August 4, 2017
West Elk Update 4
What a week it has been here in Colorado! Last you heard from us we were headed into the heart of the Colorado Rockies, today we made our triumphant exit back to civilization exhausted, but stoked on the amazing time we had in the backcountry.
On Monday we hiked about 6.5 miles and climbed 1700 feet of elevation to reach our first campsite situated in a stunning mountain meadow. After setting up camp the crew hit the nearby creek and were quickly hooking up on dozens and dozens of hungry brook trout, with a healthy amount of native greenback cutthroat thrown into the mix as well. We had an excellent stir fry for dinner, supplemented by delicious brook trout, and topped off with s’mores before crawling into our sleeping bags for some well deserved sleep.
We woke up the next morning, quickly ate, then hiked another 3 miles with 1000 feet of elevation gain to our next campsite. We found ourselves perched in an unbelievable alpine valley situated just beneath the timberline, surrounded by some of Colorado’s highest peaks. We ate a fast lunch and hit the creek hard. Due to a waterfall at the bottom of the valley, which acts as an impassable fish barrier, this section of creek is exclusively home to the threatened greenback cutthroat trout, the state fish of Colorado. The fishing here is simply ridiculous… our anglers were catching 50, 60, 70+ fish in just this single afternoon! We came back to camp for an early dinner and were surprised by our guide Hasley who had foraged a couple of pounds of scrumptious hawks wing wild mushrooms for an appetizer for dinner. After dinner it was immediately to bed, for the next day we were getting up early for our most ambitious day of the trip.
Day three started early, 3:30 am to be exact. Our goal for the day was to summit a nearby 14er”, or 14,000 foot peak, hike across a high alpine basin, then re-ascend to a lake situated at 12,250 feet for some fishing. Everybody absolutely crushed the climb. The whole group made the summit in just under 3.5 hours, about half an hour faster than the previous best time from one of my groups! After summiting the 14er, we hiked to one of my favorite lakes in Colorado and it did not disappoint. Pretty much immediately huge colorful greenbacks were crushing our flies! The average fish in this lake average about 15″ and are fat and healthy! After several hours of fishing we strolled back to camp to enjoy backcountry thanksgiving for dinner and some much needed sleep.
In the morning we hiked back to the lake to catch a few more monsters, and then ventured to another lake nestled between some peaks at nearly 13,000 feet. This extra effort was rewarded with the extremely rare arctic grayling… a fish almost gone from the lower 48 states. The fish were eager and most everyone who went to the lake caught double digits of this majestic fish! It was then time to return to camp, pack up, and begin the hike out of this high alpine paradise. We moved several miles back down the valley system and slept out under the unspoiled night sky that only the deep backcountry can provide.
Today we woke up “late” and made the hike out to the van in quick fashion. We hit up the showers and laundry and are now preparing for our full day of float fishing the Arkansas river tomorrow. Look for the next update on the last day of the trip, and until then…