In the midst of a strong December cold snap freestone streams like the Roaring Fork build ice dams. The longer it stays sub-zero the bigger the dams get. The water piles up and they grow bigger still, filling with pressure. Then the inevitable happens—the temperatures climb and the dams give way, sending a six to eight foot wall of ice, rock, trees, and whatever else is in the way thundering downstream. There’s a lot of gradient on the Fork and it sounds like a freight train roaring through the canyons. A few Decembers back a fisherman got swept up in one of these floods—he didn’t stand a chance, and when they found him there wasn’t much to be found. He was hard of hearing and by the time he saw the beast it was too late. We put a tombstone of sorts not far from where he met his demise. Small consolation to those he left behind. With all the things than can go wrong on a river I wonder why more fishermen don’t get smoked. All it takes is bad timing, one slip in the wrong place, a sweeper that breaks loose, a snapped oar, a fall on one of those spiked willows beavers leave behind… the list is endless. My father used to say, “If you’re alone in the woods and you twist your ankle a quarter mile off a country road, it’s a life threatening emergency.” I think there is some truth to his words. What’s more amazing still is that these winter flash floods don’t wipe out the fish populations. I know it kills some—I’ve seen them on the riverbed—but the majority survive. They must sense it coming and find cover, which, given the violence of these floods, must be scarce. The dams are building now and when things begin to warm the walls will crack and blast down valley in all its savage glory. I hope I can guess the day and watch God kick some ass from a safe vantage point. There are days, even for the most die-hard fishermen, that it makes no sense to be standing in a river waving a stick.
Live from the World Headquarters
Kea C. Hause esq.