We started hiking from the truck at around 1:00 p.m. on a mostly sunny Saturday afternoon with our packs stuffed to the gills for an overnight fly fishing mission. The destination — a couple of alpine lakes in the Holy Cross Wilderness of Colorado. About a half a mile into the trek, ominous dark clouds that were initially miles off in the distance when we set out were now hanging just behind the tall peaks to our left. Admittedly, my buddy Bryson and I have been known to accidentally leave a fairly important piece of gear back at home on occasion, but it's never been something to keep us from carrying on. This time, one of us forgot a rain shell.
We kept moving up the trail as the clouds began to spill over the peaks and into the drainage we were hiking in when the first few drops of rain started to patter on the brims of our caps. As the rain picked up, it quickly became clear that we were in for a good old-fashioned Rocky Mountain deluge of precipitation, so we started to look for cover. After stepping beneath the dense branches of a small cluster of pines, we threw on an extra layer for warmth, pulled out our flasks for a cheers to the god of the skies, Zeus, and laughed at all of the other times we had to adapt on the fly due to a missing piece of equipment.
Bryson and I first met while standing around a fire pit at a mutual friends back yard barbecue many years ago. Back then, it wasn't immediately clear that we'd go on to become adventure buddies that cooked up ideas as big as the mountains we sought, to then turn around and pursue them after weeks and months of discussion and planning. Not every day-dreaming scenario that we've schemed up over the years has panned out, but a few have stuck, and the memories they've provided have been tucked in the coffers to revisit over future beers and around smoky campfire rings.
Normally, our trips are centered around mountain bikes — whether its truck camping with epic day rides from basecamp, or loading up the hard-tails for a bikepacking jaunt into the backcountry — rolling through the mountains on two wheels has traditionally been the priority and has delivered plenty of good times and important lessons along the way. It wasn't until recently that I started gaining a much greater appreciation for traveling on foot into the mountains, a potentially tough sell for pitching upcoming adventures to one of my long-standing mountain bike pals. But, I was wrong.
When Bryson and I started talking about a weekend trip a couple of weeks back, it first began as a truck camping, bike riding, fly fishing triathlon of sorts at some unexplored spots in our own back yard. As the date approached, the plan remained in check until about midnight the night before we had planned to depart — the time of day when all great plans are revised. I sent Bryson a text at 11:59 p.m. that read, "the other option is, we could backpack to a couple of lakes I checked out earlier this summer and fish there... just throwing it out there."
The next morning, Bryson replied with the message I was secretly hoping for — "I could backpack. I dug my pack out of the attic. We're doing this!" This would be our first time backpacking together, so I wasn't entirely expecting the idea to stick. It was also going to be my first time fly fishing, so the excitement quickly began to build. Having spent my childhood fishing, I slowly picked up new interests over the years and lost touch with my love for the Zen-like state that angling provides. I also couldn't wait to stand alongside the alpine lakes I had been eyeing all summer and get back to something that felt both foreign and familiar at the same time.
We arrived at the second lake around 3:30 p.m. to clearing skies and quickly claimed a site perched above the lake with a flat spot that was perfect for two tents. After setting up camp, we got to work rigging our rods so we could head to the lake and throw a few casts before the sun disappeared behind the surrounding peaks. After a couple of hours of getting skunked by wily brook trout, we were forced to retreat back to our tents as one more alpine downpour rolled in at the golden hour. The only thing we caught that night was a net full of lake-chilled beers — still a victory we could both get behind.
As we sat in camp and boiled water for dinner, I turned to Bryson and said, "if traveling with all of your gear on a bike is bikepacking, or walking in with it on your back is backpacking, then wouldn't this be called fishpacking?" Bryson grinned and laughed, taking a sip of his beer and acknowledging that my reasoning seemed to make sense. As our backpacking meals slowly rehydrated, we watched the clouds move along the ridges and enjoyed the last rays of sun hitting our campsite for the evening.
The next morning we woke to calm, crystal-clear blue skies, brewed some instant coffee, and decided it was time for round two at the lake as the sun began to spill into the basin around us. As soon as we got to the edge of the water, Bryson demonstrated exactly what the word redemption means and landed a fish no less than ten seconds after his first fly hit the water. After roping in nearly ten more fish while I fumbled my way through bush-league casts and the occasional tangled line, I finally hooked my first brookie and felt an incredible sense of pride rush over me.
We spent the next few hours pulling fish out of the lake, laughing at moments that included my first catch flopping from my hands before capturing a photo, to joking that Bryson very well may have been catching the same fish over and over again. As the afternoon clouds began to build, we broke camp and enjoyed our last beer with lunch and sun-kissed faces. Slinging my pack over my shoulder, I turned to Bryson and said, "hey, looks like it might rain again!"