We awoke in our cozy cabin to dark southern skies–an unusual sight this time of year. We checked the forecasts from every weather website we knew of and they all said the same thing: chance of rain and thunderstorms all day, but clear tomorrow. The thing about living in a valley between many mountain ranges is that the mountains create the weather, so relying on forecasts gives an often unrealistic view of the day’s weather. Having grown up and backpacked in New England where the weather is predictably unpredictable, I am comfortable with being prepared for any possible weather; as a result of our confidence in being prepared, Joe and I decided to head out for yet another lake despite the potentially dire forecast. The hike was stunning: open sagebrush with views of the red hills of the Gros Ventres coupled with occasional conifer forests, crystal clear creeks, and mossy springs. The trail itself was rolling and encouraged an ambling pace that invited careful observations of the landscape.
It took us only two hours to reach the lake, where we proceeded to take the familiar steps of setting up camp, a fire/cooking area, and a bear hang. The skies were still mostly clear and we were able to get out fishing by about 1:00pm. A quick, passing shower was all the encouragement I needed to retreat to the tent for a short nap. Another passing shower with distant thunder was enough to get Joe to join me in the tent, where we played a relaxing game of cribbage through another–this time five minute–shower that dumped nearly dime-sized graupel on the tent. The equivalent of 15 minutes of precipitation over the course of the day made us glad we didn’t chose to stay home in our cabin.
The evening was sunny with some puffy clouds and we enjoyed rice and beans on tortillas by the fire. I also learned how to make “dough boys”–not to be confused with the fried dough I called a dough boy that I occasionally got at the Bangor (Maine) State Fair as a kid. Apparently calling that particular treat a “dough boy” is a Mainer-ism, according to Joe who hails from Connecticut and calls dough boys something completely different. These involved a willow switch, bark shaved away where the dough would be, stretched dough wrapped carefully around the bare tip of the stick, then rotated patiently over the hot coals of the fire so that the dough would cook through, yet leave a golden crust on the outside. The last step was to roll in butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. A perfect backcountry dessert.
The second day involved not only fishing and relaxing, but also hiking and finding fossils and wildflowers.
In the afternoon, Joe figured out how and where to find the brook trout. We’d heard that there were trophy brookies and cutthroat trout in this small lake, but we’d only seen big cuts patrolling the shelf where the lake dropped off.
But indeed there were brookies; they just required a bit more patience. Brook trout might be my favorite freshwater fish. Even when they are not sporting their spawning colors, their spotted silver skin seems like something out of an impressionist painting. And it turns out they’re beautiful outside and in–the pinkest fish I’ve seen short of sockeye salmon. Given that they are native to the Northeast, not Wyoming, and compete with the native cutthroat trout here in Wyoming, they seem to taste even better here… We steamed a couple of the brookies with herbed rice and ate them by the campfire the first night, then butterfly-cooked it over the campfire for lunch the next day.
As we finished cleaning up on our last night, the gray skies and gusty winds of the late afternoon transformed to still, bright blue skies as the slowly setting sun cast long shadows around camp. A hatch of small, non-biting gnats was illuminated like miniature clouds of dancing fairies, urging us to sleep soundly in the wilderness until morning.