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The next day dawned without any frost glazing my tent, which surprised me considering how high up I was. I climbed up on a rocky overlook searching for any signs of the fabled golden trout - not so much as a dimple. Ah well. Since the trout didn't want to play, I put away my fly rod and broke camp, chowing on some trail mix for breakfast.

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I had slept well in my Kelty Dualist 22 sleeping bag, although as the temperatures dropped during the night I was glad that I had both a warm sleeping bag liner and a knit cap. I'll take time and detail my whole gear list in a later article, to let you know what worked and what didn't.

Backpack cinched in place, rod tube firmly strapped and game face grim, I headed up the talus slope on course to break over the top of the promontory and get a view of my destination from on high. I think it was here that I first heard the signature calls of the high altitude rodents known as pica. Their warning calls often preceded ahead of me, and then popped up again behind me as I wound my way through the treeless areas of my hike. It was the first time I had ever actually seen them in real life, which I considered quite the treat. I tried to take pictures, but not only are those critters wary and fast, they're perfectly colored to blend in with their rocky surroundings. So, thanks to Google, I give you a pica. Cute, huh.

I bet that would make some lovely dubbing.
I bet that would make some lovely dubbing.

So anyway, there I was, scrambling up the slope, occasionally trying to fall, and generally loving life. Making it to the top of the outcrop, I was treated to a unobstructed view of my goal.

Thar she blows!
Thar she blows!

I sat for a while, ate some more trail mix, and considered life. I decided if I didn't catch a trout that day, I would try to make it to another one of the nearby lakes and see if fortune favored me more there.

As I moved around the edge of the lake, I walked through an area that seemed to have remained aloof from the human disturbances down by the water's edge. It was pine trees and trickling rivulets, thick moss and the smell of growing things. The sound of running water followed me everywhere, a soft counterpoint to the wind shushing through the pines. As I rounded a blind turn at the base of a huge boulder, it occurred to me that I probably wasn't being loud enough. This was griz country after all. Ah, what the heck. I wanted to see if I could sneak up on some of the elk that left the tracks I was following, and besides, the wind was blowing from my back. Any bear worth his salt would smell me long before I got anywhere near them... right? Maybe.

As I moved through the trees, boggy patches of soil sprouted beautiful flowers of different shapes and sizes. This one was my favorite - the Colorado Columbine.

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I also stumbled across this - I was thrilled, in a totally unashamed, nerd-out kind of way. Because I had stumped across...

 

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A slime mold! They're so cool. Seriously. Check them out - they're essentially aliens. Wikipedia link for slime molds. I had never found one in the wild.

And since this is apparently 'geek out about all the cool stuff I found' time, I also happened to come around the corner and see this beautiful scene.

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So, the water coming down at this spot was roaring, and I was walking slowly towards the log but still a few yards off to the side. Poof! Out of nowhere, a Boone and Crocket sized pine marten springs up on the log and lopes across with that funny-looking run that all cousins of the weasel seem to have. I had never expected to get to see one in the wild - it was a great moment. He never saw me, or ever figured out that I was there.

I wanted to finish this series today, but 5:30 comes early. Tomorrow, I finish this.

As I pushed onward and upward, the obvious choice seemed to be to closely follow the creek as it wended down through a narrow slot that water had carved over the millennium.

Picking my way through even more deadfall, I finally gained my first glimpse of the lake. Victory!

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I eagerly began moving along the shoreline, looking for good places to scan the lake for trout activity. However, I was immediately confronted by a freshly vacated campsite. I checked the ash in the fire ring - still warm. Someone had just left the area, probably this morning. And there, sitting on top of the ashes at the edge of the ring, was a Jolly Rancher candy wrapper. I picked it up, feeling thoroughly annoyed.

Trying to keep my spirits up, I headed on around the lake, searching for my own spot to set up camp that would be far enough - 200 feet or more - from the water, as per the wilderness area guidelines. As I walked, I noticed first one additional campsite, then another, then another. They were in varying degrees of freshness. What was this, Yellowstone?!

I was practically stomping along by this point as I rounded the lake and came smack up against a large vertical thrust of rock. My fatigue was really starting to catch up with me, and I made the decision that I wasn't going to climb the scree up and over the prominence. It would've been too easy to take a misstep and get hurt.

I found a flat area at the base of the scree in a clump of pines that - no surprise, at this point - had another old camp site in evidence. I set up my Kelty Tempest 2, a great little tent, and prepared my air mattress and sleeping bag. I gotta tell you, reader, that at this point I was in a serious funk. Melancholy was the mood as I halfheartedly fly fished for a bit (no trout anywhere to be seen or felt), and snapped a picture of the beautiful sunset over the lake.

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Tomorrow I would climb the scree slope, top the promontory, and go to the head of the lake where the creek fed in. There had to be fish there. In the meantime, I was exhausted, in a bad mood, and ready to give up on my day. I clicked on my headlamp for a bit of journaling, plugged my phone into my external battery, and I slept.

 

 

I shut my car door and swung my pack on. As I clicked the waist and chest straps closed, it hit me - I was going in, with no help, and there was a small chance I might not make it back out.

I had planned this trip for months: a solo jaunt back into the mountains chasing rumors of the fabled golden trout. Spending hours on my laptop, I had scoured relevant forums, researched the best gear, sniffed out online deals, and generally glutted myself on the euphoria of hardcore gear prep. I perused maps both old and new, digital and paper, hand-drawn and satellite imaged. I was as materially ready as I could be, and as knowledgeable about the area as other people's experience could make me. A true adventure, a trip past where I had pushed myself before. I was stoked.

As I drove back into the national forest lands towards the trailhead, I was struck by the beauty of the surroundings. The light green of the rolling sagelands splashed against the dark green canopy of the pine forest. Streams and creeks dissected the verdant scene, powered by meltwater from unseen glaciers and mountain springs.

I arrived at the trailhead parking lot and glanced at license plates as I pulled in. Georgia, Arkansas, Alaska, Kansas, Minnesota, with plenty of Wyomingites too. As I made one last check of my pack, I hoped that most of the hikers had set off down a different trail than I planned on using. I locked the doors, stowed the keys, and swung my pack on. Time to go for a walk.

The trail crunched under my hiking boots as I moved away from the trailhead towards the mountains. I carried no water, just my Sawyer filter and squeeze bottles. I knew from the maps that streams were common and slaking my thirst would be easy without the 8 pounds to a gallon of water weight on my back. Mountains lifted away from me on either side, towering into the sky. The rugged granite faces were creased with fault lines, and shadowed crevices hosted hold-out patches of snow throughout the year.

I steadily worked my way upwards, headed back into a creek drainage littered with deadfall and other nasties that slowed my forward progress. Between crawling over trees and figuring out how to cross the swift, frigid streams, I was making a good 0.5 mph.

Working on my balance.
Working on my balance.
I can't see the deadfall for the trees.
I can't see the deadfall for the trees. Not my most joyous moment.

Impressive, I know.

However, I figured that the harder the trail was, the higher probability that I would catch some big fish.

Well, that’s assuming nothing funny happened along the way, which, knowing me, would definitely happen.

 

I crossed the stream over those logs in the foreground. Then I had to cross back.
I crossed the stream over those logs in the foreground. Then I had to cross back. Good times.
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