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After the storm, our sleep was uninterrupted. Morning came with blue sky. We like to set up a base camp and explore from there. Today we were revisiting old friends. We descended to Palmer Lake, a larger lake with many small brook trout.
Here the trail climbs steeply and then drops and climbs repeatedly over the next few miles. The Lady counted eight passes we crossed before reaching upper No Name Lake.
I like to sight fish for trout in alpine lakes. We slowly worked the shore line and saw no trout. I tied on my battered caddis dry and decided to search with a fly on the water. One small cutthroat came out of the depths and took the fly.
I fished. The Lady relaxed. We snacked and told stories of our last visit where I had caught one very nice cutthroat. The Big Guy spotted large trout taking terrestrials off the surface along a windrow of collected insects due to the wind pattern. The windrow was just out of casting range. The Big Guy was demonstrating remarkable distance with his casts, but still just a little short. The large cutthroats sipped insects without a care in the world.
We decided to head back to upper Cutthroat Lake stopping along the trail at the overlook to No Name Lake and Glover Peak above.
You should be noticing the building clouds.
We dropped down to Cutthroat Lake after watching trout ascend its small inlet stream in an attempt to spawn. This stream meandered through a small meadow. The stream narrowed to a deep trench with nice gravels. The water was crystal clear and the trout spooked instantly. But if this was spawning habitat, we didn't want to disturb them.
The weather was changing quickly. Shadows were growing as the clouds thickened and their bottoms turned black.
We had a lot of open country to cross. I figured we had an hour and a half before the fireworks started anew. We decided to continue past Cutthroat Lake and head back to camp and the shelter of home.
Wouldn't you know it? The skies had cleared in the west by the time we reached Palmer Lake.
I went to work figuring out Penny's brookies. There was a steady wind. I tied on a bushy caddis dry. Instantly trout would appear and move toward my offering only to refuse at the last moment. I went back to my ant pattern with the same result, lots of interest then refused. We moved over to the talus slope side. Large rocks and the steep drop off provided structure and shelter. We spotted an occasional large trout cruising right near the shore. I tied on my favorite hopper pattern. Things got interesting. With the wind I smacked it onto the surface. A trout rocketed from the depths, hit the hopper so hard fish and fly came two feet out of the water. But the trout was not hooked.
"It had it in its mouth! I saw its big mouth open and take the fly!" the Lady cried.
I smacked the hopper on the water again. Instantly another trout and fly were sailing through the air. It sure was exciting but no trout was affixed to the end of my line. These guys were experts at rejection. One more time and I was tired of teaching trout to fly. It was time for a swim and dinner.
After dinner, for the sunset, the Lady wanted to climb the highpoint on the ridge to the south. It was a wonderful walk through sparse timber that opened up into small meadows, over and over and over again. In places we again found bluebells up to our armpits.
We returned to our private little lake (we had seen no one since yesterday morning so anywhere was private) just as the sun was setting.
The next morning we hiked back over to Cutthroat Lake. It was a perfect morning.
We reached Cutthroat Lake and the Lady picked out a large flat boulder. She was going to read. She was going to relax. My fly rod was together. I went to work. I started out scouting for trout, see if I could spot a couple and see what they were up to. Many times, before the day warms, I will spot large fish cruising right against the shore. Not this morning. I tied on a caddis dry and started searching. Nothing, no takes, I saw no fish. I made a long cast out into deeper water and concentrated on keeping my fly in view. About 10 feet past it a huge head broke the surface and quietly sipped a fly, its bright red gill plate caught the sun. There are big cutts in this lake. I figured it was possibly taking emerging midges. I put my 2x magnifiers on and searched my fly box. I had a few patterns to try. And try I did, to no avail. This was not my day. I doggedly kept to the task, nymphs, dries, emergers. I tied and retied flies and tippet. "This is good knot practice," I told myself. I fished nymphs at numerous depths. I had seen that big head. I was not going to give up. I was utterly humbled and finally admitted defeat. I found the Lady. "Want to hike over to No Name?" she asked, "And try there again?"
The winds had increased. It was near white caps. I tried large terrestrials. The wind was to my back blowing out across the large lake. I thought of my cousin, The Big Guy, and that windrow of wind deposited trout chow. With this strong wind all the insects - and trout - would be blown to the opposite side of the lake. I tied on a nymph under a buoyant indicator figuring the indicator's dance on the surface waves would jiggle the nymph underneath with a seduction no respectable trout could refuse. They could. Today I was a worthless fly fisher.
We decided to hike over for the view down to lower No Name Lake.
We met three young backpackers climbing our way, up from lower No Name; two girls and a guy. We chatted. The Lady asked the girl with the long dark hair, "You have the biggest pack. Are you the sherpa?"
"I'm carrying the tent!" she answered and smiled.
We asked about their trip. They were making a loop, starting at Green River Lakes and returning on a different trail back to Green River Lakes.
"Where did you spend last night?" I asked.
The two others looked at Sherpa Girl, indicating her status also as leader and navigator.
She answered, "Elbow Lake."
"Elbow Lake is wonderful!" the Lady added and then asked, "Where were you guys the night of the big storms?"
"We were in Titcomb Basin," Sherpa Girl answered. "We meant to go over Shannon Pass but must have missed the turn. We went over Knapsack Col by mistake. There's a glacier on the other side!"
"Yes there is," I agreed.
Sherpa Girl continued, "We didn't have crampons or ice axes. It was an adventure getting down but we did get to see Titcomb Basin!"
I grew a little concerned about their navigation skills.
"Where are you spending tonight?" the Lady asked.
"We're at Penny Lake," the Lady said. "The only ones. I'll show you the other good camp spot when you get there!"
Sherpa Girl and her cohorts continued on their way. We also continued back to upper No Name Lake.
We stopped to take photos of the shadows playing across the crest of the Winds.
At one spot we had a good view of Gannett Peak.
Sherpa Girl and her group were strong hikers.
Arriving back at Penny, we took a quick swim. The Lady had warned the young people that sharing Penny Lake might mean seeing the old folks skinny dipping. We had dinner going and our neighbors had not yet arrived. We finished dinner and were relaxing when they showed up. The Lady got up and welcomed them, taking them to the nearby accommodations.
"They missed the turn off to Penny," she explained on her return.
I decided to change the subject, "Let's go fishing. This is our last night at Penny!" I had noticed a few adult caddis on the surface in the evening light. We returned to the talus slope into the lake. The Lady spotted trout. I could do no wrong. I caught each trout she pointed out to me. The largest was sixteen inches and pulled hard down into deep water taking line from my reel. The Lady was into this, having fun. "Where are the kids?" she asked. "I expected to see them out and about. Maybe talk with them?"
"I bet they can't stand the mosquitoes and are taking refuge in their tent." I answered.
The mosquitoes were awful. It took determination to make a stand. We would not be driven into the tent. Prior to the trip, a teaser during the evening news on TV said that Dr. Oz character was going to talk about mosquitoes. The Lady checked it out and learned that mosquitoes don't like grapes. We immediately started living on grapes. We ate grapes continually as we drove. It was the snack of choice, not hard because we love grapes. Grapes were oozing out of our pores. The great and powerful Oz should stick with surgery. Grapes are like garlic and B vitamins and natural repellents made from huckleberries and the fur from Pika's bellies - completely and utterly worthless. The Lady abhors DEET and had brought along both Off! and Cutters finest brews. As long as your skin was still wet with the elixirs, they worked! I timed it, a minute and forty three seconds on average before it evaporated in this dry alpine air. We both had our fancy Simms fishing shirts with insect repellent embedded in the fabric, "guaranteed to last 75 washings!" Mosquitoes crawled all over the shirts, but did not bite through. Is this what they meant? It took a sense of humor to keep control of our wits. Mornings started off like this - "Oh look," I said to the Lady as I stared into my coffee cup, "Swim lessons have begun. Lots of students this morning!" We chuckled about the extra protein in our oat meal.
Our last morning at Penny was glorious.
We had talked about not seeing many animals. We had only heard one marmot whistle and seen only one deer, on top of the ridge the second night. This morning was different. As I exited the tent I watched two deer move down the ridge. One was a large buck. They came around the lake to our camp. The large buck watched us from behind a small fir and then circled around some rocks. I was surprised, a few minutes later, to see he had approached camp from another direction and was only twenty feet away from our tent, a tall and lean mule deer buck with a huge three point rack in felt. His curiosity was amazing. He tilted his head. He looked puzzled. He was trying so hard to figure our camp and me out. I could see it in his eyes. He turned and bounded off. During breakfast a coyote erupted in song just below us. He then worked his way up the ridge above us. He would stop and sing. The Lady tried desperately to find him with her see mores. Never did, but this invisible 'ote kept it up for a half hour.
It was soon time to head out. The packs were ready.
We were taking a different route out, one that took us up and over Doubletop Mountain.
This was a wonderful hike on a wonderful morning.
Although backlit by the morning sun, the view east from the top was grand.
We took note of the small tarn, a water source, and figured this could be a spot to spend the night and watch the sunset and evening light play on the crest of the Winds. That is, if thunderstorms allow.
Doubletop is a gentle but long climb.
We started to get views west down into the broad valley of the Green River, main tributary to the Colorado River. This valley was also the location of the famed Mountain Man Rendezvous of the early 1800's.
We took one last look east before dropping down into the timber and descending a long series of switchbacks taking us back into the depths of the New Fork River Gorge.
Continued in Part Four - Please Click Here