by Nancy Rodriguez
What is it that draws us to venture into the backcountry? Is it the burning muscles and strained lungs that help get us to the top of the mountain? Is it the sweat soaked clothes that will never be the same after the journey? Is it the desire to sleep on dirt, tuck into a claustrophobic mummy bag, and surround ourselves with a paper thin home away from home? Maybe it’s the exciting (OK…maybe frightening) sudden lightning storms that roll through the high country on warm summer days. Perhaps it’s the hummingbird size mosquitoes that latch on to every inch of exposed skin, trying to drain us like a juice box.
It’s clear spending time in the backcountry is a paradox. It’s a balance between discomfort and the pleasure of feeling completely at ease and at “home”.
Summer is the time that my husband Joe and I love some backcountry therapy, so we are venturing into the Eastern Sierra’s of California on a hiking and fishing excursion. Our hike will take us to several high mountain lakes around 10,000 feet in elevation. This will be a great way to get our legs and lungs ready for the hunting season ahead.
As the miles pass under our boots, Mother Nature’s beauty encompasses us and I know there is nowhere else I would rather be. Huge rocky spires still covered in snow tower above. Spring rains have brought vibrant lush green foliage and Skittle colored wildflowers to the surrounding hills. Yellow, orange, and purple butterflies dance about while they guide us up the mountain. Birds sing, play, and bathe in the trailside snow runoff. A fluffy marmot scurries across a granite boulder in front of us. Nature’s beauty acts as a mild anesthetic, numbing the pain on our bodies but only for a little while. As we crest the final ridge we begin to feel energized. There before us lies an electric blue high mountain lake with sun lit diamonds dancing across the surface. Avalanche chutes are carved in the remaining snow as waterfalls pour from them into the lake below. I’m not sure why, but colors always seem more brilliant in the backcountry. The view nearly takes my breath away. Before long I see a ripple break the surface of the water and I feel an overwhelming urge to wet a line, but the fish will have to wait… for now. With dark clouds building on the ridges above, we should find a camp site first.
Two tired and happy backpackers weave in and out of the dense pine forest and climb across large granite boulders until we find a camp site. A perfect flat spot amongst the short green grass and wildflowers is calling to our tent. The spot has a 360 degree unobstructed view of pure beauty and will make a perfect home for the next four days. We quickly set up our camp like we have done a hundred times before. The tent is set, water purifier hung, bear containers packed with food, and our essentials tucked away in their temporary homes. Looking out across the lake we embrace the peace and solitude.
The scramble down to the water’s edge is full of excitement and childhood wonder. Our lines are tossed in unison as we try to decide what the fish will hit. Our spoons and jigs dance through the water until one of us feels the unmistakable tug on the line and a beautiful trout breaks the surface. “Fish On” echoes in the silence as I look down the shore and watch my husband smile and reel in the first fish. Many more follow.
As the sky starts it’s nightly sunset ritual, we sit crossed legged on the dirt enjoying the show. We dine on a gourmet meal of fresh trout as twinkling stars start to appear in the night sky and moonlight reflects across the lake. We snuggle together listening to the distant waterfall and taking in this perfect summer night.
After a blissful night sleep, the morning birds start to sing and gently stir us from our mountain slumber. The cool air fills my lungs; I wipe the sleep from my eyes and heat water for my morning coffee. Joe and I perch ourselves on a rock and cradle warm mugs as we watch the mountains wake up. I swear my coffee has never tasted so good. After breakfast, we lace up our boots, throw on our packs, and grab our fishing poles.
Our boots burn through miles of dirt over the next few days as we search out different high mountain lakes. The fishing is out of this world and we feel our batteries recharge.
It’s hard to say goodbye to this beautiful place. With our backpacks loaded and hiking sticks in hand, Joe and I gaze out at the gorgeous beauty of the backcountry. We give our thanks for all that Mother Nature gives to us…a beautiful journey through life. We head down the trail and I glance back one last time…Until we meet again.