The Season of Down

For the past 10 years I have used the same 30-degree mummy style sleeping bag and it has done well in all types of weather. This year, however, it was time for an upgrade. I started researching backpacking sleeping bags and stumbled upon the quilt style of bags. These intrigued me as they are lighter and take up less space, plus because of the fact that I do not sleep on my back and I never really use the head mummy portion of my sleeping bag – I decided to go with one of these quilts, made with down, from Enlightened Equipment.

I fell in love with Enlightened Equipment before I ever received my quilt from them. First because everything they create is handmade. And second because they are based out of Minnesota. (I have a soft spot for anything Minnesota since I go on a weeklong hiking and fishing trip there every two to three years.) After receiving the Enigma 20-degree, 750 duck down quilt from them, I now have a third reason to love this company.

The only downside to my new sleeping quilt is that I did not discover Enlightened Equipment sooner. I was able to use the Enigma for all my overnight trips this year, and as my friends can attest I cannot stop raving about this product. Maybe it is because I have never used a down bag previously so I was unaware of the comfort and warmth that is attributed to down. Or maybe it’s because of how small it packs down or because it weighs half of what my previous bag weighs. For whatever reason, I’ll be using this bag for years to come!

Colorado weather is always unpredictable, especially when camping in the Rocky Mountains. At any time of the year the temperature can drop below freezing and dump hail or snow for as little as 10 minutes, or as long as a day or two or more. Being well equipped for whatever weather may arise is key to having a successful and enjoyable trip and the 20-degree Enigma is the perfect bag for all of your three season camping.

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Photos: Last Hike of the Year for High-Country Cutthroats

Originally posted @ Orvis.

Here in Colorado, winter had already started to sprinkle our 14ers with snow in early September. Before the lakes started freezing over, I and fellow high-country addict Shawn Larson decided to hike one last time. With no trail, we hiked the six-mile round trip to a lake that sits at 12,000 feet above sea level. The most brutal part of the trip was a section that covered 1,300 vertical feet in just under a half a mile. But as is the case for all of the hiking I get to do, it’s always worth it in the end!

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Photos of the Day: Brennon’s Half Day on the Water

Originally posted @ Orvis.

My son, Brennon, had a half day of school last week, and when I asked him what he wanted to do for the second half of the day, he said he wanted to hang out at the creek. So we spent the afternoon messing around, trying not to get his cast—courtesy of a little fall off the monkey bars last month—wet. Even the little creek chub are a blast to catch!

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Another 24 Hours

Originally posted @ Mountainsmith

A few years ago my friend Ryan and I took a trip that lasted only 24 hours, bushwhacking into a remote set of lakes. Not to be outdone by myself, I decided to try this 24 hour backpacking/camping/fly fishing event again. This time my friend Daniel was crazy enough to join me, even though I was headed to a lake that I had never been to before and with just the vague knowledge that there might be some big trout.

Backpacking during monsoon season in Colorado is always a gamble and this particular weekend was no exception. We set out on a Saturday and got to the trailhead around 3 in the afternoon. Hiking to the first lake would take a little over three hours, traveling five miles with an altitude gain of roughly 3,000 feet. The beginning of the hike the weather was perfect – a little bit of sun with mostly cloudy skies makes for a great hike. The last third of the hike however was all above treeline and the fog and rain moved in quickly. Battling a little bit of hail and a lot of rain, we made it to our destination in time for the skies to clear – giving us a chance to set up the tents and get a little bit of fishing in. After making some dinner the rain came again and would continue for most of the night.

The next morning we awoke to clear skies and the most amazing sunrise I have ever seen. We had our coffee and started to pack up for our trek over to the unnamed lake approximately 2 1/2 miles away. I brought along my Mountainsmith Scream 25 pack to use for the off trail hike. By far my favorite pack, the Scream 25 is perfect to bring along and use as a day pack. It’s super lightweight and easily stuffs into my larger pack, yet it is large enough to carry everything I need for a day of hiking and fishing.

Taking a little over an hour, we reached our lake and were excited to see the fish feeding on the glassy surface of the water. Finding solitude like this is why we hike for hours and hunt for new destinations. The lakes are seemingly untouched, as if no other human has stepped foot in the place. Hiking to and fly fishing lakes like these is the most gratifying feeling. Being able to catch my first splake and a few cutthroats made the trip even that much more enjoyable.

We ended up only fishing the lake for a couple of hours, as we needed to get back to camp and pack up and head out. Storms during the monsoon season usually start up after lunch so we wanted to get out before having to worry about any thunderstorms rolling above us. Thankfully the hike out was uneventful, with a quick stop for a burger and a couple of beers on the way home.

Needless to say that it was an adventure packed 24 hours of backpacking and fly fishing!

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Our Playground – 2014 Vol. 1

Featured @ Orvis

Three years ago I caught my first golden trout. This year we were lucky enough to find more of these beautiful fish alongside some gorgeous brook and cutthroat trout!

Photos of the Day: More Gold in the Colorado High Country

Originally posted @ Orvis

A few years, ago some friends and I went on the hunt for golden trout in Colorado and came back a little richer. After that trip, I found out that the Colorado Division of Wildlife had received some surplus golden trout from California, the first time in almost twenty years. They stocked a handful of lakes around the state, and I have been waiting for the chance to go on the hunt again.

Tom, Shawn, and Carper joined me for this most recent five-day trip into the wilderness. We hiked roughly twenty miles and fished five lakes, a couple of streams, and a handful of beaver ponds. The fishing was unbelievable, as we found brook trout, cutthroat trout ,and golden trout in abundance. We had our fair share of bad weather—thunderstorms, a hail storm, a three-hour rain storm—but those are the things you have to deal with when backpacking in the Rocky Mountains, and it’s always worth the trouble.

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The Timing of Ice Out

Originally posted @ Mountainsmith

All of my favorite locations to fly fish in Colorado are well over 10,000 feet above sea level.   That’s actually a good thing, because when fishing these areas, you do not see many anglers and the solitude and scenery are unmatched. The bad news is that since these lakes and streams are at such high altitudes, it’s hard to determine when the snow and ice has melted enough to get to them. Some years you can get to lakes that are ice-free by the end of May, other years you have to wait until July to find the open water.

This year was one of those years where the itch to go hiking and fly fishing had to be put on hold because of all of the snow and ice the high country received in the winter months. I did all the online research, I contacted fellow hiking/fly fishing friends, I searched the internets for any and all information I could find about the possibility of the ice and snow melting and I still had to wait longer than I wanted to. Finally, around the end of June, I decided to hike to a set of lakes that I thought  might be free of ice. Tom, Daniel and Conan (Daniel’s dog) decided to go along,  even though the odds were 50/50 that we would actually be able to fish the lakes if the ice was out.

For my first hike of the season, I packed my Mayhem 35 full of everything I could possibly need –  rain gear, water bladder, extra clothing, lunch, camera equipment, and my fly fishing essentials. With everything easily fitting inside my pack, it was a perfect morning for the two hour hike to the first lake.Overcast skies with temps in the lower 50′s made for great  hiking weather. Once we got to the first lake it was a relief to see that it was indeed free of ice. We set our packs down and got our fly gear out and started fishing.

At this point I have to make clear another issue that arises when fishing the high country. Not only do you have to worry about a lake being ice free but you also have to worry about the water temperature. Once the ice comes off a lake it of course is fishable, but if you hit it too soon after the ice, the water temperature is still too cold for the fish to be very active. There’s the sweet spot when the ice is off, the lake is warmed up just perfectly, and the trout are voracious. This was not one of those days.

After a couple of hours of fishing without even seeing a trout, we decided to try our luck at another lake in the vicinity. This particular lake is unnamed and has no trail or signs of its location. Going on some information I got from a friend a couple of years ago, we decided to bushwhack up to the lake and see if it was fishable. After a half hour or so of bushwhacking over boulder fields and downed trees, we came over a ridge and got our first look at the lake. We noticed a lot of fish eating off the surface and were thrilled at the chance to catch some of these trout.

Even with all of the action we were seeing, Tom was the only one of us to catch anything, netting three nice cutthroat trout. Then the clouds started rolling in and we were getting hit with a bit of snow/sleet/rain so we packed up and headed back to find the trail out, which involved another half hour of bushwhacking to get back to our original trail.

I would have to continue to wait for my first fish in the high country, , but it was still a perfect day for hiking and fishing!

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Around Town

Originally posted @ Mountainsmith

Vests, chest packs, lanyards, sling packs and lumbar packs – I have them all. As a fly fisherman for over ten years, I have used just about every product on the market – starting with the original fly fishing vest all the way to the latest in the lumbar selection of packs. I carry more than I need to every time I head out to go fishing, so a pack that can hold everything and also be comfortable is essential. Up until this last year my favorite pack to use was my sling pack, then I became a firm believer in the lumbar pack.

Fishing in and around Denver is a ton of fun. In early spring the little streams warm up and the ice thaws off of the lakes and the fish are ready to bite – the perfect time to take my son to the various fishing holes around town. When taking a five year old fishing I have to remember that it is all about him having fun, so it is important to bring the essentials along. Luckily, everything fits in my Tour lumbar pack  – Matchbox cars, legos, apples, PB&J, animal crackers, water bottles, crayons and coloring books, along with the fly fishing tools I need – all fit neatly into the Tour pack.

In between the trips where I take my son exploring, I get to show some friends around town. On one occasion I took my friend Jason Getzel to a local creek in the hopes of finding some brown trout. We were also hoping to get Jay on his first fish of the year, which was accomplished. The fish might not have been anything to write home about, but being able to use the Tour pack and wet wading in the creek for an afternoon is what exploring and fly fishing is all about.

The most enjoyable part of being able to fish around town is when I get off work early and am able to head to the creek or the lake and have time to relax for an evening. I realize not many people can get off of work and drive 15 minutes up the road and catch a 12″ brown trout, so I do not take it for granted and am thankful that I’m able to live in a place where I can enjoy my hobbies so easily.

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Photos of the Day: A Late Start

The ice took a bit longer to melt off of the lakes in the Rockies this year. The first two times I went backpacking, I got more exercise than I did fish—still better than being in the office. So the third time, I was hoping, would be the charm. My friend Daniel and I took a two-day trip and fished a couple of lakes—one of which has no trail, so it was bushwhacking and bouldering—but the fish and the scenery always make it worth while.

Photos of the Day: A Late Start in the Colorado High Country

Lighter is Better

There are two types of camping in my book, car camping and backpacking. Both are fun to do, but if I had to choose one over the other it would be backpacking. Getting away from the crowds, not camping at a “pay” campground, being out in the vastness of the Colorado Rockies and knowing that the destinations you reach you did so by using your own two feet. Those are the things that keep me packing up my backpack every year and heading into the mountains.

Over the years I have been trying to upgrade my backpacking gear, better and lighter equipment to make it a little easier on my aging back. One of my favorite things to do while backcountry camping is cooking. Everything you eat tastes better when in the woods. One of my purchases this year was a new titanium cook set from Keith. This was my first titanium set and I can honestly say I wish I had gotten this sooner!

The set I am using this year includes a large and small pot, and a frying pan. 1200ml/800ml/400ml. They all nest perfectly inside each other and come with a nice lightweight mesh bag. The handles of all three items are covered in a rubber material and fold out nicely for cooking so you never have to worry about them getting too hot. While I was boiling water in the large pot, I used the small frying pan as a lid and also warmed up a bagel in the frying pan while boiling water for my morning coffee. Simple, easy, and when everything is done they are a breeze to clean.

Along with the cook set I also purchased a set of utensils from Keith. I honestly can not believe how light the knife/spoon/fork combo is and how comfortable they are to use. For stirring and for eating, I never had to worry about them getting too hot or breaking them off while mixing up some freeze dried food.

If you are going to make one purchase this year to lighten up your pack, I would highly recommend the Keith titanium line of cookware. Affordable and lightweight, these are a must have, whether you are backpacking or car camping.

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