There are some very deep holes here, right Lloyd!?
Right--some of those holes hold treasure and some are filled with BS. The trick is to know which holes are which. :)
Just to keep the PA end up, I have to say that some of us "Pennsylvania Boys" can make our way around in the dark pretty well, despite what you've heard about Harvey's flashlight tactics or Louis's infamous glow-in-the-dark nuclear spinners.
I mention this mostly as an excuse to spin a Spence-like yarn, but also because a certain Midwestern fly-fisher-turned-fisheries-biologist can vouch for the essential facts of the story I am about to tell. He can also attest that intimate knowledge of local waters--or at least a good flashlight--is essential at night.
There's a rugged Lehigh River tributary where I used to regularly entertain myself by hiking out after fishing the evening hatch well into pitch darkness. The game was to do it without the assistance of artificial light. The first part of the route involved traversing along a small cliff face before working up and around a sizeable waterfall on another, smaller tributary. The remainder of the hike was mostly a matter of walking through the woods until coming to the place where the path crossed the smaller trib and then ascending a long grade on a steep, wooded hillside back to the road. After a few successful tries, I stopped carrying a flashlight when I fished this section of the stream. The walk in the dark became a ritual. It was silly and probably a bit foolhardy, but there was a strange satisfaction in accomplishing the act in the dark...kind of like a fly-fishing Ninja. I knew the ground so well that I could negotiate it by feel even on the blackest nights.
Several years ago, the aforementioned Midwesterner came for a visit. We planned to fish my favorite hatch, Drunella cornuta
, on a storied stretch of a famous stream. It’s an early morning hatch, so I suggested that he might want to give the Lehigh trib a try in the evening, working upstream from a lower access path to the area of the waterfall. From there, the way out is not difficult to find--if you can see where you are going. My mistake, however, was that I had forgotten about the nearly universal tendency of fly fishers to become enthralled and lose track of time when exploring new waters.
At the time, I was staying at the home of a longtime fly-fishing friend who knew the stream as well as I did. When evening turned into night with no word from our Midwestern guest, my friend sounded the alarm. The conversation went something like this:
"Hey, does J---n have a flashlight?"
"I don't know. Why?"
"How the hell is he going to find his way out without one?"
"No problem...I walk out in the dark all the time."
"Yeah, but you know the way."
"Oh...I see what you mean. Good point."
Now, I began to worry. We considered mounting a search party, but I decided to try a phone call. Fortunately, our visitor had carried his cell phone on the stream. Sure enough, he had lingered too long fishing and had forgotten to bring a flashlight.
I attempted to describe the way out, but it quickly became clear that remotely guiding someone along the same route that I traveled so often and so smugly in the darkness wasn't going to be easy. The sound of the waterfall should get our wayward guest in the right neighborhood, but it was tricky from that point on. Our guest said that he might know where the waterfall was and that he would call back when he located it. While we waited for the next call, my friend and I discussed options. We decided that a search party was probably the best and safest plan.
The phone rang again, but this time the voice on the other end sounded somewhat frazzled and out of breath. The good news was that the waterfall had been located. And here is where I made my second mistake.
In a flash of unfortunate inspiration, I told our guest that the waterfall tributary led right back to the road where his car was parked. I knew that locating the path along the cliff band would be impossible, but if he could get above the falls, he should be able to follow the trib back to the road. I described the route around the falls as best I could, and our guest bravely decided to give it a try. He said he would call back when he was above the falls. (He would need both hands free to climb the rock face on the right-hand side of the falls.)
When I hung up, my friend gave me a grim look. He started to describe the ascent to the road along the little tributary that we both knew so well—a boulder-strewn, snag-filled upstream trek through a black hell of tangled rhododendron. He was right, but I also realized that the phone in his house was our only means of contact. If we embarked on a search before our guest called back, that connection would be lost. To make matters worse, my friend mentioned the black bears that frequent that area—bears notable as much for their size as their number. Great…thanks for the reminder! We waited for the next call.
When the call finally came, the voice sounded more frazzled, more out of breath, and our wayward guest was more lost. Somehow, on the climb around the falls, he had wandered away from the tributary and wasn’t sure where it was. I tried to think clearly. The trib should be somewhere on the left, provided that he hadn’t gotten too turned around. We stayed on the phone while I attempted to guide him through the darkness without really being sure of where he was. I reasoned that if he walked with the sound of the falls in his left ear he should stumble upon the trib again. That may have been the only sound reasoning I did up until that point because, after much thumping and bumping in the dark, the words “I found it” coincided with the sound of splashing water.
Now, the ugly prospect of a long, nasty slog up the trib presented itself. (I didn’t mention the bears, of course.) Fortunately, I remembered the stream crossing. It was not far above the falls, and it should be recognizable, even in the dark—it would be the only relatively flat, open spot between the top of the falls and the road. I described it and directed our guest to proceed upstream. On the phone, what followed was a long, agonizing period of splashing, crashing, crunching, and cursing. (Well, it sounded like cursing. It was muted in turn by the crackling of rhododendron branches and something that sounded suspiciously like kids holding a belly-flop competition at the community pool, so I can’t be sure.) Eventually, however, our guest announced that he had found the crossing. I directed him to the long uphill path on the left. From there it was just…well…a walk in the dark.
About a week ago, my friend and I were fishing the little waterfall trib upstream from the crossing to the road. As I waited for him to take his turn catching the bright little fish that hide in its tight little pockets, I tried to imagine this familiar place in the dark. I tried to imagine traveling up the little trib in the dark—traveling through the boulders, the moss, the downed trees, the claustrophobic rhododendron tunnel. What the hell, I knew better. Even in broad daylight, it was quite an accomplishment to fish that stretch without suffering a few nasty slips and falls.
Some fly fishers endure a lot for the sake of their sport. Some endure a lot for the sake of their fly-fishing friendships—even long-distance cyber- friendships. A word to the wise: If you happen to be visiting one of us “Pennsylvania Boys,” make sure you bring a flashlight. Trust me…you’re probably going to need it.