My buddy Marc and I had been talking about a quick exploratory trip to the Golden Trout Wilderness for some time. We both thought that backpacking in the area would be a great way to spend a long weekend, but needed to check things out before full committal. Last year we both purchased books and USGS maps of the area that we intended to conquer, but the plans fizzled after that, as they tend to do with any endeavor that involves leaving small children home with Mom for the weekend. We recently began throwing the idea around again on one of our Pints, Porn(Fish) and Pizza nights and decided we just needed to pick a date. Marc picked September 4, 2009 and we quickly decided on a 3-day weekend without realizing that it was Labor Day Weekend. Once the plan is in motion nothing can change the plan.
We left San Diego at 4 am and arrived in Lone Pine at about 9 am. About an hour later we arrived at our campground, nestled among the pines at 10,000 feet above sea level.
A small uphill walk from the campsite to the car confirmed the altitude, as well as our level of fitness. We put together our tents, taking breaks every few minutes to catch our breath, and then climbed inside to duck a thunderstorm. This also provided us with a quick nap and a chance to figure out our plans for the rest of the day. Upon recommendation from several “internet” friends, we decided to spend the afternoon poking around the meadow closest to camp that was rumored to have an aggressive population of small Golden Trout. The rumors were spot on! We both landed multiple fish that afternoon stalking the banks of the small creek.
The weather continued to rain on and off all afternoon, with the boom of thunder and the crackle of lightening making us a little nervous, standing in an open meadow with a graphite rod in hand. As the sun set we headed back to camp and began discussing tomorrow – The Big Day. Around the campfire we made plans for a hike to a lake that was approximately 6 miles away over cans of Gordon and bottles of Stone Pale Ale. We called it a night early, knowing that a 12-mile round trip hike at elevation would challenge us both.
As expected, the hike was brutal, gaining more than 800 feet in the last couple of miles. Switchbacks and stone stairs combined with the altitude (now 11,000 feet) had us both stopping to catch our breath every 10-20 steps. Once we reached the top the trial opened into a beautiful meadow
The hike had taken us about 3.5 hours and the lake was now in sight, sitting in a small depression on the far side of the meadow under some tall granite snags. As we started off towards the lake we realized we were among a large family of marmots that were communicating our presence with distinct screeches. The lake itself was ringed with marshy wet ground making it tough to get near the lake. For fear of having to walk six miles back to camp with wet boots and socks, we decided to climb onto some rocks in order to get a few casts off.
The fish in the lake were beautiful, brightly colored and parr marked. They came somewhat easily to our flies, but were not easy to hook, often smacking the fly but not getting the hook. The fish we did bring to hand were a little larger than those in the meadow close to camp, but not as colored up
We finished up at the lake around 3 pm and headed back to the campsite, excited about our time at the lake, but a little hesitant about the six mile hike ahead of us. Walking at times like a drunk at closing time, we made it back in a little less than three hours and poured ourselves into our chairs. A fire, a few beers and a quick freeze-dried meal was all we could take in before passing out for the night.
I did screw around with the camera a little bit before turning in for the night catching some of the last light from the sun while the moon rose in the background.
Sunday morning came all to quick for my sore legs. We packed up all of our stuff and decided to head out a little early to prospect for some more gold in one of the streams on the way down the mountain. This stop was on the advice of another “internet” friend and proved to be a great one. This small stream was a couple hundred yards from the road and chock full of handsome little Golden Trout just waiting to ambush a passing Stimulator or Royal Wulff.
On the way down the hill we stopped at an overlook to try and take a few panoramas. This one is looking down on the Alabama Hills and the town of Lone Pine. For scale, notice the cars in the upper left corner of the image and the road snaking down below.
We grabbed a quick burger in Lone Pine and headed back to SD, feeling privileged to spend a few nights in the GTW.
Just received the September/October copy of Southwest Fly Fishing which includes an article (and photos) that I penned about fly fishing Mission Beach, California.
The magazine is not available online (yet), but you can order them here, or find them in most bookstores. The article also features a few photos of local “sticks” Steve Piper and Matt Hale doing what they do best. Here is a scan of the article lead, you think they could have found a better looking model.