Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Beartooths Part Deux: In Search of Gold(en Trout)

At times, the structured half of my brain needs a mission and end goal to work towards.  Basking in the sun like a lounge lizard on my days off is satisfying for only so long, even after a long, tiring week at work.  After a little lounge time it hits me: a sense of urgency to squeeze every last drop of fun out of the 48 hours I have off.  That, and the surrounding mountains, peaks, and valleys are overflowing with juicy opportunities for adventure.  At times all of the potential things to do can be overwhelming, especially when wave after wave of people at the ranch start raving about this awesome thing they did over their weekend.  If you do not whittle them down to a select few and accept the fact that you cannot do everything, then you are likely to drown in the onslaught of opportunities.  Crystal Caves, Windy Pass, Electric Peak, Boiling River, the Sphinx, Grand Tetons, the list goes on and on.

Such Potential.  So juicy.

This past weekend I set out on a quest for gold.  Golden trout that is.  It is a subspecies of rainbow trout native to California that was transplanted to some lakes in Montana early in the 20th century because people thought they were beautiful and they were well adapted to high altitude lakes that remain frozen for a majority of the year.  As well, I added arctic grayling to the list, as they are a species now nonexistent in the rivers of Montana, but still cling on in a few lakes.

The Beartooths with their many alpine lakes were the best place to find both of these rare species, so off I went.  My map of the area has all of the lakes labeled with the treasure that lies underneath the water, so it was just a matter of finding the right two lakes close to each other.  As well it was just another excuse to visit my favorite place.

Beartooth Lake with Clay Butte in the background

I settled on a hike that started at Beartooth Lake and finished at Hidden Lake, the former filled with arctic grayling and the latter purported have a shimmer of gold the waves.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 miles judging by the squiggly line the trail took on the map.  Well, that and the fact that the map did not show a trail going to Hidden Lake, only one that ran near it.  Hence the name, perhaps?

The hike was gorgeous of course, and I fished in a couple of lakes along the way before setting up camp at Hidden Lake.  Then the search for gold was on.  My personal panning method involved a mayfly imitation, which worked on every lake, despite the fact that it was August.  Spring comes late in the Beartooths.  That and the trout in those lakes have such a short feeding window they will gobble up anything and everything.  And eat they did, but the search for gold was proved fruitless, aside from the fool's gold of cutthroat trout that I caught.  Gorgeous all the same.

The night came and went, bringing with it a quartet of wind, rain, thunder, and lightning, which needless to say were not music to my ears.  After a final verse somewhere around 5am, the bad weather faded out and I rose to clear blue skies and a gorgeous morning.  My nose let me know a bath was in order after the previous day's hike, so I figured it would be fun to try and time a photo of me diving into the lake.  Chilly experiment, but good fun.  Also quite the challenge.

The best that I managed

After that it was breakfast, more fishing, and then hiking out.  Despite all of the fish I caught, the golden trout remained elusive, as did the arctic grayling.  A failure in one sense perhaps, but in reality just getting out there and enjoying nature while catching some fish is an excellent time by my standards.  A+ weekend.  The mission just gives my compass a direction to point instead of spinning in circles.