Monday, August 30, 2021

Holy Cross wilderness

The plan was to visit a couple of lakes in the Collegiate Peaks which had good fish in 2009. I have been trying to get back there ever since. That trailhead needs a high clearance vehicle, so naturally the brake lights on my truck went on the fritz. Wednesday night replaced the bulbs with LEDs and checked/replaced fuses, not that. Thursday night fetched the part from across Denver and replaced the brake pedal switch/sensor, not that. OK we are down to the wiring and harnesses now, Fri night an hour of futzing and couldn't find the short. Oh well it's the mighty mighty Honda Fit then, plan B is a supposedly better road to a Holy Cross wilderness trailhead. 

Reader - it wasn't any better. Everyone looks at you funny, driving a Fit over a nasty road where all the other vehicles are lifted 4wd adventure-mobiles.. The parking lot was mostly full, I threaded my way between a pine tree and a couple of boulders at the edge of a pit, to find a little spot to park. I may have had a small nightmare or two in camp that night about getting out again - just how steep was the hill and the turn ?  It was alright though, late Sun the Fit climbed out easy and I parked at the real trailhead in order to use the pit toilet. Still surrounded by those giant rigs though. 

Bet none of them got this kind of mpg for the trip.. a 290-mile round trip from Denver, including climbing to Eisenhower tunnel, down and over Vail pass, up 13 miles of poor dirt road to 3mi of terrible dirt road. Then back. 

Busy trail going up. I had a new light pack and a 1lb tarp to replace 4.5lb of tent so my entire overnight pack was just over 20lb, a new personal record. That little weight is basically a daypack sort of burden which is barely noticeable. I sped past everyone I saw, though it turns out climbing 2200 feet over 4.5 miles is still noticeable. 

Strong 'Paths of the Dead' emanations from the canyon mouth. I did not fish my way up, needed to make some miles before the afternoon storms piled in. 

Over the pass a bit over 12 000ft, weather looking iffy. It started raining shortly after this. 

The rain is no problem as long as the lightning doesn't show up. Camp well below the lake with a bit of tree for shelter and a perfect dining rock. 

There were two parties camped at 11 600 ft by the lake out on the exposed tundra. The next morning after a night of wind rain and thunderstorms, one party had moved down into the trees and the other had vanished.. 

Started by hooking a 3" cutt, overreacting on the strike and sending it flying through the air to dash its little brain out on a rock at my feet. This was a bit horrible. I've taken trout airborne before, never yet killed one that way. Took a moment to think before fishing on. 

Usually lakes at this height have midges, maybe a scud or two, and whatever terrestrials get blown upslope by the afternoon anabatic winds. Today there were midges, a few caddis, a mayfly or so, and one lost and lonely Yellow Sally stonefly. A Royal Stimulator worked perfectly well. 

The fish increased steadily in size from 11" up to this nice 14" cutt. 

Then the weather moved back in with thunder booming and echoing peak to peak. Took the 4-piece Fenwick Voyageur rod apart into its 4 pieces so as not to attract the lightening god and scuttled back down the hill into the trees, with small hail pelting down. 

Fifteen minutes later the skies were perfect blue with the storm moving off downvalley, me sitting by the creek wondering what the hell. 

At some point here I'd inadvertently switched the camera phone into some kind of low resolution mode, so the remaining photos are artistically rendered, none of your superreal 4k here. 

The problem with fishing below the mountaintops is the oncoming weather is not usually visible, instead it comes boiling sudden over the ridgeline. Rather than go back up there and get blindsided by another thunderstorm I decided to go a couple miles down-creek to see what was happening. Certainly cutts, maybe brookies ? 

On famous tailwaters the fish are jaded. They'll get hooked, flounder a bit as a token fight, then swim over to get unhooked and wait patiently for the picture. Up here wild fish aren't used to posing for a picture. 

Coming back up the creek at 5:30pm was a bit of a grind. Dinner, no reservations needed for the best seat in the house, party of one (but that's no kind of a party, at all).  Pikas from the boulder garden across the valley sang me to sleep and gave me a morning reveille of squeaks. 

A restless night with not much for sleep. Turns out campsite levelness selection is much more important with a tarp than with a tent. If you slide around in a tent on slopy ground, it's an annoyance: sliding under a tarp puts you outside in the rain. It was nice to turn over and see a valley in moonlight, instead of the inside of a dirty tent flysheet. 

Next morning clambered back up to the nearby lake for a couple more fish. Several more lakes on the way back down, first one held fish less eager but chunkier and stronger. These things are probably related. Not fishing well, zombified by the missing night's sleep. 

The biggest lake has the smallest fish, hordes of skinny 6-8" brookies. One last lake, a milky green that looked odd after the aching clarity of all the others. Another redbellied cutt, then I lay in the grass for an hour and failed to nap in the mild sun and wind. 

Down the hill and back out. It's weird how Sunday afternoon feels like a Sunday even in the high country.