Day 8: July 16
I slept well last night, and felt good enough this morning to walk.
We broke camp in the late morning and made the short trek over rocky tundra to Lake of the Winds via Z Lake. We took our time and arrived at camp in the early afternoon.
Lake of the Winds is notorious for two things: large finicky cutthroat and, as the name indicates, wind.
Lake of the Winds is perched on a high bench with lots of weather exposure and little protection. Camping in the wind is problematic up here for backpackers who expect to have a relaxing sit by a nice fire in the evening.
After setting up camp, the winds picked up, the crew scurried to the big tent (an HMG Ultamid 4) and played cards.
I dressed in my storm gear and went fishing.
In spite of whitecaps on the lake, the wind blowing my line every which way, and graupel pelting my face, I managed to sneak enough temptation along the deep shelf at the edge of the talus to get into several tangles with large trout.
The trout were winning, spitting out my fly or breaking me off. So I switched to heavier tippet and finally managed to land a 19-inch Yellowstone Cutthroat. After a little more fishing and one smaller trout, my numb hands were done and I walked back to camp, a forked willow stick carrying my dinner fare.
With the others getting rather excited about me bringing a leviathan back to camp, they grabbed their fishing rods and headed down to the lake themselves. I cleaned one fish (saving the other for the other cook group), poached and deboned it, and put the meat in the fry bake to ready it for dinner later.
A makeshift fireplace and chimney has been constructed at our camp with flat stones stacked and arranged against a large boulder on a granite slab. A few of our Crew improved it by filling in the cracks with mud, so the fireplace now works as designed. This is the problem with having a bunch of engineers and engineer’s sons together in the wilderness.
Needless to say, the fire that has been built within it is creating a monumental amount of heat that is welcome in this cold, windy environment.
After a dinner of Alfredo noodles with more than a pound of ghee-fried trout meat added (for me and my cooking partner), we cleaned up and noticed a very strange phenomenon.
So we went fishing again, caught more trout, cooked more trout, and ate more trout.
By the time Round 2 was done, it was dark, warm, and calm. For the first time on our trek, we are enjoying a warm, windless night at a famously cold and windy spot.
I’ve been here half a dozen times over the past two decades and this is the first time I’ve enjoyed an evening here without weather trauma – we are indeed enjoying a relaxing sit by a nice fire…
Tomorrow: crossing the crest via an easy col to fish-filled Fossil Lake.
Follow this live expedition blog as Backpacking Light’s Ryan Jordan, Eric Vann, and five others weave their way through glacial cirques, tundra meadows, and talus fields in Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness July 9-20. Dispatches will be posted to the Backpacking Light Facebook page, Instagram feed, and the backpackinglight.com home page.