Thursday, October 01, 2015

On the Road to Shambhala

Time to get Lost again in the East Kootenay’s of British Columbia.

Prior to our last trip to the Elk River valley, we were sweating out the effects of the June 2013 record flood on fish and flows. Now we ticked away the days before our early September departure watching rivers throughout Alberta and southern British Columbia close due to low flows and high summer temperatures. I guess medians and means are made up of extremes. Screw statistics, let’s go fishing. 

We left southeast PA in a summer swelter and arrived to a stiff wind, rain and 6 degrees C in Calgary. You can do the conversion – makes me want to fly off to the fallout shelter. It was snowing in the mountains by the time we arrived in Fernie BC. 

Heavy overcast, drizzle, and flurries in the Rockies in September can mean only one thing – blue wing olives. Actually two things – BWO’s and streamers. And maybe hypothermia.

Despite tying enough foam and rubber legged terrestrial and GFA patterns to outfit a decent sized fly shop, it was immediately apparent that I was not going to force my will on the normally unselective westslope cutthroats of the Elk River. Juicy beetle and outsized ant patterns that were so effective in bringing cutts up from the depths two years ago were largely ignored in the gloaming. Water temps had plummeted (my thermometer read only Fahrenheit and thus wouldn’t work in Canada, but it was cold), yet the baetis appeared every day at 1:30 PM. Did you ever notice how baetis don’t really emerge, but suddenly just appear riding the currents? So much for an emerger pattern. I’ll have to work on a baetis “appearer” this winter.

The cutts immediately took notice. No wonder they ignored the floating junk earlier; they were conditioned to a chow line appearing overhead in the early afternoon. You just have to meet them on their terms, not yours. A size 18 or 20 parachute or sparkle dun pattern connected with many westslopes. 

A slightly larger and darker flavor of BWO joined in later in the afternoon. Not sure what it was, but the real favorite seemed to the flav’s that appeared around 4:00.

Curiously, there were good numbers of timpanoga hecuba emerging in the silty margins of certain pools, but unlike in the streams of the Lamar River drainage where the Yellowstone cutthroats cherish them, they were largely ignored by the westslopes. Who says cutthroats aren’t selective – I saw several turn away from the natural hecubas, a full size 12 or 10 meal. 

The BWO parade generally tapered off by 6:00 PM, as did much of the rising activity. Nothing wrong with that, as the fireplace and happy hour back at the cabin beckoned.

After a few days on various stretches of the Elk, the sparkling Bull River was next in line.

While the cold drizzle and low cloud lifted somewhat, the Bull is an exceptionally cold stream to begin with - its cutthroat trout stayed low and deep, sporadically darting from their holds under LWD piles to jab at streamers swinging by.

Eventually a mixed BWO hatch brought on a nice rise of fish later in the afternoon for a blast of surface activity. There’s that Warmth of the Sun effect again. 


Moment of meditation on the Bull River - still picking up Good Vibrations from Shambhala just to the west: 

Sleep deprived, rum addled exhaustion deep in cutthroat trout country is my path to enlightenment.

 Wigwam on the Bull, but no Bulls on the Wigwam – Galbraith Creek Junction Pool

We had planned to hit the Wigwam at some point during the week even though the stretch we fished in 2013 was above the spawning bull trout closure zone. However, we were denied our chance when the BC Ministry of Environment adopted a classified waters license lottery the day before we attempted to buy our Wigwam license at the fly shop. No advance notice, no nothing. Basically, unless you’re a BC resident, you’ve got to plan your entire trip around your ability to draw a license. Pretty common for big game hunters, and I think the underlying cause is noble (managing pressure on sensitive fisheries), but their execution really bit us in the ass. We would generally buy our licenses 2 days at a time to account for weather conditions (no sense locking in a license for a blown out river).

We briefly wigged out over not getting on the Wigwam. Michel Creek, which seems to have become the Soda Butte Creek of the Elk River valley – manageable size, easy access, an excellent population of outsized cutthroats, but generally being loved to death – is now also subject to the lottery. Michel was already closed to due to thermal stress until September 15, so it was less of an impact than losing the Wiggie. 

We were left with only like a 100 miles of the Elk River to fish. So we got down to business, one pool at a time. Including this gem that housed those sharks of the Kootenay’s, the bull trout:

That’s all I have to say about that. 

By mid-week, the sun had emerged, returning the fishing to a more familiar pattern of terrestrials and attractors with moderate late afternoon/evening mayfly hatches and spinner falls. But the bulls continued to ravage many a hooked cutthroat, whitefish, or chunk of bunny fur.

Just like Slough Creek. But with the prospect of a 12 lb. river shark eating your 12” cutthroat.

If my penance for not being able to fish the Wigwam or Michel is being forced to fish a different stretch of the Elk River for the better part of a week, then bless me father for I have sinned, and let’s get on with my acts of contrition.

The Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Pool

Thanks for looking. 

Greg G

Editors Note: The editors here at WRWT would like to genuinely thank Greg Glitzer for contributing the above story and photos about his recent trip to the Elk River Valley in British Columbia, Canada. Greg is a consummate angler, a gifted and superb and fly tyer and above all a good friend. He also lives right here in Doylestown, PA.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pine Creek Rail Trail

The advent of the cooler autumnal weather we've had lately was the perfect incentive for a nice relaxing bike ride on the Pine Creek Rail Trail. From Slate Run up to Rattlesnake Rock and then back to Slate Run again. For my money, the PCRT is a national treasure, and the best part is it's right in our own back yard. 

Don't forget to stop in the Cedar Run General Store for a brain freezing Perry's ice cream as a reward for your efforts. After placing my order for a double dip of peanut butter fudge and chunky chocolate chip they had the nerve to ask me if I wanted the reduced fat variety. No flippin' way! 

The whole valley is just filled with awesomeness.
Go get 'em.

 Manor Hotel - Slate Run

Slate Run Village

Pine Creek Rail Trail

Golden Eagle Trail Country
 Geeze, I wonder who could have possibly built the Golden Eagle Trail?

Hillborn Run Bridge

The Wheels of Karma

Approaching Cedar Run Village

Elk Run Bridge

Cedar Run Village

Cedar Run Inn

Section House - Cedar Run

Cedar Run Bridge

Low Water on Pine Creek at Cedar Run

The Narrows

Dead Leaves at Rattlesnake Rock

Helmet Laws Suck

Pine Creek Valley - Waterville Village

A Perfect Ending to a Perfect Day

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Bob Webber's Cabin on the Rim

A long overdue day hike into the remote cabin complex of master trail builder and Pennsylvania mountaineering legend, the late Bob Webber and his wife Dotty. Finally being able to walk the grounds around the home site in total solitude, with only the singing of the birds and the rustling of the leaves from the light afternoon breeze was inspiring, enlightening and a great honor to say the least.

The weather was near perfect; 68-70 degrees F and partly sunny skies with little to no rain for the past two weeks. The canyon light however was kind of sucky for photography with lots of haze and intermittent sun and clouds but I did the best I could under the circumstances.

Access Point: Tiadaghton State Forest, Pump Station Village, Winter Sports Parking Area, PA 44.

The Gas Line Ridge - Black Forest Trail
As the old story goes: If you follow this trail east for about 2 miles...

The Black Forest Trail - Gas Line Trail Junction
You come to a trail junction and a BFT register. Hang a left at this trail register on to the Gas Line Trail and continue hiking due east along the ridge line...

Frank Jerald Jeep Trail
 You'll soon come upon Bob's "driveway". Follow it down a short incline to a modest sized bench on the very eastern end of the Gas Line Ridge and...

Webber's Cabin on the Rim 
You'll come out right here. The home of Bob and Dotty Webber for close to 50 years.

Off the Grid
Originally built in 1963 on a 10 acre private in-holding in the Tiadaghton State Forest, Bob and Dottie's cabin had neither electricity, nor phone, nor indoor plumbing. Curiously, I was unsuccessful in my attempt to locate the source of the spring they used to fetch their water. Surely it must have been close by with a well worn path leading to and from the cabin door but I could find neither spring head, path or any sort of hand pump or gravity feed plumbing.

On a Mountaintop
One story, three rooms; a bunk room, a living/cooking room, a reading room and two cast iron wood stoves nestled in a shady grove of hemlocks and hardwoods. 

In the Forest
The original deed the Webber's drew up with the forest service declared that, upon their passing, the cabin and all the other structures would be either dismantled or burnt down to allow the forest to return to it's original condition.

The DCNR recently held a public meeting in Waterville to gather input on whether or not that agreement should be carried out at all. The overwhelming consensus, at least among the public, is that the buildings should be restored and preserved as historical vignettes of the Webber's simple life and inspiring story.

Mother Earth

Eagles Nest
I was surprised to find this somewhat more modern cabin perched at the back of the property right on the edge of the ridgeline overlooking Little Slate Run. I had no idea it even existed.

No doubt that Bob had a hand in building it since he was an artist with an axe and a chainsaw but I can only guess who the occupants were or it's intended use. Possibly it served as living quarters for a close relative.

The Privy

Privy Door

Old School Paging System

Bob's Workshop

Wild Turkey


The cabin appears to have fallen into disrepair during Bob's later years and would take a lot of work to properly restore. As you can see in this photo the foundation stones are suffering from the combined effects of frost heave and gravity, and the log walls are sagging. Less visible are the rotting floor boards inside the living room. 

All that restoration work means money to the DCNR. Money they probably don't have. Perhaps some of the windfall cash from the Marcellus Shale gas extraction effort could fund the project? You know, just like those expensive brand new snowmobile trail grooming machines and fancy cross country ski track setters the DCNR now suddenly owns.

Anyhoo, I don't think a final decision has yet been made and it remains to be seen what will happen next to the property.

The Yard
That appears to be a "cathouse" for Bob and Dottie's cats in the left foreground - complete with indoor carpeting and it's back side protected from the prevailing northwest winds. A picnic table across from that and Bob's woodshed in the left background.

The Webber's Log Bench Vista
With a view looking north over Little Slate Run and the Pine Creek Valley.

Bob Webber (circa 1998)
(Image courtesy of Lancaster On Line Newspaper)

Little Slate Run Vista
Slightly overgrown now, this vista could now use a little of Bob's judicious pruning to improve the viewshed. On a clear day you can see as far away as Gillespie Point up at Blackwell with it's distinctive Matterhorn-like silhouette. 

September Road
When your done paying your respects, retrace your steps back up to the ridge top and follow the same trails back to the Winter Sports Parking area on PA 44.

Black Forest Trail to Canyon Vista

Thanks Bob and Dotty.
May a million shooting stars illuminate your pathway at night.