August 10, 2015
Collegiate Peaks Wilderness West Elk Update
We have been lucky enough to have spent the last five days backpacking and fishing in the majestic Collegiate Peaks Wilderness outside of Buena Vista Colorado. We started our adventure on Tuesday with quite the uphill hike. The uphill was made easier by the fact that horses assisted us. The animals carried most of our group gear and food, considerably lightening our load for the 6.6-mile uphill hike. With our gear safely dropped at our first campsite, we got there with plenty of time to relax and fish before our delicious dinner of backcountry burritos. The guys even managed to supplement dinner with some delectable brook trout, seasoned with butter, garlic, and lemon!
For our second day in the backcountry, we moved camp up past a waterfall that acts as a natural fish barrier. The waterfall prevents the invasive brook trout from migrating upstream, and keeps the stream full of wild and native cutthroat trout. We reached our second campsite at around 11,500 feet, and quickly set about fishing the beautiful trout stream meandering through the high alpine valley. The fishing was absolutely ridiculous! Everybody quickly lost count of how many fish they were catching. It would be a conservative estimate to say that as a group, 200 fish were caught that afternoon. We settled back into camp early in the evening to enjoy a hearty meal of fettuccine carbonara and strawberry cheesecake to carbo-load for our summit attempt of one of the towering 14,00 foot peaks surrounding the valley in which we were camped. Everybody was in bed right around sunset, as it was going to be an early one the next morning, 3:30 a.m. to be exact, in order to attempt our 14er.
3:30 always comes way earlier than expected, but we were well prepared, and were on the trail hiking by 4:15. After a quick stop well above tree-line around 6:15 a.m. to watch an amazing sunrise, we pushed onward and upward toward our goal. We hit a high ridgeline several hundred feet below our objective to rest up and hydrate before making the final push to the top, and were buffeted by high winds. But nothing was stopping our group! 45 minutes later, all of us were standing on the summit, above 14,000 feet, before most people were out of bed or at work! Off the peak, and back down to the valley to re-group, pick up our fishing gear, and head off to the real prize, 15+ inch cutthroats, eager to rise to the fly! Several hours later, we reached the lake, and boy were we happy. After a quick lunch, we were hooking into fish immediately. I could barely make it from guy to guy fast enough to snap pictures because we were catching those monsters so quickly! Lucky for us, the weather held, and we were able to stay and fish as long as our hearts desired. Exhausted, happy, and full of satisfaction with an amazing day we hiked back to camp, ate our dinner, and promptly fell asleep.
The next day we took it easy! We all got nearly 12 hours of sleep and leisurely packed up camp to prepare to move down valley to our next campsite. With our things ready to go, we decided to re-visit the lake one more time in order to catch a couple more of the huge, stunningly beautiful cutthroats from the previous day. Needless to say, we were not disappointed. With our fishing hunger satisfied and weather moving in, we began the hike down valley to our next campsite. We got to camp and got our tents set up just in time, as the rain soon started. Luckily it did not last long and we were able to enjoy a delicious meal of shepherds pie and the best smores ever before hitting the hay.
Today, we hiked out of the backcountry, set up our camp and headed into town to do laundry, shower up, and re-supply. This past trip into the backcountry was no doubt a highlight of the summer. It will be near impossible to forget the amazing scenery, and even more amazing fish we encountered while in the wilderness. Next up is our community service project, and then float fishing the Arkansas, and then the trip is at an end. Keep posted for the next update in a couple of days, and remember….
And now for some gratuitous fish pictures!