Longmont Times-Call Article

A recent article in the Longmont Times-Call on this past year’s Flyathlon event.  Not sure why he implies that craft beer gets me out of bed early…  That happened like once.

Kort

Run-Fish-Beer

by Cyril Vidergar

Many things get Andrew Todd out of bed early; two young daughters, the chance to catch a native Colorado trout species, and craft beer top his list though. Todd realized that as a parent re-balances time commitments and priorities, personal recreation often becoming a casualty. A consummate fly-fisher and father though, Todd found himself pursuing both; running to favorite back country Colorado fishing spots, fishing feverishly, then running home to still win his daughters’ hearts. Of course, he also understands the value of an apres craft beer to slake the angler’s thirst. Unbeknownst to Todd, he stood on the brink of the latest ultimate mutli-sport: flyathlon.

The event basics are simple: start at a trailhead with flyfishing gear disassembled and packed, run to the destination (forest lake or river course), catch a fish, document the catch on an identifiable scale, release the fish (no floaters), disassemble and pack gear, complete run (rest of lake shore or to turn around point), and return to trailhead. At which point the clock stops. The final stage is consumption of a fine craft beer, or two– savored, not timed.

With this format, Todd organized the 1st Annual Rocky Mountain Flyathlon along Middle Creek near Saguache, Colorado on August 15-17, 2014. Thirty three “flyathletes” competed in the sold out event. Kort Kirkeby took top honors on the 7-mile course with an adjusted time of 41:45, which included a 48 minute bonus for catching an 8-inch native Rio Grande Cutt-throat Trout (6 minutes/inch). Todd Parker, though finishing six minutes faster than Kirkeby, was runner up with an 8-inch Brown Trout due to the smaller bonus for that species.

This summer’s “official” event was sanctioned by the U.S. Forest Service and supported by a bevy craft breweries, including Elevation Beer (Poncha Springs, CO), Three Barrel Brewing (Del Norte, CO), Gunnison Brewing and San Luis Valley Brewing (Alamosa, CO). Todd and fifteen friends ran an inaugural event in 2013 around Monarch Lake, near Tabernash, Colorado, sans support or USFS permission, though well stocked with Oskar Blues brews.

Of this year’s event, Andrew Todd could not be more proud. “No one got hurt. Almost everyone caught a fish.” Todd said. Considering the final results included multiple eight-inch Brook trout, “it is highly probable some caught the same fish”, Todd added. The big surprise was that Todd’s efforts brought in over $6,600 for Colorado Trout Unlimited. According to David Nickum, CTU Executive Director, the race funds will go largely to habitat restoration in the San Luis Valley.

Out of the water, at the end of the trail, Todd is also proud of the bounty of craft beers provided by this year’s sponsors. “[A]ll beers from the weekend received votes, but the top beers with over one-third of the votes each were Elevation’s Lil’ Mo Porter and Three Barrel’s Thursday Special Coconut Brown [ale].” Todd said.

Todd does not compete in events he organizes, but he is hooked on the trail-run-fishing theme. So much so he has adopted a flyfishing version of photo-bombing: “fishslapping”. Todd executed the stunt during the annual Imogene Pass run on September 6, 2014, an epic 17-mile foot race from Ouray to Telluride with 5,000-plus feet of climbing.

Todd packed his fishing gear at the start line and stopped at mile five to fish Canyon Creek. A fat parachute hopper fly favored him with two Brook Trout in less than ten minutes. One would have been enough, but he did not land the first one. After a quick fish photo on his race bib, Todd was back on the trail for the toughest leg. The unofficial side trip did not cost too much time, nor a DQ. He staggered across the finish just over four hours after the start, fishing gear and all with quite the fish tale.

Todd realizes he did not invent the harried fishing trip with beer at the start and end. He is glad nevertheless to be finding brothers and sisters in arms as he plans the next Flyathlon and trail run fishslap. Sometimes, it is exactly like that bumper sticker: “The worst day running 17 miles, flyfishing, and drinking craft beer is better than the best day at work”.

New Fly Fishing / Trail Running Book

In the five or so years that I have been pairing these two activities, I have struggled to find guide books that adequately provide both fly fishing AND trail running relevant information…  For example, there are countless books on Colorado lake hikes that give mileage and elevation profiles, but say nothing about the fish / fishing in the lake once you get there.  Similarly, there are all sorts of fly fishing books, a fraction of which focus on remote backcountry locations, and even those don’t really elaborate on the journey itself (i.e. elevation profile, etc…).  So, you can imagine how pleased I was several years ago to find a book that does both, in that case for waters in Rocky Mountain National Park.  A Fly Fishing Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park has all the information that a Flyathlete needs to plan runs way back into the RMNP to catch trout.  The elevation profiles are good, the distances accurate, and the fishing information sound.

I have used this book extensively for runs in the park over the past couple of years (including Sandbeach Lake, Timber Lake, Onahu / Tonahutu), and I found myself wishing that there were similar guides for other parts of our wonderful state.  Then, one day a couple of years ago, on a run to Watanga Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, I came upon a group of fishermen in the middle of nowhere.  As I stopped to chat with them, I quickly recognized author Steve Schweitzer from the back cover of the RMNP book.  He indicated that they were back in the woods working on a follow up guide, a guide to fishing in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.  For those of you who have not visited the Indian Peaks Wilderness, this was very exciting to hear, given its super-close proximity to the Front Range.  I said goodbye and patiently waited for a little over a year.

Well, I am excited to say that the wait is over…  Just last week, Steve and his buddy Mike Kruise released A Fly Fishing Guide to Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness Area.

I stopped by the Laughing Grizzly in Longmont (where Mike Kruise works) to get a hard-copy of the book, and it is as well put together as the RMNP guide.  I plan on using both extensively this coming year, the former to plan my Troutman route, and the newer book for some training runs.  These really are high quality books, and if you run AND fish AND live in Colorado, these are invaluable.

I am already pressuring Mike to let me help them with what I see as the obvious next book, A Flyathlete’s Guide to Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area.  That book will feature one key addition, the identification of nearby craft-beer options…

run. fish. beer.

The Stout Runner

Tank 7 Run

Imagine my surprise when looking at a map this AM, I saw that the place that I was working was less than 10 miles from this creek:

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For those of you who regularly drink Michelob Ultra, Tank 7 is not only a creek near Gunnison, but it is a fabulous Farmhouse beer from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City, MO.  So I ran it, with my Rolling River fly rod.  Not knowing if there was even any water in Tank 7 Creek…

Turns out, there wasn’t very much water.  But crazy ass brookies…

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…only need a little bit of water.  Post run, I bombed back to Gunnison, CO to complete Tank 7 Day by drinking a Boulevard Tank 7.  But Gunnison…

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…was all out of Tank 7.  Every damned liquor store.  Fortunately, my friends at Elevation Beer Company make an equally delicious saison, which I gladly crushed.

Tank 7 trail.  Crazy brookie. Wildflowers.

run. fish. beer.

 

Ascent Fly Fishing

Ascent FF Logo
Just a quick post to let you know one of the 2014 Rocky Mountain Flyathlon sponsors, Ascent Fly Fishing, has finally gone live with their new website.  The goal of Ascent Fly Fishing is simple, to create more biologically-informed fly box.  Peter Stitcher, the founder of Ascent, is an aquatic biologist who has utilized his knowledge and experience with aquatic entomology to create fly boxes like no other.  I have fished his fly assortments, and have found that I have everything I need to get into fish.  Please consider supporting Ascent the next time you need a shit-ton of quality flies…

Imogene Pass Run race report

As race director, I am explicitly prohibited from running my own Flyathlon races, and as such, I must find other venues to compete.  And while Flyathlon training runs are a lot of fun, I have found that I need a little more pressure than that…

So yesterday, I decided to forge a new path for competitive Flyathletes everywhere.

The Imogene Pass Run is an epic 17 mile run that goes from Ouray to Telluride the hard way, up and over Imogene Pass (5000+ vertical feet gained in 10 miles up).  That is hard enough, but trying to catch a trout to boot, seemed like a adequate challenge.

I started the race in Ouray, CO with a game plan, which I had developed in driving and fishing the first 5 miles of the course on Friday.  The creek that runs next to the course is aptly named Canyon Creek, as access to the creek is minimal due to the very steep canyon that it lives in.  There were really only two easyish access points to the creek, one at a bridge crossing near mile 3, and another at the top of a steep hill near mile 5 where the road flattened out, albeit for a brief stretch.  I decided to go for the mile 5 section, as there is a strictly enforced time cut-off at mile 7.5.  I decided that I would be more in control of that cut-off if I only had 2.5 miles to go…

Another initial concern that I had was that Canyon Creek might not have trout due to the legacy of mining in the upper basin. Fortunately, brook trout are like the cockroaches of western trout, and can survive in elevated metal environments.  My Friday recon outing produced a dozen or so brookies in about an hour of fishing, so I was pretty confident I could catch one on race day fairly quickly…

As I crashed down the embankment near mile 5, heart pounding from the unpleasant hill we had just climbed, I heard encouraging words from other racers who I had spoken with on the climb.  Just short of the creek, I began to assemble my 7 piece 3 weight, and fingers shaking, I managed to tie a massive parachute hopper onto my line (greedy fish technique works with brookies every time).  I slowly creeped through some bushes to perch myself on a boulder overlooking the one really good pool in this stretch.  As I dropped the fly on the water, I immediately saw a large head emerging from the depths of the pool.  Just like that, I had a nine inch brook trout on the line.  But as I attempted to lift him out of the pool up to my boulder, he somehow spit the hook, dropping several feet to splash into the water below.  In that moment, I saw several other fish in the pool scatter.  I had spooked the entire reach…

As I sat on that boulder wondering what to do next, panic began to set in that I had blown my golden opportunity to fish slap the Imogene Pass Run.  I would disappoint all of my fellow runners who were so supportive of my plan.  I would let down my wife and children.  I would fail this challenge…

But just then, something surprising happened.  Less than 5 minutes after a large trout had fallen from the sky, disrupting the riverine feng shui, a small brook trout decided to surface again.  Not sure what he was thinking, but I saw this as my opportunity.  With a short bow-and-arrow cast, I placed that gargantuan hopper directly into his feeding lane, and bang, he hit it.  I carefully lifted him out of the pool, hurried down to the bank to wet my hands, placed him on the Imogene race bib, and documented this momentous occasion.

Imogene Brookie

 

As soon as I had broken down my equipment and climbed the hill to the road, reintegrating into the stream of runners headed up, I realized that I had no real concept of how difficult the next 3 miles would be to reach the cut-off point.  Once we reached lower Camp Bird, the road went into the woods and got steeper by the minute.

At mile 6, I nervously glanced at my watch and realized that barring a major calf melt-down (always a possibility these days), I would make the cut-off.

At Upper Camp Bird, I again looked at my watch and realized that I had made it with plenty of time to spare, more than 1/2 hour.  To celebrate, I stuffed the pocket of my Nathan pack with gummy worms and headed out for the Imogene Pass summit.  To be totally honest, those next 2.5 miles are a bit of a blur, as my internal dialogue reached consensus that the grade of the road should be illegal.  Probably is in many states.  To drown out this counterproductive conversation, I threw on my headphones (Green Day’s American Idiot) and power-hiked into the thin air.

Before I knew it, I was at the summit.  Cow bells ringing, legs burning, head swimming, I made the obvious nutritional choice.  More gummy worms.

Hydration pack filled with water, I began the descent into Telluride.  Not surprisingly, the grade on that side of the mountain was equally brutal, just in the opposite direction.  I routinely make the mental mistake of believing that the downhill will be easier than the uphill.  I weigh almost 200 pounds.  Physics just doesn’t support that analysis.

By Mile 14, my knees were screaming at me, but I knew that I was close to finishing.  I took a brief moment to look around an found myself in awe of my surroundings, and the magnitude of the accomplishment of all of these athletes.  I love Colorado.  I also recognized my good decision to fish the Ouray side of the course, as the Telluride side lacked any obvious trouty habitat.

The remaining miles flew by, and as I turned the corner onto the asphalt of the town of  Telluride, I found myself sprinting to the finish.  Not sure why I did it, as  there was no risk of me winning anything, but it felt really good.  I crossed the finish line in 4:08, boarded the gondola, and headed back to Mountain Village for a burger and some local beer (appropriately, Telluride Brewing Company’s Fishwater Double IPA).  And yet another beer.

I thoroughly enjoyed fish slapping the Imogene Pass Run, and would like to thank the race organizers for picking such a fishy course, and for not considering my fishing plan a violation of the Imogene Pass Run’s behavioral policy (i.e. “participants who exhibit unruly, obnoxious or uncooperative behavior will be disqualified and denied future entry into the IPR”).

The Stout Runner

run. fish. beer.
www.flyathlon.com

Wild Basin Flyathlon Adventure

I have the great privilege of working in some pretty cool parts of the state.  One of the places that I work in this year is the Wild Basin drainage of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Yesterday, before wrapping up work in Ouzel Creek, and to explore the rest of the drainage, I ran up to Bluebird Lake.  According to most sources, Bluebird Lake is fishless, and the last quarter mile or so is damned near impossible to run (the grade is intense)…  But I wanted to check it out for myself.  So here it is…

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A concerted effort to spot cruising fish in Bluebird Lake revealed none, so wanting to get my fish on, I then ran back down the drainage to Ouzel Lake…

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After only a few casts, I hooked into a…

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…brook trout.

While I love catching trout, this was a bit of a disappointment because Ouzel Lake, like many of the waters in the park, is good potential habitat for native cutthroat trout.  Anywhere there are brook trout, cutthroat trout are essentially screwed in the long term.  I hooked another couple of brookies, finished up my work on Ouzel Creek, returned to camp, hiked out of RMNP, and proceeded to the nearest beer (Oskar Blues seasonal saison) to complete my flyathlon adventure.  Good times.

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2014 Flyathlon Fundraising Website

One of the primary goals of the 2014 Rocky Mountain Flyathlon is to raise money for Colorado Trout Unlimited, Colorado’s finest cold-water conservation organization.  Race participants have already raised over $3000, and our goal as a new race is to raise over $5000.  If you haven’t already, please consider giving to this organization on behalf of the Flyathlon.

CrowdRise Flyathlon Site

run. fish. beer. fundraise.

Flyathlon Shirts are In!

 

The t-shirts for the 2014 Flyathlon are in, and they are awesome.  They are this super soft fabric that I first discovered when I got 2012 Leadville Heavy Half t-shirt, and have since found in t-shirts from Elevation Beer Co.  The shirts came together because we had too many sponsors to fit on the back of a beer glass, which was the original concept.  2014 flyathletes will happy to hear that we are still considering aluminum pint glasses to drink post-race beers…  Stay tuned.

Special thanks go to:

Flyathlete in good standing #15 Brette Schell, who organized the shirts and helped get the logos into an appropriate format for printing (not an easy task, it turns out).  Brette and her fella, flyathlete in good standing #14, Matt White, have been awesome supporters of the Flyathlon since it’s formal inception last year.  When you meet them in August, please make them drink a beer with you.

A Small Print Shop, a small print shop in downtown Denver who printed the shirts.  If you have need to print shirts in the future, I strongly recommend these guys.  It is literally a small print shop, and it doesn’t get more legit as a small Denver business. And at the end of the year, my buddy is opening a cool bar called Finn’s Manor (https://www.facebook.com/finnsmanordnvr) less than a block away, so you can drink while you wait for your shirts to be printed…

Christy Sports, for giving us a donation to help off-set the cost of the shirts.  Christy Sports has been a family owned, Colorado based specialty ski and snowboard retailer since 1958, who are happy to support both local and national organizations (like us, who will go national, no GLOBAL, soon) which focus on ecological responsibility while still promoting recreation. At Christy Sports, they are passionate about skiing and snowboarding, but also realize the importance of supporting organizations that benefit local watershed management (like us), because while they enjoy the snow during the winter, they also enjoy the rivers, streams, and lakes throughout the state as soon as the runoff starts.

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Sand Creek in a Stetson

 

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Colorado has more than it’s fair share of bad-ass places, but this past weekend, I had an experience that will stick with me for quite some time.  The Sand Creek drainage is the northern portion of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, and it is very different from the Sand Dunes experience that you may be familiar with (i.e. dune surfing, playing in shallow, sandy Medano Creek).  Here is a what happened:

Friday (Music Pass and Lower Sand Creek Lake):

Lucky me, I get to go to cool places like this for work.  The downside is that when I am in places like this, I have to work.  Which means bringing along equipment to do work, which in this case meant 30 2-foot long metal stakes.  With me were two worthy souls, and fully packed, each of our backpacks was pushing 85-90 lbs.  Hoisting those on our backs, we slowly trudged up the steep grade to the top of Music Pass, accessible from the cool little town of Westcliffe, CO.  At the top, we ditched our packs and climbed another 50 vertical feet to a rock outcropping overlooking the Sand Creek valley.  The view was jaw dropping.

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After taking in the view, we dropped down into the valley, set up camp, took an extended pull of Suerte Blanco, and hiked to Lower Sand Creek lake.  The lake itself is spectacular, with a massive rock spire looming over the lake.  Loaded with mutthroat trout (a complex blend of native and non-native cutthroat trout genetics), the lake and the outlet to the lake fished spectacularly.  We kept a few of the phenotypically obvious hybrids, hiked down as darkness descended, and ate campfire-baked trout with a Suerte chaser.  Good first day.

Saturday (Upper Sand Creek Lake and a ROUS (Rodent of Unusual Skill)):

As the sun rose over the Sand Creek valley, we threw on our day packs and headed up to Upper Sand Creek lake, a 3 or so mile hike upstream.  Like the lower lake, this waterbody did not disappoint.  In a hair less than half an hour (we were working after all), three above average fly anglers caught and released approximately 10 fat trout.  Looking on the map (which proved to be wrong in countless ways throughout the subsequent days), we identified a fishy-looking drainage coming in from the north.  One steep and sketchy bushwhack later, we were at said tributary, which was also loaded with cutthroat hybrids.  There is no overstating the biomass within this upper drainage.  There are fish everywhere.

After a brief lunch back at camp, we hiked down drainage to investigate middle Sand Creek.  Just above Jones Creek, we noticed that the creek was no longer in its primary channel, but instead was spread out throughout the woods.  Further upstream investigation revealed that the world’s most industrious and creative beaver had been working his ass off to create the Sand Creek Beaver Taj Mahal.  No joke, this thing was massive, and the beaver scored bonus points for creativity (large rocks were utilized within the structure).

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As the sun and my core temperature began to drop, I ran back up to camp to get dinner and a campfire started whilst my colleagues fished their way back up the drainage.  Another good day.

Sunday (Lower Sand Creek Death March):

As we broke camp and began to head down valley, we had no idea of the shit storm we were in for.  By the time we reached Jones Creek (6 miles from the valley bottom), fatigue was starting to set in.  Also of note, Sand Creek has many stream crossings, and none of these stream crossings has a bridge because at high-flows, this stream is a bridge eater.  So, you have choices.  Hike in sandals (and suffer the consequences), or stop and change footwear at each crossing (which also has consequences, as you will soon see).

Below Sand Creek, we began to pick up mosquitoes.  5 miles from the valley bottom, it was annoying (biting through your shirt, flying at your ears).  4 miles from the valley bottom, it became unholy (crawling in and out of your nostrils, ignoring the fact that you were soaking every exposed inch of flesh in 1o0% DEET).  Three miles from the valley bottom, it was a crisis (Ben, one of my colleagues, indicated that at one point it looked like I was wearing mosquito pants and that he was contemplating drinking the rest of the bug spray to make his blood less palatable).  And then there were the river crossings.  Stop and change your shoes, and get crushed by a plague of mosquitoes?  Or hike in sandals, and further trash your already trashed feet?  There was no right answer…

At approximately 6:47 pm, we made the (in retrospect, obvious) decision to not camp in insect hell, and instead to power out to the valley bottom where the Sand Dunes and wind offered some prospect of refuge from the swarm.  Heads down, hearts weary, we hobbled the last 3 miles and emerged as the sun set over the San Luis Valley.  We quickly set up tents, drank the last of our boxed wine and Jameson in a futile attempt to erase the afternoon, and crashed out.

Monday (Sand Ramp Vision Quest):

I am the first to admit when I have made a mistake, and so waking up Monday morning, I owned mine.  After Mosquito Sunday, we were still many, many miles from the vehicle, which, had a better planner been involved, would have been parked at our exact location.  The team was battered and broken.  Morale was low to quite low.  Mutiny was likely.

So I filled up my Nathan with filtered Sand Creek water, threw on my running shoes and Stetson, and headed out on a five-mile run across the Sand Ramp Trail to recover the vehicle in the Medano Creek drainage.  Turns out, the Sand Ramp Trail is appropriately named.  First off, it is sandy.  Deep, hot, loose sand.  And then there is the “ramp” part.  Apparently, either my map-reading skills blow (likely), or Trails Illustrated needs to field truth their Sangre de Cristo map (fact), but in the 7.75 mile trek from Sand Creek to Medano Creek, the sand ramps up approximately 1400 vertical feet, including one particularly brutal dune climb.  Oh, and halfway through, the trail disappears, apparently eaten by the ever shifting and evolving dunes.  Perfect.

Somehow, five shoe-emptying stops and five mind-altering heat-induced hallucinations later, I made it to the vehicle.  Making one short stop at the convenience store outside of the Great Sand Dunes to purchase essentials for the team (Gatorade, spicy beef jerky, Red Bull, chocolate gem donuts, and Coke), I gunned it through Crestone and down the road to Liberty.  The team was happy to see me, we loaded our crap, and drove back to Music Pass to recover our other vehicle.  Back at Music Pass, there was one (or maybe two) celebratory Mexican Loggers, and the trip was over.

Good times.