High Country Snow

High Country Snow

Some of the world’s greatest fishing trips start as a vague rumor, big trout in the headwaters of XXX stream right above the lake… those streams you always hear murmurings about but can never get details or exact locations. When I asked direct questions I always had someone look away from my eyes and then say “try that other stream it seems to fish better”… or “such and such stream is an easier hike” … or even the dreaded “I never heard of that stream” … from a guy who knows every trickle of water and mud puddle in the four county area. So I spent hours pouring over the Delorme trying to pinpoint the exact trail and location. As I studied and planned the excitement and buzz begins to grow, till soon the anticipation of the trip far exceeded the potentially exaggerated size of the trout in the rumors. By the time I actually got the trip scheduled it felt like my anticipation would cause me to explode. The surge of desire to be in the woods grew to the point that my work actually suffered from neglect as fishing lust took over all of the limited space in my poor fishing infected brain. It seemed like years before I finally found myself with all of my camping stuff spread out all over the couch, the tent set up on the living room floor and fly lines stretched out all over the kitchen table… wondering how I could ever get all of this “stuff” stuffed into my backpack. If you’re from the south you know what they say about trying to “shove 10 pounds of “stuff” in a five pound bag”. Yet somehow you work with it and rearrange it 5 times before eventually you get it all stuffed in there, there is nothing better than that freshly organized and well packed backpack……… with me the awe of a well organized backpack ends at the living room floor because I know that by the time I hit the trailhead I will have suddenly remembered something critical that will require me to go digging through my pack only to find it at the very bottom after trashing any traces of a well organized and balanced pack.

Yet against seemingly astronomical odds, I eventually found myself sitting on a plane high above the clouds feeling that rush of just beginning a fishing adventure in route to “Cool Colorful Colorado”. Anytime I get to return to the Creede area it is magical for me, I have been returning to this section of Colorado for 43 years. As I the turn at South Fork and start up the road through Wagon Wheel Gap and the Rio Grande river my blood pressure drops twenty points, my casting arm begins to twitch uncontrollably and my driving becomes more erratic than a 90 year old lady as I can barley look at the road for staring at the beckoning beauty of each hole and pocket of water in the river. Somehow I managed to safely arrive at my destination on the river, practically bolting through the family cabin and knocking my mother aside until I reached the back porch, standing in the glow of the mountains and listening to the roar of the river below. Standing at the one spot in the world I dream about day after day……..




That sight of the snow pack seeps slowly into my soul replacing the heat and pressure of my daily life in Atlanta. I am finally home……. At least for a little while.

This is a weird year in that I am planning to spend most of my time in Creede on a backpacking adventure. A friend I first met at freshman orientation at the University of Arkansas 30 years prior had happened to call me while I was at freshman orientation at Georgia Southern University with my oldest son and wanted to go fishing together like old times…….. well with a coincidence of that magnitude and the chance to go fishing I had quickly invited him to join me on my journey to find my rumored mystery stream. He had agreed and flown into Colorado and was going to meet me at the cabin. Soon enough we were at what I hoped upon hope was the correct trailhead. Struggling into our packs.


Which clearly shows that you can’t really fit that 10 pounds of stuff into a 5 pound bag …. You just have to strap it to the outside like a true redneck. Just as I predicted, I did have to dig through my pack and screw up the whole thing … note to self never pack your camera at the bottom of the pack. But the scene at the top of the trailhead was too spectacular to resist.


The first part of the trail was a soft gentle slope downward and showed promise of a nice easy stroll … just like a baby grizzly looks cuddly and gentle till they grow into man eaters…….. I headed out first making good time, leading the way


For ……… oh about a hundred yards or so before my in shape 10k running friend passed in a blur and left me hiking down the trail with only the rasping of my ragged breathing for company. The trip through the open parks wasn’t that bad though and I was feeling really confident, although feeling a lot out of shape and out of breath by the time I had completed the first 3 miles to a cut off that I thought signaled that we were almost there. It was beautiful.


Until I realized the obvious that any stream I was looking for wasn’t gonna be up here at the top of the pass it had to be way down there at the bottom. And in fact the stream was at the bottom and even fairly close … if you are dealing with distance as a bird travels but the 19 switch backs along a 3 mile decent combined with the 1300 feet drop from 10950 at the top of the mountain to 9650 at streamside almost killed me. I still say going down is harder than coming up…….. at least that is what I kept telling myself so the thought of the climb out four days from now didn’t cause me to commit suicide. But I couldn’t focus on the beauty all I could think about was that quarter of an inch of blue ink that looked so simple on the Delorme that now threatened to send my leg trembling self, plummeting down the mountain in a tangle of legs, arms and pack. And unfortunately I actually thought that would be better way to accomplish this descent than the way I was currently stumbling and inching downward ….. I don’t think this guy knew how close he came to getting mugged by being beaten over the head with a Schaaf rod tube and his horse stolen to carry me to the bottom.


Why do guys on a horse always say “about two more miles but it should be an easy hike”.

Eventually I stumbled to within ear shot of the sound of the stream far below me lost in the firs and willows. My heart and mind finally regained hope that I might actually make it and I went into auto pilot that lasted till I had my tent set up and we had camp secured. We had been too tired to scout around much but we did find a small bench of fairly flat land right next to the stream, way off the trail, sheltered in a stand of beautiful tall firs and surrounded by rocky canyon wall on all sides. It was truly a stunning camp sight


But as beautiful as our surroundings were and as beautiful as the stream was I couldn’t stop that nagging worry that niggled at my brain… … MAYBE THE RUMORS ABOUT THE FISHING WERE FALSE … MAYBE THERE WOULDN’T BE ANY FISH AT ALL. It would be just my luck to practically kill myself hiking down into a stream valley without any fish. My friend Monty, the one who is in shape, said this water didn’t look all that good to him and maybe if it wasn’t any good we could hike out tomorrow and look for another place…….. my legs and brain laughed hard, as there wasn’t anyway I was hiking out of here for quite some time. So a few minutes later my fingers were practically trembling as I strung my Schaaf Creede 4 wt bamboo, or maybe that was the leftover oxygen depravation from the hike. I stepped out past the tents into a beautiful shoot of water that rushed next to a steep sheer canyon wall. The light was already starting to fade here at the bottom of the valley.


The first few casts as always were awkward and clumsy... … but soon enough I found a rhythm and began to feel my heart rate and my worries subside and calm … the best part of the trip had finally begun. About four casts later I saw a dark shape detach from the bottom and trail my stimulator for a foot or so before gently sucking it in with a soft swirl. I set instinctively and smiled to myself as the rod came up tight and fast to the first fish of the trip, less than 5 minutes into our fishing. My congratulatory thoughts were cut short as the fish nearly ripped my little blonde rod from my hands as she made a mad dash to the fast water next to the rock wall, stripping line in great bursts as she bulled her way back upstream……… hold on tight …… game on…….. My little blonde was tougher than the rainbow so soon enough I held a gorgeous dark colored rainbow with red gill plates that were so garishly painted with large bright red cheeks she looked like a hooker from New Orleans. She taped a little over 16 inches…… from a small Colorado back country stream……….


I thought of the rumor of big beautiful fish in this particular stream and a single response formed in my brain … immortalized in the classic cinematic drama known as “Blazing Saddles” in response to another of life’s great rumors………. “IT’S TRUE … IT’s TROOOOOOOOOO”

I fished for about an hour till darkness and the chill finally chased me off the water. Each new bend of the river brought more beautiful water and more beautiful fish. About ten more fish completed my warm welcome to their valley, including a Colorado slam of bow, brown, cutthroat and brookie. All were larger than expected and gorgeous. I was practically floating as I hit camp and got dinner on the grill. The smell of a campfire, great steaks, a little bourbon, a great cigar and a long hard hiked combined with a few good fish soon enough sent us to our tent with visions of rising trout dancing in our heads while visions of diamond like stars cast across the heavens blinked above, we hit the tents for a much needed night of rest.

The next morning dawned cool, clear and gorgeous. We ate a hurried breakfast eager to start the days fishing and exploration. We knew we had about 8 miles of water to choose from and only the two of us to share it which is one of life’s greatest luxuries. So we split up and Monte staid down and fished the canyon section and I hiked upstream from the camp not sure what I would find but confident it would be wonderful…. Little did I know…

The trail led up over a beautiful canyon that afforded a perfect framable view of the white water pocket water below.

Leading to a first glance at one of the prettiest stretches I had ever seen


And a few seconds later to a view of one of the prettiest valleys I had ever seen


I just stood there drinking in the view, it was like cool, cool water running into the well of my memories helping me store the calm and cool that are needed to help me get through my daily life in the years to come. No matter how beautiful the pictures are the memory that is burned into my head and heart is brighter and sharper than anything film can capture ……. To my dying day the first site of that valley, the open glittering of the ribbon of stream water and the cooling effect of the high country snow cap at the head of the valley will forever be a vital part of me. That snow cap drew me toward it and held my mind and my heart……….. a vision that even weeks later hasn’t receded or dimmed in the slightest.

Eventually even the beautiful scenery couldn’t hold me and the fishing lust drew me down the slope to the stream below. The sunlight glittered on the water as I stepped into the icy crisp current for the first casts of the day.


The anticipation and build up wasn’t even close to the wonders that the scene from the top promised……. The actual fishing far exceeded my wildest hopes. The first few holes were yielding two to three fish in the 15 to 18 inch range per hole. All rose out of a cobbled colored bottom rising through gin clear water with a slashing predator’s vengeance at my big yellow stimulator. I took pictures of the first few taking time to get just the right pose of fish, scenery and the beauty of my little blonde bamboo. But eventually I was catching so many fish pictures seemed to be pointless and I put my camera away and focused my memories on creating the images. The stream was so open that casting was a thing of beauty even with the slight wind that blew off the snow cap. The columbine and Indian paint brush were in bloom and hundreds of other wild flowers…… leaving the surrounding green of the valley dotted with patches of color, the blue spruce were prevalent casting that cool bluish green that just send peace and calm through out a man. Yet my eyes were continually drawn to the majesty of the peaks rising out of the head of the valley and the snow caps resting on their crown, the mother of this wonderful stream, the source of all the color and beauty that was the valley floor. I was catching so many fish that the strikes that I missed because I was watching the beauty of the world around me more than the fly weren’t even mourned. The fish were so eager that the next or even the next good cast would bring a second or third chance. It was a day of catching ……. Some of the best catching I have ever had the joy of being part of ……. but the star of the day was the stream and the scenery. I took hundreds of pictures thinking each one to be a masterpiece, content that my memories were captured in pictorial splendor. The valley was fading into twilight as I finally headed back to camp. The campfire was blazing and the brawts were sizzling ….. Monte and I spent the evening talking and catching up on each others lives re-connecting in a way only a campfire can bring about.


When I woke up the next morning the rising sun was already pinpointed on the stream. The river was in spectacular color and scenery….. these were classically beautiful holes.




Monte had caught some fish with his spinning rod the previous day but was now ready to do some fly-fishing. He had done some fly fishing before but was not as comfortable with a fly rod as with a spinning rod so it was time to change that and convert my good friend to the most wonderful addiction I knew of. I knew that the fish were willing, the stream accessible and open…… what more could you ask for in a fly fishing training ground. I passed on a few pointers and settled back into a coaching roll. Fortunately, I didn’t have too long to wait as soon I saw his big stimulator disappear in a virtual geyser of white and heard him whoop with delight. His rod bent nearly double and a look of concentration filled his face.


His determination paid off as he finally landed a beautiful cutbow


And the look of triumph on his face left little doubt in my mind that Monte had a lot of fly-fishing in his future.


About that time disaster struck, I had his camera and my own in my hands trying to snap the pictures and in my usual state of grace and coordination stumbled in the white water I was standing in. The cameras juggled and fell but I deftly managed to grab Monte’s only to watch mine plummet into the foaming white water. I felt my stomach drop, as I crossed the few feet to hand Monte’s back to him and dashed back to plunge my arm into the icy depths where I had last seen mine. As you may have already guessed the fast white water current dominated the next 100 yards of stream and the camera was swept to a hiding place under a rock somewhere in that boiling mass of water never to be found by me. Strangely enough my first crushing feelings of loss weren’t for the expensive waterproof digital camera, which had only been purchased a few weeks prior …… but for the hundreds of pictures that I had already spent hours trying to craft to capture the various sights and memories already created in this adventure……. All gone and lost at the bottom of the stream. It made me want to cry, not the camera but the missing pictures … I use those pictures to capture the trip and to sustain me in the year ahead so I can look at my screensaver and my computer in the rush and blur of a busy day and feel just a momentary sense of the calm and beauty of this wonderful valley … yet those pictures were gone…… or where they…. I finally realized that the camera was gone but the memory of those sights and sounds was still in my heart and mind…… and fortunately for both of us I had only been stupid enough to drop one of the cameras not both so I still had Monte’s pictures to help trigger my memories and to fill the pages of this story……. Yet somehow it isn’t quite the same…… but almost…… thanks Monte for going back and recreating some of those pictures with me.

The fishing soon enough cleared my mind of the blow of losing the camera and we split up for a while to get some serious fishing in. I was confident that Monte would catch plenty of fish with his new found fly rod skills and as his pictures prove he did. I know you guys always complain that I don’t shoot enough grip and grin fish porn for you so here are a few of Monte’s fish for you




Even a brookie

We caught up with each other later in the afternoon and took a few shots of each other fishing in this wonderful scenery.



And even a couple pictures of us after catching fish, a feat that wasn’t too hard to do but sure was fun.



After that I had Monte take a few scenery shots that I love so much … ones with nobody in them for my own memories.





The end of the afternoon found us far up the valley, with storms threatening but somehow I just couldn’t pull myself away from the sight of that high country snow at the head of the valley. I felt like I was in a trance of scenic beauty and natural grace. A trance I didn’t want to wake up from. I though Monte had already turned back to the trail and camp as I focused on one last look. I was trying to burn one last memory of an amazing valley and an amazing trip into my heart and brain.




The last brushes of daylight found me back at my favorite spot overlooking the valley with a few more of my favorite things.


What a way to end the last full day of our camping adventure.

I would love to say that I slept rested and relaxed that night but visions of dying on the hike back out of here and up that mountain did plaque my sleep. We had planned an early start and I had barley fallen asleep when the sun rise and Monte shaking the tent woke me. I took one last gasp of the scenery like a cool drink of water …..


Strapped on the pack and headed up the mountain.


I made progress slowly, very slowly and soon was far behind Monte. My dreams of heart attacks had me moving slowly and stopping frequently to let my heart rate slow back down. I was like the world’s worst football team……… 9 yards and punt……. 8 yards and punt…6 yards and punt…… but somehow …… some way… I managed to make it back up the 19 switch backs, the 3 mile ascent, and up the 1300 feet elevation rise to the 10,950 feet at the top of the mountain. And it wasn’t even that bad……. Maybe because I knew that I had to tell myself it was easy because this was a trip I was going to take again in the future……. No matter what.

From there the hike was a breeze……… well not exactly a breeze but certainly easier as we pushed up through the open parks and back to the trailhead.



Soon enough I was nearing the top. Monte had already dropped his pack at the car and had come back to see if I was gonna make it and to laugh at my fat ass……


But somehow I made it……… alive


I turned for one last look, watched the far off hills and visualized the valley, the stream and that wonderful snow capped peak rising out of the valleys head. Dan Fogelberg’s “High Country Snow” playing in my head. I silently said thanks to God for all of the things in this life that make it so special. For my family, for starlight, for firelight, for the sound of the rushing water, for unspoiled valleys, for big eager brightly colored fish, for scenery beyond compare, for special friends to share the experience with and finally for that vision of the valley to provide cooling relief to me through out the year when I don’t think I can stand the pressure and stress any more ……… just a thought and a mental picture and I can be back there in the peace and tranquility that is the land of the high country snow.


Thanks Monte.


Ed Call

Long Lost Member
WFF Supporter

I had seen this thread and put it on my to read list. I finally got a quite few moments to read it and I must say that I'm pleased to have had the time. Exceptionally well written. Now about your next adventure, we never met in college, never met in Atlanta when I visited there, but next time you need a reason to go, I'm IN. I'm out of shape too, but I can even lighten your load a bit by carrying some of that strap on stuff that dangles from your 5 pound, no 10 pound pack. Congratulations on your great adventure in your home stomping grounds.
One of the very best trip reports I've read. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this. I was very envious from the beginning. Outstanding job!


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