Tuesday, June 07, 2005

"At Least You Won't Starve"

Of the six summer RAs, five of us are from Orr Hall’s staff this past year. One of them, A, is also a Secondary Ed major (although he’s focusing on Science) and as it turns out, one hell of an outdoorsman and fisherman. We’ve been talking lately about how cool it would be to hike through the Wind River Mountains, maybe from Pinedale to Lander. That trip is 40 miles as the crow flies, at an average of about 11,000 feet of elevation, and we’d have heavy (40 – 50 lb.) packs. Part of the trip would involve fishing for food, with backup foodstuffs just in case. All in all it sounds like a hell of a good time.

Two problems with this plan became apparent on Monday. First, I haven’t fished for years. Second, I’m out of shape. Seriously out of shape.

A and I both had the day off, and he’s had a serious fishing jones for weeks, so while he was at class in the morning I went out to Wal*Mart and got a season pass fishing license and a collapsible pole (perfect for backpacking). The license was surprisingly cheap for residents and surprisingly expensive for non-residents. Not that that sort of thing keeps Coloradans away.

We aimed for Hog Park Reservoir, a relatively big lake 70 miles west/southwest of Laramie. If you have a map of Wyoming handy, find Saratoga. Due south of Saratoga is Encampment/Riverside, twin burgs at about 7300 feet. Southwest of these towns, at 10,000 feet and near the Continental Divide in Medicine Bow National Forest, is Hog Park Reservoir. You turn off of Highway 70 onto a National Forest road and wind southwest. In theory, this dirt road goes all the way to Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

In theory, this very same road goes to Hog Park Reservoir. We didn’t make it.

About 9 miles shy of the reservoir we encountered snow drifts – melting snow drifts, but drifts nonetheless – that were ultimately too much for A’s Monte Carlo. We were able to dig/plow through the first few, but finally we stopped in front of a deep one straddling the road, with a 25 foot cliff off the side. We didn’t have a shovel, and neither one of us particularly felt like getting stranded, so we turned around.

Coming back down we passed the North Fork River, maybe ten feet wide with a hell of a current. We’d seen it going up and had pondered its fishability (I just made up that word); with all the whitewater I was thinking more in terms of kayaking. We decided to pass on it and check out another lake near the Continental Divide but right off Highway 70.

It was frozen over, so we turned around to explore some beaver ponds we’d seen from the road. We pulled off, threw on our daypacks, and headed down a six hundred foot embankment. The upper four hundred feet were open and steep, with few trees and covered in sage. A huge strand of Aspens and evergreens covered the valley floor, past which was an open meadow of marsh and ponds, but no fish.

We followed the ponds downstream until they turned into a running creek, and we followed the creek as it drained out of the relatively flat meadow and plunged down a valley. After maybe a mile of hiking downstream, we turned around and headed back to the car. Coming back up the valley's hillside was remarkably hard going, even though we were following worn-down vehicle trakcs. Going up 600 feet at around 10,000 feet of elevation turned out to be a LOT of work.

Back at the car we decided to check out Saratoga Lake, and once there decided its whitecaps probably made for bad fishing. Coming back over the Snowies eastward we both admitted we were starving and decided on dinner at a cafe in Centennial, a little town in the eastern foothills of the Snowies, 25 miles from Laramie.

Somewhere around the pass A got the bright idea to check out a lake he'd remembered seeing on a map. I'm not going to tell you the name of the lake, Dearest Readership, because according to A, he's never seen that many fish jumping at once. Coming from A, this is saying quite a bit.

We busted out our fishing gear (I borrowed a spinner from A) and after about, oh, three casts we each had caught a smallish rainbow trout.

"At least you won't starve," A called out as I tried to grab a very slippery and very scared little trout as it dangled from my line. Had we been fishing for food, I would have needed about five more fish this size.

We wound up fishing for over two hours, and we each pulled in a few rainbow that were maybe 9 or 10 inches long and not much over a pound.

At the Beartree Tavern in Centennial I had my second hamburger of the day (we'd stopped at McDonald's on our way out of town). For a semi-vegetarian, that's a whole lot of beef. Didn't get stick though.

So now I completely understand the fishing bug, and will be doing much more of it this summer. But I also need to get in shape if I want to do any serious backpacking.

Tonight is Game 1 of the NBA Finals, and although I usually don't give a shit about professional basketball, I'm a Detroit Pistons fan by birth, so I plan on watching. Class starts Monday. It's rainy and doesn't feel like summer.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm jealous! Hope you develop and maintain a great "fishing bug" so we can enjoy some together.


8:59 PM  
Anonymous Leslie said...

If you look up "insanity" in the dictionary, it might show a picture of you carrying a 50-pound pack. Believe me, it's a lot more fun if you can get your pack weight below 30 pounds. Mark and I have managed to get a base carrying weight (with 4 days of food) of about 28 pounds. Much nicer!

Let me know if you want some help getting that pack weight down.

Anyway, it sounds like fun!

7:28 AM  
Blogger david said...

p diddy -

if you can find this book, read it:

Beyond Backpacking: Ray Jardine's Guide to Lightweight Hiking
by Ray Jardine

the man is a genius of minimalism. there's an outdoor company, named golite, founded on his principles. he's extreme (he cuts out the tongues of his hiking shoes to save weight!), but he'll give you some good ideas.

and in case you were unaware, colorado has some pretty decent fishing too. and we fish it the right way - with flyrods.

you have a spinning rod from wal-mart. hehe.

10:33 AM  

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