Photo of the Month: Evening Light in Dog Cove

Photo of the Month: Evening Light in Dog Cove
Showing posts with label Rocky Mountain National Park. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rocky Mountain National Park. Show all posts

Monday, January 23, 2023

Colorado 2022 Day Three: Rain, Sight Seeing at Sprague Lake, and Fishing the Big Thompson in Moraine Park

While this was only our third full day in Colorado, a theme would begin to emerge that would eventually really become a serious problem. Rain. Still, we were early enough into our trip that we weren't concerned, other than trying to figure out how to keep the little one entertained and happy. There was plenty of time for the weather to return to the clear sunny days with seasonably warm temperatures we were hoping for. 

Morning In Camp

Thankfully, our morning started out pleasant enough. The clouds were spilling over the divide, suggesting that the majority of Trail Ridge Road was probably socked in with fog, clouds, and perhaps even rain. Still, some early sun slanted in to camp and warmed things just enough that a light jacket was all we needed. 

Little bit enjoyed exploring around camp a little more than she had been able to thus far. We examined rocks, sticks, flowers, and of course any wild critters brave enough to stick around. This meant mostly small things like birds, chipmunks, and ground squirrels. While these smaller versions of the pictures don't do the scene justice, one of my favorite pictures from this day was of her interacting with a group of magpies. 

Black-billed magpie in Rocky Mountain National Park at Moraine Park Campground
"Black-billed Magpie at Moraine Park Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park" 2022 David Knapp Photography


We had been walking slowly down the road from our campsite, learning to identify flowers and other goodies, when this flock of magpies flew in. Notorious for foraging anywhere people have been dropping things, these birds were constantly around the campground along with the jays. In other words, when getting ready to eat, we had to keep a close eye on both the little rodents (chipmunks, etc) and also the sky for potential robbers. The little one began walking slowly towards the nearest bird. Ultimately, she got much closer than I would ever have been able to before they finally flew off. It is amazing to me how wild critters seem to know that small children are not a threat. 

Approaching a black-billed magpie in Moraine Park Campground
"Approaching a Black-billed Magpie" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


Taking flight when the little human gets too close
"Taking Flight" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

Back at our campsite, we also enjoyed some other wild critters. These little guys were pretty bold, but not so bold as at some future campsites. Still, we had to keep a general eye on them to make sure they didn't get in our car, tent, or food.


Chipmunk in Moraine Park Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Chipmunk" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel in Moraine Park Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

Nap Time and Lunch

Not long after this exploring episode, light rain began to move in. Not wanting to all get chilled down and sick this early in our trip, we decided some car time might be appropriate. After driving clear across the country, this wasn't the plan little bit wanted to hear about. However, with assurances of some interesting things to see, she relented to a drive. We had some ulterior motives as it was about nap time. A longer drive seemed appropriate, so we set off up the Old Fall River Road. That was quite the experience in our small Toyota Corolla. The potholes and ruts were worse than I remembered, but of course it had been a long time ago. 

We hit fog and clouds partway up, so there were NO views to be had up high. Eventually, we made it to the top and started driving back down towards camp on Trail Ridge Road. The fog was impressive, but we were glad to have additional days ahead of us to return and enjoy the views that were absent on this day. Thankfully, light rain and fog seemed the perfect recipe to help the little one sleep. 

Eventually, we headed in to Estes Park were I wanted to enjoy some pizza that I remembered being excellent. Poppy's Pizza and Grill still had some great offerings. The hot pizza was way better than trying to picnic out in the cold rain. 

Fly Fishing the Big Thompson in Moraine Park

After a delicious lunch, we needed to figure out how to kill some time in the afternoon. One of the big treats for me on trips out west involves fishing water types that I don't have back home here in Tennessee. At the very top of my list of places to experience on these trips is meadow streams that contain brown trout. Not only do these meadow streams provide ideal habitat for one of my favorite fish, but they contain structure that is very different from our mountain streams and lowland tailwaters here in Tennessee. Undercut banks are a joy to fish, so I was hoping to hit at least two streams in Rocky Mountain National Park that contained this type of water.

Both the Big Thompson River flowing through Moraine Park and the headwaters of the Colorado River in Kawuneeche Valley offer meandering meadow sections with undercut banks. Both of these streams are chock full of wild brown trout along with the occasional brook trout among other possible species. My target is brown trout, of course. 

My preferred method to fish these streams involves looking for reaction bites from the resident trout. While my tactics are a bit unusual, the results are normally stellar. On this rainy day, I knew that my usual techniques were not necessarily perfect, but sometimes you just want to fish how you want to fish. 

As it turns out, with the weather that was moving in and out, I would have been better off with a light rod and some blue-winged olive imitations. I started off well enough, catching several fine brown trout on my unorthodox methods. However, once the bugs started, the fish really just wanted the little olives and I started wishing I had brought more flies with me. The large flies I was using still picked up the occasional fish, but I also knew I was missing a lot of fish.

Big Thompson River Moraine Park brown trout
"Big Thompson River in Moraine Park brown trout" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


Two bend pools in particular convinced me that my methods were about through for the day. I saw the first couple of rises as I crept up towards the pool. By the time I was in position, 4-5 fish were rising steadily and my large fly briefly put them down. However, the draw of so much food soon brought them back up. They were rising amongst the splashes from my larger fly, simultaneously dodging my offerings while also feeding on the natural olives. The next pool was even crazier with 8-10 fish rising. 

Big Thompson River Moraine Park
"Big Thompson River in Moraine Park Meadow Stream" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


I had already fished about an hour and the rain was starting again, so I decided it was time to head back to the car. The family had been out enjoying the meadow as well, but with the rain starting, they had already started back. It was in everyone's best interest to call it on fishing this day. I had found a few great fish before the hatch really got going. Time to head on to the next adventure...

Sprague Lake Scenery and Brook Trout

With a steady drizzle setting in, we didn't want to head back to camp yet. Our only option there for staying dry was to crawl into our small tent. It was way too early in the day to do that. So we turned the car towards Sprague Lake on the Bear Lake Road. I remembered something from a previous trip I hoped would still be accurate.

When we arrived, the rain had eased off to just some very light mist. With a full winter snowsuit to put on the little one and rain coats for ourselves, we decided to brave the weather for a few minutes. I grabbed my camera, hoping my memory was accurate. 

Fog and clouds at Sprague Lake
"Foggy Day at Sprague Lake" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


Sure enough. In the inlet stream to Sprague Lake were numerous large brook trout. They were there to spawn, and while I wasn't interested in targeting these fish with a fly rod, I was interested in getting some neat pictures if possible. I generally recommend leaving spawning fish alone from an angling perspective. While I won't get into all the reasons here, let's just say that a camera feels a lot more sporting. Here are a couple of the better shots I got.

Brook trout at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
©2022 David Knapp Photography

Spawning brook trout at Sprague Lake
©2022 David Knapp Photography


It didn't take long for the drizzle to start again. We decided to head back to camp and get supper early. A huge benefit of our particular campsite were the thick pine trees growing over our picnic table area. They were keeping a large portion of our table dry, so we were able to enjoy supper while staying dry. With everything so damp, we headed to bed early. The next day was moving day and we needed some energy! We hoped for clear skies and moderating temperatures on the morrow...

Friday, January 06, 2023

Colorado 2022 Day Two: Fishing and Hiking to Loch Vale, Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park

This was a hiking day that I had been looking forward to more than almost any other on our trip. However, it was not just excitement. A small element of trepidation had also snuck in. So why was I feeling so conflicted about this hike?

Preparing for Our Hike to Loch Vale, Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond

First, you should know that this is a hike I have wanted to do for a long time. While I should have knocked it out when I actually lived an hour away, those days are long gone, and you can't live on shoulda coulda. Fast forward to early 2022 when I first floated the idea of a Colorado trip to my wife. As I was researching different hikes to include on our trip, this one just seemed like a natural fit. Based on our prior adventures in Glacier National Park, I knew that some longer high elevation hikes were ideal for us. This is the type of hiking we love and largely why we enjoy traveling. Even for local hikes, we are just as likely to knock out a bunch of miles as we are to go for a short stroll. But, and this was the important part, the elevation difference between Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Park was significant. 

In Glacier, our highest hike was just over 8,000 feet above sea level while this particular hike in Colorado would start out above 9,000 feet and end just a touch shy of 11,000 feet above sea level. Leah had dealt with elevation sickness at the Medicine Wheel and this hike would get significantly higher than that. I had previously dealt with it as well at high altitude in Colorado some years ago on multiple occasions. On each occasion for both of us, the main common denominator had been that we had tried hiking at altitude too soon after arriving from the lowlands of the eastern US. As this was precisely what we would be doing on this trip, I was a little nervous. Oh, and did I mention I would be carrying a one year old and everything else that goes along with a baby, plus my camera, water and some Tenkara equipment? 

The actual distance didn't worry us. I've lugged the toddler around in her pack out to 15 or so miles. While tired afterwards, I could have gone more no problem. We have done 20 mile days, so something half of that or less isn't bad at all. The thin air would be our primary nemesis. Living on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee is slightly better than sea level, but we are still just a touch over 1,800 feet in elevation, much too low to have any benefit once we hit the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The absolute highest elevation hikes we can do in the Smokies are still essentially like hiking in the foothills in Colorado. When I say foothills, I mean at the foot of the foothills or nearly so.

Before our trip, we had both put in a little extra effort. This mostly involved doing everything in our power to boost our cardiovascular capacity. That is, we did some running, including mixing in at least a little interval training, and I had been backpacking on my now annual brook trout trip. Of course, we also spent some time out on the trails around home, particularly carrying the toddler around on my back at least occasionally to get my body used to the abuse. Thus, we were about as prepared as could be considering that we literally arrived in Colorado and then immediately headed out on one of the hardest hikes of our entire trip. In the end, that might have actually been a good idea for more reasons than we would realize for a while. 

The Morning of Our Hike to Loch Vale, Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond

Fast forward just a bit and we are in Colorado. We woke up to an absolutely perfect day. Knowing the chance of foul weather would sneak up on us the next day, we were intent on making the most of this day. After all, these big hikes are always the highlight of any trip we do. The sun was warm and the air promised a perfect day. I had to snap a quick picture of our Big Agnes tent nestled amongst the pines at the Moraine Park campground where we camped for our first three nights on this trip.

Big Agnes Tent at Moraine Park
"Camping in our Big Agnes Tent in Moraine Park Campground" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


I think we had slightly underestimated the amount of work that it would be to care for a toddler on an extended camping trip. However, on this day, we mostly got going smoothly. Not quite early enough, unfortunately, but early enough to get this hike done during daylight hours. As with most particularly scenic and well known National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park has a problem of being loved to death. On the east side of the Park, this manifests itself as jam packed parking lots, much the same as we experienced in Glacier National Park. Thankfully, with COVID becoming more and more a thing of the past, the National Park Service operated hiker shuttle was operating. Once we determined that there was no parking at the Glacier Gorge trailhead, we quickly headed back down to the Park and Ride to have breakfast (a tradition we started in Glacier) and get ready for our hike.

The routine we established in Glacier National Park again served us well, although since we ended up on the shuttle it was probably not necessary. This ended up being the only time we used this routine on the Colorado trip, but for reasons you'll find out more on later. We had breakfast at our car at the Park and Ride and also fixed our lunch sandwiches and packed our backpacks. For me, that meant a DSLR camera, Tenkara gear, baby diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes, water, water filter, and a few "emergency" type items such as a couple of ways to start fire, bandaids, ace bandage, and don't forget some extra bags for carrying dirty diapers. Thankfully, my wife agreed to carry my lunch in addition to hers and the baby's since I would be carrying the little one. 

Once all of these tasks were complete and we changed diapers a time or two, we finally boarded the shuttle bus and headed up the mountain towards the Glacier Gorge trailhead. 

Glacier Gorge Trailhead map
"Glacier Gorge trailhead map" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


Hiking to Alberta Falls From the Glacier Gorge Trailhead

A bonus on this hike to Sky Pond would be catching a glimpse of Alberta Falls. This beautiful waterfall is right alongside the trail and impossible to miss.

Timing for our trip largely centered around what we hoped would be a good amount of fall foliage. On this day, we started seeing some early signs of fall with plenty of golden aspen, but most trees were still either green or just barely starting to turn. We snapped a few pictures while we hiked, but mostly just kept our heads down and cranked out the miles. We hoped to eat lunch up at one of the high lakes that were our main goals for the hike.

Hiking the Loch Vale Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Hiking the Trail to Loch Vale in Rocky Mountain National Park" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


Alberta Falls was gorgeous, but the lighting was simply never good when we happened to be hiking by. With a heavy toddler that was starting to feel even chunkier than I remembered, keeping our rhythm hiking was more important than forcing some shots that I knew wouldn't turn out the way I wanted. Many people appeared to be stopping at the falls. We were just getting warmed up and set our sights higher.

Hiking to Loch Vale from Glacier Gorge Trailhead

The hike to Loch Vale (also known as The Loch) is fairly simple overall. There was really only one steeper section of switchbacks not too far below the lake itself. We made good time up to this point with the baby thankfully taking a morning nap. We enjoyed the occasional yellow aspen and kept cranking out the steps. If you start at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead as we did, it is between 2.5 and 3 miles to Loch Vale. While the trail is well travelled, it is still an easy trail if you ask me.

Thankfully we got there in good time and were able to relax, take pictures, let the little one down to run around and play, and of course, I got to do some fishing! I'll cover the fishing part later in this blog, but when we first came up to the lake, I saw fish everywhere which is always a good sign.

Native cutthroat trout in Loch Vale in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Rising Trout" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

The scenery was the main draw of this hike and Loch Vale did not disappoint. Lying in a basin with two lakes up higher near the divide, we enjoyed the views and the sun was out as well. It was nice and warm. Little did we know that this would be one of the last truly warm days we would experience on the trip. All of us enjoyed this stop immensely! Notice the nice clear blue skies...

Loch Vale in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Loch Vale in Rocky Mountain National Park" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

Looking up the lake, you can see the higher basin above that continues another couple of lakes. The forbidding nearly vertical rock wall that separates you from these lakes is quite the scramble as we would find out shortly. While we were enjoying all of this, little bit was enjoying exploring and playing in the dirt. In fact, I think playing in the dirt was the highlight of the trip for her. At minimum, she made plenty of time every day to do so and we had quite the challenge on our hands to try and keep her semi clean.

Playing in the dirt at Loch Vale
"Why enjoy the scenery when you can play in the dirt?" ©2022 Leah Knapp Photography

After a good break that also allowed time to filter some water (a filter is much lighter than 4 liters of water!), we were ready to continue on our hike. The trail follows the edge of Loch Vale all the way up to the inlet stream where it begins to slowly climb again. The inlet stream was FULL of fish as well. I was seriously wishing we had started just a little earlier, but at this point we needed to keep moving to finish before it was too late. My goal was to fish each of the lakes, and I would only accomplish this if we stayed more or less on schedule. 

Continuing On To Lake of Glass in Rocky Mountain National Park

The trail beyond Loch Vale continues upward, gently at first through a beautiful evergreen forest alongside a babbling brook. Icy Brook begins high in this drainage and feeds through each lake in turn. After initially being a gentle climb, the trail began to get steeper around the trail junction for Andrews Glacier. We didn't have time to climb up to that point on this day, so we continued on towards Lake of Glass. 

Shortly beyond the trail split, the climb increased significantly. We soon emerged from the forest into increasingly open terrain as we were closing in on treelined. This portion of the hike was easily the most intense as far as the climb goes. Ahead, we could see the bulk of rock that we had seen from Loch Vale. Up close, we could see Timberline Falls cascading down approximately 100 feet and the trail seemingly disappeared into the rock wall to the right of the falls. 

This was the make or break part of our hike. Having done some rock climbing in the past, I wasn't too worried about moving up and over the rock. Having a baby on my back would make me significantly slower and more cautious though. Leah had a slightly different perspective. In fact, I think each time the story is told she reports being slightly more frightened. If this story is told another few years, she'll probably be scared to death during this climb. She is not a fan of heights, so this part was one of the most challenging things she has ever done on any of our hikes. The situation was made worse because I couldn't help her much. Instead, I had to make sure I got the baby safely up the steep climb. Thankfully, we were soon up. The view looking back down towards Loch Vale was impressive. Do you see Loch Vale here?

Looking down from the top of Timberline Falls towards Loch Vale
"Looking Down To Loch Vale From Timberline Falls" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

We didn't linger at this view for long. I was hungry and Leah was hungry, so you know for sure that someone else was hungry. We quickly made our way up the last short climb to the Lake of Glass. On this day, we didn't see how in the world it had gotten that name. I think it would be amazing to be here when it is perfectly calm. The reflection of the surrounding mountains would be incredible. Still, the views were amazing even if the lake was a little choppy from the wind. Note the blue sky but with a hint of clouds just over the top of the ridge.

Lake of Glass in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Lake of Glass in Rocky Mountain National Park" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

We wanted to eat lunch. The wind was worse than it looks in this picture and we hoped to find some semblance of shelter. We turned to the left and crossed the lake's outlet to get into the semi shelter of a large rock outcropping along the left shore of the lake. Here, we got our packs off, the little one out to play and eat, and of course, I grabbed my fishing gear again. Our lunch spot view was perfect.

Lake of Glass with gathering clouds in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Lunch with a few on Lake of Glass" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

Not long after this picture was taken, the clouds snuck over the ridge and the warm sun was gone just like that. We were thankful that we had enjoyed lunch with such nice conditions, but knew that we better hurry if we wanted to make it the last half mile or so to Sky Pond. The weather was clearly beginning to shift, and it doesn't pay to take the weather lightly at this high elevation. 

Finally, Sky Pond!

So, why hike all the way to Sky Pond? First of all, this is the last lake as you go up this particular gorge/basin. Sitting immediately below the peaks, it is an incredibly impressive setting. Second, if you have already climbed Timberline Falls, you have done all of the hard work. Since we were at Lake of Glass, it made sense to hike the last short distance onwards to Sky Pond.

I could easily say this whole hike was a hike to Sky Pond, but ultimately it is three different hikes to three different lakes that just happen to all be on the same route. Each lake is unique and beautiful enough to be a destination on its own. We were blessed to be able to snag three of these lakes on one trip. 

Surveying Sky Pond
"Little Bit looking over her domains at Sky Pond" ©2022 Leah Knapp Photography


As an angler, the fishing was one of the main draws for me at Sky Pond as you'll see in a bit. Still, the fishing wasn't such a draw that I forgot to take some pictures. I didn't have my tripod with me to do things right, but I did take enough pictures to stitch together a reasonably decent panorama of the lake with the Sharkstooth on the right. 

Sky Pond and the Sharkstooth under dramatic skies
"Sky Pond and the Sharkstooth" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

Notice the dramatic clouds that were swirling above the massive cliffs above the lake. We had a significant weather system due into the area overnight, and it was obvious that the leading edge was already approaching. We needed to finish enjoying Sky Pond and then start hiking down before any rain (or snow?!?!) caught up with us.

Fishing at Loch Vale, Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park

Of course, this post wouldn't be complete without mentioning the fishing or the fact that I caught fish at each lake. The cutthroat trout at Loch Vale were the most beautiful fish I caught on this hike, but the other lakes produced some memorable moments as well. 

When we first arrived at Loch Vale, I saw fish cruising everywhere. Of course, by the time I got my Tenkara rod out and rigged, they had seemingly disappeared. Never fear, however, because with cruising fish it won't be long before some more fish come along.

I was using my Tenkara USA Rhodo. This is an excellent packable rod option when I want different lengths that the rod can fish at. Most importantly, it was the lightest option since I was hauling a toddler on my back with all my other gear. I still don't know what I would have done with an actual fly rod. There were times on this hike that I wished for a full fly rod, but this wasn't specifically a fishing trip. I would more than gladly take whatever fishing I could scrounge up.

While a couple of fish quickly came over to look at my Parachute Adams, it quickly become apparent that they were too smart to eat it. Before long, I went to a small midge under the surface and that proved to be the ticket. For the rest of the entire trip, small midges or pheasant tails caught fish in mountain lakes when nothing else was working. I caught a few on dry flies from time to time as well, but definitely more and better fish subsurface.

After a fish or two, I was ready to put my gear away and head to the next lake. As I mentioned above, we were on a bit of a schedule, and that didn't allow for lingering too long with my rod to catch more fish. Here is one of the Loch Vale cutthroat. Talk about a beautiful fish!

Cutthroat Trout at Loch Vale
"Cutthroat trout at Loch Vale" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

And another angle...I just couldn't get enough of those beautiful red cheeks!

Native cutthroat trout at the Loch
"Another perspective of a native cutthroat trout at The Loch" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

Of course, I need some type of proof that I was really the one fishing and catching these fish! Thanks to my lovely wife Leah for running over to snap a picture or two in between wrangling a baby and taking pictures of her own. 

Happy to catch a trout at Loch Vale
"Happy angler at Loch Vale" ©2022 Leah Knapp Photography

Not long after this picture, I was reminded that we probably should be moving on. I could have sat at this little spot all day trying to catch the beautiful cutthroat trout that swam in The Loch, but we had bigger goals for the day. We were soon packed and heading up the trail towards our next goal at Lake of Glass.

This was probably my shortest fishing experiment of the day. Lake of Glass was a great lunch spot, and I took at least a few moments to fish, but in between chasing a toddler over the landscape and eating, there just wasn't much time to fish. Thankfully, I met my goal of catching at least a fish at each lake. The cutthroat here were beautiful, but very different in coloration from their relatives below. My Tenkara rod continued to be the perfect solution that I could put together or break down in seconds. That meant more fishing time for me.

Cutthroat trout at Lake of Glass in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Cutthroat trout caught at Lake of Glass" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

The neat part about this fish in particular is that I got it on the dry fly. In fact, there was a small hatch coming off. I saw some smaller dark stoneflies plus some mayflies that I didn't get a good look at. The fish were rising every time the wind died down a little. Our little corner of the lake was just sheltered enough to see fish coming to the surface every few minutes. It gave me hope for catching brook trout on dry flies at Sky Pond. Supposedly Lake of Glass has some brook trout as well, but all I caught here were cutthroat trout.

Sky Pond, on the other hand, only has brook trout from what I have gathered. That was definitely my experience. There are some really nice fish in this lake as well. I had the first issue with losing fish on the Tenkara rod here at Sky Pond. The light tippet I was using just didn't hold up to the ferocious hits the brook trout were producing. Finally, however, I got one to eat and stay hooked long enough to land. These high elevation brook trout are mighty hunters. Check out the mouth on this guy!

Brook trout at Sky Pond
"Brook trout at Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

Perhaps the best part of fishing at Sky Pond is that the little one had been watching me the whole time, taking it all in. Eventually, she came over and wanted to climb into my lap from where she proceeded to take over the operation of the Tenkara rod. As it turns out, she was a natural caster, but didn't have the patience to leave the flies on the water long enough to catch anything. She loved the casting. It kept her occupied, and I'm not sure she really understood that there was more to it than casting. 

Fly fishing Tenkara at Sky Pond
"Teaching the next generation to fly fish at Sky Pond" ©2022 Leah Knapp Photography

Hiking Back Down From Sky Pond 

Shortly after this, with the clouds getting darker and darker, we turned around and headed back down the trail. By now, you have probably noticed something that is noticeably absent. For all my worry about elevation sickness, we were doing great. Thankfully we never ended up dealing with this problem at all on our trip. As it turns out, we had done sufficient preparation to avoid the problem altogether other than just getting tired from the long hikes at high elevation.

Hiking back down was mostly routine with one notable exception. As we approached the big drop alongside Timberline Falls, my foot slipped a little on one of the wet rocks. Knowing that this was a warning, I decided to take things very slowly. Going down is always harder to me than going up, and this was doubly so with a heavy pack that had to get down the mountain in one piece with me. 

We worked our way carefully down, but finally reached a narrow ledge that requires a 4-5 foot drop to get to the next level near the bottom. I was trying to figure out how to get down without getting pushed off by the pack. Thankfully, at just the right moment, another group of hikers overtook us. I think they were wanting to go faster, but they were super gracious about the whole thing. In fact, the guy in the lead worked his way down the water course to our right and was soon below me where he offered to let me pass the little one down to him in the pack. It couldn't have been offered at a better time. Poor Leah was even more nervous than she was going up, so it enabled me to jump down, help her, and then get the baby carrier back on without risking the baby.

After getting below this drop, we really cruised. Our normal hiking speed, even with the kid carrier and a toddler, is usually somewhere around 3 miles an hour and level ground and often even more. In other words, it didn't take us too long to get back down. Sky Pond is probably 4.5 miles from the trailhead. With the extra looking around we did, we were still stretching it to get to 10 miles on the day.

The downhill miles flew by, and soon we were back waiting on the shuttle bus. It didn't take more than a few minutes before a bus stopped, and we were soon headed back to our car. From there, it was just a few more minutes down to our camp at Moraine Park. By this time, the weather was really starting to threaten, so we hurried with supper and got in our tent before the rain really got going. The next day would be damp, however. And thus would begin a trend that would just get stronger throughout our trip...






Sunday, May 26, 2013

Full To The Brim

Area streams are full to the brim and there's still a lot more water to come down the hills.  The Big Thompson River in Rocky Mountain National Park is almost to the top of the banks as of our last visit.


Water clarity is still awesome so if you can find calm water you should also be able to find fish.  We've been out on the water but not as much lately.  Today and/or tomorrow should fix that but options are currently limited.  Don't be too disappointed if you get out and find your favorite stream unfishable due to high and muddy water as runoff is in full swing now.  If the water is just stained, fishing the edges and behind any obstructions in the current can still produce some fish.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Nasty Weather Rocks

When short on time, go fishing anyways!!!  Unable to get away until 4:00 pm, I still headed out to fish and set my sights on Rocky Mountain National Park.  On the way up, I noticed that seemingly ALL the elk in the Estes Park vicinity were out feeding.  The fishing prospects were a bit more interesting at this point.  I've noticed that when the wild creatures are all out feeding, the fishing is often a lot better.  Naturally I hoped this would hold true again.


When I got out of the Troutmobile, I found myself longing for the fleece that I had left at home.  My raincoat would have to suffice both to block the impending rain (or would it be snow?) and cold.  The old workhorse 9' 4 weight St. Croix Legend Ultra was put together, and I tied on a Bellyache Minnow. This is one of my favorite streamers for short line streamer fishing with floating lines.  The weight is distributed perfectly so it rides correctly in the water column.

On the very first cast, a really nice brown swirled but missed the hook.  I got excited because I had the whole stream to myself and the fish were hungry!  Continuing downstream and pounding the banks, I had fish regularly chasing the streamer.  The sky warned me that rain was imminent, but I kept working steadily.


Just as the first drops were starting to fall, I finally felt a solid tug on the line.  I quickly got the camera out and snapped a couple of pictures before the rain became too heavy.  The camera was soon back safely in the bag and stayed there until things dried out a bit.


Throughout stream, fish started rising as a hatch got underway.  The fish were taking what appeared to be BWOs although I never caught any and they could have been large midges.  My hands were so cold that changing my rig was not an option so I stuck with the streamer.  Besides, I wanted to catch a big fish!

Slowly the rain grew less and less and then finally just stopped as though the clouds had gotten tired.  The gloom started to lift as the sun showed itself vaguely through the clouds in the west above the mountains.  


My fingers were freezing and after stepping in a puddle (hey its hard to cast, properly swim the fly, and walk all at the same time!) my foot was cold too.  Tempted to give up, I realized that I was almost through the section of stream and kept going.  Fish were still hitting the streamer when I came to Dead Elk Bend.  Well, that's what I call it.  Probably the locals have another name for it.  My name was spontaneous due to the rather fresh but stripped remains of an elk nearby.  



The bend pool nearby had a perfect ambush spot for a nice brown.  My cast lobbed the streamer towards the slack water.  As soon as it splashed down, I was swimming the fly out towards the current. A dark shape rocketed out from under the bank and inhaled the streamer.  The heavy tippet allowed me to land the fish quickly.  I set my camera down on top of my gear bag and snapped a quick picture.


After releasing the fish, my day was completed when I was treated to a beautiful sunset over the mountains.  


I strolled back through the fields to my car, satisfied with another great outing!


Sunday, February 03, 2013

Moraine Park: After the Fire

For the first time since the Fern Lake Fire burned through Moraine Park, I returned to see what damage occurred.  Not sure what I would find, I was probably more apprehensive than anything else.  The first glimpse went a long ways towards encouraging me.


The meadow is changed, that much is for sure.  The vast majority of the tall grass burned while the fast moving fire rolled through.  A wet spring will help a lot though and the meadow is ready for a lot of new growth.

The fire obviously did not burn hot for very long as it made the run down the valley.  Islands of unburned grasses were to be seen throughout the meadow.  Stream-side willows and other vegetation were a bit charred towards the ground but not dead, at least not in the small area I saw.

Here are a couple of pictures I took.  You can tell that the meadow was burned but it should recover nicely once the growing season returns assuming we have some moisture...





Thursday, October 25, 2012

Good Weather

My trip last weekend was the fishing version of making hay while the sun shines or something like that.  I had tentatively planned, or perhaps considered is a better word, a couple of camping trips this fall.  Every time something came up though so when last weekend was looking like good weather, I figured it was high time I headed for the hills before the snow started to fly in earnest.  The long range forecast was already hinting at our current cold and snowy weather so I had extra motivation to get out and fish before things became too miserable.

The thought of sleeping in my own comfortable bed kept me home for one night to rest up for the next two days of bliss in nature.  When I finally headed out, it was after a leisurely breakfast and all around relaxing morning.  As a fisherman, I know how to get up early to get to the good water ahead of everyone else, but for this particular trip, I was not too worried about fighting any crowds.  Some waters are thankfully overlooked.

On the way, I was continuously in awe at the beauty of the mountains surrounding me.  When I finally arrived at my destination, I took the time to figure out where I would be pitching my tent for the night and then headed out with the fly rod to look for some fish.  The perfect fall weather allowed me to simply wear Chacos instead of messing with waders and boots.  I soon found myself patrolling a likely meadow stretch and probing the undercuts and log jams with a nice yellow streamer.

Less than stellar results soon led to a fly change and then I started locating fish consistently.  The fish would flash out from a deep cutbank or weedbed in a pool or a mass of logs that just screamed "brown trout castle!"  For some reason, I was still having a difficult time connecting though.  One particularly nice 18-19 incher surged out of a huge weedbed and when I threw back after missing him the first time, nailed the streamer but unexplainably still missed the hook.  Dejected, I continued exploring until I happened to look over my shoulder.  This would be the theme of the week.  Great scenery surrounded me but it seems I only noticed when I slowed down enough to glance around and actually enjoy it.


Realizing its never just about the fishing, I decided to try a new stretch of stream and began fresh with a new mindset.  Moving with stealth, I was soon spotting fish.  However, I didn't catch many and definitely nothing too large.  It was one of those days where I was just enjoying the experience and never bothered to pull out the camera until the last fish of the day.  It was a chunky brown and I was content to call it a day after landing the colored up beauty.  Glancing over my shoulder, I was again reminded that I needed to slow down.  Time away from nature tends to speed life up and complicate things.



Staring at the sunset transforming the sky above, I was mesmerized into remembering why I actually bother to head out into the wilds.  The rest of weekend proceeded at a much slower pace as I began to actually enjoy the experience instead of just making the experience.  Things were now right, and I knew that the next day I would fish much more efficiently.  Mindset is important even in fishing.  My best days fishing have always come once I was relaxed and not trying too hard...I had reached that point and knew that the fish better watch out the next day.




After taking in the sunset and remembering that I did have a camera with me, I headed back to camp to fix some food and maybe even see some shooting stars.  Having accidentally left my fleece, I layered on the long sleeved shirts and topped it off with my raincoat as a windbreaker.  Camp chair set up in the now dark camping facing the mountains, I sank down to enjoy the stillness of the night.  Overhead, the stars were shining brightly and it was only a couple of minutes before the show started.  The Orionid meteor shower was supposed to be happening, and seeing one so quickly suggested it might be a good night to try and photograph some.  Digging out the camera along with gloves as the cold was starting to take a toll, I started taking pictures.  Sadly, other than two more shooting stars, the show was pretty much a bust.  The night sky was awesome though including the moon.  I enjoyed shooting until the cold was too piercing, and I headed for the warmth of my sleeping bag for the night.




The long night was made longer by the fact that the "forecast" low was reached probably by 9:30 p.m. and quickly passed as the mercury dipped lower.  My sleeping bag was still within its acceptable rating temperature wise but I definitely could have slept warmer.  Thus, when it became light the next morning I was excited for the sun to hit my tent and warm things up.  After going for an extended period without the light getting significantly brighter, I made myself squirm out of the sleeping bag and back into my long sleeve shirt layers.

A thick band of clouds was blocking the sun to the east although it had risen above the ridge at this point.  Deciding to try and get some good shots in, I drove down the valley searching for the perfect light and angle to photograph the mountains to my west.  Experimenting several times, I found several nice shots although not the one I had originally envisioned and hoped for.  What a perfect excuse to go back sometime!!!



Just about the time the sun burst from behind the clouds, I realized that since the stream was so close, I should probably fish a little before heading back to camp for breakfast.  I was soon into fish including a nice 15 incher that shot out from a dark undercut bank next to a back eddy.  Happy with the experience, I didn't even bother to take out the camera.  Not far upstream, I would decide the camera was a good idea.

I was walking slowly just looking when I spotted two browns laying out on the far side of a deep hole watching for a meal.  When I spotted the fish I was already too close but decided there was nothing to do but attempt a cast.  With the sun almost directly behind me, they may have been blinded and not able to see me.  Whatever the reason, when my fly splashed just upstream, the larger of the two nosed over and decided to see if it was good to eat.  After a brief fight on 2x tippet, I horsed the beautiful fish into the shallows for a couple quick photographs.



Releasing the fish, I made sure it was ready to go but kept the camera ready.  As it swam purposefully away, I shot three quick photos and the first one turned out great.


Looking up, the reflection of the forest called for a photo as well so I just kept on shooting.


After working upstream a bit further, my stomach reminded me that I still had not eaten breakfast (unless you call chocolate chip cookies breakfast), so I found myself headed back to the car and then camp to take down the tent and also eat something.  Along the way, I found more photo worthy scenery but was hungry enough that I was satisfied with just a shot or two.


Fueled up with some awesome pomegranate and dried cherry granola, it was back to the hunt for fish.  Lots of fish were out feeding by this time of the afternoon.  One nice trout in particular was in an almost impossible spot with heavy brush both above and around.  I finally managed to drop a fly in but only after spooking the fish so my efforts were futile.

Not far upstream, a different story emerged.  I found a nice female brown hanging out watching for food.  She followed my fly on the first cast but missed the hook.  The second cast was right on target and I watched as she turned and ate.  Carefully taking a picture, I had her back in the water in no time and she rocketed back to the sanctuary of deep water.


The rest of the afternoon became more and more focused on pictures.




Eventually, I realized that more fishing would probably be greedy and it was time to head towards home.  Starting the week exhausted was not in my plans and I didn't want to get home too late.  My sudden urge to travel coincided with the elk's late day trip back to the meadows to feed.  The zoom lens I had been lugging around all weekend suddenly seemed awfully necessary as I quickly changed it out with the lens I normally leave on the camera.

During my drive out of the area, I came across at least 5 separate herds of elk.  The males were still bugling at least occasionally which is always great entertainment for a Tennessee boy who only saw such things on National Geographic growing up.













After tearing myself away from the last photo opportunities, I headed home content.  The mountains fill my soul with such tranquility that it is always a little sad to leave, but I realize that the greatest impact I can have on society is probably where people actually live so it was not entirely reluctantly that I travelled back over the mountains.  I was rested and rejuvenated to teach for another week.