It's not often that I go backpacking on the spur of the moment, but this year's 4th of July holiday was a bit of a different beast for me. My wife and kids were visiting with family in California, leaving me home alone over the 4th with my dog, Ridley, a 3-year old golden retriever that harbors a deep love for mountain lakes and streams. On top of flying solo, the 4th of July fell on a Wednesday, making for a short break compared to most years. With high temperatures inbound, I decided late on Monday night that I would take off midday at Tuesday and hike a few miles deep into Utah's Uinta Mountain Range to make way for a secluded lake that is rumored to hold wary but large brook trout.
Getting out on Tuesday with my dog was pretty easy. While I missed my family, not having to worry about every little thing my kids might need for such a trip greatly simplified things. I hit the road with a full backpack, some fly fishing gear, and enough food to get by. With all the springs in the Uintas, I would source my water on the trail and at camp.
The day was gorgeous, and I didn't run into a single person hiking into my destination. As I left the trail a mile in in favor of a more direct approach and a more challenging ascent, I left any hope of running into fellow backpackers far behind. My dog was all in for the adventure as we hopped deadfall, scrambled over boulders, crossed small streams, and skirted around small lakes. Eventually we made it to our destination, and the setting was gorgeous. I pitched my tent, assembled my Orvis Helios 3, and tied on a small renegade dry fly. I thought I should tempt the local brookies.
Within a few minutes I had a gorgeous 16" brook trout to hand. My dog was a little confused when I turned it loose, but I already packed food for the night's dinner. We teased the edges of the lake for a while more, hooking into a few more fish, before the light began to run out on us. A spring ran into the lake directly out of the mountain, and I filled up my water bottles and drank the cold water until I was water logged.
A quick fire, a small dinner, and some star gazing (the stars at 11,000 feet are spectacular) rounded out the night as the 3rd spilled over into the 4th. My first time using a Klymit pad for sleeping was a big success, that little air pad is magical. Highly recommended.
On the morning of the 4th it was silent out, and we spent the morning catching a few more fish, soaking in the serenity, and then finally making the hike back to the car, a few miles away. On the way out, we did come across one other hiker, who gave us a friendly conversation for a few minutes. Like us, he was looking for a quieter experience for the 4th of July.
After getting back to the car, driving home, and unpacking, there was still a few hours of daylight left. I knew the bang and clatter of fireworks and BBQs would be starting up, and I was still feeling the desire to be away from it all. I showered, changed into wet wading attire, and hit the road once more where a short hike would lead me to eager trout. I couldn't resist.
The evening fishing was fantastic. I got home fairly late, and only a handful of fireworks were still going on. While I love a good aerial, a hamburger with a side of watermelon, and some apple pie, I think the backcountry's draw will pull me back again next year.
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