For years, it has been a tradition for a close group of friends and myself to squeeze everything we need for a weekend into our backpacks, strap on our fly rods, and trek to a high country lake for a weekend of fly fishing and camping. After a while, it became harder and harder to find dates that would work for everyone. One year, in particular, there was no hope. But that wasn’t going to stop me from getting some Cutty time.
I would pick a weekend and head in alone. I had been camping alone before and been to this location many times. This trip, however, would be the furthest into the woods I had ever ventured alone. The overall experience is one I will remember for a long time to come.
This location is a place that is very dear to me after having been introduced to it about seven years ago. A good friend of mine at the time took my brother and a few friends on our first trip. I am hopeful it will be a place I can enjoy for the rest of my life.
The lake sits close to 12,000 ft. The hiking trail isn’t easy with 1,965 ft of elevation gain and 7.4 miles out and back. This is if you are starting at the top of the off-road trail that can only be conquered by an off-road worthy vehicle. Typically this is true for us but this year driving up in my 2wd Honda Accord Coupe I would have to hike the 2.5-mile off-road trail that began at the lower car camping site. I am not even sure how much elevation gain was added but it isn’t a flat off-road trail. Even with all of this in mind, it was no match for the will to get to the lake for some relaxation and monster fish.
It’s a bit of a drive for me to the trailhead at about three and a half hours. To try and make the most of my weekend I like to leave really early. Helps to beat the traffic as well. It was a calm morning and an easy drive, allowing me to capture the above shot of the fog. I was Ignorant at the time to the foreshadowing it represented.
The hike overall although tough is great! The upper parking lot itself if you can reach it with a 4×4, has an excellent view. A reward for me after hiking the 2.5-mile road.
Beyond that, there is another incline to the first pass. This point of the hike has some of the best views of both the east and west sides of the mountain. From there you head straight down into the valley where the creek runs with thousands of wildflowers and scattered pine trees.
This part of the hike is by far the easiest and quite possibly the most enjoyable because of the flatland and the surrounding views. It doesn’t last too long and quickly turns back into the dense forest. This year the trail had a large amount of runoff due to above normal winter snow-pack and also recent heavy rain, making for very thick brush and sloppy hiking conditions. Continuing to walk, you hear the sound of the creek grow louder as you approach close to the waterfall and the stream crossing.
After the creek crossing begins the final ascent and it is not an easy one. Switchbacks galore! After cutting back and forth working up the mountainside you reach an opening back at the creek you crossed at the bottom. This a welcome sign as it means you are almost at the lake!
Camping and fishing
Year after year we have camped in the same spot on a ridge about 50 yards from the lake. This campsite has a large fire pit and can house a couple of tents and a few hammocks. Typically it is perfect for our group but this year I didn’t need all that space. Instead, I camped relatively close to that area where I could hang my hammock and make a small fire pit that would accommodate myself rather than eight people. I was fortunate to find a perfect sitting rock I could build my fire next to. This provided an excellent prepping area for my meals as well.
After setting up camp, (before starting a fire) it was time to fish! This lake is a beautiful and bountiful place. The fishing is a superb mix of wild Rainbow, Cutthroat and Cutbow trout and the views are outstanding. Being that the fish reside so far from accessible roads they are eager to take dry flies throughout most of the ice offseason. Elk Hair Caddis and Stimulators are the names of the game. There is one location in particular on the lake that is especially forthcoming with fish. If you can cast out to where the shelf drops off, you get slammed on every presentation.
After an evening of reeling in some of the most beautiful trout out there, it was time to cook dinner and settle down for the night. The trek from the camping spot to the primo fishing spot is at max 100 yards over some rocks and a small stream. The stream runs between the campsite and the lake making it nicely situated for filtering cooking and drinking water. I built a small fire in my fire pit and cooked my dehydrated backpacking meal.
While relaxing and eating dinner, out of nowhere come running two fully grown Great Danes. Not really what I was expecting at this moment. Luckily for me, they were quite friendly. Their ower walked up looking for a campsite not far behind and directed them away with her. As I was finishing up with my meal and cleaning my dishes the dogs made frequent visits. Getting called back each time. The night went on, the stars came out in their glory and the dogs visiting stopped. I put out my fire, hung my bear bag and hunkered down in my hammock for the night.
The night was excellent with light rain and cool air. Waking up in the morning was just as pleasant. I sat up in my hammock and reluctantly put on my shoes to take a leak and see if Yogi Bear stole my “picnic basket”. Hanging right where I left it, I lowered my bear bag and quickly retreated back to my warm hammock. Not long after breaking out my stove kit and coffee arrived some new friends.
Two young whitetail deer were very curious about the breakfast I was about to cook up. Years prior we had a deer that discovered a mysterious pile of flour near camp. We have no idea where the flour came from but the deer loved it. You could practically walk up and touch the deer while it was lapping up the flour. This morning these two deer while curiously circling my hammock were more skittish and ran off when I came out from under my cover. As the morning set in so did the fog. The moment the picture I had taken driving down might have been foretelling.
It was truly remarkable how quickly the clouds would move in and out. One moment it was clear the other the fog completely camouflaged the mountainside on the far side of the lake. It was strange how comforting the ominous movement of the fog was.
After a few more small but beautiful fish in the AM, I called it and packed up my gear. Squeezing everything back down into my pack for the trek back to the car.
The trip down wasn’t too bad. The skies stayed cloudy as I descended the switchbacks into the valley. The last uphill decent to the pass that leads you back to the parking area is a straight, steep incline. Reaching the top gave view to one more patch of fog before the final push down to my car at the lower lot.
The final downhill portion of the hike, turning back into the road wore me out. Nearing the end of my journey, a jeep coming down the offroad trail slowed to ask me if I needed a ride. It was the lady with the two Great Danes. I passed, both because I was pretty close to the end and wanted to complete my solo journey and also due to the fact that it didn’t look like there was a ton of room left in her jeep with those giant dogs. Regardless, I appreciate that she stopped to offer. On the off chance that you read this, thank you. Reaching my Honda I was left exhausted yet totally refreshed. The rewards of heading out on your own with only a backpack full of equipment to seek pristine locations and fishing opportunities are not easily beat for me. While I treasure the trips with friends and family, this trip gave me a thirst for many more solo quests as well.