Monday, October 9, 2017

Enjoying Fall Colors Back in the Adirondacks

After having been back in society for a couple of weeks, I already felt the need to get out to the mountains for some forest bathing and general relaxation for the holiday weekend. The fall colors were in full swing, and I had been disappointed in cutting my time short in the Adirondacks earlier in the season... so naturally I packed up some gear and hit the road, heading for the ADK High Peaks.

When I arrived in the area the weather was beautiful. I grabbed a campsite at Wilmington Notch, and hit the West Branch of the Ausable for a few hours. It was mostly not the best fishing for the fall that afternoon, but I managed to bring a few small browns to hand picking pockets as I usually do there. The water was low and not that cold. And it had just been a full moon. 

The next morning it felt really good to wake up in my tent... but unfortunately the rain was back. How ironic. I checked the weather and noticed it had turned for the worse. The plans for backpacking the high peaks and getting up to any Summits was no longer viable... what a surprise... so I shifted gears and grabbed my day pack, heading for a small stream that I have barely had a chance to fish in the past.

Hiking in I was surprised at the lack of moisture other than the fresh rain on the surfaces surrounding me. It was very dry... barely any fall mushrooms to be found and low water levels everywhere. Not typical here, yet unfortunately the reality of the last couple seasons at this time of the year. But the leaves... well they were simply on fire. 

I really like this particular trail and section of the high peaks... its an area I didn't explore much as a kid. However, I have spent a fair amount of time here in the last few seasons. I was especially looking forward to checking out a section of stream that I have hiked by many times without having had a chance to fish it before.

The short hike didn't disappoint, and I was lucky in the sense that the rain had temporarily stopped just as I had arrived at the trailhead. Fall is my favorite season of the year, and it can be truly unmatched up in this part of the Northeast.

Other than the lack of mushrooms, though, it seemed that the forest was weathering this recent dry spell quite well. I took some photos of the mosses and lichens, which are always fascinating to me. It seemed like a great year for lichen.. tons of it all around, blooming... if that's what you call it.

I soon found the spot I had wanted to fish, and walked off the trail and through the forest for a few minutes to find the stream on the other side of some thick pine trees. The pool I had walked up on almost immediately was clearly "the one" that I was looking for.

I spent a few moments just listening to the sounds around me, simultaneously resting the water in case I had spooked anything while walking up from below. My Nissin Royal Stage was ready to go and I was careful to present the first cast without letting any line touch the water... it was low and I knew the fish would be spooky. I cast a few times below the rock, to no avail. Taking a few careful steps and staying low, I presented a fine cast to the spot behind/above the large rock, and watched as a nice brookie slowly meandered up from the depths behind my fly.

I love that moment when time seems to slow to a crawl... you see the colors... the shape... your heart races a bit... the mouth of the fish opens... the fly disappears... SET! The fish is hooked. I landed this brookie in my net and took a quick photo before releasing it back into the wild. A beautiful wild trout indeed.

Deciding that it made sense to beat the incoming thunderstorms home instead of tempt fate for more fish, I called it a day after this first catch. It just felt right to end there, even though I had not spent much time fishing. So I did just that.

The walk out was even more beautiful, and it seemed the leaves were changing right in front of my eyes - a bit more color with each step - as if to tease me as I retreated from the stormy ADK weather for the second time this year.

Taking in one last view of the stream, I collected my thoughts and continued back to the parking lot. It was bittersweet, knowing I had gotten that one perfect wild troutI had been wanting all year up here... but also not knowing when the next time I'd be able to return would be. Colorado is going to be an adventure, but the Adirondacks will always feel like my mountain home.

As the sun sets on my Adventures this season, I have a lot of writing to look forward to... bringing others along as I re-hash the events of the summer here in posts to come.... stay tuned.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Fishing Loch Vale & Icy Brook, Rocky Mountain National Park

It may be somewhat comical now, that my first update in so long involves fireworks from July 4th... But that's what happens when you are enjoying life and living in the wilderness! Its hard to get service to upload photos, and beyond that, who cares about the internet when you've got the outdoors to enjoy? I sure don't.

Back in July, before hiking the John Muir Trail, Rob and I decided to fish Loch Vale and Icy Brook. Loch Vale appears to be one of the most popular and well known lakes to fish in Rocky Mountain National Park. Walk into any fly shop in the Front Range, and they'll send you here if you're looking for C&R cutthroat fishing without a ridiculously long hike. 

That being said, the hike is beautiful, as is all the water encountered on this trek.

Entering from Glacier Basin, one hikes up a popular trail along waterfalls and cliff-sides, with many scenic outlooks along the way.

About half way up you can see the mountains that form the cirque above.

There was still plenty of snow, and the rivers were mostly blown out - but that's why we were focusing on the lakes instead.

As soon as we arrived at The Loch I knew it would be an incredible day.

There were fish stacked up along the logs, fish trolling the shore, and fish rising out in the center as well.

I took the opportunity to observe some fish for a while below me - it appeared that the spawn was mostly over, but some fish were still in spawn-mode, so I avoided those as best I could.

Making my way around the lake, I fished with a few different techniques, enticing just a few fish to my fly.

But as the afternoon waned, it eventually hit that magical point where the fish just turned on.

I caught countless beautiful and aggressive cutthroats just manipulating Kebari near the shore, and it was glorious.

Icy Brook ended up being a bust for the day as the cutties were spawning there. So I focused entirely on the lake.

The surroundings weren't too shabby...

the fish weren't the only interesting part of the day to be sure... there were flowers, lichens, and views everywhere.

Some of the fish were of decent size, and the catch and release policy was surely to thank for that.

The colors on these fish were just spectacular!

The later it got, the better the fishing was as well.

And with fish like this, how can you leave?

But we all know that they say all good things must come to an end...

With a big smile we all hiked down to the trailhead, recounting the forever-imprinted memories of this successful day...

... re-visiting the views from the morning, bathed in newly revealing evening light.

I like thinking about how many other people have shared these same moments, fished from these same places, looked upon these same impressive rock formations... we all came here and found this beauty and these fish waiting for us.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Timber Creek Campsite and the Back Side of Rocky Mountain National Park

I once again find myself sitting on a porch overlooking a night sky, and this time the moon appears to be full. The light reflects off the remaining snowfields, creating a unique scene for those whose eyes are well adjusted to the dark. But the adventure I'm writing about now already happened, and right now my eyes are squinting at a too-small screen while I should be sleeping.

We decided it was time to check out the back side of RMNP, where I had never been on my previous trips to these mountains. The road over the Continental Divide makes for a fantastic drive, with some of the most incredible mountain views one could wish for. At one of the pull-offs, a little Marmot-buddy was chomping down and was surprised to have been spotted.

The high-alpine flowers are mind blowing, some of them only growing at altitudes over 11,000 feet. Crazy! Others were blanketing the areas down lower as well...

On the road near Timber Creek campsite we happened upon a herd of elk... and we grabbed a site for a few nights to call our home.

The next day we set out to hike up to one of the high alpine lakes holding Cutthroats on this side of the park. We set an ambitious goal, hiking over 5 miles each way. At the entrance to the trailhead, we were greeted with this sign. I wasn't sure what to expect, and it certainly added a sense of uncertainty on top of the aggressive distance goal for the day.

The trail started out innocently enough, but soon we were into some classic west coast switchbacks.

This side of the mountain was very green, with some small boggy areas that reminded me of back home.

But after a while that gave way to a more classic western mountain setting, complete with high-altitude meadow streams and small grassy valleys below the trail.

We soon arrived at the landslide, which was much less of a big deal than the warning had suggested. We noticed it had settled well, and that the route was well traveled and safe at the moment. No big deal, just a bit of careful stepping for a few hundred feet. Before we knew it, we were at the other side and back on stable trail.

At one of the trail junctions, we tried fishing the outlet stream from the lake, which seemed just about perfect... but all I got was one tap, and Rob got nothing. I think the cutties up in the stream were still either in spawning mode, or the water was still just a bit too cold and high... as is the case along a lot of the trip so far... we were still early for the streams.

Soon we reached a meadow that I named "lower moose meadow," as we ended up encountering moose both here, as well as in another spot higher up on the trail. 

Almost at the lake, the scenery opened up and we saw the ridge line above. Just another .7 or so to go...

There was a lot of interesting ground cover... I spotted some lichen, mini-flowers and mini-bushy plants that are so interesting if you get close and take a look.

The area immediately below the lake I named "upper moose meadow," as we ran into our second moose there. We nervously talked to the moose as we walked by, hoping he would ignore us, and he did.

There was snow on the final pitch, but not very much. The trail mostly had skirted the areas that held the most snow, which was helpful for our pace.

We made pretty good time, arriving at the lake early in the afternoon with plenty of time to fish. There was a skinny outlet with spawning cutthroats in it, and those not spawning didn't want anything to do with Rob's fly.

It spent a moment photographing more flowers and taking in the surroundings...

... for the view at the lake was truly breathtaking.

There was an impressive bowl and some incredibly beautiful and tall cliffs surrounding us... we knew higher peaks lurked in the background but we didn't have time to tackle them on this day.

And so I extended my rod and began to fish. At first, nothing. Then I found a nice group of fish stacked up in a post-spawn feeding frenzy at the inlet.

I cast above them and immediately hooked my first Cuttie. These weren't Greenbacks, and I believe they were Colorado Cutthroat based on the markings. Please comment below if you have anything to add...

My second fish was much more colorful... a real beauty.

After a couple of fish caught and released, Rob jumped in and grabbed one as well. 

His first fish had some striking colors, too. After the other fish were thoroughly spooked, we walked up to a still half-frozen upper lake just above the main lake. It held a few fish, but was absolutely freezing cold and I couldn't feel my feet in only a few seconds. Stepping out, we saw a hiker descending from a depression in the cliffs above. He made fast time, and stopped to chat with us on his way. He had just navigated up to a mountain over 12K, having made the hike to the summit from the upper lake in just 55 minutes. Impressive.

On our way out, we ran into two hikers with dogs... let's just call them Richie Rainier and Jim Jollygood. Well Richie Rainier and Jim Jollygood had no backpacks... no extra layers, no food, 2 empty gatorades, one empty water bottle, and 4 joints. (Now also gone.) We laughed about this as I refilled one of their water bottles with my filter. Richie Rainier told us that they didn't look at the map and "had no idea how long it would take." Jim Jollygood complained of a headache and dizziness. 

It is hard to believe just how much this kind of interaction occurred up at high altitude during our hikes in the Front Range... people are just crazy sometimes, and so unprepared... and I am surprised there aren't more rescues and issues on the trails regularly. Rob gave them a stern warning about not being unprepared again and we set off down the trail and back toward the car.

The hike went quickly as we made excellent time back to the car, laughing about the interactions from the day; happy that we had made the hike, caught some fish, and returned before dark without feeling too destroyed. I declared that I was finally fully acclimated, and it felt good.

That night the sunset was beautiful after some stormy weather blew through. Also following the weather was that same herd of elk, moving up through the valley and into the campsite. The elk were grazing around the tents and came closer than I really wanted... such is nature! At least they didn't try on the guy lines.

After the Elk bedded down next to our tents, we studied the map and our book to find a few more suitable routes for our upcoming days - and then went to bed feeling accomplished and ready for more.

As I lay in my tent listening to the elk breathing heavily, almost wheezing, I thought about how surreal this adventure has been in many ways... but also how real it is, and how impactful all of these scenes and experiences have been on me so far. I know this trip will create many vivid and some surreal memories, forever imprinted in my mind... memories and images that I can reach for down the line when I need them most.