Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, Montana - July 2015 - Part Six

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This vagabond lifestyle suits us perfectly. What day it was lost meaning. If the sun was up, we should be moving, hiking, casting fly line. If the sun was down, stars kept us company until sleep called us into the camper - or rain pelting the roof drummed out a rhythm, a hypnotic trance we could not resist. We were content. We could live the rest of our lives this way in complete joy.

But alas, it was time to start thinking of returning home. Both of us love our work so there was no sorrow; and we had all the memories, all the stories.

We stopped in Red Lodge and resupplied with fresh food. The Lady got more corn to test her new teeth. But we were not done with the Beartooths. "You need to catch more trout!" the Lady's words stirred my soul. "Let's go to Moon Lake!" she said. I had been reading sections of the Mountain Lakes Guide out loud in the evenings, an excellent tactic. She had heard it, the last sampling showed the average size cutthroat at 14 inches. Moon Lake was high, above timberline, an open expanse. We had already been to the trailhead and scoped out a wonderful dispersed campsite, good for two nights. We could hike from camp, a simple luxury. It was a perfect idea.

We were near the end of Rock Creek Road.

A small site, the creek ran nearby. It was afternoon. Camp was set up; a bit of time to relax. I set up my fly rod and the Lady followed with her book, just to be nearby. A small dry fly presented and I caught small brook trout, one after the other. I carefully released each one. I was in my wading scandals. The water was ice cold. It felt good. The only sound was the wind and the creek and the happy laugh of the Lady each time a trout took the fly. And then it hit me. I needed to look at the map. What side of the state line was I on?

I put my rod away. It was time to make dinner anyway. We walked after eating and watched the daily change in the light as night came.

We got an early start the next morning. There is no maintained trail up into the high basin, but on our earlier hike up to Glacier Lake we had scouted out the route and found traces where the old trail ran.

We climbed steeply until we entered the hanging valley and the grade lessened. Rock Creek canyon was bathed in morning light below us.

We were quickly above timberline. The Lady was happy, in her element.

She kept us found on the map.

The weather was wonderful, perfect for our last adventure in the Beartooths. The land was also perfect.

After the creek crossing we needed to climb high.

In its place, at the top of the basin, was Moon Lake.

It was time to fish.

A lake that has large trout has fewer trout. It takes time to figure out where they are, what their interests are. It is all part of the ritual. I put a nymph on under my strike indicator. I searched for trout, working different areas, always looking for feeding or cruising cutthroats. With no action, I occasionally worked a different nymph pattern. There were no surface insects.  At the two hour mark, it happened. A big head broke the surface and hit the strike indicator and took it under. It ignored the succulent nymph bobbing seductively underneath. This does happen in high mountain lakes. I took it as punishment for fishing in Wyoming the day before. This was confirmation good cutthroats were here.

The Lady stuck with me today. She had her book, snacks and water for both of us, and the camera. We moved over to the opposite side of the lake. The shoreline was talus with good submerged rocks below. I saw a trout. I cast out in the direction it was moving. I would let it come to the fly. The water exploded as it grabbed the strike indicator. It stayed on the surface and savagely shook it like a shark.

"Dammit, let it go!" I yelled and jerked the indicator from its gaping jaws. It let go.

"Now come on," I said. "Take the nymph underneath!" I gave the line a tiny twitch. It grabbed the fly and I lifted the rod. Seeing the bend in the rod after my outburst, the Lady was at my side. It did not break the surface but dove deep and pulled. I brought it to hand, a beautiful 18 inch Yellowstone Cutthroat. The Lady was apprehensive about taking a good photo. I suggested she hold the cutthroat in the water, pose with the prize, and I take the photo. We set the stage for the best light, all with a bit of a dance on the wet large rocks. We were quickly ready and then asked each other, "Where's the trout?" We saw him calmly swimming into deep water, probably saying, "You silly Californians. Go back to fishing in Wyoming."

"See, we do need to buy you a big net." the Lady said as she laughed.

I worked the nymph further down the shoreline with no action. I sat and watched the water. Two nice trout cruised  by. I tied on a foam ant. I figured I would try a dry fly although I never saw a trout on the surface. Maybe I just felt sorry for my battered strike indicator and gave it a break.

The water was wonderful. Everything looked perfect.  The Lady was on a high spot to watch the action. She saw it all. It came up from deep water. It hit the ant hard and took it deep. It was on. "Just shoot away with the camera," I said. "You'll get a great picture." She did.

It wasn't as big as the first, but a very nice cutthroat.

We enjoyed the rest of the day, watched the clouds move across the sky, felt the breeze, and took in the incredible air. Days can hardly ever be better than this.

There was a pretty white butterfly that continually caught my attention throughout the day, but it would never land. Finally it did. Edit: Again highz has helped with an identification Parnassian Butterfly

The time came to return to our camp. We were saying goodbye to a place that had given us wonderful adventures.

In no hurry the next morning, lingering with our coffee, we took our final look at this place of soaring granite.

We started home. Our first stop was a surprise I had for the Lady. We headed a bit off route, to the east, into the northern Bighorn Mountains, to 10,000 feet in elevation. It is a very sacred site - the Medicine Wheel/Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark.


Here are two other links for further information - Bighorn Medicine Wheel and Medicine Wheel.

It was an enjoyable 1.5 mile walk out to the circle. On this Saturday, the parking lot was full, but the walk out at 10,000 feet tended to separate the groups nicely.

The setting is incredible, expansive views in all directions; it is the place the eagle lands.

On weekends there are USFS folks on site to answer questions and assist with the history. The two we visited with were very knowledgeable. 

I have wanted to visit here for many years. I shouldn't have been surprised that my strongest reaction was a profound sense of loss. 

We drove the highway loop through the Bighorn Mountains, an amazing place. Go visit and see for yourself. We dropped back into the Bighorn Basin and resumed our journey south. This evening we would do something we have never done before.

Our adventure continues in Part Seven - Please Click Here

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