Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Sunday, October 4, 2009
The park’s peak months are from June to August, autumn also holds a special lure for tourists wanting to see aspens changing color and large populations of elk. People travel from all over the world to tour the park and escape the chaos and crowded streets of major cities. It just so happens that 3 million other people annually also have the same idea at one point or another. Perhaps it’s a little ironic then, that one would end up at the end of an 80-car standstill in the middle of a national park. One thing you won’t find, however, is angry drivers or the sound of car-horns blaring. Instead, excited heads pop through sunroofs and through passenger windows with cameras ready to see what everyone else sees.
By the fifth day in the park we stopped looking for elk altogether and drove until we found other cars pulled off on the side of the road. While a little discomforting to think of traffic in such a beautiful place, it was refreshing to see such a crazed enthusiasm for wildlife.
On Friday morning, I woke up before sunrise to search for my own herd of elk off the beaten path and far from the crowds. Just beyond Barry’s house an open grazing ground proved a perfect spot. Hiking through the trees I came to a clearing and there they were.
Three bull elk lumbered amongst a small harem of cows, pronouncing their dominion over the others with shrieking bugle calls. Desensitized to humans, they let me approach without worry.
I watched as they sparred, clashing full racks of bone, performing for their female audience. I spent 20 minutes photographing in the cold morning alone with these wonderful creatures. I thanked them for the private session and headed back up the hill to my car.
Turning onto the main road I drove for a few minutes until coming to a complete stop. Stuck behind twenty other vehicles I slowly inched forward until I saw a large gathering of people photographing a bull elk that had just walked across the road.
Friday, October 2, 2009
For cheap entertainment take two people from the southeast, drop them off in the Rockies, and watch them assume that the weather in the valley equals the weather in the mountains.
I’m not inexperienced; I’m just forgetful sometimes.
We ignored the weather reports because we saw blue skies. We also ignored the fact that no one else was going up the mountain. Everyone else in their right mind was on their way down with rosy cheeks and hurried feet. Our agenda, however, was adventure and we were determined to find it somewhere around Loch Lake, 4 miles from the parking lot and 1,000 feet up.
Our fishing licenses expired the next morning, so of course we brought our rods. Several hikers commented on this saying “You’re going fishing up there?! Good luck!” Obviously they had never seen anyone cast into gale force winds.
The first hour, a scenic and gradual climb, we passed small creeks and enjoyed the peaceful quiet of snow falling gently around the trail.
As soon as we ascended into the basin of The Loch, soft snow soon turned into howling zephyrs reaching sixty miles per hour. White caps ripped across the lake and ponderosa pines clung to exposed boulders.
The view was spectacular. Dramatic and dangerous, dark clouds and partial sunshine appeared to jump out of Albert Bierstadt’s personal collection. While making an image, worried that my shivering hand would blur the photograph, I set my camera on a timer. The wind had no problem lifting up my tripod and tossing it to the side, luckily landing on the tree.
It didn’t take long for my cotton glove liners to soak up the cold forcing me to keep my hands buried in my armpits. Despite the misery, we were still determined (I was still determined) to go fishing, but getting a line out on the exposed lake would have been impossible. We hiked towards the south end of the lake that appeared wooded with an icy creek flowing through the middle. Stopping at a nice spillover, I struggled to tie on a fly with my frozen fingers, which felt as hopeless as trying to walk on a leg that had fallen asleep. Hannah found refuge from the wind under a small overhang and huddled into a ball without uttering one word of discomfort. After a few short casts, my line had frozen solid and I almost reached the point of surrender when I felt a stiff tug.
I fought the fish for a couple of minutes before trying to remove the fly. All species of trout have a slimy coating to protect them from bacteria and other sicknesses, which is why anglers always wet their hands before handling fish. Unfortunately, the only water I had readily available was the icy cold glacier flow in front of me. Quickly I dunked my hands in, removed the fly, and held the fish for a photo I rigged up with the tripod. The fish survived and I immediately shoved my hands under my bare armpits to regain circulation.
We caught the fish, hiked the lake, and braved a violent snowstorm. It was time to go home. Our first stop would be the Coffee on the Rocks café for a steaming cup of hot chocolate. What a day.