I probably shouldn’t have worn a black long-sleeved shirt.
Black isn’t the best for such a hot day, but I was heading for the backcountry, gaining a bit of elevation, so I was thinking more about bug protection than temperature.
Sure, the forecast called for highs in the upper 20C range, but it was down in the lowlands and in the apartments. Where I was going the mountain ridges and high valleys south of Crowsnest Pass, mosquitoes and horseflies would be more of a problem.
Flopped in a piece of clover that was pretty much bug-free, I regretted my choice of clothing almost immediately. The temperature at Blairmore had already surpassed its forecast peak and exceeded 30 ° C. Up there, still a few hundred yards higher in the surrounding mountains, it was at least as hot as that.
Tack on the moisture coming from the clover stain and the half acre or more of my black clad back facing the sun and I was sweating so badly I could barely see the camera viewfinder through the torrent. The only benefit I got from my stupidly chosen shirt was that I had sleeves long enough to wipe the stinging sweat from my eyes.
I was on my way to Lynx Creek to bore some trout and took the road south of Blairmore to get there. While there are several other ways to get to Lynx Creek Valley, I chose to go this route because the road goes through the middle of the Lost Creek Fire burn area.
The wildfire that burned here in 2003 started just across the valley ridge from Lynx Creek, then spread here and towards Blairmore. He roared through the forest here in the valley and threatened the town – as well as neighboring Hillcrest – but luckily he was held back before he could get there.
In fact, I photographed the fire as it burned and well remember the burning smoke from the lungs and flames in the night sky.
So every time I go down that way to fish, I like to take this route to see how the forest regenerates, how it bounces back.
The scent of clover was thick in the air as I rolled slowly, this non-native flower taking advantage of the spring seeps and the blazing landscape. Ten years ago, the slopes would have been covered with native fireweed. Now, clover and beef daisies – another non-native – seem to have taken over.
It is undeniably pretty. I mean, that’s why I collapsed on my stomach and was sweating freely while taking pictures. And the smell of clover, at least in small doses, as I could smell while driving, was pleasant.
At first, anyway. But as I sweated in the heat and humidity of the clover stain, the smell reminded me more and more of those plastic porta-pots you see at outdoor festivals. So much so that I actually started to feel a little nauseous.
A large glass of water in the truck helped with this.
The higher I climbed the mountain, the more native flowers began to dominate. There were still daisies, but now there were cover flowers and brushes, fireweed – but not many – and hyacinths.
And new lodgepole pines.
Thousands of new trees grow among the dead, filling the spaces between the islands with trees that miraculously avoided being burnt all those years ago. It wasn’t much of a surprise, however.
Lodgepole pines need fire to release the seeds from their tight, resinous cones. Although devastating for us, the forest fire that burned here has brought this forest back to life.
The moon was suspended in the afternoon sky as I crossed the ridge and made for Lynx Creek. With the windows down against the heat, the air circulating in the truck smelled of pine and willow, the sickening clover not quite so prominent on that side.
Deep in the valley, I could smell the flowing water and the mixed smells of crushed grass and grazing cattle. I expected to see a lot of campers here but there were actually only a few. The incredible roughness of the road may have something to do with it.
The cove itself was swarming as it always does, twisting back and forth across the gritty valley floor. Thanks to the fire, it mostly flows among fallen trees and open, flowery meadows, a much different cove from where I first fished probably 40 years ago. But it’s just as pretty in her new clothes. And the fish are still there.
I pulled to the side of the road, grabbed the stick and started casting my line towards the water.
At the first small pool there was only one flash as a trout swayed on the floating fly, but on the second run the fly disappeared under the ripples and a minute later I had a tiny cutthroat trout shaped like a jewel in the hand. .
It was small, about as long as my palm, and its tiny scales twinkled with trembling. The back was olive green, the sides speckled black and speckled with light touches of blue and red. The fins were amber in color. And the underside of the jaws was slashed with orange, the characteristic that gives the cutthroat its name.
I bent down and slid it into the current, blew the water off the fly, and made another throw. And caught another fish.
And so on going up the stream, one, two, sometimes three fish from each descent, very small, all fiery. I stopped counting after a dozen but over the mile of stream I fished there were certainly more than 20. Which fly was I using? Honestly, it wouldn’t have mattered as long as it was floating. But for the record, it was a size 14 Green Drake.
The sun was scorching me. That black shirt I had worn so stupidly multiplied the effect by sucking in the radiant heat of the sun and I had to stop and sit with my legs in the current wherever I found shade. Tiny blue butterflies lit up my footprints in the mud, their long tongues seeking out, I guess, the nutrients my shoes had lifted. Warblers and sparrows flew around the willow patches, and Bohemian wax wings chased insects through the air.
Foot pain from walking on cobblestones, wet with stream water and sweat, I returned to the truck. Taking a big sip of lukewarm water as I rolled down the windows to let out the heat, my pores opened even more and sweat was absolutely pouring out of me. I started the truck and started driving, if only to get some air through.
I headed downstream now, past patches of unburned forest that was mossy and cool and went to the junction of Lynx Creek with the Carbondale River. I thought about maybe going up the Carbondale to fish some more, but decided to go up Lynx Creek again.
Glad we did.
As is often the case, the scenery is totally different when you see it coming the other way. I had completely passed Lynx Creek Falls, for example, but coming back the same way it was there. I’ll go fishing for it next time.
And seeing the riverbanks and the forest with the sun backlit them now, I found beautiful floral scenes shining against the shaded shores of the creek. True, they were mostly populated with clovers and daisies, but there were lupins and geraniums there. Further up the slopes where the cattle grazed, the dark browns of the ripening grass contrasted nicely with the fleabane blooming among them.
I stopped on a rock platform that overlooked the creek and looked down into the water. It sparkled the rocky bottom as it tumbled upstream from the deep green pool and magnified the trout I watched rise from its depths to dig the surface as they snagged floating insects.
Across the creek, a yellow-rumped warbler chased insects in the air and perched on an outcrop above the water to gasp in the heat. A mother harlequin duck paddled below me with her four ducklings surfing in her wake. A crow flew off and landed in a tree. He croaked several times and then walked away.
I thought for a few minutes to park by the creek and settle in for the night, but then decided not to. I was sticky with sweat, dusty from driving with the windows open and my knees still wet. The idea of pitching my tent or – more likely – lying in the back of the dusty FJ just wasn’t appealing.
So I went back across the ridge, down the valley to Blairmore. I walked past the ghost trees in Lynx Creek Valley, stopped to photograph Crowsnest Mountain catching the last rays of the sun, and spent a few minutes among horsetails, bog orchids and monkey flowers by a spring ooze which, although cooler, was alive with mosquitoes.
Against which the shirt was no defense at all.
I continued down into the valley and past Burmis and countryside through the wide valley between the Livingstone Range and the Porcupine Hills and made for the house as the twilight turned dark.
I will be back to Lynx Creek, maybe next year, maybe next year. I wasn’t expecting this and the burn area will have changed a lot by then. But it will still be fascinating to see and as long as the little cutthroats are around, I’ll be back to bore them.
Next time, however, I bring a change of clothes.