I’m at about the 200’ mark on a communications tower atop Lyon Mt in the northern Adirondacks. The day started out easy enough, exploring a small mountain stream while waiting for our ride. Then our ride landed, and the exploring was brought to an end. Most of the day has been spent flying equipment, tools, and materials up the mountain via cargo net and helicopter. It’s much colder up here than I had anticipated. I’m dressed for late August, but up here in the wind it feels more like October. I fight not to shiver. My foreman calls on the radio for me to finish up for the day. The helicopter is on its way. They’ll make two trips taking things down before the final trip I need to be on. So get moving.
I hear the reverberations of the blades and scan the sky where the tree tops meet clear blue nothing. The helicopter rises and slowly banks as it comes into view around the mountain for its only clear approach to the 20’X20’ weathered and rotting plywood landing pad. My work ceases, I’m transfixed on the approach as it unfolds below me. It’s not only unusual to look down on a helicopter as it lands, in this instance my nerves will get a work out.
My view all day has been of Lake Champlain, of the Green Mountains in Vermont, of unknown lakes and rivers and mountains across the sprawling landscape far below. I’ve imagined myself casting a fly on all the water I can see and exploring the small streams I know are hidden in the forests. Now instead of calm a certain amount of dread fills me as I watch the rotor blades pass by a support guy-wire merely feet away, these wires being the only thing keeping this tower standing. Then as it sets down on the wooden pad only 60 some feet away from the tower its blades spin precariously close to a rock outcropping only 3’ away. Disaster is a wind gust or miscalculation away at any second… And I have no place to go but down.
When the day is done and I find myself hours later stringing up my fly rod, the view of the helicopter is still in the front of my mind. I can still feel the hot prop wash and smell of aviation fuel as it was blown upward to me, an experience I imagine very few people in the world have had simply because no one is ever “above” a flying helicopter. I choose a fly from the box, a Golden Stonefly Nymph with black rubber legs, and I tie it on. As the scene plays out over and over in my head I still feel the stress of the situation. It takes me 4 attempts to tie my knot, and as I enter the river I am hurried and clumsy. This job has changed me over the past 4 years.
I strip line off the reel and it coils and floats in the water next to me. I pick my intended target. A large pocket of calm water downstream of a huge boulder, and I make my cast. The line loops beautifully and rolls over, the fly landing gently on the water. The helicopter is gone. The stress vanishes with a cast. The Saranac River and my 3wt fly rod will be my therapist this week. Let the session begin.
To Be Continued...