Sunday, July 25, 2010
Upper Cataract Lake
For many years I have wanted to do a real backpacking trip to a high mountain reservoir. On July 17 at 5 am we left for Upper Cataract Lake. The group consisted of Me, Bob, My Dad, Dave Ruckman, and his son Josh Ruckman, plus those 2 lucky dogs, Bodie and Jaxin. This was to be a great adventure that would hopefully set a precedent for future trips of this nature. Our backpacks ranged from 40-50+ pounds, depending on if you were carrying a tent or not. I found it difficult to decide what was absolutely necessary to have. I had a change of clothes, a long sleeve shirt, a hoodie (which doubled as a pillow), a silverware set, a hot cold cup, dehydrated food, power bars, and trail mix, plus a 4 man tent, a sleeping bag, and my ipod and player. Dave brought a stove, and he and Bob both had mess kits, and first aid kits as well as water purifying pumps. Some of the stuff that makes a trip like this is stuff that you hope you don't need, but have to make sure you bring like a first aid kit, poncho etc. Other things I think you learn not to bring next time. It took about 2 and a half hours to get to the trail head in the Eagles Nest Wilderness area which is North West of Silverthorne Colorado near the town of Heeney and Green Mountain Reservoir. From the Surprise Lake trail head it is about 5.5 miles to the lake. Surprise Lake is about the half way point of the hike which is where we stopped to have lunch. The trail begins at about 8,620 ft and Upper Cataract is at 10,774 feet so the elevation gain is over 2,000 feet. The trail is well marked but a little poorly maintained in a some areas and the first half of the hike is more of a climb than the second half overall. However, the final .3 miles or so are actually a decline in elevation of about 250 ft. and very rocky. From a fishing standpoint, Surprise Lake is difficult to attack because it was covered in Lilly Pads. We did not attempt to fish it. A local guide I talked to said it is fishable on the edges, especially on the far side and that there are a few fish in there but we figured it was too much trouble and we had to get back on the trail to our final destination.
Dave and Josh's packs, all loaded up and ready to go.
Bodie is excited to go too!
We took our share of breaks on the way.
These signs were proof that we were still going the right way. (Actually, the maps that Dave provided for each of us were pretty good for that as well.)
My dad was still smiling at this point. At this sign we are at exactly 10,000 feet and almost to Surprise Lake.
Enjoying lunch and a break at the half way point.
Josh and Dave at Surprise.
This is a picture of Dave, taking a picture of Surprise Lake.
The turns in the trail are well marked.
My dad isn't smiling anymore. We are almost there though.
Bob with Cataract lake in the background, just before the drop in elevation to Upper Cataract Lake.
My dad crossing the creek just before we arrived at our destination.
I didn't know then, but he later told me he thought he was going to pass out here.
4.5 hours after we left the trail head, we had reached our destination. It felt good to get the packs off. It was strange because I felt like I could jump over a mountain when I first took the backpack off. We set up camp and got ready to do some fishing.
On the ground and not on our backs!
Josh is demonstrating how we all felt!
The lake view was gorgeous, like looking at a postcard. Just seeing the lake was a sense of accomplishment, but what made the whole trip for me was the fishing. I caught 16 fish the first night and into the evening. All the others caught a hand full with Josh pulling in 8 by himself. Seeing that first Brooke Trout come up to the surface, and take a dry fly off the top made the 5.5 mile hike instantly worth it. The second day brought far better results as it yielded 40 fish, all of which were caught on a dry fly. What a blast!!! This was by far, my best day of fly fishing! The fish were hitting on mosquitoes (no surprise since the mosquitoes were eating us alive), black ants, red copper Johns, Prince Nymphs, but especially parachute grasshoppers, Royal Wulfs, and Royal Coachmen. We also caught a few on Wooly Buggers. Upper Cataract is FULL of Brookies with a few Rainbows mixed in. Josh was the only one of us that caught a Rainbow. The majority of the fish in the lake were in the 8-12 inche range. Only 1 fish we caught was larger than 12 inches. The guide I spoke with said he has caught an 18 incher there before and heard stories of 24 inchers. I was told that at one time, the largest brookie in the state of Colorado was caught there. If that story is correct, it was a 5 lbs Brookie. I'm not too sure about all that, all I know is that we didn't see any monsters in there, just a whole lot of hungry, average sized fish. We had to seek up on them a little bit at times and also, the inlet fished well. The far side by the rocks was the best. There were spots where it was best to hide behind a rock, or throw over the tops of rocks that they were hiding under. We even caught a few just by dropping a hopper directly off of the bank we were standing on. Waders were not needed as there is a large shelf on the edge of the lake. Thank goodness because I would have hated to have to carry waders and boots on top of everything else.
This is my favorite shot of the lake.
Dave enjoying the mountain air and the fishing.
Dusk= different colors again. This time, a lot of pink.
Nighttime brought campfires, and fun conversations. And Sunday morning brought the dreaded hike home. It took us 4.5 hours to get to Upper Cataract lake, but it took only 2.5 hours to get back to the cars, and that was with a half hour break at Surprise once again. I was sad to leave but happy that I made a memory with my dad, father-in-law- and some really good friends. The bug spray and sun screen were used generously as was the spices on the fresh fish. Note to self: If I ever should return to Upper Cataract Lake, don't bring what you don't need, but you do need bug spray, sunscreen and good company! A special thanks to John Combelick for lending me his backpack for the trip. Here are some photos from the rest of the trip and the hike out, as well as some other random shots.
My dad's ipod player. Sure we are in the middle of nowhere, but why live like animals right?
The water was crystal clear.
Jaxin was good for some forward lean.
Happy to be back to the truck!
Green Mountain Reservoir
Leaving Eagles Nest Wilderness area, and in Silverthorne, there actually was an Eagles Nest on the top of a Power line.
Till we meet again.