I have a confession: I can be a outdoors elitist. Hard to get to? Great. No trails? Even better. Maybe a little dangerous? Don’t tell the wife (HI, ANGIE), but lets go. Unfortunately, I am also and idiot. These two traits tend to combine in spectacular ways.
For example, Friday night I got the itch. I needed to get outside. Really outside. Rough terrain, surrounded by dangerous animals, seeing no other people outside.
So I pulled out my maps and looked for somewhere inconvenient. I settled on fly fishing the West Clear Creek Wilderness, a huge, almost entirely trail-less Wilderness Area between the towns of Camp Verde and Payson, Arizona. Since the baby is only a month away an overnight trip was out of the question, and access to the best areas was limited the easy, longer route off FR 215 or the harder, shorter route off of FR 214.
Unable to resist the call of steep shortcuts, I set off for the 214 (Bald Hill) trailhead at about 4AM Saturday morning. I opened the trail register and my greatest hopes were realized: I was the only name in the book. Page after empty, obviously weathered page confirmed that no one uses this trailhead. Most people would probably question why no one else uses this shortcut. However, I am not most people. I am an idiot.
Descending more than 1,000 vertical feet in the first mile, the trail was steep, slippery, and laughably eroded from last year’s huge summer monsoon. Going was slow, and worst of all the trail doesn’t run straight to the creek. Rather it hits a cliff 150 vertical feet from the water, runs parallel to, but above, the creek for the next two miles, and keeps you tantalizingly close to the fishing while erasing any mileage savings the steep route saved relative to the easy path. Sure, careful examination of the map ahead of time would have revealed all of this, but again: idiot.
I managed to barely beat the sun to the creek. Tuning upstream, away from the trail, I started fishing the larger holes. The something amazing happened:
I ACTUALLY CAUGHT A FISH.
Some context: By all accounts I am a very good hiker, maybe a great backpacker, but I am a terrible fisherman. And not just a somewhat bad fisherman, but a historically terrible fisherman. Were I alive in ancient times people would still be saying, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, make a man reliant of fishing for his food supply and he will starve to death quickly.” Charles Barkley is better at golf than I am at fishing.
Obviously this was an attempted fish suicide. Against the fish’s wishes I had him back in the water right away and he swam off. Hopefully the throngs of people downstream will be so kind.
A couple more hours of fishing, and things were back to normal (i.e. no fish). Too soon I had to start the long slog out. I have done and loved just about every “difficult” hike there is in Arizona, and mile for mile this is up there with any of them. Hell’s Gate is probably the best comp, but West Clear Creek is a little steeper for a little longer. Luckily the clouds came in and I was stopping so often that I had plenty of time to look back and enjoy the views. By the time I reached the top I felt pretty unhappy with myself, my trip planning, and my winter conditioning.
In the car though, I started thinking, All told, would I do it again? Of course I would, but I am an idiot.
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