I canít remember the name of the creek, if I ever knew it. I had crossed Elk Pass the afternoon before, walking west through the monster wall of the Bitterroot Mountains, headed for Hunter Peak and the Selway River far below, in no particular hurry. The creek fell away in a series of cascades, with a pool beneath each drop, and each touch of the elkhair caddis fly brought up a piranha-like swarm of six-inch cutthroats, some of them leaping clear of the water to attack the fly in the air. The trick was to keep it away from them, to dap the fly and let the frenzy build, until from deeper in the pool the bigger trout began to stir and rise. Sometimes, if you timed it just right, the big fish--ten inches, 12 at the most--would slam the fly just as it touched the water, and go rocketing away, thrashing, their brilliant yellows and blacks and reds catching the muted late summer light that fell through the big firs. I brought them to hand, unhooked them and slid them back into the water.
The creek went on and on, pool after pool, fish after fish, as the afternoon waned to evening, and the dusk settled into the deep forest. Iíd find some place to sleep, and tomorrow Iíd follow the creek to the river, and walk downstream to Moose Creek, or the Salmon Hole. Or I might turn upriver and try to make it all the way to Magruder Crossing. Youth is reckless (I was in my late 20s), and we are all supposed to have a strict plan to follow in the backcountry, but I didnít have a plan then; didnít want one. This was the Bitterroot-Selway Wilderness, an undiluted dose of pure freedom that could be had for nothing more than self-reliance and the price of a good pair of boots.