ALL-TROUT 2012: The Home Run Derby
South Lake to Bull Lake and Long Lake
July 20 – 22, 2012
Jack, Cole, Eric, Kevin, Steve, Cowboy
2012 was another year of firsts. In 2011, it was Jack, Cole and nephew Matthew who made their first Sierran backpacking trips. In 2012, Eric and Kevin made their maiden voyages. Jack and Cole were comfortable in their surroundings with the prior year’s experience under their belts, and Eric and Kevin were naturals. Cowboy, also a sophomore, was definitely in his element; he didn’t let a single squirrel escape without a chase or at least a stern look.
Day 1: South Lake to Bull Lake (2 miles, 1,000 foot gain)
LEAVING THE SOUTH LAKE TRAIL HEAD
Clouds dotted the summertime skies, as is often the case in the Sierras. Fortunately, other than one brief scare, the clouds were kind enough to hold their rain until we were safely back in the car on Sunday. Still, the weather, and the sometimes-strong wind, was enough to make us change our plans. We had originally decided to camp at Long Lake, but given the wind and the clouds, and based upon reports of strong winds from hikers coming down the trail, we opted to camp at Bull Lake instead, where we (or at least this writer, who in theory was the decision maker for the group) felt there might be more protection from wind and rain. It turned out to be an unnecessary precaution, but was probably the right decision at the time.
A brief note on Cowboy’s backpack. This writer believes backpacks on dogs are a little goofy. However, Cowboy eats four cups of dense, dry food (read: heavy) each day. On a trip like this, he needed eight cups. Plus some treats and some collapsable bowls. All that weight was NOT going in my backpack. So, a dogpack it was. At least I didn’t put hiking booties on him.
ARRIVAL AT BULL LAKE
The first glimpse of Bull Lake is not as spectacular as the approach to Long Lake, but Bull Lake is pretty in its own right. The lake is at the foot of the Inconsolable Range, which reaches 13,531 feet at a point called Cloudripper (in the center of the above picture). Closer to us, and to the right in the above picture, is Chocolate Peak, which tops out at 11,682 feet. Had we thought the peak was actually made of chocolate, my four young hiking companions would have made us climb it with forks in our hands, I’m sure.
THE BOYS TAKE IN THE SCENE
WE MADE IT!
The hike was an easy one, just under two miles and only a thousand foot gain. The easy route was chosen intentionally for the benefit of the younger hikers, but this writer is certain that the four backwoodsmen in the above picture could have traveled much further. The hope is to have them arrive at camp tired and worn out, instead of filled with boundless energy that they used to frustrate this writer. Next year, they will be experiencing a longer walk.
COWBOY APPROVES OF THE LODGING
In the hopes of further backwoods trips with his sons, and expecting that his wife would continue to opt out of such jaunts, this writer sprung for a new piece of gear: the Nemo 3-person tent. The tent worked out great, and this writer gives the Nemo a thumbs up.
Day 2: Layover – Fishing at Bull Lake and Long Lake. And a Nap.
BULL LAKE IN THE MORNING
The clouds were gone, at least for the morning, and the still air left Bull Lake in a state of tranquility that, like such states of tranquility in our own lives, does not last long but always seems to return.
COWBOY’S GLAMOR SHOT
“Take my picture while I stand here staring off into the distance in a thoughtful manner,” he said. He keeps begging me to send a copy of this picture to Bella, the yellow labrador who lives around the corner.
TWO BROTHERS SHARE SOME COFFEE (HOT CHOCOLATE, ACTUALLY)
The Sierran morning ritual: put on warm clothes, get something hot to drink, and sit in the sun. Whether your drink is hot chocolate or coffee, it is a perfect way to begin the day.
ONE TENT IS TWENTY YEARS OLD. THE OTHER TENT IS TWO WEEKS OLD.
Although we had the entire lake to ourselves (which is kind of neat, when you think about it), we put the tents directly next to each other so that the five of us could talk at night, even while in the comfort of our separate tents. I also wanted to reassure Kevin that while he was not in the same tent as me, I was “right there” in case he needed anything. Although Eric was guardian enough, I think Kevin appreciated it.
THE BREAKFAST LOG
JACK FISHES AT BULL LAKE
Rather than explore the nearby Chocolate Lakes, we decided to fish Bull Lake, and then fish Long Lake. Hard to think of a better way to spend a day. This view and the view below show some of the more tree-lined parts of Bull Lake.
ANOTHER VIEW OF BULL LAKE
Despite Jack’s innate fishing skills, this was not to be his day. Not to worry, Jack; it happens to the best of us. (Except this writer.)
ERIC HAS A “LITTLE” SUCCESS
Eric, on the other hand, had another good outing. This little minnow was only the beginning for Eric. He pulled a few more out, each of them larger than this one. The fisherman bloodline continues.
COLE’S PRIVATE ISLAND
COLE LANDS A TROUT
COLE HOOKS UP
Cole, the youngest in a long line of highly regarded fishermen. Second youngest, actually, when you count Erin. Hmm… maybe she will make next year’s trip.
We contemplated cooking some of our catch, but this writer (who was doing, ahem, more than his fair share of the work on this trip) opted for catch-and-release, so as to avoid having to clean the fish, cook the fish, and clean up the pans – likely by himself.
BULL LAKE – LOOKING TOWARDS LONG LAKE
We fished our way along the shore of Bull Lake towards the trail to Long Lake. This writer played a hunch, and instead of taking the trail, we bushwhacked a shortcut near the outlet of Bull Lake. We must have hit the timing just right, as there was a variety of beautiful wildflowers along the route, none of which could be properly identified by this writer. Let’s just say that pretty much every color in the rainbow was represented. It made for a very pretty walk.
JACK PERSISTS – BUT IT WASN’T HIS DAY
COWBOY SPONTANEOUSLY DECIDES HE IS A WATER DOG
Not sure what got into Cowboy, but all of a sudden he decided he wanted to run through the lake. Maybe he saw a trout. Or his reflection. Whatever the case, he appeared to be having a good time frolicking in the water.
ARRIVAL AT LONG LAKE, ONE OF THE PRETTIEST LAKES AROUND
After our very short bushwhack, we rejoined the trail and made it to Long Lake in no time. It must be something like a quarter mile, tops. Without making excuses for my own photography, this picture simply does not do justice to the idyllic setting of Long Lake, which ranks in this writer’s Top 10 prettiest places in the Sierras. Which, in combination with its relatively easy hike from the trailhead, is why it was meant to be our camping location for the trip. This picture also does not really show how long the lake is, but it is, in fact, long. It has earned every bit of its name.
FISHING LONG LAKE
We fished our way along Long Lake, and explored about 2% of its shoreline. The lake has many islands, peninsulas (peninsulae?), bays, fingers, and other features that add to its beauty and would make it a great place to explore and fish for a couple of days. Plus, this writer (along with Charles back in 2002) saw a huge, and I mean huge, trout swimming in these selfsame waters. It was eight pounds if it was an ounce.
Right at the spot where the above picture was taken, we met up with a solo dayhiker who had just walked up to fish Long Lake in search of one of those big lunkers. He had been studying the science behind fish behavior (a true ichthyologist) and recited to us a number of formulae that would predict the most likely depth of large-sized fish given the temperature of the water, the position of the moon, and other variables known only to ichthyologists and fish. It would be unfair to say he had a crazed look about him, but it would be altogether accurate to say that he was on a mission, and he meant business. Near this spot, we also met some teenagers who had thought it would be a good idea to dayhike to Long Lake with an inflatable boat and a battery-powered air compressor, so that they could more easily fish the lake. While they had successfully lugged the boat, and the compressor, to the lake, their express words were something to the effect of “never, ever again.” Maybe they should have opted for a foot pump instead of an air compressor.
After some time enjoying the lake and the warm sun, this writer, being wholly contented by watching his sons and nephews fishing together under the blue sky, began to develop an acute medical condition commonly referred to as being “drowsy.” So, in an effort to seek shelter from the sun and to catch a moment of two of shuteye, he deposited himself in the shade of an overhanging rock. And then, in three, two, one… he was asleep. It was perfection itself. Until he was woken by the sound of thunder. Which was disorienting because he had fallen asleep presumably only a short time prior, under skies that were blue or at least mostly blue, on a day that was warm enough to send him seeking shade for his nap. But it is hard to argue with thunder, so thunder it was. The skies had, in fact, become overcast, and the thunder threatened to bring rain with it, so the fishing was cut short and we retreated back to our camp, in the “protected” valley below such comfort-giving features as the “Inconsolable Range” and “Cloudripper.” At least we had Chocolate Peak to lift our spirits.
Fortunately, the thunder was all talk and no rain. Or at least very little rain. We had to endure no more than a few sprinkles and the scare was over. So we did the only logical thing (considering this writer’s sons and nephews are all baseball nuts) and started a Home Run Derby. We had a perfect stadium for it… plenty of flat space for the “field,” with enormous trees uniformly positioned to represent the foul poles. We followed the same rules as the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby, more or less anyway: a hit that cleared the tents was a home run, and all other hits were outs. The batter could take as many pitches as he wanted, and as long as he didn’t swing, it didn’t count against him. It was an epic derby. Or derbies, I should say, as we started over and did it a second time. If I am not mistaken, Jack took the first derby, and Eric, after forcing two or three tie-breaker/extra innings with Jack, took the second one. Notably, Kevin outlasted this writer in the second derby. It was indeed a great way to spend an hour with the kids, and this writer particularly enjoyed watching Cole impersonate the batting stances of various major leaguers (most of them Red Sox), which he does with great accuracy (“now I’m Youkilis… now I’m David Ortiz….”).
THE 2012 HOME RUN DERBY AT BULL LAKE STADIUM
COWBOY IS MORE OF A FOOTBALL FAN
HANGING OUT IN THE NEMO TENT
And what would a backpacking trip be without making time for some cards in the tent? It is quite possible this writer used this time to finish his nap.
Day 3. The return to South Lake. (2 miles, 1,000 foot drop)
After completing the Breakfast Ritual, this writer allowed the kids to spend one last morning in paradise, fishing at our own private lake while this writer and Cowboy packed up the camp. This writer packed all the backpacks, stuffed all the sleeping bags, took down both tents… and Cowboy hardly helped at all. Knowing the kids were down at the lake, fishing for the last hour or two before we made our descent back to civilization, made the labor worthwhile. Cole came back to camp cold and wet at one point, having partially fallen into the lake. A fresh set of socks, some mittens, and some encouragement sent him back on his way. As this writer finished packing, the thunder returned, and a few more drops of drizzle, but no real rain to speak of.
ALMOST BACK TO SOUTH LAKE
ERIC AND SOUTH LAKE
The walk down was short, pleasant, and uneventful. The rain was nice enough to wait until we had returned to the car and had stowed all of our gear. Literally just as we finished packing, the skies opened and it absolutely dumped on us for a short time. I seem to recall more thunder as well. An exciting finish to what was another great trip with the kids and the nephews… can’t wait to get them back out into Mother Nature’s playground again.