Return from Snowy River (Pt. 2)

Our tracks, next to fresh bear tracks.

I stood on rocks in Snowy river after midnight, watching dark storm clouds gather in the darkness. It had been another long day on the river. We took a fan boat up river early where we saw a mountain goat, ibex probably, braving rapids and leaping from deep water to rock face. We understood why when we found fresh bear tracks in the sand. The bears were out, but the fish weren’t and it wasn’t until evening when we started reeling in Baikal grayling again. Cleaned, salted and packed, they waited for the morning float out.

Aluminum frame for our canvas canoe.

The morning dawned steely gray. Coffeed and breakfasted, we gathered our gear. Approaching our put in point, Petya was already bolting together the aluminum frame of our Soviet era canvas canoe. The bolts ran out before the frame was fully assembled! But that is nothing for Russian ingenuity, pliers, a few nails and some soldering wire. After engineering the frame together, we attached the canvas “hull”, and loaded our gear on our inflatable raft and canoe. Taking a solemn look at the river, we gathered in prayer, and placed our lives in the hands of God who made us.

Petya, Sergei and I climbed in canoe, disembarked, and within 150 yards of disembarking, in swift current, piled the canoe on a rock. Taking on water fast, we paddled for shore and pulled the canoe up to inspect damage. Distance traveled: one quarter mile. Gashes of 4.5 and 3 inches, not to mention multiple small holes peppered our craft. With a fire for warmth, Petya got to sewing. In forty five minutes, we were back the water, minus Sergei, who was against risking his life further in the canoe! All scared, but entrusting our lives to God, we set out again. Now it was wade in the shallows guiding the canoe with ropes, get in, shoot the rapids all the while madly bailing with my tin coffee cup, go ashore, dump out a boat-full of water, start again. Foundering in a foot of freezing water of became a continuous state.

We took this . . .

down this . . .

resulting in this . . .

remedied (kind of) like this! Petya’s got tailorin’ skills.

Having dumped out our canoe again, Petya and I just pushed off a treacherous snagged log and floated round the bend.  Hearts popped! Eyes accelerated at the reality of the FALLEN TREE jutting three feet over the water directly across our path. Branches arrayed against our persons like a cow catcher on a locomotive steaming toward us. The Snowy river, swift and deep was doing her best to widow our wives. Images of kayak tearing to shreds, cold-cocking on branches, and hungry green water swallowing us whole coursed through our psyches.  “Petya! We are going through!” Crash! and we were out! Mental damage report: I was OK, the kayak was afloat, and Petya was still in the back. “Petya, are you in one piece?” “Everything in order” he called back. Our escape from that tree, that murderous rake seemed impossible. On a current of prayer, behind God’s mighty hand, we smashed through unscathed!

Portage around shallows.

Agreeing on our descent route.

Snowy river leveled, deepened . . . slowed. Bailing all the way, with the occasional pull out to dump, we started enjoying yellow September foliage, yawning pools of crystal water deepening six, nine, twelve feet.  Heavily, clouds obscured mountains and lowered upon us until . . . rain started pattering on the surface of the water inside our craft. Our transformation from “on the river” to “in the river” to “river” was complete.

Thinking back now, I imagine us as “amnesiac-graylings” suddenly realizing that we, fish, are absurdly paddling a canoe down Snowy river, where upon Petya and I drop ores, cast off hats, boots, jackets and, in a purply-pink flash, leap out of this foundering man-container, this utterly unfathomable conception back into the river as the finned scions of water that we are, silver denizens returning to our deep.

Or, as my Dad, upon hearing our story later remarked, “We got real wet.”

On a paddle and a prayer.

Siberian Grayling.

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Meeting the Grayling of Sable Lake (Part 1 of Snowy River)

Do not pass up an opportunity to adventure with Russians. You may come face to face with your mortality, but upon surviving, will have a memory to tell grandchildren.

A Montanan amongst Siberians. Julian (the dog) asks your pardon.

We piled our gear on the fan-boat, and watched her navigate the first bend on Snowy river. Marching East just inside the border of Buryatia, we hiked the taiga to the confluence of the Snowy and Selenginka rivers. Collecting pine-cones, we cracked pine-nuts and plucked wild berries as we went. Citrine (yellow) tail waggers, red-headed loons, and Grey herons greeted us on our way. Standing like giants, cottonwoods of extravagant girth towered along our path. Julian the Caucus Shepherd, bred to protect villages from wolves, kept us laughing with his ridiculous antics and humorous view on life. Bounding rock to rock along Snowy river, we finally arrived at the fork of the rivers famished.

Citrine Wagtail, wagtail's are easily the most entertaining bird personality in the area.

Pitch camp, start fire, prepare dinner, bed down to sleep under all the cold stars. This morning we trek further in to Sable lake, and may grayling await us. Marik, our commander, led an all out charge lakeward. Crossing raging waters via suspended bridge, scrabbling over fallen trees and along cliff faces like the fellowship of the ring fleeing Nazgul (Ringwraiths, Dark riders) we flew. Climbing up to the shore, we gathered in silence gazing out on silent waters. Kindling a fire we made tea, and a quick soup (it it amazing how quick Russians can whip up a soup on a campfire), and checked our fishing equipment for battle.

Autumn falls on Sable Lake.

We caught grayling; more beautiful than gems.

I drew my blade, the “Golden Sage”, an eight weight rod, to catch grayling, which is like bringing a broadsword to a knife fight. My sage I purchased to catch Taimen, or River Wolves, as they are sometimes known. Any grayling who took my fly was destined for “Ukha”, a Russian favorite, fish soup. Returning to our campsite at dusk, we cleaned the fish, made the soup, and broke out the star map. In Siberia, you can see all the stars. To be continued . . .

Snowy River Monsters (the fish, not Anton and Petya!)

Fish soup cures a hiker's hunger.

Setting the sky straight.