Day 73 on the Continental Divide Trail

Day- 73

Date- 9/2/17

Location- Shadow Lake

Elevation- 10,302 ft

Distance Traveled Today- 26.1 miles

Distance Traveled Total- 1,054.7 miles

Weather/Temp- clear, 70s 80s

Injuries- none

Pain level- zero

Spirits/Morale- relaxed

Wildlife encounters- trout

Days without shower- 2

Days without laundry- 7

Hunger/craving- none

I’ve been waking up every night around 1 am lately, then unable to fall back asleep until after 2 am. I think it may have something to do with the angle of the nearly full moon. It has been so bright lately, it shines right through my eye lids. Nevertheless, I still feel like the sleep I’m getting is proficient, and I was hiking by 7:30 am. It’s nice that it only takes me 3 minutes to pack up from cowboy camping.

Even though everyone else’s early start motivates me to get up early, I’m still always the last one on trail; which is fine by me.

First thing this morning, I finished the climb up to Hat Pass and had a long breakfast in solitude. After that, I descended several hundred feet and the fun really began. I was walking alongside a medium sized lake when I noticed a moth fluttering on the surface of the water, close to shore. I stopped to watch it for a few moments, but no sooner had I leaned on my staff, a trout exploded on the surface and devoured it. My pack was off and I was rigging up my broken pole before the ripples had even settled.

Standing on an outcropping of rock, I began to pop my fly on the water’s surface. Almost immediately a 10 inch brook trout shot up and ate it; wham! I set the hook and had the fish on shore in seconds. I stuffed it in a Ziploc bag, hid it in the cool shade of my pack, then hopped back onto the rocky out cropping.

Every couple minutes another trout would swim by the rock. I’d pop the fly in front of it or skitter it across the surface like a desperate and drowning insect. I nailed one after the other after the other. I was cherry picking brook trout, throwing anything under 10 inches back in. Sight fishing is my favorite type of fishing, and after 45 minutes I had six keeper trout; the smallest being ten inches and the biggest being around 15 inches. I didn’t know my harvest limit for brook trout, but for some reason I remember someone saying “six” was a safe number. Besides, I only needed to feed 6 people.

It was actually a hotter than usual day, well into the 80’s. I plodded along steadily, alternating between sagebrush hills and high pine forests. Every so often I’d stop and set the bag of fish down in a cool creek ¬†for 5 to 10 minutes. My goal was to keep their eyes from glazing over before reaching camp. They wouldn’t be perfectly fresh, but they would be far from spoiled.

I picked up the pace and caught up to the others a little before the Cirque of the Towers trail junction, around 23 miles into the day. It was already late and almost dark, but we still wanted to get a few more miles into this new side trail.

The sun sank and the moon rose above the jagged peaks as we finished the day up in the moonlit dark along the shores of shadow lake. It was a much later finish than we wanted, but the heat had sapped all our energy today. By the time we were all set up, it was after 9pm and I hadn’t even cleaned the trout yet. I’ll be damned if I was going to let them go to waste, so I built up a fire ring and began to get a fire going with some branches I’d packed in before reaching the lake. Once I had the semblance of a flame going, Stomper took over building it up while I went to clean the trout.

It took all of about two minutes to clean the 6 trout. When I worked on fishing boats, myself and two other guys could clean, skin, and de-bone around 1,600 pounds of fish in about an hour and a half. To say I’ve had a lot of practice is an understatement.

With the small neck knife I’m carrying, fillet-ing the trout isn’t the best option. I could do it, but the risk to butchering the delicate fillets would be great; a small, thin fillet knife would be ideal, but my stumpy neck knife would have to make due.

My technique for cleaning trout is very simple. Take the tip of your knife and gently cut their belly open from their anus to their throat (I usually just go as far up under their lower jaw as possible). Remember, the goal is to do this cleanly without puncturing any of the guts and spilling extra fluids into the cavity and potentially tainting the meat. So you’re just using the tip of the knife to cut open the skin, not disembowel the creature in one fell cut. This first cut takes all of a few seconds. After you’ve made this first cut, take your knife and cut straight down behind the back of the trout’s head. Don’t cut the head off, but cut deep enough to just sever its spinal cord. After the spinal cord is cut, grasp the head in one hand and the body in the other; pull the head down and away while lifting the body in the opposite direction. All of the guts will still be attached to the head via the esophagus, as well as a membrane encasing. It will all pull cleanly out of the body cavity without fuss. Discard the head and entrails and clean out the empty body cavity with water. Your trout is ready to season/stuff/cook/etc.

Obviously this technique leaves all the little trout bones still planted inside the delicate little trout body. They can be a pain to remove or eat around, but there is an easy trick to remove them if your cooking skills are up to par. Once you have the trout cooked to the point that the meat is practically falling off the carcass, you can remove the bones in one of two ways. You can use your knife to gently lengthen the cut at the lower base of the body to the base of the tail. Gently but firmly grasp the tail and pull upwards along the open abdomen; the backbone and nearly every single little rib should lift free of the meat (if its been cooked to tender perfection) in one neat piece. If any meat peels off with the bones it can easily be scrapped free and eaten. The second technique is to grab the base of the backbone where the head used to be and simply pull it out from that side/direction. If you do it this way, you may need to use your knife to cut the backbone free from the tail. Both methods work just fine, but it’s your own preference.

Everyone had been dog tired and climbing into sleeping bags, but once there was trout cooking on rocks along the edge of the fire…they gathered around. When you hike with Kyle, every man, woman, and child gets their own trout; it’s the Mayoral way. By 10 pm I’d cooked all the fish and everyone had eaten their share. I was finally able to set up my pads and sleeping bag on some smooth rocks and clean up. After everyone had gone to bed, Stomper and I stayed up until almost 11 pm to let the flames die down to embers.

The moon is getting more full every night, which is messing up my view of the Milky Way. Full moons are cool, but they create a lot of light pollution. I’d prefer a cloudless and moonless night sky if it were up to me. Tomorrow…Cirque of the towers.

Go to Day 74.

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