Monday, September 30, 2019

You laugh, I still can't....

flowers and the rim of the hillside into Hell's Canyon
best eating fish ever! 

Hell’s Canyon----It looked fairly ‘unthreatening’ to me, a hillside down into a small creek in western Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, where brook trout lived in beaver dam pools. Maybe 10 or 12 inch brook trout wouldn’t appeal to most Ozark fishermen… until you ate a couple. After you have de-headed and gutted a few to fry whole, I would guess you might change your mind. I have never eaten any fish that good. I would trade a 15-inch walleye for a 10-inch brook trout anytime. About the only thing I would rather have for supper is a ten-inch apple fritter!

a glimpse of the bottom of the canyon, where brook trout were supposed to be but weren't
        My partner, Kevin Kaltenbaugh, a mountain man, outdoorsman, naturalist who in all those phases is the equal to any man I know, is use to that wild country and the thin mountain air. He said he knew of a little trail down through that thick underbrush, so off we went. It was there alright, not so much a deer trail or even a goat trail. It was more of a rabbit trail.

          Clutching my little ten-dollar ultra-lite spinning outfit, with my 600-dollar Nikon camera slung across my back, I followed Kaltenbaugh into the depths of Hell’s Canyon. Until then no one had named it! The beaver dams were pretty much washed out, and I suspect the beavers had gone off looking for a new place to live. The water that was there had a foul smell, and the brook trout that Kevin had found there years before were only a memory. So I decided to try to find that little trail and go back up to the jeep, only about 100 yards up the hill resting on a trail where Kaltenbaugh’s wife had came upon a mountain lion there, too close, too big and too scary to forget. There in the duskiness only an hour away from darkness, the little trail eluded me. There was only one thing to do, set forth into the mountain jungle before me and pray. I do quite a bit of praying, but not near as much as I did that next hour in the mountains of Colorado, where the oxygen is about one-third as effective as what I am accustomed to. I was faced with patches of chest-high thick grass, and those patches lay in little ten- or fifteen-foot openings ringed by a thicket of ten-foot-high thumb-sized woody plants which only small mice could go through. Between those green thickets were the remains of dead thickets, brush piles you could not climb over. It was a maze that only the larger bulldozers I have seen could break through. Smaller dozers would have had to be left there, and here is why. In and amongst the high grass which kept you from seeing the ground, there were ditches about three feet deep, containing almost two feet of that dark, dank, stinking water. It took only a few minutes to find a good deep one! When you give all your strength to break through grasses as thick as porcupine quills, and then your foot goes into one of those ditches, it is a job to get it out, and you come out wet and cold, up to your knees!

          I don’t want to try to describe the next hour. It reminds me of a life or death struggle, of which I have only had a few, in which for many nights later you wake up screaming in terror. I asked God to help me, but I think He was busy with something else. Then I asked him what I had done to deserve that but unfortunately He reminded me! In the next hour I got briars in both hands, and gave all my strength to bulling my way through grass and high thickets and across dead branches stacked waist high. I could’ve handled it were it not for the ditches, and water likely filled with beaver dung and dead aquatic life. Again and again, down I went. Finally I went down and could not regain my feet, exhausted and out of breath and weak, I lay there looking at the sky recalling that commercial I saw once where some old lady was hollering, “help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
          Finally, gathering all the strength I could muster, I grasped a thick handful of grass and gained my weak and shaking legs beneath me.
Kevin and his dog Cashew at the bottom of the canyon

          I thought of how that mountain lion might feast upon my carcass in the night, and then I saw Kevin in a thicket just above me. He wasn’t a paid assassin after all! He showed me where he had broken a narrow path through dead brush, but between us was the biggest ditch of all. I tried to step across it but lost my balance and went in up to my shoulders. Kevin stepped into a waist-deep ditch next to me, and grabbed my camera off my back to save it. We gained the ground on the other side and he clutched my belt to pull me up on to the brush pile. Moments later I was beside the jeep, weak and wet and glad to be alive.

          I might add the one good thing to come from that hour in hell’s canyon. Six months ago, they found that as healthy, strong. virile and obnoxious as I am, there were three blockages in small arteries around my heart. They laid me out on a table and ran a little bull-dozer type thing up in there through my wrist to push out the blockages, which I gained from 40 years of eating all the donuts, pie and cake I could eat. I was awake the whole time the doctor did it, running the entire machinery up there wherever my heart was, and then as best as I can figure, putting little tiny things in there to keep it open so I can eat more donuts without consequence. The doctor said my heart was like new, like I was thirty again. But I doubted that. I figured then that if I had an ordeal like I had that night in the mountains I would have to be hoisted out of that mess and air-lifted to the funeral home. But by golly I guess he was right! I think now I might climb up a little higher and hunt some mountain goats on my next trip.

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