Wintry Weekend in the Sierras

Thursday night after work, my good buddy Alex from Margate and I packed up some gear, his wife S and some friends, and headed up east of the Sierra National Forest to the upper Owens River Valley. We didn’t have any solid plans, just to try and fish, go shoot some guns in the mountains, and possibly go snowmobiling. By the time the weekend was over, we had all that in the bag, plus much, much more.

Here’s a whole big album of pics, if you just want to peruse those. 

The effect of this place on me has been tremendous. I felt like the weight of the city was lifted for a weekend, and rising with the sun, I feel like my inner clock has been perfectly attuned to sunrise, just in time for the change in Daylight Savings time. The cold I felt up there I haven’t felt in years, and I knew I was in for it the second I jumped off Alex’s Tahoe up north, at some roadside gas station. I had my big waterproof Columbia snow jacket on, which I thought would be overkill. The freezing wind cut right through it, and I had to shut all the velcro seals on the collar, hood wrists and hips to stay “warm”. By warm I mean not completely freezing. We weren’t even all the way up there yet, but I was already freezing. Great. A couple of layers out of the bag, and I was a few degrees warmer. These are things I don’t run into in Los Angeles, and it felt really humbling. The outdoors I love so much, they strike awe in me for the same reasons. It’s extreme, and unpredictable, and you never go against it. Just like the ocean, where you never press your luck out of respect for her, these mountains demand some serious humility.

About the ride. In the vehicle were 4 adults and one baby and 3 dogs. I was worried a bit when I found out about that, but they were all really well behaved. nobody puked on my leg, and there was never an explosion of poo smell in the car, as can happen when travelling with 3 dogs, especially with two older ones. Good pooches.

When we arrived, there were i think 4 more dogs inside the house, Golden retrievers, labradors, the kinds of dogs you would expect to find in a fishing guides house. Really smart, and really at home, the dogs all made friends and the humans all went to sleep. We arrived at about 2:15 am after some in town lag, and I went straight to the futon I always sleep on in this house. Next to me, an awesome fly tying set up. Awesome. 

The sun woke me up the next morning, I forgot to ask for a blanket, and the futon is by a big sliding window, so some air gets through and my jacket was all I had. The sun warmed me up, and made me jump out of bed. I took a glance out the window, and I was reminded of where I was. I hadn’t seen any snow during the night drive, but now I could see a peek of the mountain, covered in it. I put on more layers, and went outside for what I knew would be clean fresh air.

What I hadn’t counted on was the splendor of a REAL mountain so up close. Every time I’ve been up here, I have remarked about how the awe, the sheer jaw dropping grandeur of the place is never diminished. It’s not something I think I could ever get used to. I wouldn’t want to move there, because then it might be a little less spectacular after the 5,000th time I’d see it. Doug still seems to be awestruck by it all the time though, so I may be wrong. He’s lived there for years, and still gets all dreamy-eyed when talking about a guide trip he’s taken, or even just describing the conditions on the lake. When I stepped outside into the backyard, thje mountains towered over me. I felt dwarfed, and ran back inside, grabbed my camera, and snapped this pic. 

I’m an early riser, and the house was quiet each morning I woke up. My routine would be to go to the kitchen and make coffee, and the heads would roll in one at a time for a cup. The first day I was there, there were probably 7 of us in the house, being loud and rambunctious, some waking up to a beer, others a whiskey. I was fine with my coffee, and breakfast.

Each day was filled with crazy guy stuff. Snowmobiling, Shooting, fishing, hiking, and of course carousing with the group, which is always half the fun. We went through a ton of beer, I had packed a good cooler full of goodies , and that was gone before it was over. We barbecued, sang, drank, and gambled on horses from the living room too.

Also, I figured out which rifle I want to buy. It’s going to be an AR 15 similar to my buddy Scott’s. I got to shoot it, and it was so smooth, so accurate. We set up a huge range of targets at various distances, and were out there shooting rifles until our shoulders were beat. I still have a big, nice bruise on my right shoulder from the stocks of the different rifles. We also had shotguns and skeet, and shot that for a while. I went 4 for 5 on one round, and was proud with that. I also shot a 4 inch clay target from about 100 yards away, which isn’t much, but for me was a hell of a lot of fun. Here I am taking out some targets with the AR 15 I want to build.

We also played craps. Doug was learning to be a craps dealer, and was very professional about teaching us the rules and strategy. He had a little craps corner mocked up for controlled dice rolling practice. I had no idea this existed, but the whole group took advantage of the setup, and Doug seemed more than happy to oblige as dealer. One night the group played till about 4 am, and it was a pretty wild night.

Because of these wilder nights, I was usually the only one up early. I really wanted to go fly fishing, and made sure to grab Scott and talk him into taking me out on Monday morning, before we headed back. We went out to the Upper Owens river, source of water for much of Los Angeles, and subject of the film Chinatown, among others.

We went out at 7 am, and got to the upper Owens. It was an absolutely stunning, beautiful morning. The birds chirping in the tall grass, the cold mountain air, contrasting with the warming sun on your face. If you turned in the right direction, there was no sign of man at all. Not an electrical pole, house, or road to be seen. Just mountain and prairie, field and stream. We fished all morning, but the wind was up at about 25 mph. I could lean into it a bit, and it was really blowing steady. Fly fishing is next to impossible in these conditions, but we still managed some good casts and drifts. There’s an old saying, it goes “They Don’t call it catching, they call it Fishing!”. I live by that. I see it as time put in toward the cause. All of it is experience, and it all piles up, then pays off. I’ll get my Owens river trout yet. Scotty’s line fouled up after a while with the wind, and it was just too much. We took off.

We got back from fishing at about 10 am, and everybody was still asleep. I made the pot of coffee, caught a nap, and we all made the trip home. Highlights on the way back down were a stop at Schats’ Bakery in Bishop, CA, and another at the smokehouse, Mahogany Smoked Meats, which I’ll probably never pass through Bishop without getting. They had this killer pic of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig when they spent some time in these same mountains. Picked up some salami and beef jerky for the work crew, and hit the road for the home stretch.

Back home, it was good to see m y pups, good to see my bro had taken good care of them. They were fed and happy to see me. I was exhausted, climbed into bed, and slept deep until time for work the next day. Excellent weekend.

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