Fire and road closures dictated a roundabout path to June Lake in Central California as we embarked on our Golden Trout Pack Trip last week. If you followed along on the inReach map link in the newsletter, you might have wondered where the heck we were going. Nevertheless, we arrived at our destination on time, as did our merry band of adventurist guests...
Jennifer and I had decided to head east, down through Burns, into Nevada and the famous town of Winnemucca, before turning southwest, skirting Mono Lake, and slipping into June Lake from there. As mentioned, wildfires had closed many of the approaches, so this seemed to be the shortest and safest route.
The first travel day closed with a fiery sunset enhanced by the smoke of far-a-way fires and a quiet camp in the Alvord desert. The silence that night was incredible, with the full moon shining red through a smokey sky.
We pushed on into Winnemucca the following morning, with only a few stops to observe the migration of Morman Crickets. These massive insects covered the road in some places, making a distinct crunching sound under the 4Runners tires as we motored towards breakfast. Thankfully, their chunky bodies lacked the ability to gain altitude, thus avoiding the windshield. Still, we learned they can become a driving hazard during heavy migrations as roads become slick with the carnage of flattened crickets.
If by any chance you find yourself in Winnemucca around breakfast time, make a plan to stop at "The Griddle." This classic diner has been serving traditional breakfast fare since 1948 and has got it figured out. We stuffed ourselves on crepes, eggs, bacon, huevos rancheros, then shared a pancake for dessert. It's so good; we didn't need to stop for lunch.
June Lake, California, is a slightly out-of-the-way tourist town at the base of the Sierras, just south of Yosemite National Park. Silver Lake is the main draw, with anglers and summer vacationists crowding the waters and the small village, filling motels and restaurants. Fortunately, we traveled with our motel room on the roof of the 4Runner and spent the night next to the horses at Frontier Pack Train, right below the waterfall from Alger Creek.
By the time we rolled out of bed, wranglers were hard at work cinching saddles on horses and loading pack mules with food and supplies. We added our gear to their burden, then after a hardy breakfast, we met our horses, mounted up, and headed into the mountains.
As I might have mentioned elsewhere in the newsletter, my previous horse experience was VERY limited. On the other hand, Jennifer grew up with horses, riding, training, and owning a fairly impressive collection in her younger days. While she attempted to give me "riding lessons" on the drive down to June Lake, practical application was lacking, so I just went with the basic instruction given by the outfitter's cook as she waved us off with a slightly devilish smile on her face. As it turned out, Jennifer's insightful suggestions had found space in my brain, and I soon was feeling comfortable on Buba, my faithful steed.
The mountain trail has been carved into granite by hundreds of footfalls from both man and beast. Countless years of use and improvement make the path into the wonders lying beyond the first accent a collection of loose stone and steps made of the mountain itself. At times the trail switched back to where you could touch the riders coming up behind as it zig-zagged up the cliff face. Our horses were very much at home here in the high country and navigated the narrow sections with more confidence than their riders. Once we crested the rim overlooking June Lake, we relaxed a little and enjoyed the beauty of the mountains.
It was a 4-hour trek to our base camp on Rush Creek, where we lunched, unpacked, and got out fishing gear put together. The creek was full of Rainbow, Brook, and a Trout that looked to be a combination of both. We rifled through our fly boxes, catching fish on any and everything we floated by them.
The highlight of the trip was our ride out to Alger Lake in search of Golden Trout. This was the focus of this adventure, and we had decided to do it a day earlier as the weather forecast was good. The drought across the west has toppled water levels in most lakes, even those at high altitudes, causing waters to warm in the summer months. Alger Lake was reported to be fishing poorly, so Jennifer and I headed down the creek that eventually ends in Silver Lake, covering the plunge pools and pocket water with small dry flies.
Our first Golden came at the base of a waterfall and was celebrated for its incredible beauty and the stunning landscape it calls home. We proceeded to find Gold in almost every pocket of the creek, finding the residents very receptive to our offerings. Wildflowers rimmed the bubbling waters, adding to the memories we were making here in this high mountain meadow.
Storm clouds were gathering to the west, so we pack up our gear to ride back to Rush Creek. As I reached for my saddle, a flash closely followed by the roaring boom of thunder added a sense of urgency to our descent.
We spent the remaining days of the trip plying Rush Creek near the camp and taking a short ride up the trail, enjoying excellent angling success in an incredible setting. The thunderstorms that rolled in most evenings added to the adventure by bringing mushrooms bursting to the surface of the forest floor. Once this fact came to light, we kept an eye out for tasty additions to the dinner and breakfast menu. We dined on fresh King Bolete mushrooms, adding to the "cowboy cuisine" prepared by our young Aussie cook.
With a storm in the forecast, we opted to depart earlier on the final day to avoid descending the narrow trail in less than ideal conditions. It was a wise choice. Jennifer and I watched the tempest roll in from the comfort of a hotel room, freshly showered and thankful for the experience; already planning to return.
The following items were "must-haves" on this trip and should be added to your list if planning a similar adventure.