Tag Archives: cutthroat trout

The old catch up routine … and turning a two cent opinion into a quarter’s worth


Last week’s letter played catch up on usual and sundry matters after a couple of writing-free weeks.

It’s the letter I’ll write in the next half hour that has me steeling myself.

Ellen and Reid are free to make up their own minds on issues of conscience but that doesn’t mean their old man can’t weigh in with his two cents worth. And this past weekend in Charlottesville – and the president’s lack of pointed condemnation of white supremacists – is a case in point. I’m boiling over it. 

It could be that the two cents will turn into a quarter’s worth.


August 7, 2017

Ellen/Reid: Really good to be home from the long jaunt to Wyoming. But as soon as I say that, sooner than later will come the itch to go back out the third full week in July ’18. Already planning on it. Tom was a good car guy; we split the driving and most of the expenses. He’s pretty low key on stuff like this but what I appreciated most was his attention to the planning details. He is just so organized whereas your old man is deficient in that category. The downer about this portion of the Bridger, the Elkhart Trailhead, was the volume of hikers. I’ve never seen so many people in the back country. People were everywhere, many of them armed, which left Tom, Vince and I to scratch our heads “Why?” At any rate, we didn’t do all the trails we planned on. One stream, Pole Creek, was really a wide, raging river and Tom was reluctant to navigate the 40 – 50 yard waist high ford since that kind of swift, icy cold water really isn’t for recovering heart patients. So we reverted to Plan B and hiked secondary trails which was fine enough. We saved about 20 miles in distance which was okay by me. The fishing was just awful. Not sure why (other than all the other anglers pressuring the fish); maybe it was high water and abundance of food. I suppose if we’d of gone higher/farther there might of been more fish.

But Tom and I got into some decent cutthroats on the Grey River which bisects the center of the Wyoming Range some 50 miles west of Pinedale along the Daniel-Alpine Cutoff which is really a long gravel road.

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Usually a Tenkara man, my friend Tom was uncanny with his casts on his first day with a real fly rod. He caught some nice fish in the Grey River, a largely unknown fishery in the Wyoming Range.

It is one hell of a lesser-known fishery, and Ellen, tell Tim it doesn’t see a ton of pressure and is every inch what the Hoback is. We pitched tents on a flat spot right next to the water and had a great time. But it is good to be home. (Reid, if you see Tom, ask about his run-in with the Wyoming Highway Patrol. It was a scream. I rode him hard about his ‘traffic violation.’)

Tom and Vince both schooled me on the Camino de Santiago and now the preparations for the walk are in full swing. In scarcely a month I’ll wing it to Barcelona, then catch a train to Pamplona where I’ll meet up with Jane and Dave. That will be so fun. A good way to get the thing started. Already, I’ve purchased new ultra-lightweight hiking shoes (as opposed to heavy boots), 50F sleeping bag, rain pants and rain jacket, a very lightweight umbrella, money belt, Osprey Stratos 36 pack, etc. Did a test pack last night and it looks like I’ll have plenty of room for everything. It should be about 12 – 14 lbs. when all is said and done. That’s really doable for 600 miles or whatever it is. I’ve made a pitch to some friends up in Berlin to crash for a few days but have yet to hear anything. I’ve made no plans for a return flight yet. I may bop up to France or dip down into Portugal. Not quite sure when I’ll return. I guess it depends on the Berlin response.

The PGA golf tournament is in Charlotte this week and I’ll have a houseful. My friends Christie and Doug will arrive tomorrow, and then a couple from Missouri will use me as an Airbnb for four nights beginning on Thursday. So I’ll make a few bucks in the deal. Actually, my last two Airbnb visitors have been great. But they comment about the lack of a TV so I suppose I’ll need to get AT&T Uverse cranked up (against my will). If there is a steady flow of guests, it will make it worthwhile. In some ways I feel like a cleaning service. I’ll be relegated to the couch while people are here. Plus, I’m smoking three pork shoulders for about 25-30 people on Friday night. It feels like I’m biting off more than I can chew but it occurred to me over the lonesome weekend that it feels better with people around than not.

I also got to watch over Marvel, a two year old Aussie, for my friends Andrea and Kurt. What a sweet dog.

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Marvel is on high alert for rogue squirrels in the greenbelt. He’s giving Marge a run for her money as the most obedient dog – ever.

There cannot be a more obedient dog in Charlotte. You say a command and he listens. Maybe better than you two did at a young age.

Love, Dad

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Ready, set, go – almost …


The annual countdown to Wyoming has started. We’re on the clock now. Reid and his wonderful girlfriend (that’s a direct plug) are on board for week one, and the Charlotteans are primed for week two.

It never gets old (maybe it does for you reading about it) but honestly, it’s one of the yearly highlights. I’ll do this every year that I’m able.


June 15, 2016

Ellen/Reid: So, the July travel plans have become official. I’ll drive due North to MSP to see you and the girls, Ellen (and Tim, too) before heading to Des Moines for a couple of days, then further West to Wyoming to rendezvous with you and Liz, Reid. And then, two weeks later, it’s back East to Chicago for a day or two layover before heading home to Charlotte. Now that’s what I call a serious road trip. But it really sounds exciting. And for the first time in a long, long time, we’ll try to go unshaven for an extended period. I hope not to frighten Georgia and Emma.

Reid, that Osprey pack will do wonders for Liz, plus she’ll have it for eternity and it has a lifetime warranty. Those Salewa boots would be great for her (if they pass the ‘style’ test). Just keep me abreast on the food situation. I’ll toss in the tent and extra sleeping bag. My Marmot should be plenty warm for her. Let’s compare notes on food in the next week or so. I really do need to up my game for dinners at the least.

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Hopefully there will be a lot more of these cutthroats where these beauties came from (we’d settle for fat brookies, too). It’ll be Liz’ first time fly fishing. Let’s hope she catches dinner.

The lousy nighttime food from last year is still a bitter memory. Hopefully we’ll catch plenty of brookies for dinner (and hopefully neophyte Liz will do all the catching. It would be great for her to eat what she caught. Nothing would ever taste better).

It’ll be fun to be behind the wheel. There’s something liberating about hitting the open road, clutching a cup of coffee and turning up the tunes. I’ll make a brief stop in Omaha and Grand Island plus a side trip through Sundance to pick up the Sundance Times and Crook County News in honor of your grandfather and to see the old home, too.

The Harley still hasn’t sold. It’s depressing to not get at least some lookers. Seems like I’ll have to eat it and/or come way down in price. The more time that goes by, the more anxious I become. I’m on the fence about Miss Emma; it could always make the trip with me, I guess. Still have to jettison a lot more Continue reading

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Why they call these mountains the Winds, not the Calms …


There is some sense of satisfaction that this was, after a year’s delay, the view we finally got to see after nearly 30 miles on foot. Pictures can’t (and don’t) possibly do it justice. We got lucky with the weather, too – it could’ve been dodgy but we had sunshine on the days we needed it most.

This is the fifth of seven installments about the visit by a small band of hikers to the Wind River range and the Bridger Wilderness in western Wyoming. Send Dave a note at david.bradley@yahoo.com if this sounds like your sort of adventure next year.

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This is what we came back for - our first view of the Cirque of the Towers.

The view Tom and I were denied in 2014 – the Cirque of the Towers – came into full view as we walked with four of our friends.

Day 5, Tuesday, July 28

Early to rise, early to get on the trail. By 6:15 a.m. I’m up, my gear packed and in another little while the tent, always the final item to be tended to, is rolled and stashed under the top flap of my pack. I silently curse the infernal bear canister that sucks up way too much space.

After a wind-whipped night, the morning is very cold, very raw but very clear. Tom has a temperature app. Hello, upper 20s.

The saving grace is the wind, at last, is down. This is welcome since much of our day will be spent above timberline and the last thing we would need is another day of enthusiasm-sapping wind, especially when it’s as frigid as it is. But it does make the instant, hot Italian roast Starbucks taste that much better. Reid and I postpone our breakfast of oatmeal. Coffee is enough for now and protein bars will suffice for a two footed breakfast somewhere down the line.

There’s not much talking as we break camp at least two hours earlier than normal. That’s likely due to the early bird start and it is so very cold. We just each go about our business. People understood the gravity of what we faced. This will be our longest single day. We have roughly nine miles ahead of us as we head east, then south, to Lizard Head Meadows, a very wide, very long flat spot that lies just east of the Cirque. We’re beyond the halfway mark of our trip. That’s not a bad feeling at all. Everyone is in good shape and in good spirits.

Katy and Rebekah were prepared for a cold morning in July.

Katy and Rebekah were prepared for a cold morning in July.

The fleece cap worn in my sleeping bag stays on my head. Everyone has on about as much clothing as they have. Vince loses a glove and we try to help him locate it but it remains missing. Not a crushing loss but we won’t be in the warmth of sunshine for at least the next few hours.

Water is pumped one more time by the flat rock where Reid caught the Big One. A quick glance shows no trout has moved in to fill the vacuum of the prime space. The bottles are redistributed and from the look of things, we are nearly ready to be on our way and on time, no less. We say goodbye to our encampment and are on the trail within minutes of Tom’s hoped-for start. Part of his desire to shove off early isn’t related only to the mileage ahead; summer afternoon storms can be violent and dangerous and we want to be at least on the downslope of Lizard Head Trail before the storms build up and blow in. I wonder about the likelihood of storms given the cool temperatures we’ve had. Mild temperatures wouldn’t contribute as much to the thermals that are the backbone of volatile weather. But Tom’s thinking is sound so off we go. His planning is always methodically considered and fact-based there is never any reason to question it. He is our alpha dog.

The fleece caps and gloves stay on for warmth. Given the short height of the trees around Valentine, we aren’t all that far from timberline.

After 10 minutes of hiking we pass within 50 yards of the Plan B camp set up by the horsemen who were turned away from Valentine by our timely fortune. It appears to have worked out well for them; they are in a fine grassy expanse in the near treeless zone at timberline with good views of the line of mountains to the west. Their horses are still tethered to a rope strung between two short trees. The cowboys and their clients don’t appear to see us silently trod by. They have a breakfast fire going. I wonder if they eat better than we do. The guessing is yes.

Now we will endeavor up, up, up Bear’s Ears Trail until it intersects with Lizard Head Trail just below Cathedral Peak. A series of switchbacks are an early test. We are still on the shaded western side of the mountain, with ice on portions of the path.

Yeah, that's solid ice. Testament to the air/temps you'll find above timberline, even in the summer.

Yeah, that’s solid ice. Testament to the air/temps you’ll find above timberline, even in the summer.

Our usual Rebekah-Reid-Tom-Vince-Katy-Dave pecking order is in place. We are now above timberline and the sun begins to warm us but we do tiptoe across some runoff that has turned to solid ice on the trail as it waits for the morning temperatures to moderate. The stocking caps and gloves will be shed soon enough.

Vice, Reid, Tom, Rebekah and Katy bask in the sun, but bask in the views to the west, too.

Vice, Reid, Tom, Rebekah and Katy bask in the sun – but bask in the views to the west, too.

Even in the shaded western slope of Mount Chauvenet (12,250 ft.) the range to the west is in full sun under still another day of deep blue skies. The views are beyond stunning, some of the best I’ve ever seen in the Rockies. Vince stops regularly to take photos. This is the finest scenery yet. We stop regularly to absorb what we cannot fully fathom. In what will be a regular epiphany for me on this stretch of the trail I find it hard to process the scope and magnitude of what is spread out before me from south to north for miles and miles. I wonder, almost aloud, if anyone can.

Rather than look up as we had to with prior peaks, we are even with or straight across from Buffalo Head and Payson Peak to our right and Loch Haven further north to our right. The falloffs from the peaks are nearly vertical.

Our initial climb ends in what is loosely termed a saddle from Cathedral Peak (12,166), just to our south. We are at the junction of Bears Ears and Lizard Head Trails.

We’ve been on the trail about 90 minutes. It was time for our first break and Rebekah and Reid find us a nice stopping point in the shelter on the lee side of some rocks in the saddle. We don’t hide so much from the wind but to absorb the warmth of the sun. This is about 9:30 or so.

A short while before we’d seen a group of hikers coming up fast behind us but still far below. They are now upon us. It is a group of Scouts from Virginia. It is still plenty cold enough for hats and gloves, but a number of the scouts seem oblivious to or unprepared for the conditions. Several are clad in only shorts and tee shirts. The teenagers look and act cold. Stopping only to verify their position on the map, they head onto Lizard Head Trail not too many yards from where we now saddle up from our 15 minute rest/fueling stop among the protection of the granite rocks.

A minor stream we must cross is partially frozen and some scouts have clearly broken through the ice rather than pick a drier spot. We surmise their socks and boots must now be soaked. We find a saner spot and cross without incident.

Katy powers up Lizard Head Trail as it skirts Cathedral Peak and only feet from where the scouts broke through ice that covered a stream.. We were above timberline a long time.

Katy powers up Lizard Head Trail as it skirts Cathedral Peak and only feet from where the scouts broke through ice that covered a stream.. We were above timberline a long time.

We head almost due southwest now, and climbing, around the base of Cathedral Peak. At 11,600 feet, it is our high water mark for the trip.

To look at the map, Lizard Head Trail looks flat without much elevation up or down.

Reid consults the top map. No real way to run astray when you're above timberline and can bushwhack.

Reid consults the top map. No real way to run astray when you’re above timberline and can bushwhack.

But that’s another mountain misnomer. 40 feet in elevation separates each contour line and we go up and down plenty of these lines as we head almost due south toward the Cirque.

We run into the scouts repeatedly. They are in a long broken line, some stop often and some seem to be separated by one-half mile or more from the rest of their troop. Their leaders admit they aren’t prepared for the unpredictable weather at higher altitude. I think to myself what would happen if an all-too-frequent afternoon storm blew in to drench this group of 12 – 15. The trail is completely exposed.

The scouts from Virginia seemed a pretty disjointed bunch. Not well prepared for clothing or the concept of staying together.

The scouts from Virginia seemed a pretty disjointed bunch. Not well prepared for clothing or the concept of staying together.

That’s one reason we rousted everyone in the morning chill for our early departure; to get off the mountain before thermals create storms and storms create a cold-to-the-bone rain. We don’t sense that happening. It may be too cold for thermals to form but if conditions change for the worse we’ll already be headed downward and off this particular stretch of mountains. Having seen a friend, Marty Johnson, soaked to the skin in 30 degree temperatures while wearing a red and black cotton flannel shirt and jeans and then become utterly incapacitated by hypothermia above 12,000 feet was a lesson learned the hard way about this mountain danger. That was 35 years ago and it might as well have occurred yesterday, so fresh is the memory.

The scenery is beyond imagination and perhaps our comprehension. Vince and Reid both tote full size SLRs, all the better to capture what they see but even the best lenses and imaging technology will be inadequate to record the full scope and grandeur that is scarcely a mile to our immediate west. It stretches in a line for miles to the north where we came from and beyond to the northern half of the Bridger.

Tom, usually at or in the lead, stopped momentarily in front of arguably as good a scenery as can be found. Miles after unbroken mile of it.

Tom, usually at or in the lead, stopped momentarily in front of arguably as good a scenery as can be found. Mile after unbroken mile of it.

This is a wild area among wild areas, the enormity of which is hard to grasp. At least it is for me. Colorado may offer higher mountains but it’s hard to compete with unbroken vistas of sharp, jagged peaks such as the scene that unfolds before us.

What’s puzzling is the wind is still up. It was down in this morning’s camp and on our initial ascent. This is the third straight day of much stronger than expected winds. I suppose that’s why they call these mountains the Winds rather than the Calms because the range is anything but serene.

Around noon we take another break, this in a far more exposed location than any spot where we’ve made a momentary halt.

The wind was still up, but not as cold as prior days - and a rising, high noon sort of sun helped. But we still had to find haven behind available boulders.

The wind was still up, but not as cold as prior days – and a rising, high noon sort of sun helped. But we still had to find haven behind available boulders.

We settle behind low rocks that don’t quite offer the protection we need. Even with the stiff chill wind, Vince has the knack to slip his pack off quickly and making do with whatever terrain he’s on for a short nap; dirt, pine needled forest floor, flat rocks. We’ve seen him zonk out plenty of times before. This is nothing new.

We are now close to the Cirque, out of sight but not much more than a few miles away. To the south we can see Dogtooth Mountain, Big Sandy Mountain and the Monolith. All are on the far side of Lizard Head Meadows, a flat plain that lines the broad valley spreading east from below our ultimate goal. The Meadows, however, also lie too low to yet be in view. What mountain flowers there are, in their shortened growing season, are out in full bloom. Vince stops to shoot arrangements of blue bells, fireweed,

Vince has the photographer's eye. When he stopped to take photos, he made them count.

Vince has the photographer’s eye. When he stopped to take photos, he made them count.

shrubby cinquefoil, scarlet gilia, bitter root, silky Lupine and Indian Paintbrush. Every so often we come across the columbine, the most prized bloom of all.

The spectacular vistas are unbroken, mostly to our right in the west. It is amazing country. We begin our descent almost directly across from Lizard Head Peak (12,842 ft.)

Lizard Head Lake cuts an imposing profile. It's just around the corner, in a manner of speaking, from the Cirque.

Lizard Head Lake cuts an imposing profile. It’s just around the corner, in a manner of speaking, from the Cirque.

and below it is the deep blue of Bear Lake. The temperatures are warming now, into the upper 50s is my guess, and we shed the outerwear that made the morning hike comfortable. We commingle with some of the Scouts as we head down the mountain for the valley of the Cirque.

As we begin our drop in altitude, the winds drop too. This is very welcome after consecutive harsh days of it. Rebekah, Reid and Tom are seen far below on the switchbacks and also coming into view, at last, are the Meadows. Katy and I continue things in the rear – it gives us that much more time to gaze at what is before us. Whatever we’ve gained in height we are in the process of losing in a major way; we drop from 11,600 feet to just over 10,000 ft. in little more than an hour. The downhill sections can be as tough on the limbs and knees as the uphill is on the lungs. In some cases we step from rock to rock along with a little sliding in the dirt along patches of the route that have turned to dust. Dust offers no real stability.

There is is off to our west: the Cirque of the Towers. We won't get up close and personal until the next day.

There it is off to our west: the Cirque of the Towers. We won’t get up close and personal until the next day.

The Cirque now sweeps into view. It is as the photos show; rugged, sharp, broad and varied in more or less a semi-circle with Lonesome Lake at the foot of it all. Tom and I were denied this view last year. But not today. We congratulate ourselves for having made it, not just on today’s long jaunt but on summoning the resolve to come back when all we saw of this attraction in 2014 were the tops of the arced range itself. This is much better, incredibly better, and far more satisfying.

We descend down-down-down and enter the valley not much more than one mile due east of Lonesome Lake. We’re now along the north bank of a small tributary of the North Popo River which empties from Lonesome. It’s about 3:30 p.m. and we look for a stopping point, most of which appear on the far side of the river in the middle of the valley. There won’t be many options to the north at the foot of Lizard Head Peak. Now accustomed to fords, some of us walk directly in the shallow waters. Others of us (Reid and his dad) skirt the river and keep our feet dry by walking atop the mountain willows piled up on the riverbank.

Reid leads the advance team toward a slightly elevated stand of pines that looks promising. It is flat. Often, these are the best campsites of all, what with fallen pine needles as a carpet. Sure enough, we find numerous tent sites not much more than 100 yards from the North Popo. It’s a fabulous looking body of slow and wide water. But like the stream that poured out of Mae’s Lake, will it have been overfished or fished out by the campers who’ve left fire rings and other evidence of recent overnights there? We immediately break into our routine; tents up, gear arranged, firewood sought, fly rods rigged. It’s a large enough area that there can be at least 50 yards between each tent.

Within 15 minutes my tent is up, the usual gear in the usual places inside the tent. Everything is ship-shape. A quick walk for firewood shows not much available. We’ll need to be inventive for dry timber. Where there’s a will there’s a way.

Reid and I take a few minutes to put up Katy and Rebekah’s shared tent. We first kick away any loose stones and branches that can gouge backs in the middle of the night. Their site is ideal with a small degree of slope from top to bottom, all the better to direct runoff in the event we have rain, which doesn’t appear likely.

We have new neighbors along the North Popo. This band of visitors has reached this spot on the backs of several llamas. The pack animals graze not far from their large tents and among the goods the beasts have transported include the yoga togs and mat of a woman now seen going through her routine in the afternoon sunshine. The grandeur of the alpine zone apparently induces some degree of inspiration in practitioners. I suppose it should be far from the fisherman to opine about someone else’s leisure. At least the unusual gear didn’t add much to the load of the llamas.

Since our part of the camp set up is done, Reid and I agree to hit the nearby Popo. It’s nice, flat, clear water; a classic mountain stream/river in all respects which is much larger than anything we’ve fished. Seen near the cut banks are idling trout; look like cutthroats, maybe brookies. Either will do. We’re on the hook for food tonight so some fish better be on the hook, too. We’ve got to combine for at least six. Expectations are high. Since you don’t find trout like these in any market in Charlotte, Chicago or California, the locales we hail from, in culinary terms you best make hay while the sun shines.

It’s about 60 yards from my tent to the nearest riffles. A quiet pool form behind several large rocks at the head of the pool and I flick the Adams about 10 yards toward the backside of the rocks to let the fly drift in the slow current. Within seconds, the strike comes. It’s a plump cutthroat; its orange slash below the gill plate is visible as the fish rolls. One down, five to go. I make a few more casts in hopes of a straggler but no more hits. Just like several other of our overnight locations, I’m guessing this chunk of water sees a lot of action since our campground appears to see frequent use.

Reid is downstream about 75 yards making gorgeous casts. I don’t know if he’s caught anything. Beyond him another 100 yards is the stretch of slow moving river of the most interest. On both sides are cut banks with overhanging willows. It will be difficult to cast to but should hold fish.

Dare to walk through leg-grabbing willows and this can be what awaits you: enough cutthroats for dinner.

Dare to walk through leg-grabbing willows and this can be what awaits you: enough cutthroats for dinner.

What makes it doubly appealing is the degree of difficulty to get there. There are several small offshoots of the same stream we forded to get to our camp. While not very wide, each is too wide to jump and each is choked with discouraging, and foot catching, willows. You have to look carefully for a spot to cross. This would discourage a lot of fishermen who avoid the difficulty factor. It didn’t phase Reid nor me.

I’m first to arrive along this portion of the river. The deep, fishable current is about 25 yards past the slower water and the fly is cast to a 2 o’clock position to my right and allowed to float right-to-left with the flow. Per another of Tim’s lessons, I try, mostly without success, to ‘mend’ the line. That is, use wrist action to flick the looped line backward against the current to keep the fly in the hit zone as long as possible. Within the first half dozen casts, two more sizable cutthroats join the first fish on the makeshift stringer of willow. Reid sees this action and it hastens his trip to meet me and he sets up shop on a sandbar about 35 yards to my right, and he too begins to get strikes. In short order, he comes up with the last three filets. Our stringer is filled. Dinner is ours.

This fly casting – and catching – activity also does not escape Rebekah’s watchful eye. Some 100 yards away she circumnavigates the dense willow for a passable route toward the sandbars where Reid and I work the water. Her license is active, and she wants to fish. You have to like that in her. Both she and Vince would have fished a lot more if circumstances allowed. We just didn’t have enough rods to satiate everyone. At least we had two rods and not one.

To manage fly line, read the water, trod stealthily to not spook fish, make decent long casts to tight spots and avoid snags – let alone actually catch a trout – is a challenge for any angler, including first-timers. But you have to start somewhere, and Rebekah and Vince began their trout odyssey several days ago at about 10,000 ft. Now it’s crunch time, time to get serious about it. time to catch a fish.

Rebekah was like the Little Train That Could when it came to fly fishing: 'I think I can, I think I can ...'

Rebekah was like the Little Train That Could when it came to fly fishing: ‘I think I can, I think I can …’

Rebekah’s assignment is the smooth water along a cut bank a few yards from where Reid and I had good fortune. The cut was 3 – 4 feet deep and shaded by overhanging willows. Some nice cruisers face into the current. She must be spot-on to entice these 10 – 12 inchers to the surface. I’d love to see her make the 25 – 30 yard cast to swifter water but she’s not quite there yet. There’s no doubt whatsoever that a few more days of effort and practice and she would be.

For the newbie, flat water is the toughest with no margin for error. Rebekah’s casts are improving but not so her luck. Nothing was coming to the top. That’s just the way it is some days. It’s unfortunate she’ll return to camp empty handed.

I retrace my steps along the creek to doable portions where a long hop would get me across. The fish are gutted, cleaned and rinsed, returned to camp and encased in foil and spices.

Rebekah gets back to camp and now it’s Vince’s turn to angle. The Scott A4 shifts from one hand to the next, and Vince goes straight to the stream where the riffles meet the flat water. It is a good spot not only for fish but it is relatively open behind him with minimal threat from fly-grabbing plants and rocky debris.

Vince claimed his first-ever trout - and it was the biggest of the trip. Hard to tell if he's happy or not.

Vince claimed his first-ever trout – and it was the biggest of the trip. Hard to tell if he’s happy or not.

And he doesn’t disappoint. As the rest of us boil water to hydrate our non-fish dried dinners, he returns to camp with the rod in one hand and a big, big fish in the other. He has hooked and landed arguably the largest fish, 12 – 13 inches at least, of the trip. It was his first-ever trout and this giant of a cutthroat will make a delicious meal.

Vince and Tom dig in on trout. They don't need to be told twice. Fresh broiled mountain fish are a delicacy.

Vince and Tom dig in on trout. They don’t need to be told twice. Fresh broiled mountain fish are a delicacy.

(We find the white meated cutthroats not quite as tasty as the pink-fleshed brookies. But that’s tantamount to splitting hairs; these are still a delicacy you’ll find nowhere else. And Vince’ is the biggest of them all.)

It doesn’t take much for a fire to get going and after broiling the requisite seven minutes per side, we dine on another meal of fresh fish. There is something communal about fires like this. I’m on scrounge-for-wood duty and enough is found nearby that we keep the flames lit and the conversation going until after the sun goes down, about 9 p.m. Then it is off to our tents; day five is in the books.

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Of mountain storms, nice fish and those damned winds …


It’s day four of our Wyoming adventure. The wind is up but so are our spirits. When you catch fish, how can that not be?

Installment five will be posted tomorrow. If you’re interested in this sort of trip out West in July 2016, send Dave a note at david.bradley@yahoo.com.

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A makeshift fire ring barely manages to deflect heavy winds that have plagued us for two straight days.

A makeshift fire ring tucked beneath the ledge of a garage sized boulder barely manages to deflect heavy winds that have plagued us for two straight days.

Day 4, Monday, July 27

What is with the damned unrelenting wind? It blows all night. The morning is gray and dark, a direct contrast to the sunny beginnings of every other day.

My gear is stowed, again, before I am out of the tent. When I do unzip the rain fly it occurs to me that I’d better keep it on for a while. Out of the southwest and seemingly just grazing the peaks are low clouds that race across the sky. One figures the wind has to be blowing in something. Maybe rain is what it pushes. I hustle back in to retrieve my rain gear just in case. Does it usher in a front that potentially brings days of poor, damp weather with it?

Since I have an advantage in that I’m mostly pre-packed except for the tent, and because the others won’t be up for a while and because my Scott is rigged and standing up against a pine, I want to fish. Not the lake, but a stream we crossed several hundred yards away and before we came upon our overnight spot. So I head that way, mindful that I’ll intersect the path where the bear paw was seen. It does put me a little bit on edge, or at least on alert status.

The stream is a beauty. Steep but not overwhelmingly so. I cut my fly fishing teeth on just such streams like this in Colorado. These aren’t the stuff of long, flowing casts that grace the pages of slick magazines. This is more dip-and-dunk where short accurate casts of maybe five to 10 yards, at most, are the rule. The stream is perhaps seven or eight yards wide at its widest spot but it features some very deep pools that certainly look fish worthy. My theory is that trout in this habitat are opportunists. They must strike or the food escapes them.

The theory is validated almost instantly. A big brookie, 11 inches or so, rises to hit the fly like a small train. I wet my hands to hold it and pause for a moment to take in its color and form. This fish hasn’t missed many meals. It is such a pretty, healthy trout with its dark spots and brown-purple-red coloration. This is a catch and release morning. This fish goes back. So does the next, and the next after that. I love little streams.

The dense clouds continue to build and grow darker as they move quickly across the low sky. This looks like rain to me so after 15 minutes I hightail it back to camp. By now the others are leaving their tents just about the time the clouds begin to spit rain.

We hustle back under cover to wait out the expected storm. The betting is some rain. This delay may throw off our departure although time really isn’t of the essence. Today is our shortest hike of the week, only three miles by Tom’s calculation up to Valentine Lake.

I have no idea how deep the storm system is. Worst case scenario is that we’ll be socked in for hours or perhaps it’s a larger system that could make the next few days miserable. Ultimately we’d hike in the rain if it significantly threatened to ruin our schedule – as long as there was no lightning. We won’t be above timberline today. It’s walking in the unprotected open spaces where you have to worry. One sour thought goes through my mind: What if the Cirque is shrouded in clouds and rain? We would have come all this way only to be denied the view we crave so desperately?

The thing about mountain storms is they can spring up in a hurry – and they can vamoose in a hurry, too.

Not an hour before this shot of Reid was taken, the skies were leaden and spitting rain. But the clouds zoomed out and the bright sun took over.

Not an hour before this shot of Reid was taken on the north shore of Grave Lake, the skies were leaden and spitting rain. But the clouds zoomed out and bright sunshine filled the gray void.

This one opts to leave. We get a sprinkle, nothing more and in the space of 20 minutes the clouds evaporate and we are again under impossibly blue skies. The skies of North Carolina are one shade of blue. But these blue skies are another thing altogether. This is Wyoming.

It was a leisurely paced break of camp. Reid and I dismantle the bigger tent of Katy and Rebekah while they do the same for Reid’s ‘new’ tent. The thick gauge plastic groundcloth is a pain. It doesn’t make for a tight roll. This makes it difficult to shove the tent in the stuff sack. Tom had recommended, for weight saving purposes, that I scavenge a construction site for Tyvek but I was unable to find a large enough sheet of the moisture proof material. It would have been ideal under the tent and made packing much easier. Meanwhile, Vince and Tom are old hands at camp site organization and they were trail ready in almost no time. I string the paracord between two pines to give the rainfly a quick air dry. The tent will be the last item cinched tight on the pack.

At about 11 a.m. our packs are on and we reunite with Bears Ears Trail. The temperatures feel already in the 60s which means a very comfortable hike.

Of note is the sturdy wood and steel bridge that spans Grave Creek at the very eastern tip of the lake.

A bridge that spans the outlet stream from Grave Lake is the only manmade structure we saw during our week in the Bridger.

A bridge that spans the outlet stream from Grave Lake is the only manmade structure we saw during our week in the Bridger.

The stream is very wide and a bridge is almost a necessity for most hikers since the stream would be a difficult ford under even in the best of low water conditions. Other than trail signage, the bridge is the only man-made structure we see in the back country.

On paper the hike looks short, the altitude gain quite modest at 430 feet, but there’s plenty of up and down to keep our attention. Looking ahead on the map is one possible ford of significance. We will dip down into the valley carved in part by the South Fork of Little Wind River. For a mountain river it is fairly sizable and where Bears Ears Trail crosses the river will require Reid and I to wade for the first time. The water shoes bungie corded to my pack are pressed into service for the first time.

One by one, we dip our feet in the icy cold water of the small river. It's our first, but not last, real ford.

One by one, Vince and Katy dip their feet in the icy cold water of the South Fork of the Little Wind River as Reid dons some water shoes. It’s our first, but not last, real ford.

I head over first while Reid removes his boots. The water should be “shin deep” according to Tom’s well prepared notes but what it lacks in depth it makes up for in icy coldness. The ford is about 25 yards, and after successfully avoiding a slip, once ashore I fling the water shoes over to Reid and in a few minutes he sits by the trail drying his feet with his bandana. Another 10 minutes and we’re off again.

We tromp to the north end of Valentine Lake (10,399 ft.) and arrive around mid afternoon. The lake takes us almost by surprise. You don’t see it at first since you sneak up on it from below and its partially blocked by rocks and trees. Then all of a sudden it’s there. The first order of business is to find suitable camp sites. It’s been a no stress issue for us every day as we’ve had our pick of prime locations. Until now. Reid heads to the west shore to investigate flat spots but he reports there are none. Tom and Vince also find no suitable candidates. We cross the small unnamed stream that pours out of Valentine to continue our search and to our left is the only apparent area that might work. It has seen its share of visitors. We add ourselves to that list.

The wind still howls and has grown tiresome. It’s been blowing for three days now without relent. Enough already. But camp goes up per usual. And not a moment too soon.

Down the trail headed west toward us come riders on horseback plus two pack horses, each with panniers of maybe 70 – 90 pounds per animal. A cowboy guides an apparently well-heeled couple (to rent pack horses and cowboys isn’t cheap) and it’s clear we are in the spot where they had hoped to overnight. From 50 yards away you can hear one of their number say ‘Someone’s already there.’ Not in an unpleasant manner but almost a resignation that the site the cowboy had routinely used before is now gone and he’ll have to figure out a Plan B. I don’t know where Plan B would be since we scouted the west side of Valentine and found nothing. The horses need nearby water and grass and ample room, both of which are available – if only they had beaten us to the punch. We didn’t see much in the way of camp sites on the walk-in leading up to the lake either. The pack train moves across the stream to continue their search. Part of me wants to say ‘Hey, stay here with us’ since we could have reconfigured our tent city and we’d have someone else to talk to other than ourselves. By the time the idea comes to my slow-witted mind, they are past the stream and gone. If the horsemen had been 20 minutes earlier, it would have been us walking by them wondering Where will we stay?

I collect empty or near empty water bottles and head to the outlet stream to pump. I sit down on a flat rock that borders the stream and almost absentmindedly glance to my left. There in the water, facing into the current, swims a thick, big trout (big as defined by the aforementioned mountain stream standards). This fish is on the 12 inch side. It does not notice me only three or so feet away. Since we were denied fish last night at Grave Lake, we’ll try to augment tonight’s dinner. The pumping done, I head back the 35 yards to camp, redistribute the filled bottles and tell Reid of what I’ve just seen. In short order he’s ready to fish.

I don’t see his cast, but later we all see his post-catch fish. Reid has landed the Big One in the deep but quiet hole that is no larger than a bathtub at the spot where I pumped water a few minutes before. The cutthroat is a keeper. There’s a series of varied sized pools between where our trail crosses the stream and the lake, a stretch of maybe 75 yards. Reid works up the stream toward the lake, always casting upstream since the fish always swim into the current.

Reid makes short work of a dinner entree as he works the pools up to Valentine Lake.

Reid and his Orvis rig makes short work of a dinner entree as he works the pools just below Valentine Lake.

He takes care not to be seen and his reward is bites the entire way. He has us on the board with only five fish to go.

The wind is going to be a campfire issue. We’re not worried about sparks blowing into tinder-dry trees. No, the gale, still blowing a steady 25-30 miles per hour with higher gusts, will play havoc with cooking the fish. Behind the camp and a few steps up is a double car garage sized boulder that is flanked by other protective rocks. We can’t possibly have a fire ring in the wind tunnel near the tents. The boulder has an overhang that, if we can find the right flat rocks to further block the wind, might work. I find enough flat-ish stones to complete the circle, and head out to help Reid snag dinner if he doesn’t already have enough trout. The kid can fish.

The Scott is rigged and I walk Reid’s way. So do Rebekah and Katy to watch Reid in action. He’s close to the lake now and he calls out, semi-quietly, that he’s at a pool where a dozen or more sizable trout are schooled in the slow water. The school now has one less student, Reid having landed another fish which slides nicely onto his make-shift willow stringer. Two big ‘uns down, four to go.

As a lot of mountain streams do when they drain out of lakes, there can be multiple smaller rivulets much like we saw at Maes Lake, that might be a couple of feet wide but can hold marauding trout looking to slam anything that floats by or makes the mistake of flitting on the water’s surface. I dip my #14 Adams (I really don’t use much else in the way of flies) where one of these little fingers has carved an 18 inch wide space to accommodate its flow and – bam! – the third trout is had, not as nice as Reid’s but it will make one of our number a fine meal.

Now, as my ace caster son-in-law Tim can attest (he reminds me as much), I’m no fishing expert, but I do know that once you work a pool successfully – as Reid has on his way up to where he now offers fly after fly to a school that is increasingly balky – if you give the fish enough time, say, 15 to 20 minutes to calm down – the pool can produce again.

As we fish, the camp-less horse train comes back, this time headed east. They were apparently not able to find a suitable overnight spot. They gaze over to our camp site as they move silently onward. Almost certainly they’ll need to set up at dusk if not in the dark. I’m glad to not be in their saddles. They’re too far away for me to make the verbal offer I missed during their first passing.

I turn back to the water and wing the Adams to my right at a 3:00 o’clock position about 20 yards out into a swifter portion of the stream where it then widens to about 30 yards across and let the fly drift right-to-left. I don’t see the fish move in for the kill but it does slam into the fly and now flees down stream on a frenetic run for safety. It cannot be allowed to do so. Rule 1 is to keep your rod tip up followed closely by Rule 2 which is to keep the line taut. In moments, fish four is on the ‘stringer.’

What it shows is that these mountain fish are instinctive, reactive and compete aggressively for top water food resources (although Tim says 90 percent of what a fish eats is below the surface) in the abbreviated feeding season. Eat to survive. This especially applies to females which are most of what we catch. Virtually every fish we land carries the eggs of the next generation.

I move to the lake itself. There are telltale dimples of top feeding fish. In short order another trout is hooked. I motion to a watching Rebekah to come over to reel it in. I know she is anxious to catch a fish by her own efforts but rules 1 and 2 will be important to her development as a fly fisher. She does what she’s told but the fish still escapes to swim free, as they’ve done countless times to me. We try again, and trout number five takes the bait. There’s one to go.

The final cutthroat ambushes a fly about 25 yards downstream in a pool we fished not many minutes earlier. Our catch is cleaned and rinsed on the flat rock where water was pumped less than one hour ago. The willow and our bounty soon hang from a pine branch adjacent to our newly constructed fire pit. The wind is still merciless; it is raw and cold and unrelenting. Everyone fuels up their mostly airtight stoves and huddles near rocks to lessen the force of the wind as they boil water for their dried dinners.

There’s no dirth of kindling around. In typical Boy Scout fashion, a tepee is built of bone-dry tiny scraps of wood at the center and surrounded by increasingly large pine twigs and branches. Pinecones or pine needles should light fairly readily but the wind negates the flame from my butane lighter. Matches would be no good in this gale. But after a few moments the pine cones take the flame and we’re in business. The trout are spiced up, wrapped in foil and the broiling begins. Seven minutes a side is the fireside recipe. This isn’t the relaxed a serving of trout we’ve previously enjoyed. The wind batters us and our tents in a tiresome, noisy way. So as the trout are ready, I call down to the tent site and one by one, Tom, Katy, Rebekah, Vince and Reid file up the small hill, get their entree, and open the foil as it sits on granite rocks that suffice for tables. They’re old hands now at de-boning the fish. The remains are cremated in the coals.

No one lingers by the fire as we have other nights. There is no other fishing. We clean up from our meals and stow the bear canisters about 25 yards away. Tom announces a 7:30 a.m. start. We’ve got a big, long day ahead of us. Already there is a cold night in the air, and we’ve shivered enough as it is in our sleeping bags on other less-chilly nights.

Tomorrow we get our first look at the Cirque.

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Friday: Shivering scouts, views beyond belief, and the Cirque itself

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A long recount and a grizzly sighting …


We are just over a week removed from walking out of the Bridger, and it already feels an eternity ago. They say you don’t remember pain, and oxygen deprivation while laboring up the steep grade from Lonesome Lake to Jackass Pass is already fading from memory. A word of warning to the easily bored: in another week or 10 days a very, very long day-by-day recount along with photos of the trip will be posted. It won’t be for the faint of heart. Ellen and Reid will see it first, but you’ll be a close second.

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August 3, 2015

Ellen/Reid: Reid, at this point exactly one week ago we didn’t know 80+ MPH winds awaited us in a few hours at the top of Hailey Pass. Great pic of you trying to remain upright. That was unbelievable.  You got through all the hiking more than pretty well, and far better than me in many spots (i.e. the slog from Lonesome Lake up to Jackass Pass seemed straight skyward. The steep uphill portions were just excruciating). You and Rebecca each have a strong set of wheels. We just couldn’t keep up the pace. What a day, and a trip, it all was. Gear is strewn about the living room floor; the tents and sleeping bag and dissembled pump are airing out. It’ll be tough to stow all that gear. What was on the horizon for so long is now slipping away in the rearview mirror. I am really sorry about the food, in particular the weak, anemic dinners. There just wasn’t enough planning put into those. There was no variety, no taste, no nothing. It was pathetic. No wonder you went your own way to buy a few, shall we say, tastier entrees than the tepid rice and Indian spices put forth day after day. The breakfasts and lunches would rate a ‘B’ but the dinners would scarcely earn a ‘D.’ That’s how bad those supposed meals were. If we hadn’t caught trout most nights, we wouldn’t have had anything remotely flavorful, let alone enough protein.

Dinner is served. Cutthroats on a makeshift stringer of mountain willow.

Dinner is served. Cutthroats on a makeshift stringer of mountain willow.

As for the trout, those were some of the healthiest brookies in memory. Really filled out and big. You caught some awfully nice ones in the 10-11-12” range. Those are big for the mountains. It was nice to see Vince and Rebecca haul in their first-ever fish. Rebecca has the bug for it and it wouldn’t take long for her to be an accomplished fly caster. She never needed prompting to come to the lake or stream to commandeer the fly rod. I’m writing up an extensive log of it and will post it to my letter blog sometime in the next week or so. The intent was to write on the trail but there either wasn’t enough time or I simply ran out of gas most evenings. Our breaks during the day weren’t really conducive to writing. But in hindsight Continue reading

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