Monday, October 28, 2013

The Ghosts of Fall - Tamarack Lake – October 2013

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 The amount of daylight in our days is shrinking as we march toward the winter solstice. It was now turning dark on our Friday evening getaways as we exited the West Walker River Canyon heading south on 395. Too dark for us to continue, we turned down the Little Walker River Road to a favored campsite. We were alone. It was how we like it. The top of the camper was popped up, the Lady tended to set up chores inside, and I handled the outdoor chores in the cold.
‘Is the propane on?” the Lady’s voice was muffled by the camper but I knew her intent.
“You're turning on the furnace to warm up your camper?”
“You bet! Warm and toasty and comfy cozy, we are going to be decadent.”
“Well, at least you will be. I’m still outside.” I said, making sure there was not a hint of whining in my voice. It worked too well.
“Grab your insulated jacket out of the front. We are going for our night walk, right?” Her voice was happy.

It was a wonderful night. With no wind, the cold was settling into the bottom country near the river. The stars were slowly popping out all over the sky. Our eyes easily adjusted to the coming night as we walked hand in hand.
“When did we last hear coyotes?” the Lady asked.
“Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend, to the north of our camp at Manchester Beach,” I answered.
“That’s right. I want to hear ‘otes again.”
“Then listen………………..”
In the quiet the distant voice was solitary. A  coyote. Other voices joined in and the jumbled chorus built to a climax and then was gone.
“There you go,” I whispered and squeezed her hand.
“That was perfect. This will be a great trip.” She moved in close beside me. “I like it best when it’s just the two of us.”

We slept well. The night was silent except for the distant sound of the river. The “decadent” thermostat and heater were switched on around 5:30 am. We like to sleep through the night in the cold. The warming camper drove us into deeper sleep. I felt the Lady turn over. She was looking at the clock. “My god, it’s seven o’clock! Boy did we sleep in!” That woke me up, but it really didn’t matter much. It was still well before sunrise.

The brightest aspen were right outside our camper door.

The seed had been planted on our recent fall colors trip. There was a sign at an intersection high up on Upper Summer Meadows Road. It was a primitive sign, hand painted. Along with an arrow pointing up the road it said, “Tamarack Lake.” The Lady pulled the map out and located the lake. “It’s just up in the basin on the other side of this ridge. Maybe it’s 2 miles.” Her eyes were still on the map. “We should go to Tamarack Lake.”

Tamarack Lake came up in conversation a few times during the next week and again into the next. The seed had found fertile soil.

Early Saturday morning we were at the end of Upper Summer Meadows Road at the gate that says the road is closed from this point on.

Prior to a trip I do my homework to find what routes are open to vehicles. I want to be a responsible user. This is much easier today with the Internet. Here is information for the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest. Zooming in on this area indicates the road is closed here and all the vehicles driving past this gate are illegal use.

Ours was the only vehicle in the Upper Summer Meadows area. We set up our high camp at road’s end and were off. Consulting our map we plotted out a cross country route with a gentle climbing traverse to intersect the hiking trail coming up from Twin Lakes. The trail was right where the map said it was at the boundary for the Hoover Wilderness.

We dropped into the basin with Crater Crest above to the west.

A friend, Mr. Randonee, leads backcountry ski trips to the summit of Crater Crest and Tamarack Peak (the eastern highpoint defining this basin) so this trip was also for us to get acquainted with the spring ski routes. The trail crosses talus slopes prior to Tamarack Lake and is marked with occasional cairns. We were soon at Tamarack Lake.

The colors of fall and the weather were outstanding.

Tamarack Lake is very shallow and impacted by algae growth giving the water a vivid green color.

We stopped on a highpoint. We snacked, hydrated, and watched for cruising trout. We saw none. The Lady consulted her map.

She likes to orient the map to match what she is looking at in the field.

The Lady decided we needed to check out the two cross country lakes higher up in the basin. We left the expanse of Tamarack Lake behind.

This is exactly the kind of exploration the Lady loves

She always has one of my beat up, used up, chewed up trout flies hooked to her hat. The upper basin is one big pile of talus. We were soon looking back down  at the unnamed middle lake.

Reaching high Hunewill Lake, the map was again out and we were oriented to the landmarks and “found”

Hunewill Lake was also pretty impacted with algae but is much deeper than Tamarack. We saw two cruising trout as we moved along the shore. 

The Lady relaxed, napped, read, and enjoyed this wonderful spot.

I pulled my vest from my pack.  A caddis fly landed on my arm as I assembled my fly rod.

This is the fourth or fifth rod I have built. This is an extremely light 4/5 weight. I used a three piece graphite rod blank. Hard to find, I really like the length of a three piece rod for the backcountry. I can carry the tube when I want or strap it to my pack and still get around - and under - in tight conditions. The old Ross reel dates back from when that small company was just starting out. I bought it because it has no drag click. Some folks like the sound of a screaming reel as a large trout pulls out line and makes a run. I’m usually alone. I don’t need to impress anyone and I like it quiet. It is well made and although well worn from so many trips over close to 30 years, it still works like new. This rod and reel are good old friends of mine.

The Lady was comfortable in her spot. I slowly moved along the shore looking for any hints about trout. It was cold and, as expected, there was little sign of insect life, except for that one lonely caddis. Seeing no trout I continued past the outlet and over along the eastern shore line. Ahead, just off shore and on the shallow shelf fish were feeding on the surface. I stayed low and watched. There were bubbles in the rings. My guess they were taking midges but midges so tiny I could not see them. The smallest midge pattern I had was a twenty two. It looked huge against these invisible flies. I thought of that caddis and the idea a prime rib would get attention at a hot dog feed. Caddis fly on the end of my long tippet, I stayed low and made a long cast parallel to shore putting the fly a foot from the bank. A trout was working that area. I watched it take midge, midge, midge, caddis imitation. I raised the rod tip and a short time later released an 11” brook trout. I figured they’d be char. I lost my caddis fly. It broke off on the fourth trout. I figured I’d experiment. I had a size 16 black beetle. A realistic tie complete with six legs. I figured a good choice for this crystal clear stillwater. I was still thinking prime rib. As I sat tying on the new fly a trout moved into the shallow water at my feet. It stopped and just stared at me. I knew it saw me. I raised the rod tip and carefully dropped the fly a few inches from its nose. It did not move. It did not take the fly. At least these weren’t stupid trout. I moved back along the shore, stayed low behind a rock and cast again up the bank. Three more were soon carefully released. I rejoined the Lady back at her spot.
“Grab the camera, follow me, and let’s get a couple of trout photos,” I said.
She smiled and replied, “You’re confident.”

This was such a pretty place. The weather was perfect, warm in the fall sun. Our wool shirts were just right for comfort. The Lady worked the camera.

The afternoon was waning. We headed back down the talus.

Tamarack Lake was even prettier with the lower sun angle.

The trail broke out onto the open lower ridge line.

The view opened up across the entire Bridgeport Valley.

We left the trail and moved down to a point where we could also see Lower Twin Lake and Robinson Creek.

This had been a great day. We returned to camp and enjoyed this evening view with our dinner.

We walked after dinner. We wandered in the comforting quiet, the quiet that soothes our souls. We watched darkness come across Upper Summer Meadow, Bridgeport Valley, and the Bodie Hills.

We slept well, very well, as we should. The thermostat was clicked on at 5:30 am. We didn’t get right up but enjoyed the warming camper. I was outside around six. It took thirty seconds to gather enough light to photograph camp.

This morning we would wander among the ghosts.

I don’t remember when we starting calling them ghost groves, the stands of aspen without leaves, ghostly gray against the hillsides. The Lady had our coffee ready. We wandered down the closed primitive road.

After about a mile the sun started in on its morning work.

The ghost groves stretched down the slope below us.

The wet ground had frozen hard overnight. It crunched beneath our feet as we walked. The snow covered areas were hard and ice. The cold stung our faces. It did not matter when we turned around or returned to camp. This was the way to spend a glorious fall morning.

After getting out of four wheel drive back at Upper Summer Meadow, we drove slowly. There was not a sign of another vehicle on the road. There were still aspens in full display.

But we knew they too would soon be ghosts.


  1. Thanks Monte and Julie.Your reports are such a great read.You take us all to some great places and your photos capture the great views.

  2. thanks for the mini vacation that i just took with you....DJ