Sunday, July 5, 2015

Naturalist Basin - Uintas

Location: Naturalist Basin, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Utah 84031, USA
So I have had an absence of recreational posts.  And though I took video of skiing this year, I was still sorta getting my slope legs back and never really had anything worthy of a post.  I will try to put something together and talk about my journey in that arena, but I promise, that will change next year and I will bring some good video and hopefully good stories!

But for now, let me clue you in on my plans through this summer and what the blog can expect in the next few months.

In August I'm going to be packing into the Wind Rivers Range in central Wyoming.  In total we'll spend 8-9 days, hiking in from Green River Lakes, and likely headed toward Titicomb Basin (though the final destination is a work-in-progress).  2/3 of us will have Alpacka packrafts, which for me who's primary goal is great fishing, is really going to be a high point of the trip.

This is a trail I hiked when I was 14, and though it wasn't my first backpacking trip, it was my first trip more than 3-4 days, and was when my love of fishing was truly born.  I plan to relive that experience, 22 years later!

But I haven't backpacked in 10+ years, and I certainly don't feel like hauling 50+ lbs of gear like I did when I was younger.  Add in the packraft; 6 lbs for the raft, 7 oz for the seat, 29 oz for the paddle, and 1 lb for the life vest; and you're close to 10 lbs.  So in the last few weeks I have been replacing the vast majority if my gear with an eye for light.  My goal is to have a pack at 40 lbs, food, water, fishing gear, boat & gear, everything other than what I wear.

To both work on my physique, and to test my new gear, and food ideas, I plan to do 2-4 trips in the interim.  So to kick things off I headed up to the Uintas to Naturalist Basin over the extended 4th of July weekend.  I left from the Highline Trailhead Friday at around 11am.  Looking to push myself a bit more and get more opportunity to test my pack and hiking boots, as well as my navagation skills, I started off trail and meandered from the ridge to the pine forest below and back.  I checked out the two little lakes marked on the map up on the ridge.  One was more of a puddle among the talus, but the other one was a bit bigger.  I watched it for a few minutes, but couldn't spot any fish.  It wasn't very deep, and I doubt many go up there so no reason to stock it.

I kept on going, slower than if I'd taken the trail, but I accomplished all of my goals while in total solitude.  I saw turkey and elk, the latter of which were large, and my first thought was that I had startled a stray horse, but no, it was a large buck, I met up with the Naturalist Basin trail roughly where I had planned, just before a small pond, which again was shallow, and after 10-15 min watching I couldn't spot movement under the surface.

This area is crowded, especially on a holiday weekend.  I ran into several groups hiking down as I was going up, and at the trail fork where there is a large meadow, 4 or 5 different groups were stopped playing in the stream and eating a late lunch.  I made my way quickly for the Blue Lake trail looking to avoid the crowds at Jordan.  It turned out to be a good decision.  There were certainly people around Morat Lakes, but not as many as I had braced for.  I had no trouble finding a camping spot.

The fishing was superb.  Nearly every cast saw action, the majority ending in a fish.  Catch and release with barbless hooks is cake, they never leave the water.  It's trickier to land fish with no barbs though, and a number were able to catch me with enough slack to wiggle off.  I met a nice gentleman the next morning while fishing.  I couldn't quite tell if he just wasn't having luck, or if his complaint was in the size of his catch, but I imagine it must have been the latter as I could hardly do anything to keep the fish off my flies.  As to that, this area does get A LOT of use!  Everything I know about it is that these accessible lakes are basically put and take, and that was my experience.  The larger fish I caught were 12-14 inches.  Was something like 2 brook to probably 50+ tiger.  The brook might have been native, they were good sized for brook, the tiger were almost certainly stocked.  I catch the same exact fish when I go to Mirror Lake.  The gentleman I met hadn't seen Tiger Trout before.  His description: "There is some crazy trout in there, at least I think it's a trout.  It's shaped like a trout, but has this tiger pattern to it."  He said he hadn't been there in 10 years.  I grinned.

That evening, around 5, it started to rain.  Brief 20-30 min torrents at first, broken by 15-20 min spells of sun.  I would run down to the lake, rod in hand, and be on my 4th or 5th fish when the drops would start to fall, and I had about 30 seconds to run to my tend before a full torrent of water rained down.  After 3 or so cycles of this it broke loose and vacillated between rain and hail till long after I fell asleep.  The next morning it was grey and overcast, but no water was falling, so I hastily broke camp and headed out.

Here I will insert a rant.  I am a big proponent of 'leave no trace', or what is becoming known as low-impact.  My goal when I leave a camping site is to not be able to tell it was ever a camping site.  I was quite successful this trip, having used two sites (to facilitate gear testing), and the only way I could tell they had been used when I left was the dry spot where my tent had sat at the second site.  I looked ahead and found that the entire area was restricted for wood collection (due to the high usage, burning all the dead wood leads to nitrogen starvation).  I don't mind that, I like a fire, but doing it with minimal impact is work and I don't want to contribute to issues in this heavily area.  But it often felt like I was the only one.  I saw a number of people out collecting firewood, as well as smelled them in the evenings and mornings.  Another longstanding rule, as far as I know uniform across all forest service land, is no camping within 200 feet of a water source.  The vast majority of people I saw camping were well within 50 ft of a water source, and many were basically on the banks.  One poor guy was setting up in a flood plain for a river, and that night it rained like mad.  I doubt he had any idea that in rain his perfect camp site, 20 feet or so from the river, would be a bog.  I even found a full camp, complete with A-frame structure, woodburning stove, gas grill, and god knows what else they had wrapped up in that mass of tarp they had stored there.  Stocked with several cases of bottled water, and several more cases of beer that looked like they had been gone through by animals as they were strewn all over the place.  In my mind this was wandering into a garbage dump that someone left in a wilderness area.  It made me sick.

I don't say anything to these people.  It's not my job to enforce the rules, and I have as much vested interest in preserving places like these, I am out here for my vacation and to get away from people, the last thing I want is to be looking for confrontations.  I do, however, give feedback to the people whose job it is to manage these places.  And I certainly will be sending coords for the garbage dump I found.

Sticking to the trail it took me 3 hours to hike out what took me 6 hours to hike in off-trail.

In general I was very impressed with the new gear I got.  I was a bit concerned with the sub 2 lb tent I got, but it performed like a champ in the rain and hail.  Everything else worked perfectly.  I was able to identify a few things I really didn't need, especially when it came to fishing gear.  On the food front I was mostly satisfied, however, I will never take hot chocolate mix again.  Apple Cider mix is where it's at!  And I need twice as much of it!  On the water front, my strategy of sticking to 1 liter worked well with foresight.  The same strategy will work perfectly in the Winds, however, I think I will take a second platypus bottle as weather and passes may prevent intra-day management.  Lastly, the Thermarest NeoAir worked better than I expected, it let me setup camp in places I wouldn't have otherwise.  It is so thick that smaller rocks protruding aren't even noticed.

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