So there I was, having just crossed a roaring freshet, having nearly run into a pine marten… wait. If I could sneak up on a pine marten, I bet that I could sneak up on a grizzly, despite the wind at my back. I traveled more loudly from then on, just in case.
I rounded the lake, moving steadily downward towards the water while trying to make sure that my forward line of travel was clear. Easier than it sounds, but I managed. One thing that I did notice was just how dang agile elk are. Some of the sketchiest little cliffs and twisting trails that I had ever tried to traverse were covered in elk prints. I only attempted because I saw elk tracks going that direction and I would be darned if some 350 pound hooved animal with no thumbs was going to out scramble me. You people in the back snickering and muttering about mountain goats under your breath can shush. Let’s stay on topic here.
I was getting close to the water, and finally, I made it to the inflow. Glorious victory was mine. Streams full of Wind River Range golden trout, every one fighting to eat my dry fly as it… Well. Or not. Sure was a great dream though, while it lasted. I got to the inflow alright, and sat up on a high rock to watch for any cruising or feeding activity. Nada. Not a single flicker of movement. So I checked out the actual stream flowing into the lake. I discovered another recent camp site, and a fire ring with – you guessed it – a cherry jolly rancher wrapper in it. I had some very choice words for the Jolly Rancher Man, as I began to think of him.
So there I was, dear reader. I was back exactly where I’d wanted to be, where I’d planned to journey to for months. I had the gear, I had the food, I had the physical conditioning. But what I didn’t have, right there, right then, was the motivation. Finding that jolly rancher wrapper just broke the camel’s back, as it were. I couldn’t stay there even another hour, let alone overnight there again. I knew I had options, other lakes nearby that didn’t hold golden trout, but would at least provide a more remote setting and hopefully the solitude that I sought. The route to those lakes however, proved to be a little more daunting than I had surmised from the maps.
The above picture does the ascent no justice, of course. It looks waaaay closer than it actually is, and way less dangerous. Towering fields of talus and boulders, an entire mountainside of balanced injury waiting to happen. Because I would be moving up slope and not crossing any streams, I would be forced to carry water which would add considerably to my load, increasing the rate at which I fatigued and making each step more dangerous. I had plenty of food, which was good, but I lacked the one thing I needed to even be stupid enough to attempt the approach. Motivation.
At that moment, I realized that I didn’t want to be up there on that mountain. I just didn’t. I was glad I had come, glad I had conquered all the trials set before me, but the journey ahead was too much for me by myself. If I stepped wrong and broke a leg, chances were that I would die before anyone found me. I wanted to head back down, go find a river with fat rainbows and cunning browns, and zen out while watching my dry fly drift the current.
So I started back down, taking a different path, bushwacking almost the entire way back until I found a good trail again. I passed all kinds of cool stuff. A cave in the boulders (no bears or treasure, I checked), beautiful flowers, wonderful vistas and a surprise snake or two. I headed right back down the trail that I had come up, and I felt no regret. Nearing the trailhead once more, I took a small shortcut that cut off about a quarter of the last mile of trail. I moved with easy speed, feeling good, humming to myself before I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks.
There, beside the trail, was a jolly rancher wrapper.