GET BREAKING NEWS IN YOUR BROWSER. CLICK HERE TO TURN ON NOTIFICATIONS.

X

An out of the way beaver pond in the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Area. (Courtesy photo)
An out of the way beaver pond in the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Area. (Courtesy photo)
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

An early start has its rewards. The cool air that settled overnight into the Rich Creek drainage was still there. It’s the best kind of air conditioning. I was standing at the trailhead just outside the boundary of the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Area. My day pack held a lightweight rainsuit, lunch, water filter, and most importantly my fly rod, a few fly boxes and the various other doo-dads that are crucial for an angler heading into the high country.

Beaver ponds in the Rich Creek drainage typically hold cutthroat trout. (Courtesy photo)

Initially, the idea behind the trip was to escape the mid-June heat wave and wildfire smoke that was smothering the Front Range, but that, like most things I do, quickly morphed into a fishing trip.

I’m no stranger to the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Area and the 10-mile trail that winds up along Rich Creek, crosses a divide and then loops down to Rough and Tumbling Creek and ultimately back to the trailhead. There are necklaces of beaver ponds in both drainages once you climb up out of the timber into the high meadows. Those beaver ponds hold cutthroat trout on the Rich Creek side and mostly brook trout with a few cutts on the Rough and Tumbling Creek side.

For many years that 10-mile loop constituted my first high country backpacking trip of the season. It was the kind of easy-going trip where I worked out any kinks with by backpacking gear and caught some trout, too. I released most of the them, but always packed some aluminum foil, salt, pepper and olive oil to cook a brook trout dinner on my campfire coals.

When I started up the trail this time around it wasn’t long before I began to feel the kind of familiarity that goes with backcountry that you’ve traveled before. I recognized landmarks from previous hikes, although my fishing journals showed that I’d last hiked the trail in 2017.

A cutthroat trout caught from a beaver pond in the Rich Creek drainage. (Courtesy photo)

The creek was still high with runoff and some of the lower country was flooded. Early on I spotted a moose that quietly moved behind the willows until I passed by. I’d never seen a moose in the Rich Creek drainage. That led to a further observation that there was a lot of moose scat on the ground.

Somewhere along the way I realized I’d gotten off the trail. Maybe I had the moose sighting on my brain, but things just didn’t look right.

I instinctively went into my “turned around in the backcountry mode.” I didn’t tell myself I was lost because I’ve spent most of my adult life working outside and getting “mixed up” once in a while is part of it. The first thing I did was to take a quick mental inventory of what I had with me. That’s when I realized I’d left my survival kit at home. If I ended up having to spend the night I wouldn’t have matches or any kind of fire starter, a compass, space blanket or whistle. I did have my headlamp, but I knew from experience it’s better to not try to walk out at night when you don’t know where you are.

However, I did have my rainsuit which I figured I could put on and then cover myself with duff to stay warm. I also had my water filter so hydration wouldn’t be a problem. I’d be fine. Besides, it was all kind of academic because I could still hear Rich Creek pounding down the drainage. If necessary, I could always bushwhack my way back downstream to the trailhead.

I decided to just continue moving up the drainage figuring that sooner or later I’d hit the high meadows and find my way back to the trail. I followed thin game trails that were obviously frequented by the moose. There was scat everywhere.

Marsh Marigolds are abundant in the high meadows of the Rich Creek drainage. (Courtesy photo)

That’s when I remembered the old Rocky the Flying Squirrel TV show that I watched when I was a kid. Rocky’s sidekick was Bullwinkle the moose. It was a hilarious cold war era cartoon spoof complete with Russian spies (Boris and Natasha). It first appeared on the air in 1959 right after American Bandstand. The original shows were 15 minutes long and appeared twice a week.

So, there I was turned around (not lost!) in the Rich Creek drainage laughing and howling out loud because a real-life moose and a bunch of moose scat reminded me of Bullwinkle.

Eventually, I spotted the trail on the other side of the creek and found a way to cross the high water to reach it. I’d cheated death once again with the help of a cartoon moose called Bullwinkle!

And, yes, I finally did make it up to the high meadows and beaver ponds, although a number of ponds had dried up during the intervening drought years since 2017.

The Rich Creek Trail breaks out into high meadows in the Buffalo Creek Wilderness Area. (Courtesy photo)

There was a string of deep, fishy looking ponds that were barely visible from the trail. When I got to them, I knotted a sparsely tied Mosquito dry fly to my leader, sneaked up on the water and made my casts. A trout took the fly right away. It was a small cutthroat. I might have caught one more before the other trout turned off. It was the same story when I fished the other ponds. A few small trout and then the rest stopped feeding.

The reporter part of me was concerned that I wasn’t catching larger cutts like I regularly did on past trips. I wondered what might be going on?

The trickster part of me couldn’t stop laughing about Rocky the Flying Squirrel and a moose called Bullwinkle.