Sunday, November 11, 2012

Belated Trip Report: The High Uintas

Provo River Falls 
This Summer I went on a trip but failed to post a report about it. It seems that this last year of my graduate program is taking away more of my free time than the first two years, but I want to be more dedicated to posting regularly as this is still one way I have to get the natural high that I always find when outdoors.

My long time buddy Devin called me up a few months prior to this trip, shooting out the idea to go backpacking in the High Uintas so we could get some serious fly fishing in. He had never been backpacking before, so this trip would be especially significant for him. We had one goal in mind: catch fish, and a lot of them. Seemed easy enough, we had both heard amazing stories about people catching hundreds of fish in the Uintas, so we felt that as long as we got up there then we would get sore from bringing in so many fish.

During our planning process I decided that it would be a good idea to invite Chuck, my buddy/next-door neighbor who was just starting to get into fly fishing, and to also invite my friend Ben who had gone with me to Fish Creek reservoir at Boulder Mountain twice before. Although I generally like to keep my numbers down to as few as possible, I thought that four was still a manageable number, and that we would all have a blast. I'm not at a point where I feel comfortable taking responsibility for a large group of people who haven't spent much time backpacking, but felt that two (Ben and Myself) on two (Devin and Chuck) was a good ratio.

Crystal Lake
Panoramic of Crystal Lake
Night 1 - Crystal Lake
Devin suggested going to the Crystal Lake trailhead which leads to several other lakes. This was the closest trailhead with multiple options, and was also the closest to where all of us would be driving from, so it made the most sense to meet there and camp at Crystal Lake on the first night. As Ben and I would be driving from the north, and Chuck and Devin were driving from the south, we wanted to make sure that we picked a place where we would be able to meet up with ease. That evening we all met up without a problem, and I immediately saw the difference between isolation vs. companionship.  I enjoy solo trips for the feeling of isolation, but hanging out around a fire telling jokes, or standing around in the darkness calling each others lies about seeing shooting stars is hard to beat.

Fishing the next morning was slow, to say the least. It has been a few months since the trip, but I'm pretty sure that Ben caught something at each place we stopped to fish. Devin caught a fish or two as well, but we all decided to pack up and head to Duck Lake so that we could spend a good amount of time figuring out how to be successful with our efforts.

The hike to Duck Lake was really pretty. It was only about 3 miles to Duck Lake, and it was pretty the whole way. There were a few ponds which weren't even marked on the maps, and then Weir Lake and Pot Lake which were. We passed two or three groups of scouts on our way to Duck, one of which had reported successful fishing at Weir Lake. I knew that we would pass some people as this was a fairly popular trail, but I wouldn't have guessed that we would see so many boy scout troops.

Duck Lake
Night 2 - Duck Lake
We found Duck Lake without a problem. As soon as we saw the lake, we also saw a group of scouts camped right next to the trail, so we opted to hike to the other side of the lake in hopes that we would find a campsite to use. We really didn't have a desire to camp right next to a group of scouts, so we were pretty excited to find the nice campsite that we did which was off of the trail and pretty isolated. We soon came to the realization that the voices of teenaged boys carry very easily - especially since we were camped below some cliffs which only bounced their voices directly to us. I'm pretty sure that at one point the boys were having a contest to see who could be loudest, but their leaders eventually asked them to stop, reminding them that they weren't the only ones there.

Fishing was pretty slow like it was at Crystal Lake. Before the trip I had given Ben a hard time for bringing his waders and float tube, but I quickly ate my own words as he caught one fish after another. The rest of us were only able to fish off of the bank, all the while the fish were chilling in the middle of the lake where Ben was able to cast. At one point near dusk Devin found a deep hole next to the cliffs, and landed enough for he and I to eat fish that evening.

Devin casting on Duck Lake
Right when Devin and I went to the bank to gut our fish it started to rain. It quickly went from a drizzle to a complete downpour. I left my rain shell back at camp, along with the contents of my pack spread over a rock, so by the time I was done gutting the fish I was soaked - along with everything in my pack.

Ben showing us how it's done
Dinner was pretty good. I didn't have the satisfaction of eating my own catch, but Devin's fish tasted just as good as mine would have. Just as we did the previous night, we enjoyed talking late into the night. It was especially nice having a fire to dry ourselves out with. It was while hanging out and laughing around the fire that I realized how great of an idea it was to have Ben and Chuck come with us.

Day 3 - Weir Lake
Weir Lake - My Favorite
After another day of both Chuck and I getting skunked, we decided to hike back to Weir Lake and spend several hours there. That lake was, by far, my favorite of the trip. We were the only ones there and the lake was picturesque. Ben continued to catch fish after fish, and I managed to catch one - yes, only one. I decided that the next time I take a trip like this I'm going to follow Ben's example and carry the extra weight required to kick out to where the fish are. We only hiked a few miles each day, so carrying another seven to ten pounds would be worth the ten or more pounds of fish that I would catch.

No matter how amazing a trip is, there is still a level of energy which comes with the anticipation of going home. Chuck was literally bouncing on the trail (which either says something about how much he missed his wife, or said what he thought of the trip). The rest of us were excited and ready for home as well, but it's safe to say that all of us were already thinking of our next trip.

Chuck on the trail home
There are several things I learned/observed from this trip which I want to remember for future group trips:

  1. Instead of everyone keeping track of their own trash, we placed it all in a large trash bag. Bad idea! I volunteered to pack it out, but really we each should have carried our own trash back out - empty soup cans and all.
  2. We planned out our meeting location so well that even though we arrived two hours apart from each other, there was no problem finding each other in the dark.
  3. It is a good idea to not only pack for yourself when going on a group trip, but to think about "the group" as well. We only had two flashlights for the four of us, so putting tents up in the dark took more time than it would have had we been prepared.
  4. Ben and Devin both had new packs and sleeping bags. It would have been a good idea for them to test out their equipment at home before the trip. Although their bags worked out fine, the sternum strap to Chuck's pack broke. If he would have known about the design flaw a few days before the actual trip then he could have made a permanent fix without a problem. Instead, he had to go without his sternum strap - something which isn't trip ender, but which is one of three ways to distribute the weight from your pack (the other two being your hip belt and stabilizer straps). Always a better idea to discover small problems at home which could turn into bigger problems on the trail.
  5. Pumping water for the four of us is quite possible with one pump, but is time consuming as well. A 2:1 ratio instead of a 4:1 would be better. We had tablets as a backup, but didn't want to use them unless we had to.
  6. Eating fish in the backcountry is especially messy and smelly. I didn't even care about hanging our food that evening simply because we all reeked of fish so bad that any bear would have loved to use our digits as finger-food. Next time it will be a good idea to either wash everything which smelled of fish (including our hands), or place them in a bear bag along with everything else.

For a final thought I have to say that sometimes it’s best to just go and have fun - still prepare adequately, but just make the trip happen. This was Devin’s first time backpacking, Chuck's first time fly fishing, and Ben’s first trip since starting a job which didn’t allow him to get outside where he belongs. The trip provided everything which a good trip should: an opportunity to think without distraction, a chance to hit the “restart” button, and the gift of just living in the moment without thought of life’s duties and obligations. There were no mishaps, everyone made it out fine, and there were no close calls other than the three of us wanting to poke a hole in Ben’s float tube out of jealousy.

**As a side note, my camera that I posted about previously (with a horrible review) did quite well. It may be worthless at taking photos inside, but landscape photos turn out pretty well.