Wednesday, August 12, 2009

North Halfmoon creek

We dragged our children up a mountain for a backpacking trip, assuring them it would be fun. I'm not sure if our enthusiasm has quite taken. Here we set out - note the kids are carrying their share of load.
The trailhead road is also the access to the fourteener Mt Elbert and Mt Massive trailheads. I’d guess a couple hundred people established in dispersed campsites along the creek: never mind what the bears do, it worries me what all those people must be doing in the woods. Turd blossoms everywhere, I suspect. The last mile is bad 4wd road but luckily Evan’s Tundra Toy (ota) had the clearance and the low range for it.

Quite a few hikers on the trail, but not many backpackers. Kid backpacking has shown this to be a good strategy for the crowded Colorado backcountry - backpack on a dayhike trail and camp just a mile or two in. This gets away from the 4wd campers, and once the evening comes on, the country empties out wonderfully.

Progress was slow, as there were backpack adjustments to be made about every 100 yards. The smallest child found his pack to be unbearable, so I wound up with 50lbs on my back and 15lbs in one hand. This is doubtless good strength training. Oh well, as long as it gets him out of the house. I'd packed a variety of junk food to entertain them at the frequent rest stops.

We were a bit late for the wildflowers. These I believe to be Gentiana alpina. The next picture is certainly Fireweed or as the British say, Rosebay Willowherb. It always makes me think of Alaska. When we visited eighteen years ago in autumn (August), the fireweed was flourishing in the clearcuts.

While we rested in the meadow, the others went to reconnoiter for a campsite. They found a nice flat island where the creek split around it, about a half-mile square, whistle pigs (yellow-bellied marmots) all around. Here's a Google Map of the campsite. Go down from the marker on the map, which is just by the trail, to the little open space with the crick bending around S of it. Switch to the 'Terrain' view and zoom out, for an idea of the topography. Although we hiked just 1.5 miles in, it was 800 feet of climbing.

The crick here is tiny, just a good jump across, with cutthroat trout that are probably the Yellowstone subspecies stocked in earlier years. These are in the wrong place, strictly speaking, but the habitat is close enough that they seem to be doing well. I caught some plump cheerful 9-10” and I’m sure there are bigger ones living quietly in pools back in the woods.

The views from camp couldn't be beat. We had a quiet night for the most part. The two youngest boys were in a tent on their own, with only stuffed animals and a small Maglite as defense against the night noises. I expected to have to offer shelter at 1 am, once the marmots or ground squirrels came around prospecting, but they made it through the night. C said he heard an extremely angry squirrel chittering at some dark hour.

Next day we pottered another 1.5 miles and 1000ft up to the lakes. C clambered up then ran down a big boulder, luckily just fell and skinned his knee. I had this vision of him falling off the wrong side of the boulder and bouncing a hundred feet down, so he got yells instead of sympathy for his sore knee. Quoth he to his brother later that day, “here on a silver platter, you can see why I prefer the indoors to the outdoors”.

The lakes are at 12200 approx, a good stiff climb up there, rewarded by the usual gorgeous high mountain views and wildflowers.

Small caddisfly were skittering across the lake and getting walloped by the fish in big splashy rises. We weren't very successful predators. I got one brookie on a #12 caddis, didn’t have anything small enough to match the hatch.

Young I worked on his flyfishing skills: rollcasting, and disentangling the result of a roll cast gone bad. He's making good progress, I wish he'd been rewarded with a fish. The brookie used up all our luck for the day I think.

Two hirsute fishing guides came down from the upper lake with a goofy black Lab puppy. They said the fish were cutts and brookies, allowed as to how they got a few but were cagey about the details.

Then it was time to beat feet out and back to the city. Both sets of children had highly-scheduled weeks ahead of them; we were supposed to deliver them home in good time for showers and general prep. In fact we rolled in around 11pm. Evan and I compared notes on the comfort of our respective doghouses, to see where we might be better off. C said he loved going into the doghouse - he's all set for married life.

H stayed home with Artie, to do some housepainting prior to putting said house on the market. While I was out having fun she was home toiling so I didn’t even get any dadly points for entertaining and educating the chilluns. Still it was worth it.