There are an estimated 80 high alpine lakes spread across the Sangre de Cristo mountains here in Colorado. For those who enjoy solitude and, particularly, for those inclined to hike a few miles in and a couple of thousand or so feet up, there are some magnificent fishing spots that await.
I had been sending tantalizing photos to my son, Anthony, for months now, wetting his appetite for a hike up to a mountain lake to try his hand at fly fishing. He had served our country in the Navy for four years and was looking forward to returning to civilian life and the time had finally come.
“Here. This really belongs to you”, I said as I handed him a very high-quality, Orivs fly fishing rod that my wife had bought me for my fiftieth birthday, now eight years ago.
“Wow. Thanks, Pops!”
“No sweat. I’ll never find the patience to actually try my hand at it. How about we get up to one of the lakes across the valley and you see what you can do?”, I suggested.
And so the wheels were put in motion for another great day in this off-the-beaten part of Colorado.
Yesterday’s alarm roused us at 0400 hours when we dragged ourselves to the table for a hearty breakfast prepared by my angel of a wife.
“Here you go. Eat up. I’m going back to bed”, said she with the qualities of a saint.
With our gear ready to go on the bench by the front door, we finished up and made our way into the darkness, only made bright by the setting Moon over the mountains to our west… The brightening Milky Way seemingly guiding us to our trailhead across the valley.
“Ohhh, nice. Look, Anthony! We’re going to begin our hike going up into the fog!”, forcing one eye open as we made our way across the beautiful and undeveloped valley before the mountains, he managed a quiet grunt.
The 45 minutes that it takes for a drive up to these glorious mountains fuels the growing mood of anticipation, something almost impossible to describe in words here.
At the trailhead’s parking lot were only two other vehicles! No crowds. Yay! Taking no time to gather our packs, we were off to a five mile hike up to the Goodwin Lakes, set about 2,600′ higher. As we made our way up, we spied a couple of young bucks frolicking in the woods by our trail as the thick fog began to obscure the tips of the grand evergreens all around us.
“Pops. Is this what the Black Forest looked like when you were in Germany?”
Over the bridge and onto the Rainbow Trail we hiked, not a human made sound to be heard. By the pace Anthony was keeping, I knew I’d be left behind; no problem. About halfway up, we came upon an open meadow and a meandering stream fed by the upper lakes.
“Hold on. I want to take a look.”, my son said quietly as he ventured through the tall, still-wet grasses to inspect the creek for fish.
“Nice! We’ll have trout up the lake, Pops! I see plenty here!”, came the report back and just as suddenly, the collective mood spiked, forcing uncontrolled grins on our faces!
And up and up we went until finally, at around 0830, we found ourselves at the lake!
Reward for the two-and-a-half hours of slogging up a long trail!
It was particularly cold and windy that morning as we crested the trail and descended to a nice, grassy spot by the south side of the lake. The tall grasses were swaying with each burst of wind, with the surrounding peaks being lit with the morning rays making for an astounding setting, one that people relying of guides would pay a small fortune to see. Quickly, Anthony dropped his pack, ate a sandwich, and made his way to the shore with his rod.
“Got one!”, came the happy cry within about five minutes.
“Nice! Let’s see!”, as I made my way along the rock-strewn and muddy shoreline.
“Ahh, momma’s gonna be very pleased. Just a couple more, and we got our quota for dinner”, I said retunring to my spot farther down the shore.
“I’m going to switch to the fly rod, Pops.”
“Ok. Have fun. We’re in no rush. You take your time.”
A bit restless, not being a fisherman of any type, I decided to climb up above the lake to get a better view the surrounding environment.
Surveying the terrain above the lake, I began to appreciate the objective hazards posed by attempting a climb over steep talus, and so settled in about 400′ for a sweet perch above this high alpine lake Paradise, watching my son fishing.
The waters were so clear from above, that I could see movement in the waters around where Anthony was casting his flies. Thinking back to when he was two, I remember putting a simple, kid’s rod in his tiny pudgy hands at a similar lake in West Virginia… 21 years later, he had come into this in a very natural and calm way. Good to see.
As I sat there that morning, I reflected on my good fortune to be here with my son in this incredible setting. Gratitude for this gift of another day.
So easy is it for us humans to become distracted with unimportant things in our modern world, so important to block it all out, if only for a day so that we can reconnect with what makes us feel great about being alive…
Later, when back at the trailhead parking lot, we deployed our comfortable camping chairs, opened up the small cooler, switched out the tasty trout for our beers.
“Cheers, Anthony! Well done!”
Sitting there, we both thought back on a perfect morning spent in Paradise, thankful to have found a way to do this at all.
Live to work… or work to live?