Off the Paved Road
The Fishing Trip - Part II
December 28, 2002

... " In fact, it was such a serious wreck I don't care to ever have to go through that experience ever again..."

Chopper at Trapper Lake.
Chopper at Trapper Lake

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The Fishing Trip, Part II

   Day three of our High Country Fly Fishing trip began with Vernon cooking up a hearty breakfast of pancakes, sausage, and some real fine cowboy coffee, and, as we sat down to eat, a few of us decided on a risky proposition. Ben, Don, Vernon and I were going to take the chance that the new bridge was crossable at Elbow Creek and head to the high country for our shot at a trophy Golden. The rest were going to try and get into the big rainbows on Neil and possibly hike on back to Trapper for an afternoon excursion.
   Once we had gathered up a few items that we thought would be helpful and had them loaded on Melvin, we were off to see what the day had in store for us. The trip to Elbow was going to take about 2-½ hours and could possibly be a wasted trip if the bridge was impassable. Of course, no trip is wasted in the high country with the awesome scenery around every tree. But we were certainly not sure of the progress made at Elbow Creek, and it was likely we would be turning right back around.
Elbow Creek Bridge    The anticipation was about to kill me as we neared the bridge. As we made the last corner we could see that the crew had the bridge completely decked, partially railed, and one of the approaches was finished. They were working on the final approach which lacked about 2 feet of fill and only five gallon buckets to do the work. The young kids that were working had definitely worked up a sweat. As we climbed off our mules to ask them about the possibility of crossing, they picked up the pace and said they could have us across the bridge within an hour.
   At this point we were on Cloud 9 knowing that we were going to make it to Elbow, so we tied up the critters and grabbed on to some buckets and started hauling dirt. It takes longer than you think to fill in 2 feet of dirt 5 gallons at a time. But within an hour we were back on the mules to make the maiden voyage across the new bridge at ElbowThree amigos at Elbow Lake Creek, a story I am sure I will be able to share with my kids and grandkids someday.
  It wasn't long and we had arrived at Elbow Lake blowing up the one float tube we had brought along and stripping line from our fly rods. It was almost as fulfilling to take in the awesome scenery as it was to be fishing at that elevation, and certainly a place I would like to return sometime in the near future. Of course I have already mentioned earlier that I am a very amateur fisherman and the goldens certainly had no fear of me ruining their day. So, after two hours of beating the water and trolling with some sink tip, I had to give it up.
   Between four of us we never even had a bite and a big thundercloud was moving in fast. If any of you have ever been to Elbow Lake, you know that there is not a tree within an hour's ride of that lake, and it looked like we were going to get wet. The dreary 2-½ hours back were quite cold since I had not been a very good Boy Scout and come prepared. But the two things that kept our spirits up were Ben's constant call out of "It's 65 and Sunny", and the attire that Vernon had picked for the trip. He is the only person I have ever seen wear thigh length cutoffs, a t-shirt covered by a yellow cowboy raincoat while riding a big buckskin mule. It was quite a humorous site to say the least.
Telling stories around the campfire   On our trip back I still had enough movement left in my legs and fingers to gather up some snow from a snow bank and pack it into my saddle bags just for Larry and his Margaritas. He owes me big time because I never felt my fingers again for the rest of the day. As we rolled on into camp, we were nothing short of soaked and miserable. One of those trips that you wonder why you ever made the effort. But just as we figured, the sun came out as soon as we put our mules away and just in time to dry us out before night fall came. Of course we shared our stories of the day's events around the campfire that night and settled in for a little rest before we packed up in the morning.
   Morning came sooner than we would have liked but amazingly enough I had the feeling back in my fingers. We certainly had time to get 30 more minutes of fishing before breakfast would be ready so we headed on down to the lake. After breakfast it was back to work and even Melvin wasn't enthused about the idea of us loading him up one more time. In fact he gave everyone a little show which is always entertaining especially when nobody gets hurt, which just happened to be the case this time.
   By noon we were loaded up and heading down the trail. Things were going pretty Ben at Elbow Lakesmooth as we approached Trapper Lake, and then all of a sudden ….. you guessed it, we had a wreck. In fact, it was such a serious wreck I don't care to ever have to go through that experience ever again, and feel very fortunate that we came through it as well as we did.
   What had happened was an event that everyone fears. A rope under the tail of any critter will quite often turn into a bad situation and that is exactly what had happened to Calvin. As he was coming down a real steep spot in the trail his pack string picked a different path than Gus, who he was riding. As the slack came out of the lead rope old Gus started to feel a little uncomfortable and took off down the hill with a serious of jumps that would have qualified him for the National Finals Rodeo. What came about next was a tree that stood right in the path of the bucking mule which caused him to drop his head and take a sharp right hand turn. You can imagine how hard it must have been to ride Gus for those 3 or 4 jumps at a 20% grade, but it was impossible to stay on that 4 legged runaway when he made that turn. Calvin ended up upside down with his back flat against the tree trunk and nothing to break his fall.
Mules were running everywhere and guys were hollering, but Calvin was not moving. I baled off my mule and ran back up the hill actually fearing what I was going to find. Fortunately by the time I reached Calvin he had rolled around enough to get away from the tree, but he was hurt. At this point everyone was a little shook up from the event including all the mules, so as I sat there trying to figure out what was hurting and what had happened, I sent the remainder of the crew on down the trail until they could find an open meadow where we could regroup.
Calvin was able to get to his feet after a few minutes and we eased him down the trail to where everyone else was waiting. It was pretty obvious that it was going to take him some time until he was going to get back on a mule, so we decided that Charlie and I would stay back with Calvin and the rest would head on out. We had a couple of cell phones with us and the longer we waited with our friend the worse he was feeling. Charlie finally told me to call for help because he was certain that Calvin was in no shape to ride out. Within a couple of hours we had a Helicopter land in the meadow down below us and shuttle him to the Pinedale Clinic and then by ambulance on to Jackson.
Charlie and I loaded back up for the three-hour ride out. When we made it to the trailhead we joined up with the rest of our gang and had a word of prayer for our injured friend. By morning the report was a broken collar bone and a few fractured ribs, a better report than we had expected, and Calvin was going to be fine. In fact, Calvin was released a day later, and was headed back home, but not to sleep in his bed for at least 6 weeks.
We are all thankful that this little episode turned out well in the end and are all looking forward to make this fishing trip an annual event. Of course, Calvin has requested a new mule to carry him up the hill next time. I am certainly looking forward to our next trip too so I can out fish my father-in-law when we venture yet another time off the paved road.

Click here for Part I of this story


Please feel free to e-mail me or give me a call if you or anyone you know might be interested in opportunities here in Pinedale or just wanting to spend some time in the area. I am happy to make myself available to show you around our little town and probably even a little bit of off the paved road.

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Click on small thumbnail pictures to see a larger version. Copyrights: Photos by James Rogers, 2001. Graphics by Pinedale Online, 2001. All content copyrighted by Pinedale Online. No part may be reproduced without permission.

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