As I bushwacked my way up the creek drainage, it became apparent that I needed to take my time and be careful. If I fell off a blown down tree and got critically injured, I was on my own. Another thing was maintaining my hydration level. Fortunately, I was in the Wind River Mountains. As long as I stayed along the creek, drinking was no problem, but as I was forced to venture higher up on the mountain it wasn't long until my tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. I came across the rill pictured above and drank over a liter of its clear, cold goodness. Thanks, Sawyer squeeze bottle.
I continued upward over the increasingly rugged terrain. Breaking out of the deadfall, I scrambled upward through the scree field. For those not familiar with the term 'scree', it refers to the boulders and rocks that are shed from the mountain face over the eons. These rocks tumble down the mountainside, eventually coming to rest on other rocks that came before. Eventually, the entire lower slope can be covered with scree, forming a dangerous obstacle for hikers. Scree is known for being predictable only in its unpredictability. Even large rocks resting in scree can shift and tilt, sliding or even tumbling down the slope from under a hiker's foot, or onto their head.
There was no way to judge exactly how the rocks are going to react, so when traveling across scree I was extremely cautious. The lichen on the rocks was beautiful, creating a living mural across the entire rockslide area.
I admit I was annoyed when I came across signs of human passage; cairns. On the high rock in the middle of the above picture is the first one I found. I was annoyed because I didn't want anyone else to be up where I was going. I had hoped that the gnarly approach through deadfall and across scree would keep most casual hikers at bay. Still, it was nice to know that the 'trail' I had chosen to follow was going somewhere useful.
At this point I had about three hours 'til nightfall. I needed to make it another mile or so up to the lake, and assess the terrain before I decided where to bed down for the night. I pushed onward, excited to be so close to my goal.
North Dakota has never really made it onto the 'list of places I'd like to go'. The fish that are here I can catch elsewhere, and there are no steelhead or giant trevally.That I know of.
The first thing I did after I got the call offering me the job was to start researching the local fishing opportunities. Turns out there are lots of choices, as long as you want to catch walleye, yellow perch and northern pike. I'm told that 40" is the magic trophy mark to break, and I'm chasing it. The funny thing is that the locals refer to pike in pounds, which doesn't help me a bit. A little internet searching reveals that a 40" pike might weigh 20 pounds. That's a lot of meanness on a fly rod. They ought to hit a popper like a freight train. A bit of a drive gets me a shot at smallmouth on fly, and a longer drive gets me within range of big pike, rainbows, browns, lake trout and even salmon. You can bet I'll pick a pretty weekend and make that trek.
So what am I doing up here? Well, you aren't the first one to ask that. In fact, since I've gotten here, mostly everyone seems to want to know. They're a clannish sort, prone to be suspicious of outsiders. That's fine with me; these are my people, and I know how to talk to them. Hard working farmers, country folk, and the kind you want on your team. So I'll tell you what I tell them - I'm up here keeping an eye on the whooping crane migration. Yep. The outfit that I'm working with has a few of the birds tagged with GPS trackers, and every couple days I download the updated data and display it on a map to see where the cranes have stopped along the way. The short story is we use this information to send in a ground crew - that'd be me, plus a partner - to go check out the rest stop areas and see the types of habitat that the birds are using on their way north. Pretty cool eh?
Also cool is the journey the birds take - they winter down on the Aransas Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast and then fly on up to the Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada. I left at the same time as the first whoopers started their journey and barely beat the first birds to North Dakota. They can cover some territory when the conditions are right.
Below are some pictures I took on the trip up. They're in chronological order through the plains states.
Welcome to North Dakota. Let the adventure roll on.