Johnny Utah

So, there it sits in the corner of my office for over a month now.  The flooded basement has been put back together for about a week, and I guess now I can "stow the gear" for another year.   I secretly know why I haven't yet.  It's my mid-life gear crisis.  Somehow surrounding myself with the adult male equivalent of "my toys" keeps me connected to the adventure even when I'm back into the most pedestrian and domestic of pursuits.  It also speaks to a little pipe dream fantasy I have.  

Sometimes when I'm driving somewhere, I will see an old house with a small yard in an old part of town with a "For Sale" sign in the yard.  And I think, "man, that would be the perfect base camp".  An old house, paid for with cash, no monthly payments, no significant yard or shrubs to care for, just a few trees and moss for ground cover, and neighbors that couldn't care less.  Swing open the front door to  kayaks and mountain bikes hanging from the ceiling in the living room.  A couple of jet boils to cook on.  In the cupboards are trail supplies, freeze dried meals, water purification systems, Nalgene bottles,  stove fuel.  Bedroom closets are filled with Nano Puffs, Down, Coreloft, Smartwool, Cap2, Windblock , Goretex, felt and Vibram.  If the living room has an open ceiling there's  climbing holds built in and a crash pad (that doubles as my bed)  The dining room is dedicated to fly rods, all strung and ready to play.

That's what you do when you are Mister Responsible, you dream about being Mister Irresponsible, living out the dream, every weekend spent on the mountain, stream, flat, tundra, bike or plane.  What do you say boys- 50 is the new 20- ready to push the envelope?!  Big poster of Point Break on the wall- "Come on Johnny Utah, What's the matter with you guys? This was never about the money, this was about us against the system. That system that kills the human spirit. We stand for something. We are here to show those guys that are inching their way on the freeways in their metal coffins that the human spirit is still alive!"   


Thursday, August 8, 2013

~Origins~ The Trailer

We are back from a successful (aren't they all?) expedition to AK.  If I can't get the trailer loaded here, click the vimeo link.

"Origins"~ The Trailer from Pablo on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Back for More

The Gov's journal entry from last year's trip read, "what a horrible weather trip, I am beaten down by it all, I don't know if I can ever go back."

Oh my, how time heals all wounds!  I'm not sure the exact date, but boredom and "real" life set in upon us and we immediately began to plan our next AK trip.  We now stand on the precipice of that trip.  Back to the "mother" river, the one that started it all.  The one river that about killed us. The one where we cried (Gov did, not us) for the warmth of home and dry waders. 

That was then and this is now.  We have come miles in the last 5 years. Day and night, use any metaphor you want, we have entered Vol. 3 and are ready to embrace this river again.  Doesn't hurt that the weather forecast reads like San Diego.  I'd wish you all a good night, but I know three adventurers that will not be sleeping much tonight.. may as well be crashing on the floor of the "Ted Stevens International Airport, Welcome, the current time is 3:30 a.m., this is a non-smoking facility"..................

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Winds debrief

Winds 6/27-7/2/2013:
6/27:  arrived at the Worthen meadows trail head at about 2pm.  Trail to middle fork of the Popo Agie is easy through forested section over a bit of a saddle and predominately descending to the bridge crossing.  Just before the bridge crossing,the trail forks and goes to ---- lake. ----- miles to the bridge crossing.   at the bridge crossing we stopped and fished, nice water right through there.  We turned up stream and  hiked rolling easy trail a total of 6.75 miles to a very nice med sized campsite trail right with the stream falling hard over boulders trail left.  Access to the stream was excellent via a continuous smooth Granite slab.  Through out the night as we ate dinner and lounged around we periodically heard an odd, distant woofing sound.  As it got completely dark, we sat on a slab of smooth exposed granite, straining our ears to hear the sound- trying to locate and identify it.

Maree waiting for a shower cap at Popo camp 1
We actually thought we heard two separate "buglers" one fainter and more distant and debated if they were calling to each other.  I didn't find the calls to be sequenced as call and respond, and the nearer call didn't seem to move.  Although initially it did sound like a noise like I've heard bears in AK make- a sort of woofiing, the more I listened the more it sounded like a moose or maybe elk and I felt certain it was a short, clipped momma call- like I heard one night on Ongivinuk when a moose or maybe caribou came up on our camp from the bush at about 3am.  I heard the brush cracking and then the short barked momma order to a no doubt surprised calf who'd come up on our tent- they both wheeling and crashing back into the bush.  But this call was strange in that it didn't seem to result in any movement or action that we could discern.  I think our postulates of heard calls helped the girls feel more comfortable that it wasn't an agitated bear looking for a fight.  Eventually the calls ended all together and we enjoyed our first glimpses of the night sky completely devoid of human light interference- what a glorious view of the universe from the banks of the Popo Agie.  The next morning we saw cow scat (sounds better than pie, right) and remember the trail head sign about live stock and figured it might have been a cow calling- that seemed to match as it didn't sound big enough to be a moose or elk.

6/28:  mick rose early, sort of- 8am, and fished the meadow below the falling section by camp.  Beautiful water with eager although small brookies plentiful.  We packed up and headed out only to stop .1 miles at another spectacular meadow.  This was only feet from the trail break off to ice lake and a few hundred fee from the popo agie crossing the point where the trail back tracks on the opposite site of the meadow and heads up Stough creek.  The girls took a shot at fly casting and did well despite our poor instruction and frustrated tones.  Just up stream of the meadow is a fantastic huge campsite in the pines adjacent to the meadow.

The Meadow at Three Forks and just before crossing to ascend
About 11am we crossed the Popo Agie, said good bye to her and started our ascent of Stough creak.  After two crossings of lower feeder creeks and skirting a small meadow, we started the gradual but continual climb of Stough Creek.  The --- mile climb took -- hours and we stopped frequently to enjoy the shade and Pablo broke out the rod on one deep pool where we spied a couple of nice brookies, one about 13".  Pretty fatigued when we hit the final crossing (via bridge) and merger with the trail from the pass that we'd taken years ago on a day hike into the first lake.  At the trail junction, the sign indicated another 3 miles to Stough lake(s).  We lowered our heads and tackled the final climb and were pleasantly surprised when we hit the saddle over looking the first lake at 5:00pm and after only a mile from the sign and trail junction.  My guess is the sign must indicated one of the higher, middle lakes as the central location of Stough creek lake(s).   The trail first lake has a big good campsite on the west side up on the knoll in the trees, was very buggie when we were there, we stopped there and dropped our packs and eventually decided to push on after Jb and Maree scouted two more open locations at the next lake up. I crossed the incoming stream to scout a campsite a few hundred yards past the stream and marked by an obelisk shaped rock.  Definitely a small, secluded camp with a great view of the lower lake could be made there, but it included the hassle of crossing the feeding stream every time you wanted to access the higher lake bound trail on the west side of the lower lakes.    

Ultimately we settled on a rocky knoll, med sized site on the lower western corner of the second lake.  The only good tent sites were right next to trees and had the subsequent bug issues.  Although the camp had lot s of small rocks, a fire pit, it was lacking a good bear bagging tree and had only one marginal rock big enough to sit on.  On the last night JB tried to build a couple of other rock seats with only limited success.  After the
The View Base Camp Left
climb and with out having eaten enough, I was fuzzy headed and had to wolf down a cliff bar to keep from collapsing.  We were at 10,500 feet- 9,500 higher than I'm used too and that certainly was a factor, but happily none of us got altitude sickness.  We ate super, got camp set up and enjoyed the setting sun and spectacular milky, JB using the illegal Chinese laser to point out constellations- big and Little Dipper being the only definitive stars he could ID.  Not wanting to be rookies, we turned in around mid night- only Beth reporting a good sleep the next morning.

6/29: The third straight cloudless day greeted us and after a breakfast of strawberry oatmeal and 100% d
Deet, we loaded up day packs with food, purification tablets, sandals and towels, expecting some pristine high lake dipping.  Literally as we walked out of camp, JB nonchalantly pulled the rain fly over his tent- "Look at the sky man, It's not going to rain."  "I know," he replied, but I'm going to do it anyway".  I decided to as well.

JB and Maree found a boulder hopping crossing of the feeder stream close the lake.  JB's reaching out for Maree and yelling, "you can do this, come on , you can make this!" convinced Beth that we needed to look for an easier crossing, so we kept moving up stream right and got separated from them.  This was actually the stream crossing for the feeder creek to a shallow, small pond just above the lake where we camped.  Beth and I ended up making the morning and lunch at the lake west of the shallow pond, catching brookies on dry flies at the exit creek and in the main lake.  After several hours of lallygagging and just enjoying the beautify of the almost above tree line lake, we began to move up lake toward the feeder stream.  Surprisingly, we ran into JB and Maree who came into the bottom portion of the lake from over a knoll which separated the "Mick and Beth Lake" from the it's eastern sister lake where JB and Maree had spent the morning.  Of course the eastern lake was reported to have bigger fish and JB was breathless with tales of monster cuts cruising the shoreline- however I don't recall that he hooked any of them.

Reunited, we moved up stream as clouds began to roll in and decided to head for a lake above and west of the two sister lakes.  AS we made our way the weather became increasingly ominous with loud claps of thunder and Beth expressed her trepidation, especially since we had no rain gear in the pack and sported only short sleeve shirts as the temp dropped.  We eventually decided to follow JB and make it over to "storm lake" where shortly it began to sprinkle and we should shelter, all be it poor, in a rock over hang for
Ascending to Storm Lake
JB and Mar and a grouping of pine trees on a cut bank for Mick and Beth  As we huddled we heard voices and watched a troop of 15 or so young hikers blow by us.  We later learned they were a NOL's group and they told JB they had just summited one of the peaks surrounding on of the upper lakes.  We passed this group two days later on our way out.  Anyway, a break in the rain convinced M&B to make a dash for camp, some 2+ miles away.  AS we made it back to the lake were we'd spent the morning, the rain came harder and we crammed ourselves under a rock, listening to the thunder and pounding rain on the lake, but staying for the most part dry ourselves.  After 20 minutes things lightened somewhat and we crawled from under our rock, startling two women, clad in Arcteryx and Gonia rain jackets, "out wandering around".  Beth told one of them she had that exact same jacket, but it was in her backpack!  We made the most of the break and hustled across the outlet stream, finding an easy crossing that we would use the remainder of the trip and a good trail lake right (going down stream) that took us past the small pond and back to our campsite.  AS we neared camp the rain increased, as did our pace.  I quickly took the food out of the tree as those bags were getting wet, threw them under JB's ample vestibule, checked and deemed their packets safe deep under the branches of the pine trees, closed our packs and put them under tree limbs and filmed dime sized hail before ducking into our tent.  It had rain much harder at camp than at the upper lakes and I was very grateful we'd pulled the rain fly over our sleeping bags and clothes in our tent.   We dozed and kept an eye on the ground around the tent where the sheets of rain pooled and sluffed off from the fly.  It cam in spasms for about an hour and I began to organize in my mind a rescue attempt for JB and Mar, assuming it was raining as hard up there as it was down here and knowing the temp drop and soaked clothes may not be life threatening, but certainly miserable.  The only problem would be finding them.  Not knowing if they might have moved father south to upper lakes after we left and might take a different way back to camp.  As the rain lightened and I decided I'd make a shot at finding them, JB came yelling into camp, fairly dry as there was less downpour higher up and they had sheltered under a rock.

After dinner we decided to pursue the evening hatch on the sister lake where JB and Maree had spent the morning.  There were lots of rises as we worked our way around the lake to the bouldered shore line.  The girls found a "comfortable" rock and dissected the intricacies of public education as we threw caddis and Griffiths gnat at rises.  Some nice brookies came to hand and the gnat got gnarled, we definitely had not matched the hatch as we took only 10% maybe of the rises.  Seemed they were taking something small and maybe emerging as most my takes where while the fly was sinking.  I tied on a #6 Dahlia skunk and after a few casts, working the shoreline from a peninsula rock had a rod jolting slam, big fish for sure, but Nada beyond that.  JB took a nice brookie and had some knocks on a cone head muddler.  Beth was worried about hiking in the dark, so we left a little earlier than otherwise might've, but truth be told, the slow fishing had me sufficiently humbled anyway.

Back at base camp I decided to try a fire.  wood was limited, but i realized the abundant yellow pines had lots of dead branches which were perfect fire size and had been sheltered from the rain by the higher green branches.  I gathered them up by the armfuls, building s promising reserve for the evening, if only they would burn.  the dryer lent and my Alaska training by the mule yielded a nice crackling fire, the pine burned like Sterno logs.  we watched more shooting stars and retired to our sacks around midnight.

Even a fresh FFJ could yield no sleep and Another tossing and turning night was followed by a brilliant morning.  Sooner or later I've got to solve the wilderness insomnia.  I know I don't sleep in Alaska because I'm intently listening for marauding brown bears, but with no such fear in the winds I should've slept rip van winkle.  Luckily I feel no ill effects during the day, other than rising later than I'd like as what ever winks I get seem to be from 4-7am, the excitement of the mountains keeps me charged all day... And night I suppose.

We hit the "big fish lake" from the night before, but the water was covered with pine pollen from the storm the night before, make visibility difficult.  After an hour or so we crested the  knoll between lakes, Beth and I stopping at a snow bank and making grape slush ices in our bottles.  The girls took the rods for little brookie lake and maree in particular had great luck.  Eventually we moved up the feeder creaking, keeping to the south this time instead of west to storm lake where we'd gone the day before.  JB was working this med
sized stream and above a small waterfall declared it devoid of fish.  Moments later we started seeing rises
and stopped at a fabulous run with chuncky brookies, 8-11 inches and much thicker than in the lake were aggressively taking the caddis. Beth took several fish and seemed to have found her groove if not her passion for rising trout.  We fished a few more runs, but the hatch seemed to have slacked and we eventually hop scotched up to the lake.  A small, shallow lake surrounded by spectacular cirques tempted us to bare all and swim.  Instead we decided to bust up to a higher lake which was reported to hold goldens.  Beth was more in intrigued by a crack in one of the circs and decided to forgo the fishing for climbing.  She surmised her bouldering skills were adequate to "crawl the crack" a few hundred feet since we were sans harnesses, pitons, rope and caribeeners.    So as Beth toed and fingered holds on a fresh rock face, possibly never before free climbed, Maree, JB and I scampered over a small knoll to an upper lake. 

Beth's accent line, center crack above the snow
I found fresh legs and with a 2 hour expected weather window (clouds were building and a repeat was expected) kicked it into gear, quickly finding myself on a 40 foot cliff looking down at the spectacular stream exit.  Even more spectacular were the large gold torpedoes waving in the shallow current, it was reminiscent of the great north land.  Although 40 feet above the water, my silhouetted movement sent the 20" jetting into the depths of the outlet stream.  Stupid approach, sometimes in the wilderness you assume the fish are fearless, and small ones are, but the big boys are big for a reason, their cautious and smart.  I made my way down to the stream and took a nice brookie cruising on the seem between shallows and deep.  I was casting 30 feet to objects farther out that seem when JB appeared on the cliff.  From his perch he spotted a decent trout actually facing the cliff wall below, no doubt working off a bounce back current.  After some miscommunication and in accurate casts, I finally understood where he was telling me the fish was and launched a 50' cast to grassy edge!  "That's it man, thanks it, he's heading right for it, hold it hold it!"  The head rose and the tail splashed and I set the hook on a memorable presentation in a breath taking place.

We hit the lake and JB decided to go south on the other side of the outlet stream, I heard an inlet streaming gurgling in from a grassy area on my side of the lake and decided to head that way.  Turned out to be the right idea, but the wrong inlet stream.  I caught on avg brookie while JB will have to write about his
JB's choice of inlets paid off big
experience on the opposite shore line at the larger I let stream. 

It grew windy and clouds increased.  I thought to fish the outlet stream and did take a brookie there, but worried about Beth possibly stuck somewhere up that rock face with weather building and with no sign of JB and Mar I decided to bust it back to the lower lake.  I found Beth fresh of her accent and relaxing by the lake, no worse for the wear.  She'll have to write about her escapades on the wall.  We decided to fish the creek back, taking our time, seems the climb had taken more out of her that she wanted to admit, maybe she doesn't climb as effortlessly as she did in her twenties when we first met on the north face of El Cap. 

Hard to say goodbye to this
We hit the same fabulous run we'd plumbed on our way up stream, but this time our fly wasn't getting it done, they'd either "learned today" or we weren't matching the hatch this time.  I tried a few different flies, even clipping down a crimson bodied humpy to look like a midge, and only took a a couple of trout.  Don't think Beth took any this go round.  I fished the stream down, enjoying the Rambling diversity of the runs.  Eventually we cam to the lower braided section, shallow and inviting and toyed with bathing although a little skittish being so close to the trail.  We soaked our feet and from a sitting position I drifted a fly to my first and only cutthroat, measuring him against my bare foot in the cool water.  Eventually JB and M showed up and although intermittently sunny and hot and cool and cloudy, it didn't rain and we made it back to camp around dusk.  JB and M had dipped at the upper lake and Beth and I decided to hit the outlet stream just below our camp.  our tub was trail visible but we hustled and I remembered and employed the Jordo Vinuk plunge where you got to push up position in shallow water, worked great and the water was only 10 second cold, better than the 5 second cold of the upper stream.

Another fire, more stars a new neighbor of three who'd unknowing set up camp in what had been our latrine, hope they didn't move a lot of rocks around.

The Crew already contemplating the next time
The next day dawned with that miserable anticipation of the end.  Wile still in the wild and with work to do its possible to stay in the moment, but the last day blues are right on the edge after such a perfect trip.  The back track up the pass was simple enough, sans a couple of rock slide crossings.  We recruited at the pass with photo ops and bouldering the adjacent 20 foot outcroppings to view the panorama of the trails we'd hiked.  We chatted up a nice young couple from Fort Collins and on the switch backs down- the ones that made Beth thankful we'd chosen the three forks/ middle popo agie route to the lakes, we met two other groups for who's lives we feared.  A couple from Chicago, wearing little fans to keep the skeeters off their faces, a new 70lb Kelty pack with a broken strap and riding right on the good gentleman's shoulders and accompanied by two old couch dogs who's epitaph Beth pronounced as we left them, 

"hear lie the chihuahua and the sharpie, 
whose city slicking owners the wind river thought said dogs could slay 
but alas all table scraps and ample double chins 
cost them their lives on the slopes of the mighty Winds." 

The second outfit was a young family we passed on the meadows, before nary a switch back.  Three small kids with little packs and rods, hiking in sandals and the good natured dad already carrying lil sissy's back in his free hand.  It may not end up on "I shouldn't be alive" but it could end up in divorce court.  But maybe we're wrong, maybe they have the patience of Job and backs of the mule.

Our pace was slow as we savored the last few miles, it was only 7 miles or so down, but it took us a full 6 hours- what's the rush, right?  Beth and I stopped at a small bridge of a small stream just past the the big meadow bridge and soaked our tired dogs and taped our tender toes one last time.  We crossed the shallow roaring river just below roaring lake, exactly at a spot where I'd photoed Hondo in full waders casting to eager 4" brookies some 8 or 9 nine years ago.  The final push to the truck was easy peasy and with in the hour we were bathing in the sink of _____ while our burgers, pizza and nachos were cooking and we toasted a successful maiden trip for the lasses and another notch in the belt of the Unguided. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Midnight Sun

Don't ask a man to tell you about his recent river escapades when he has just touched down at 7 am MST from a 5 hour red-eye flight from Alaska.   You may not get the truth.  

What is it about the Naknek that draws one back?  This trip was undertaken with some reservation.  Intel from Mikey was that the fishing was "sub par", but this was primarily a graduation trip for my son.  It may have ruined him.  It may have ruined me. Sum total?  Not many fish. Mostly all under 14".  Isn't this the famed NAKNEK??  The Alaskan jewel, one of the best Rainbow fisheries in the Last Frontier? Not this time, nor ever again for me.  We did land 4 fish over 16", and one about 27". (footage will be posted on Vimeo soon, or if you're an "insider", then in the "box")  A couple of consolation prizes to mention.  Great company was enjoyed, some wonderful pizza, learned way to much about golf, and we did NOT sleep on Easy Ed's floor.  We actually had beds and hot showers along with Satellite TV, all was not lost. 

I do not wish to wish-away any trip, especially to AK, it was what is was.  I hope my son tasted a little of the AK adventure, but for me it was not the remote wilderness experience that I travel great lengths to enjoy.  Goodbye mighty Naknek.... Goodbye.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

AK Season Begins

WHEN AIR... Next Stop, King Salmon 5:34 pm June 12
So, it's déjà vu all over again... June, I'm sitting at home and Pablo is right about now in king salmon, staring down the barrel at 4 days on the naknek.  But, it's 10:35 pm in NC, I've been up since 5 am, taking a daughter to the airport for her mission, won't see her for a year and a half.... I'm emotional as a pregnant woman, exhausted, the thought of slogging around in waders till 2 am in the land of the midnight sun (4am EST) doesn't sound appealing.. Nor does the concrete floor of uncle eds "cabin".... So right now, I'm happy to be sleeping in my own bed with only dreams of naknek bows... but tomorrow is another day.

From AK With Love