Friday, August 31, 2012

Backpack Fly Fishing Colorado in a High Altitude Nutshell. Part II

This is part 2 of a multipart series documenting my trip to Colorado this summer. Part 1 is here.

I awoke in the predawn to hear an odd scrapping sound outside my tent. The bunnies... I put on my headlamp and unzipped the the rainfly to see its eyes reflecting back at me from under the picnic table. It was dragging around a bit of foil I had used to cook the trout in. I couldn't have this thing dragging my garbage into the woods so I staggered out of the tent and shoed it away. It dropped the foil which I then deposited into the trunk of my car.
The little fuzzy punk with my foil

I tried to fall back to sleep but it was impossible. The sun crept into the valley and I unzipped the vestibule of my tent and let the rays warm me. It got cold during the nights in Colorado. Low 40s upper 30s.

As daylight increased it was time to prepare the things I was too tired to figure out the night before. I dug around in my car and laid everything out on the picnic table that I would pack. I was nervous about this process because I hadn't done much homework trying to figure out what I would actually need for a 4 - 5 night stay in the backcountry versus what would be possible for me to carry for the distances I would be traveling. (Disclaimer: No one reading this should look to my experience for advice on backpacking!)

After spending a few hours hemming and hawing on pack contents, I tried it on and nearly fell backwards from the weight. It was fairly easy to decide what would be left behind. First off was the Canon 50D DSLR camera. I wish I could had captured some of the sights I would see in the following days with it, but it's heavy as hell. Second was the .22 Rugar pistol my Grampa had lent me. I agree that it wasn't a bad idea to have it for protection, especially being alone. But it was also very heavy. Besides, I'd probably just shoot my eye out.

Stillwater Reservoir trail head on Saturday
I broke camp and headed to the parking area at the end of the road where the trail I was taking begins. It was pretty busy looking and I had to park my car in a ditch a ways back. I used the hill near my parking spot to wrangle the pack onto my back. I buckled the straps and sauntered down the road trying to look like I knew what I was doing.

After a bit of confusion at the trailhead sign, I decided I was heading the right direction and made my way across the dam on the eastern end of the Stillwater Reservoir. The plan for the following days would be roughly based on a blog I found that detailed places to camp and good fishing areas. I am very thankful for this guys writing as it probably kept me out of lots of trouble and from wasting time. I found out however that what he considers a 4 day trip is more of a 6 day trip for me.

That "notch" in the middle of the horizon is where I needed to go to complete the first part of the first leg of my journey
Nameless lake near the beginning of the climb up
The trail ahead
This is no malarkey.
Steep
Progress. Looking back at the reservoir on left
The top!
A remix of Fever Ray's "When I Grow Up" by Bassnectar was what I was listening to when I sat down and took a break a the top of the saddle I had been approaching. I shot some victory photos of myself and then just listened to this track, looking around at the vistas and the enormous cliffs behind me. The combination of her voice in the music, the immensity of my surroundings and the desire to instantaneously share this experience with those I loved overtook me for a bit and a lump formed in my throat. I felt tears forming in my eyes and I swallowed to maintain my composure for whatever reason. I felt good though, really good. I sat for a few more minutes, then headed further along the trail.

The cliffs behind me
The path ahead
The landmark I expected to reach next were 2 lakes, Hooper and Kearney Lakes. I passed a young couple on the way. The guy said something but I had my headphones cranked. I took them off and asked if the lakes were near. His girlfriend was a voluptuous tan blond in pink shorts with white trim and a tank top. I tried not to stare. He said the lakes were near and I said "thank goodness".

The first lake, Hooper Lake, came into view on my right as the path started to dip into a valley. I veered off the trail and headed to the shore. I wanted to take another break and set my pack against a log near the lake. There was supposed to be a good cutthroat population in these lakes but it was a bit windy and I couldn't see into the lake. I didn't explore much around the lake due to being very exhausted and sore. I instead laid on my back on some springy grass and soaked in the sun with my hat tipped in front of my eyes.

Hooper Lake
Hooper Lake
With some resistance, because I could have camped there if I wanted, I pressed on toward an area where the trail converged with another trail. That was my planned camping area for the night and a place that held good fishing. A group of horseback riders passed me going the other direction. The thought of them being lazy on their beasts was difficult not to smugly indulge in.

Derby Peak 
Trail continuing down the valley. North Fork of Derby Creek on right.
The trail followed the deepening valley and a stream appeared to my right. I looked down at it and could see trout darting out from their hiding spots to grab bugs. I wanted to run down and start fishing but there was a long ways to go so I kept moving. Further along I could no longer resist the temptation and removed my pack on the stream, stringing up my 3wt rod. The beautifully colored brook trout were small but non-stop.


Reaching for the GoPro camera on my head, I noticed a sharp pain in my back akin to someone poking around behind my right shoulder blade with a knife. This caused some panic. I was only on my first day in the backcountry. Had I been too cavalier jumping into a creek to wave my stick around after such a long hike? It was painful getting my pack back on and my mood started to suffer.

After many painful steps, I reached the trail junction near the area I had planned to camp for the night. I had to make a couple of creek crossings in order to arrive at an acceptable area far enough away from the trail and hidden in the trees. One of the crossings left my boot soaking wet after I sunk it into the mud, further degrading my mood. At the second crossing I decided to not chance it and removed my boots and socks, carrying my pack in front of me. Frustration and impatience kept me from at least putting on the aqua socks I had in the pack. For this my feet suffered greatly from the sharp stones in the creek. Profanities flew from my mouth and my enthusiasm took another shot. On the bright side, it was a really nice campsite when I finally found one. It had a stone fire ring, though minimal flat space for my tent.

My first camp was located in that clump of trees just below the lake on the right
A bit disenchanted with backpacking in this particular photo
I somewhat recklessly emptied the contents of my pack and slowly set up my tent. For dinner I ate one of my fancy freeze dried meals. There were easily catchable trout all around me but I was too exhausted to fish. I just took it easy until the sun went down, starting the autobiographical book by Roald Dahl, "Going Solo". Maybe the pain would just disappear after a night's rest and tomorrow would be better.

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