Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Spear Fishing near Shining Rock

The Shining Rock, located in the heart of North Carolina's Shining Rock Wilderness, is aptly named. It is a solid outcropping of white quartz about the size of a 10-story apartment building. 10 miles below its summit, I blinked awake and zipped open our tent flap. Darkness had given way to a pale but distinguishable dawn. The sun was painting the tops of the pines a light pink as Dan Wax and I stepped outside and shrugged into our Patagonia jackets. Our breath made clouds in the air as we talked about breakfast. Something about all of this made us both ravenously hungry.

We had pitched our tents beside a small creek the night before and now we ambled over to take a daytime look. To our amazement, we saw at least a dozen of what appeared to be to us (no fishermen we) rainbow trout! They had congregated in a shallow pool just past our boot tops. The thought occurred to us that if we could but catch one of these fish, it would make an excellent meal. But neither of us knew how to go about it. But hadn’t we seen on television how that you could lash a knife to the end of a stick and make a spear out of it? Yes! That would be quite easy. Dan unsheathed his “survival” knife while I looked for some string with which to lash the knife to the end of my walking stick. We deemed it a spear when the knife refused to wiggle when wedged into the bark of a pine tree. We were ready.

Dan was the first to try. He stood over the slowly wiggling trout and picked one out of the bunch to impale. He was actually quite surprised when he thrust the homemade lance into the water and did not get one. Undaunted, he tried again… and again and again. Remarkably, the trout did not offer to leave their spot. They simply darted to the side as the blade entered the water.

We later concluded that one problem with this type of fishing is the phenomenon of refraction. When thrust into crystal clear water, the spear seemed to bend off at a slightly different angle. When it was my turn I could have sworn the knife tip was going right for the gills! But then it veered 15 degrees to the right. What I lacked in skill I tried to make up with enthusiasm. But to no avail. The fish would live another day.

We laughed at ourselves as we undid the lashings on our homemade spear. We cooked grits and oatmeal over our small propane stoves.

As we ascended the trail, the creek shrank to a brook and then became a runnel with small waterfalls that tumbled between mossy boulders. This portion of the trail was really a gorge which time and erosion had etched. The footpath we followed veered in avoidance of giant fallen trees, the victims of some ancient windstorm. It seemed like some mysterious netherworld from the pages of a fantasy book, both foreboding and inviting. The trail steepened. We began to climb, one foot in front of the other, a slow, ascending plod, until we finally broke out into bright sunshine and an azure sky. We had reached the “bald”.

In the North Carolina Mountains, the peaks are often so windswept that trees do not grow on the very tops. Instead, one encounters a grassy lea that looks to be a natural pasture. These make excellent camping grounds.

The midday sun had coaxed us out of our jackets and these we tied onto our backpacks. We checked our maps to be sure, but there was no mistaking our destination. Shining Rock lay approximately three miles by footpath from bald on which we stood. From this angle, it was massive, snow white crags framed by dark green stands of pine. Dan and I drank in the view, munching on trail mix, mentally preparing our tired legs for the last three miles. Tonight we would sleep on Dog Loser Knob.

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