The Last Bushwhack

Originally posted at Deuter.

You can never be sure how much you’ll see of the fall season in Colorado. Sometimes it seems like it jumps straight from summer to winter without the crisp, colorful season some states get to enjoy. Not this year however. Fall this year has been perfect – minus a couple of snow flurry days. So, my friends Tom and Matt and I decided to take full advantage of the weather and make a trek into the high-country.

For a long day hike like this, my Deuter Futura Pro 42 holds everything I need to take. Stuffed full with my fly-fishing equipment, camera equipment, and my lunch, the pack still feels light when it’s on my back and I’m bushwhacking over trees and boulders.

When I met up with Tom and Matt, I had to laugh because I didn’t realize that they too had Deuter packs stuffed to the brim and ready for the hike. What we didn’t realize was how long and strenuous a hike it would turn out to be. Tom had been studying up on this particular section of water for a few years, gathering all the information he could on how to get down to the river and where on the river to fish. But, there wasn’t a ton of info on this area so we headed out with what little intel we had.

Getting to the river turned out to be the easy part – it was downhill the entire way and only took about an hour. Once at the river, we put our waders on and decided to head upstream. The section of river looked perfect but we didn’t see any signs of fish, so we kept on wading.

The first section was flat and open, and we soon came upon a canyon section. We had to take a detour straight uphill and around the steep section of water to get to more fishable water. Once up on the canyon wall we stopped to take in the scenery and decide what our next move would be. Upstream seemed to be even steeper and less fishable so we decided to head back the way we came and try to fish downstream.

We returned back to where we had started and then headed downstream in hopes of better luck. We immediately saw signs of trout! Matt and I quickly hooked into some small rainbows and it felt good to catch some fish.

But our joy soon melted away when we had to again hike straight up and around yet another canyon. Once that was accomplished we were back at some flat open water – but again, like earlier, no signs of fish. We knew it was going to take a bit longer to hike out than the hike in, and it was getting later in the afternoon, so we decided to call the adventure a success and head back.

It wasn’t the Shangri-La of trout water we were hoping for, but it was a perfect day for a bushwhack. Catching a few choice fish, seeing signs of mountain lions, bear and deer and enjoying the remoteness of the area, still made for a good fall day in Colorado.

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Originally posted @ Deuter.

Is there a better way to start off the New Year than by doing a little snowshoeing? My friend Jason and I didn’t think so and planned on doing just that to start off 2013. And it was a grueling 3 1/2 mile walk through the woods!

To pack everything I needed for this adventure, I grabbed my Futura Pro and stuffed it full of the necessities: Deuter Streamer water bladder, rock climbing rope, Jetboil stove, extra gloves, extra jackets, two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, multiple packages of Extra Cheddar Goldfish, apple slices without the skin, and most importantly the hot chocolate packets with mini marshmallows. Oh, did I forget to mention that Jason and I were taking our sons and pulling them on sleds? Jason’s son Chase is three and my son Brennon is four so we had to make sure to bring enough clothing and snacks for the trip.

We arrived at the trailhead not knowing what to expect as far as the snow pack was concerned. The snowfall thus far in Colorado has been quite lackluster. Knowing that this particular trail is heavily used by cross country skiers and hikers alike, we strapped our snowshoes to our packs and got the kids bundled up as best we could. I measured off a piece of rock climbing rope and slid it through the sled and strapped it around the Futura Pro’s waist belt. We were ready to go.

The weather started off as overcast but soon cleared up and it was nice to have the sun out. The trail was well beaten so snowshoes weren’t needed and it was a blast hiking and pulling the boys in sleds behind us. The most fun they had, of course, was when there was a bit of downhill, but even when there wasn’t any pitch to the trail, Brennon was yelling for me to go faster and start running. Not being in the best of shape due to my partial inactivity over the winter months, I could only do this a handful of times.

About a mile and a half into the hike we stopped at a clearing to have some snacks and to let the dads take a breather. Unfortunately the wind started to pick up and the boys started to get cold. After quickly packing everything up we started to head back. A couple of times we got the boys out onto the path so they could run and play in the snow to warm up which seemed to work for a little while. But, eventually, with only a quarter mile left, Jason and I found ourselves with our kids on our shoulders. They seemed to be done with our sledding rigs and wanted to get a ride on us.

By the time we got back to the trucks the boys were pretty crabby so Jason quickly put them in the truck and turned on the heat while I got out the stove to heat up some water. After getting everything off and packed into the truck, I poured Chase and Brennon some hot chocolate, adding a bit of snow to the cups to cool the drinks down. Jason and I never saw our boys happier than when we were on the road and they had the warm chocolate and marshmallows in their stomachs!  What a perfect way to start off the New Year and find yet another great use for my Futura Pro!

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Originally posted @ Deuter


The past few years have not been so good to certain football fans. Particularly to me, having grown up in Buffalo and now living in Denver. So the decision was fairly easy to make – go fishing! It didn’t hurt that the weather was a perfect 50 degrees with not a cloud in the sky (not bad for a mid-December day). I threw my equipment into my Speed Lite 20, hopped in the car and drove 15 minutes up the road.

On this day there would be no hiking above treeline, or stuffing my pack with 50 pounds of gear and hiking for ten miles. It was going to be an easy day in town. It had to be since everything above 7,000 feet was frozen solid and I really didn’t feel like hiking in an auger to cut through a frozen lake. So a nice stroll along the creek would have to suffice.

I started out at a new spot that I hadn’t fished before. Not knowing what to expect, I was surprised when I walked up to the first hole and saw half a dozen fish slowly swimming the shore. Unfortunately, I saw them from a foot bridge and there wasn’t a clear area to cast from. So I hiked down below the bridge and roll casted as far as I could. Not good enough. Either my cast or my stumbling over the snow-covered rocks had scared the fish, and after half an hour I decided to continue exploring.

I walked the side of the river for another half a mile. I saw a few good spots that might have held fish but there didn’t appear to be any signs of life in the water. I wet my line in a couple of spots, got tangled up in more than a couple of spots, and after an hour decided to pack it in and drive to an area that was more familiar.

Arriving at the parking lot, I was greeted by a park ranger. He was shocked to see someone out in that area fly fishing. He tried his hardest to get me to give up my secret locations, but I was purposely vague, which may have been the annoyance that caused him to ask for my fishing license. He wished me luck and I was on my way.

Another nice thing about fishing while a football game is on is that most people are actually sitting indoors and watching the game. Not that this area gets much pressure from fishermen, but it was nice not to see the crowds of hikers that I normally would see in the area.

As I got to my first hole, I was getting ready to cast in to a deep pool, when a couple of fighter jets roared by overhead. Obviously they had just done a fly by over Mile High Stadium and the football game was underway. I took this to be a good omen and three casts later it was fish on!

I was in tight quarters, I was hooked in to a nice brown trout with tree branches a couple feet overhead and using a 3 wt. rod. I did not want this fish to get off the hook. I was on my knees and stripping line in as gently as possible. Within a couple of minutes the fish was in the net.

After a few pictures and a gentle release, the beautiful brown trout was back where he belonged. It was time for me to pack up and head home as well. Although there was only one fish caught in a few hours of fishing, it was a perfect day. The only thing left was to get home and watch the Broncos win their sixth straight game. What? Did you think I would actually miss the game? It’s 2011 and I have a DVR.


Originally posted @ Deuter.

hiking colorado deuter orvis fly fishing trout ramblings backpacking silver dollar lake

Tis the end of the hiking season. Ok, the end of my hiking season. The snow is making its way to the high country. I wanted to get one last hike in before it was too cold and the high mountain lakes started to freeze. This time I went solo.

I had the morning free so I was up early and at the trailhead at 5:45 am. I put my headlamp on, got out of the jeep and was struck by the 28 degree air. I was prepared for the cold, so it wasn’t an issue as I hauled my Futura Pro onto my back. Have I mentioned how much I love this pack? Anyways, the 28 degrees wasn’t bad in part because there was no wind to speak of.


fly fishing rocky mountains colorado deuter orvis trout ramblings hiking backpackingThis was actually the first time I have ever hiked in the dark and I would definitely do it again. It was such a different experience, only being able to see the trail for as far as my headlamp would shine. I have been on this trail multiple times, but seeing it only eight feet at a time was a very strange sensation. Halfway through the hike the sky was turning from black to the darkest purple I had ever seen. I have always gotten up early but I have never been hiking on the side of a mountain at this time of day and I was glad I had. I’m positive that those of you who hike 14’ers have seen this many times, but for me it was inspiring.

As I approached the lake, the ground was frozen and the trickles of water running over the rocks were not fully thawed. For a split second I thought that the lake might already have started to freeze, but as I approached I was relieved to see that it hadn’t. As I was getting my gear together and threading the fly line through the eyelits, the sun was just starting to hit the peaks that stood 1,000 feet above me.

To give you a little background on the lake I was fishing, it is part of a group of lakes that my friends and I refer to as the Lockjaw Lakes – meaning the fish have “lockjaw” and hardly ever take a fly. You can see them swimming all over the place, but when your fly hits the water they either scatter or come over to have a look and then slowly swim away. This day would be no different.

ptarmigan fly fishing backpacking rocky mountains colorado trout deuter orvis hikingThe first hour of fishing brought no signs of cutthroat trout, but I did stumble upon a family of ptarmigan. I hear them all the time when I am at these high altitude lakes, but I have never seen them close up before. This time it seemed they couldn’t care less that I was in their area and were just slowly walking around. It was hard to spot them because their colors blend in to their surroundings so well and it was nice to just stand an watch them for a few minutes.

As my feathered friends moved on it was time to get serious about catching a fish. I started to see signs of life as one by one I noticed trout cruising the shore. But, once again, the flies I was using were of no interest to the fish. All I could think was “Not again!” I have fished this lake about a half dozen times and have only caught one trout. I was hoping that today would bring at least my second but the morning was slowly slipping away without a tug on my line.

fly fishing backpacking rocky mountains colorado cuttroat trout orvis deuter ramblingsThen it finally happened. I double hauled my line out as far as I could and let my wooly bugger sink. As I was letting the line meander under the water, I was fidgeting with my waders or my line or something on my lanyard when I felt the tug. “Yahtzee!” As I got the slack out of the line and put some pressure on the fish, it felt like a decent sized trout. I was being extremely careful because I did not want this fish to get off the hook, but I also did not want to tire him out. A good 45 seconds went by and then I was finally able to get him in the net. And boy was he a pig! Not the biggest I have seen come out of these lakes but a nice fat one nonetheless. The fish must have known that the snow is coming and were gorging themselves on food to get fat for the winter freeze.

I fished for another couple of hours, saw a lot more fish swimming all over the place, but nothing else would be in my net on this day. I packed up and started to head down the trail. I passed a handful of hikers on their way up and each one of them commented on the fact that I was already heading back and it was only noon. I told them that the early fisherman gets his fish, then heads back for a nice afternoon nap. And that is exactly what I did.


Originally posted at Deuter.

“I’ve put a lot of miles on my legs, hiked into barren lakes, been rained / snowed on, post holed in waist deep snow, trudged through marsh & mud, slept in the dirt, been lost, bushwhacked for hours, missed work, and put thousands of miles on my truck…the rewards of the high country are pretty sweet!” – Mike Garcia

Mohawk Lakes Rocky Mountains Continental Divide Fly Fishing Deuter Orvis Hicking cutthroat troutI am not sure what else to say about this particular day hike that Mike and I did. I am half tempted to just put a picture up and call it a day. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and in this case it might be two thousand. As you have read in previous posts, I have hiked and fished a lot over the past few months and sometimes not doing so much catching. But it isn’t always about the fish, until it is.

This trip was like the rest, head up to the trailhead on Friday night, throwRocky Mountain colorado hiking backpacking deuter orvis fly fishing cutthroat trout ramblings back a couple Fat Tires, crash out for a few hours and then up at the crack of dawn to start hiking – getting to the lake at the normal time, 8:30 in the morning. The timing of this particular hike turned out to be just about perfect. It was spawning season. That means that the fish are extremely active in the inlets and outlets of the lake, unfortunately they only have one thing on their mind and it is sometimes difficult to get them to bite.

Mike and I headed to the outlet and couldn’t believe all of the fish we saw. They were stacked up in a little section of water no more than two feet deep, all jockeying for position and trying to finish their spawning rituals. This was the perfect time to get some video footage of these cutthroat trout, up-close and personal.

fly fishing rocky mountains colorado cutthroat trout orvis deuter ramblings hiking lake Excited about all of the activity, we took our packs off and started to rig up. Not sure why it took me so long, but Mike was already in the water before I even had my waders on. I hear him say something about a big trout cruising and then…fish on! I scrambled to grab my net and camera and get in the water to help Mike out. He was telling me “it is big!” and telling himself not to lose it. I can attest that it is sometimes quite easy to hook a fish that can just as easily to get unhooked. On this day, Mike’s wasn’t going to get unhooked.



fly fishing cutthroat trout orvis deuter rocky mountains continental divide colorado deuter orvis ramblingsAs I hurried out to meet Mike, he scooped the beast of a cutthroat up in to his net. Well, halfway in to the net. As I approached, I finally was able to see just how big this trout was. The tail was sticking out of the net as Mike walked over to unhook his trout of a lifetime. With hands shaking, and the trout trying to get free, Mike said in a shaky voice “This is the biggest fish I have ever caught!”

After the pictures were taken and the fly was removed, the fish was back in the water. I was excited for Mike, but of course I needed to have my own fun as well. So a little more than two minutes later I was hooked up. Granted, the fish wasn’t nearly as big as Mike’s but it didn’t matter, it was in my net and it was a fantastic 18” cutthroat trout.

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Then about an hour later, it turned off. Not a bite or a bump. We could still see all of the fish cruising,

but they weren’t interested. We decided to try the other side of the lake, to no avail. So we packed our things and headed to another lake that we passed on the way up. The fish were spawning there as well, although much smaller in size, but the colors were so vibrant that the size really didn’t matter.



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At the end of the day, nine fish were caught with one of them being the monster Mike has been fishing for all these years. All were tricked into taking flies that Mike and I had tied up ourselves, making the day thatmuch sweeter.

And that is why we hike.



Originally posted at Deuter.

5 Days & 52 lbs.

Backpacking Deuter Aspen Trees Colorado West Elk Wilderness Fly fishing golden trout  campingWhat I should have never done was weigh my pack. If you are packing your bag at the trailhead and someone says they have a scale, just walk away because you really do not want to know how much it weighs. Especially when you know you are hiking on and off for five days with an estimated total of 30 miles. But I caved in and weighed my pack. I was using my Aircontact 65+10, it was five days out in the wilderness after all and I needed to bring everything I could for this adventure. My natural high was reaching its apex as I was about to hit the open trail, but finding out my pack weighed in at 52 lbs. took a bit of wind out of my sails.


Fly Fishing Deuter Orvis golden trout camping backpacking colorado high mountain fishingI was taking this trip with 3 friends that I met a few years ago on – Mike, Rick, and Ryan. We have fished a lot together since our first fish outing and what a great group of guys to go hunting for an “extinct” fish. You see, the Golden Trout was once known to exist in the high country of Colorado, but the last time they were stocked was in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Although the trout are believed to be extinct, we had some inside info on one spot that “might” still have golden trout.  We did some research and still didn’t find that much on the subject. So we decided to go for it, keep our fingers crossed, and hope that we would survive the hike to this secret location.


As I put the 52 lbs. on my back for the first time, I had no idea what kind of day I was in for. We left the trailhead at 8 a.m. and didn’t arrive at our destination until 5 p.m. ­– nine hours on the trail! Fourteen miles in total. Five of those miles were without trail and we had to bushwack through the wilderness with only vague GPS points to guide us. I had no idea that when you are hiking through the wilderness without any trails, there are a lot of trees that fall in the forest. I must have climbed over 500 downed trees that day, not to mention the boulder fields I was climbing up on my hands and knees! I had no idea I was going to be taking my 52 lbs. on such a journey.

You might be asking yourself what would drive a man to go through such a trek for a fish that may or may not exist. Well for me it is simple, it’s a challenge, it’s the unknown, it’s the possibility of finding something that only a handful of people have found in 30 years!


golden trout fly fishing colorado deuter orvis backpacking camping rocky mountainsIf you are wondering what the outcome of this expedition was, well – as the saying goes – we struck gold!



Mike’s ACT Lite 65 + 10 weighed in at 56 lbs. in case you were wondering. At least I didn’t have the heaviest pack out there!

– Originally posted @



Distance hiked over two weekends: 15 miles

Elevation gained over two weekends: 5600 feet

Number of fish caught over two weekends: 0

Weekend three would add another eight miles and 2500 feet of elevation to that total, and luckily a few fish in the net.

Why, you might ask, is an intermediate hiker like myself hiking so often and so far? It’s because I have a backpacking trip planned in to the West Elk Wilderness, which is located in the southwest region of Colorado, so I am trying to get prepared for this 20 mile/5 day jaunt in to the unknown. So these three weekends in a row are my workouts.

On this third excursion I stepped up to the big pack and stuffed it full! I’m not sure how much it ended up weighing, but my Aircontact 65+10 was packed to the seams when I hoisted it on to my shoulders and headed up the trail.

This particular trailhead lead up to a lake that sat at 12,000 feet above sea level. The trail, marked as “difficult,” was a little over three miles one way. Joining me for this trip were Mike and Ryan – both of which are going with me on my trip in a couple of weeks. So all three of us were using this hike as training and it was well worth it.

Reaching the lake around 8:30 am, we were glad to see that only a small section of the inlet was still frozen. Camped along the edge of the lake, a couple of guys were just getting out of their tents so we stopped to have a little chat. They said they had no luck with catching the cutthroat trout that were supposed to be in the lake. That not being a deterrent, we headed for the far side and started to rig up.

I was the first to put the waders on and head into the lake. I waded out to chest deep water and started throwing a streamer to the edge of the shelf that ran the shore of the lake. Within just a couple of casts I had a fish on, and then off. A couple more casts and another fish was on, and then off. Maybe the lack of catching fish as of late was hurting my ability to actually keep a fish hooked.


Just as I was about to have my third fish on and get off, Mike yelled out “Yahtzee” and the first fish of the day was about to be netted. It was a beautiful 14” cutthroat and gave me and Ryan hope that we too would get in to some of the same caliber. Ryan was next up and landed a nice eight incher and then I finally got the skunk off and netted an eight inch cutthroat as well.

In total, we caught around ten fish in just a couple of hours with Mike getting a total of two that were

in the 14” range and Ryan and I getting the smaller ones. I didn’t mind that my fish was a small one, it was just nice to finally catch a fish after all of the hiking I had done the previous two weekends.

Around 11:30 the fish seemed to have turned off. We decided to pack it in early and head out and fish some beaver ponds we had seen on the way up. So with packs on and poles in hand, we hiked down the ¾ of a mile to the beaver ponds.

Bushwacking through the willows, we noticed several little streams leading into and out of severallittle beaver ponds. Right away Ryan was in to yet another cutthroat, albeit a lot smaller than what was at the lake. Then Mike landed a couple. These little guys were everywhere! We fished for another hour and a half and then called it a day.

We got back to the truck in about an hour and a half. It was great to put some miles behind us and to have also done so well fly fishing in the short amount of time we had. Of course the Deuter 65+10 fit perfectly and made the hike that much easier. That and the Futura are amazingly comfortable and I really can’t believe I was hiking the past eight years without the comfort that I now get to enjoy. Although hiking with 40 lbs. on your back for a few hours might not be a joy to some, I can’t wait to do it again!


Head on over to the Deuter blog page and check out my first article for them. It was a picture perfect day, minus the wind and not catching any fish.

Ice Off

If you are like I was a few years ago, you might think this term has something to do with ice hockey. You would be wrong. As it was explained to me years ago, in simplest terms, it is when the ice on a lake is melted. It is also said that if you can time it just right and fish a lake just as it is icing off, the fish feed like crazy. Since they had been dormant for the months the lake was frozen, the trout are hungry and will take just about any fly or lure you throw at them. This, however, I have never witnessed myself.

Over the years that I have lived and fished in Colorado, I have tried numerous times to find this precise time to fish a lake. This past weekend was yet another of those times. Normally hiking in to the high country would have started by now, but because of the record snowfall this year in Colorado we have had to wait longer than normal. I was excited for the first hike of the season not because the snow had melted, but because I got to try out my new Deuter Futura Pro 42 backpack for the first time.

After eight years I was able to retire my old pack and start putting my Futura to the test. Two days before my trip (day hike) I started stuffing my Futura with the essentials – waders, cameras, base layers, hats, rain gear, fly fishing vest – you name it and I stuffed it in. It seemed like there was a perfect place to fit each item. I know I didn’t need half of those things, but you never know what type of weather to expect when hiking above 11,000 feet in Colorado.

For this first hike of the season, I was joined by my friends Kyle and Bob. We arrived at the trailhead around 7:30 and were greeted by a fly fisherman’s worst enemy – the wind. Trying not to be discouraged, we laced up our hiking boots, strapped our fly rods and nets to our packs and headed off. The hike is a moderate one that took about an hour and a half. The only obstacles to mention were a couple of snowfields. These were made tricky because of the wind’s constant attempt to push us over and start us sliding down the slope. With every step I was hoping that the wind would let up, but it never did.

When we made it to the lake I was glad to see that it was 95% open with only a small portion of ice along the shore. Because of the open water we thought it was going to be a good day of fishing, but the white caps rolling across the lake told a different story.

We walked along the shore to the corner of the lake and started to gearup. I won’t bore you with the details, but will just say that this trip was the shortest time I have ever spent fishing. The wind and waves made it difficult to cast a streamer farther than 25 feet. You might have reached 35 feet if you timed the gusts of wind just right, but for the most part it was a feeble attempt at catching fish.

Since we weren’t doing a good job at fishing, Kyle decided to use my Futura for a little R&R and soon realized that it was just as comfortable under his head as it was on my back. Bob also took this time to hike around the lake and take some pictures, since he would be a better photographer on this day than a fisherman.

After only seeing a single trout cruise by in the two hours we were there, we threw in the towel. I was a little discouraged, but not terribly, because other than the wind it was a perfect day. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky when I returned everything back into its place in my Futura and headed back to the trailhead.

Normally when I return to the trailhead after a day of hiking I am grateful to get the pack off my back, but the Futura fit so well I could hardly tell it was strapped on. The ease of hiking with that pack and its surprising capacity made the lack of catches a little more tolerable.


Photography by Robert Volpe.