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It's September. It's hot. It's dry. You tell yourself, "I think it's just over this next rise, it's got to be." But it's not, because it never is. It's always farther than you think.
From 5,000 to over 14,000 feet above sea level, the Sierra Nevada Mountains stretch from North of Lake Tahoe down to Lake Isabella near Kern, California. Scattered throughout this wild precipice are thousands of lakes, some with names and some lacking. And in most of these lakes are august aquatic animals that have lived here longer than humans. If your lucky you may see one dance on the top water, head towards the heavens, riveted to your fishing pole by way of some monofiliment fishing line. Trout.
After a couple hours of hiking through the pine forest, along the footholds of debris fields abutting towering faces of granite, some thousands of feet above, a lucky gadabout finds oneself awestruck. Trooping along paths created by the mountain men who dared to tackle this wilderness with little more than a wondrous soul and some pemmican, you wander higher and higher, your goal of the cerulean pool inching closer. As you catch your first glimpse of a glimmering aquamarine a second wind washes through your body, more revitalizing than a good nights rest. You've made it. This lake that has been pictured in your mind and imagined from maps is now real, directly in front of you.
Throwing down your pack reveals a chill from the icy wind enveloping your sweat drenched back, and if you're not careful the fishing line can cut your overly dry finger when pulling out the drag, right at the crease of the first knuckle of the index finger. The wind blows from deep in the back country coming from mountains seemingly impossibly far away, with snow deposits on the shady sides even this far through summer. If it weren't for the humming of the wind all that can be heard is the ringing of your own ears. The air is thin up here and your body knows it, at over 10,000 feet into the stratosphere your oxygen levels are 30 percent less than they are back home. All of this accumulates as pleasure, you're in a spot few people travel to, you are in the wild.
Gold panther martins never seem to fail in these desolate lochs. Your first cast can be rusty; tired limbs from your hike and wind in your face can displace even the most avid anglers attempt. The gold lure flickers with every rotation of your reel, calling to any local predators. Nothing. On your second cast the familiar double thump hits the tip of your rod. Within moments the surface of the water breaks, streamlined lilac flashes for a moment before splashing back into the water, rather unceremoniously. Brook Trout. Any angler out West will sing the praise and privilege of landing a Brook Trout.
After only a minute or so, you have the trout in your hands, slimy, cold, a marvelous creation of nature. The vermiculation patterns along it's back contrasts with the white leading edges of its pectoral and anal fins. With a gentle slide back into the water and a few pushes of is tail the fish disappears back into the dark blue of the deeper water, leaving you on the bank with a smile and smelly hands.
Experiencing nature is more than standing outside breathing the air, it's taking part in it. The successful catching, handling and releasing of one of the Sierra Nevada's most sought after fish is an experience many people never have the privilege of taking part in, but now you have.
The hike back from a successful back country fishing day is energy filled and taxing. Your thoughts have gone from wondering of what's to come, to wondering when it will return. You know what lies ahead, a slightly downhill walk for a couple hours, sore muscles, blistered feet and sun kissed skin. A little creek fishing produces a few more Brookies and a few more reasons to return. The car is an odd mix of anodyne and agony, relief from the trek and a symbol of the end of the journey. Once your gear is put away in the back and you've changed shoes and put on some fresh socks one final look back from where you came from is what lasts the longest. Looking through the valley that bends along an invisible waterway, sided by colossal cliffs of granite speckled with pine forces a smile to your face. You were back there, living.