Rhodo Hell

Rhodo Hell

The old timers called them rhododendron hells. Today I found out exactly why that is as I crawled through one with fishing gear. Thank goodness for cave diving training and experience. And I’m not kidding. At one point I couldn’t go forward, or sideways and backwards wasn’t looking too promising. But let’s start at the beginning.

I arrived at the parking lot just before two sets of two fly fishers were heading up the trail. One guy asked the other group where they were fishing. (And no….nobody asked me. I guess my camo hoodie was working well for me. Or they weren’t taking a woman fly fisher serious). Whatever the case, I listened as they described where they were going. And I decided to take my time and fish up the creek, from the lower portion at the parking area, to give them time to do whatever they were going to do.

At one place, instead of exiting the creek at the usual spot, I decided to continue past the familiar exit to wade and fish pockets. The water level made it perfectly suited for wading and wading and wading. Much easier than exiting on a creek bank with no trail. The wading was awesome but I wanted to push further up the trail, so after 200 yards or so, I saw an egress point and took it.

That set the tone for the day. It lit a fire for adventure in me….why not just enter and wade instead of popping in and out of favorite spots!?! Maybe there were new favorite spots to discover!

I knew the guys said they were headed up, as they gave each other an approximate place of entry. In order to avoid both sets of fly fishers, I decided to enter a little lower than my favorite place, and just keep wading. The thing about this place is…once you commit to wading upstream, you pretty much have to keep going or turn around and backtrack downstream. The reason? The trail and the creek are sometimes level with each other and sometimes the trail goes up a steep slope, leaving the creek far below. I knew about how far my favorite spot was, so I committed. I kept wading.

A few trout gave a shove or push of interest, but it wasn’t great fishing. The scenery, however, was amazing and beautiful so I was happy….until I saw a new can of Copenhagen tobacco ‘dip’ swirling in a eddy. Seriously!?! Somebody had to have dropped it recently. And then….I saw the wet footprint!

OH, NO! I was fishing behind one of the teams and knew that the fish would be spooked. It’s a small creek. I looked towards the trail. I was already in an area where the trail was far above the creek. I looked back…no way! Too far to backtrack.

So I continued. It became more of a scouting expedition for future fishing. I continued to cast, but knew it was pretty much just casting practice.

Eventually, I smelled smoke and glanced down at a nearby rock. Dripping wet boot print. I looked upstream and there they were. The bank was crazy-steep so I continued on, stowing the line and fly and just trying to catch up and go around them without messing up their fishing.

But they weren’t at all friendly when I said I wasn’t trying to cut them off. Great. I just wanted to go around them and not fish. They didn’t budge, didn’t reply. Nice, guys. 

There was a huge strainer to the right of the guys. A pile of logs that was 12 feet high isn’t safe to crawl over and the bank around it was jammed with rhododendron. Since they wouldn’t even acknowledge my request to go around them on the other side of the creek, I decided to crawl through the thick growth of twisted branches and exit the creek, rather than just stand there and watch them fish until they moved on. 

They have beautiful flowers, but these plants are unforgiving.

First, I took my 9 foot rod apart. At least in two shorter pieces, I’d have a better chance of making it through successfully. Then, I took my net out of the holster at my back and unclipped the wading staff. All the while, I was asking for safe passage from the snake brothers and sisters.

My rod in my left hand, net and wading staff in the right hand, I got on my knees and began the crawl. Rhodo’s don’t just grow straight. Their branches intertwine and create a barrier that goes from the ground to however tall they are….15 feet, 20 feet…or more. 

At one point I couldn’t move. The way forward seemed blocked…meaning I couldn’t crawl forward. The sides were blocked and my fly line caught on a leaf. Great. Just great. I wondered if they’d find my skeleton. No way my satellite communicator would work under the dense cover.

I crawled backwards, unhooked my line and crawled forward. I made it to a bit of an opening where a downed and rotted tree blocked my way. It was getting better and better…if the thought of being stuck in a thicket was appealing. But, I had looked at my Gaia trail map app and knew the trail was close.

After clearing the downed tree debris…there were two trees blocking my path…I finally saw the bank in front of me. It went straight up. I didn’t have a choice. It was up or stuck.

By some miracle of green plant beings, the place I scrambled up had zero poison ivy. None. How was that possible when the entire side of the trail is covered in the plant. I was amazed and side-stepped up the bank, trusting my legs and feet to propel me the final few feet up to the trail.

There were many words said aloud, but they are not words I’d repeat in public. But there were words of gratitude, as well. I made it out of rhodo hell! WOO HOO! Now on to my favorite spot.

As soon as I reassembled my rod, I noticed the tippet and fly were missing. That’s what was holding me up in that tight spot. No worries. I stood at the downstream end of the upstream run and claimed the space, just in case the slightly obnoxious guys arrived before I could get the tippet and fly attached.

But I had the place to myself. Just me and the trout. As soon as I got out from behind the other fly fishers, trout started dancing with me. I fished a while, filtered some water and then ate my chocolate and almonds.

After ‘lunch,’ I pushed on and decided to keep wading above nice pockets I’ve fished before. The fish kept dancing, I kept wading. But this time, I had intel that directed me to exit points.

One day last winter, I left my fly fishing gear at home and hiked the trail. I did several walks from the trail to the creek and if the egress points were good, I’d mark them on my Gaia app. Just in case.

Today, as I waded in magnificent waters and around pools filled with trout, I’d occasionally get out the phone and check the app. Perfect. I knew exactly where I wanted to exit.

This deep pool held several trout who ‘sniffed’ the fly and swam away. Beautiful to watch their intelligence at work.

And finally, after over 5 hours and over 4 miles, I left the creek after saying thank you for a wonderful day. I blew a kiss to the trout and rocks and water and trees and headed across the woodland to the trail.

During the two-mile walk down to my car, I reflected on the day. Epic adventure, no doubt. Rhodo hell….conquered (this time). The guys….one had a red beard with upturned ends of his mustache and with the sun reflecting off his face, he definitely took on the personality of a lesser demon. His gnome side-kick, well….nothing much to say. As my feet carried me downhill, I thought of funny ways to describe them and embellish the story I knew I’d write. Then, when I got to the car, they were at their car, loading their gear.

The gnome and I started talking and we had a nice conversation. And the other guy really wasn’t a devil. They were rather new to fishing and really didn’t know what to do when I said I needed to walk around them….or so they said. We had a nice visit.

Major lessons learned? #1. Scouting and marking egress points is a great idea and next winter, I’ll do more of that at my favorite creeks. #2. Rhodo hells really are hell, so major lesson #1 is a MUST before wading sections I haven’t scouted. #3. Don’t assume people are asses because they appear to be. #4. Persist! Keep crawling. Keep going. Keep wading. Keep climbing. Keep casting. Keep loving this beautiful world! 

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