Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A day in Rocky Mtn NP

By the numbers: 12 hour day, 5 hours hiking; for 13-14 miles and about 2500ft of climbing; three turkey/cheese sandwiches, two liters water, one Coke, one candy bar, two peaches, four oat crunchies; one broken big-toe-nail; one brown trout, one Colorado River cutt, a dozen rainbows, uncounted brookies; lots of gorgeous high-country sunshine and views (ok, that's not a number, sue me).

Started out from the Bear Lake trailhead, milled about a bit (see map) at the forks for Glacier Gorge and other trails before getting on the right road down to the creek. This trail was very little used, looked to be going back to an elk path. After 10 minutes, cut back off the trail into the woods, with that momentary frisson of fear that going trailless always inspires. Glacier creek was small but pleasant, holding water needed to be at least 2 feet deep. Often in these smaller creeks the fish can be found in the shallow riffles as well, but today they wanted good deep water nearby. Opened the batting with a nice 12" brown, then a 10" rainbow followed by a passel of smaller bows 8-9", then a Co. river cutt, then a brookie. Hum, a grand slam. I nearly hopped out to go to the Roaring River to add a green-back cutt and get a 5-species slam, but it was too much like a riskless counting coup. Prospect Canyon is only about 20 feet deep, with a pretty 3-step waterfall into a good pool at its exit, missed a sizeable rainbow there. The rest of the canyon had some holding water, then a major tributary comes in, above which the creek is just a series of rocky cascades with not much visible potential. Good if you like fishing wet rocks.

There were at least 2 guided parties on the lower section. I took a wide loop through the woods around both, tried to give them a quarter mile or so of undisturbed water, but wasn’t too worried. It is a puzzle to me that there are sports willing to pay $300+/day to be walked 100yds off the road and shown easy trout.

Clambered back up through the woods to the elk trail, found a spray-cooled spot by a small falls for the first lunch of the day at 12. Battered up the crowded trail towards Mills lake, pausing to investigate the stream at a flattish spot. Shallow braided gravelly channels, with scatterings of small brookies was all. Those flat-water wild fish are as spooky as they come. I barely even try them anymore, too discouraging - stick a rodtip out of the bushes and the whole pool flushes. Any time you do manage to sneak up on the good-looking ones, some unseen sprats from the tailout panic and tear frantically upstream to startle everything else. These days I just go looking for better water. Second lunch at 1:30pm, quietly by the stream. Bypassed Mills to get up to Black, quite a pull over those 2.8 miles. I had lots of company on the trail, mostly older than me, indomitable old ladies with walking sticks and the occasional greybearded companion. At least they were friendlier than the serious young guys on a mission, hiking fast and silent and unshaven on some imperceptible quest of their own. Lovely stream along this section, plenty of waterfalls and good-looking holes.

Black Lake is very fishy-looking, a huge deep green hole under cliffs with streams tinkling in on two sides. A few mayflies (at 10800 ft ??) coming off, no rises though. Coke and a candy bar in the shade of the krummholz, since I was dragging a bit at this stage. Fat greenbacked brookie in the first puddle of the inlet stream, more brookies on up to the cascades again, to about 11". The stream was only just wide enough for the 11" to turn around. At the bottom of the cascades, a pocket of water about the size of a shoebox, six inches deep with every pebble visible: tossed an ant onto the water, and a ten-inch brookie materialized out of the pebbles. Hanging there eying the ant with its pectorals flared, it looked like a minor shark, a dizzying change of perspective. Tried various things including bobber fishing (hey, I was tired) in the lake, but couldn't find anything more than lanky black brookies to 10" or so. On the way back down, another luminous green-backed brookie of 12" in a plunge pool below a small waterfall, very pretty. Of course there should be green-back cutthroat trout up here: it's a ponderable whether the brookies are developing a similar colouration as the years of evolution produced in the cutts. Small thoughts for a long walk.

Back to Mills lake by 6, sunset on the high barren peaks. The lake had risers, hooked 5 of them but got none to hand. All looked about 10-11", nothing big, and I’m guessing brookies.

7:30pm and time to go. Finished the hike with a flashlight, last man off the mountain. A complete success, all in all. I said I’d go fishing and I did.. although I’m still listing slightly to the right when I walk, which I’ve been trying to avoid because it hurts.

My shoulders were sore for two days after lumping around the daypack with 3 extra layers, raingear, food and water. I was thinking it's really tedious to always pack all the emergency stuff while hiking around with fifty other folks on the trail, but it got quite lonely towards evening. A cautionary tale - it turns out my fishing buddy Ken had been benighted a couple of days ago elsewhere in the park with his (girl) cousin, and a dysfunctional high-tech lighter that wasn't able to make fire. Their guide had gotten ahead of them and lost track of his party. It always ticks me off when hiking/canoeing in tricky areas, some people just don't get the 'stick together' idea and it often ends in tears. That's the African training, get in trouble in the African backcountry and there are damn-all helicopters to get you out again, your own bloody stumps are the only way. Ken's bad joke - I slept with my cousin, and it was the worst night I've ever had !

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