Peninsula Fly Fishers

Lake of the Giant Shadow

Crystal (snow, ice, etc) Adventures, November 3-6, 2005

by Gary Trott and Tony Plutynski

November 2005

Lake of the Giant Shadow

The location of “The Lake of the Giant Shadow” was originally discovered by a couple of intrepid explorers who decided to challenge the wilderness experience by taking the southern approach to the lake. Bashing their way through hillsides of pine forests, up countless canyons, and over high elevation ridges to arrived exhausted and relieved to be at the lower lake in the group five lakes. This was our target destination for our trip. Setting the time for the trip required coordinating the full social schedule of an active retired person’s life with the interferences of a gainfully employed, working dude. The precise timing required for the perfect alignment of the planets and stars indicating fun and adventure occurred late in the camping season. But finally a date arrived for the> exploration of multiple lakes which were known to harbor fabled Golden Trout of Enormous Size. Careful attention was paid to the weather leading up to the date of departure. At that time of year above 10,000 feet we were expecting ice cubes, a la natural, in our morning coffee or worse. With unbridled enthusiasm overcoming the rigors of a strenuous hike, we set off of for the magical lakes, home of the golden trout. We left Thursday about noon and stopped on the way to get a wilderness permit and dinner. The weather was cold and clear and we saw no cars for the last thirty miles. The state forest campground was officially closed and no facilities were available according to the sign at the entrance. Luckily the way was not barred by a locked gate as sometimes happens when they close, so we were able to use a parking space and a picnic table. This was the last vestige of civilization we would encounter. The rest rooms were locked so we had to take care of those functions as the bears do in the woodswe had to take care of those functions as the bears do in the woods

Fish Rise

The day of ascent started off with a beautiful, frosty fish rise just as the sun was rolling up the morning dawn. After a careful study of the topographic maps, we decided to take a more civilized, northern approach, up the sloping ramparts climbing 3000 ft in 1.5 miles, (like the kind of hills you find at ski resorts) to the second lake in a group of five. Right away we discovered a trail worn down through the ages by other fly fishing devotees, trekking to the hallowed grounds of the famous Giant Golden Trout

We still didn’t know if this trail went to where we were going for it wasn’t on the map and the distance to the lakes on the GPS was increasing. We kept going; hoping that it would turn towards the lakes but it kept climbing and drifting away from the lakes. Finally as we got to a bench on the hillside, it turned towards the lakes and that was a great relief. Still, as we got closer to where the lakes ought to be, we came upon a boulder field and we lost the trail. We started across the field towards what we thought was a clearing in the wood where the lake had to be. Tony stopped and thought back to the previous trip when trying to find the lake where he wandered into the wrong canyon. So he insisted that we take a GPS reading and trust it. We did and in about ten minutes along a different direction we were at the lowest of the targeted lakes

Cruising Golden

We had spent about three hours and climbed about twenty five hundred feet so we were tired. We had lunch and rested a little before we climbed to the next lake up the canyon. We decided that the next lake would be better fishing. Although, this lake had nice fish cruising off shore it was the first lake in the canyon with heavely used campsites. Thus we pressed onward and upward towards the second lake.

The second lake had snow patches in the shadows but we found a relatively sunny location for our tents. The site had a campfire spot and a grill with plenty of downed wood for the fire. The big difference was that at this time of year the sun was low on the horizon and it meant that because of the peaks near the lake the site was in the shadows at about three thirty in the afternoon. Once the sun went behind the mountain it got plenty cold in a hurry. We were both glad that we brought our long underwear and plenty of layers. We fished for about a half an hour before the shadows and the cold got to us and we met back by the fire and fired up the stove for some hot cocoa and soup to start the evening meal. Gary had caught a nice twelve inch golden and I had caught about a ten inch golden which we cooked in foil for an appetizer to our freeze-dried meal.A Golden Invited to Dinner

We had climbed about three thousand feet and although the trail was only about five miles long we hadn’t slept very high and if you are not used to the altitude change you can get altitude sickness. There is a medicine that was developed for glaucoma that the climbers found by accident that reduces or eliminates altitude sickness. The medicine is called Diamox, and a prescription is required to obtain it. Tony had taken some in the morning but Gary had not and was feeling the effects of the altitude. So an early rendezvous with the sleeping bag was extremely welcome.

Darkness comes early and leaves late in the morning at that time of year. So after sleeping late, we were ready, and rearing to go explore the upper lakes and the canyons. By the crack of dawn we were at the next lake higher in the chain. As we stood on the shore, basking in the warm morning light, looking over the lake one third covered in ice, a light wind was gently blowing, causing the ice to vibrate like a tuning fork. A gentle tone slowly varied up

and down the scales based on the strength of the wind and the height of the sun. So standing still, there in the warm sun, listening in the calm of the early morning, it was if by magic one could hear the ice singing to Helios, rising over the peaks spilling dawn onto the lake. The ice was fairly thin and after a while, we could see golden trout swimming under it. Aye! The quarry had been spotted, the game was afoot, and fishing time was a wasting!

Singing Ice on Lake

The lake was plenty cold and the action was slow to non-existent at first. However, as the day progressed and got warmer and warmer, the rest of the wild life started to wake up and came to life. Tony decided to go back to the lake with our tents. It was lower down. So it was warmer and by now the sun had gotten some of the insect life going. So he invited a few golden trout, the “big boys”, to share with him the warmth of a campfire in the glow of the setting sun. They were up to fourteen inches. Unlike summer trips, the sun set happened about 4:30 in the afternoon. Gary went on up the canyon to explorer some of the other lakes and showed up for dinner with some of his own fish. They were mostly caught on small (size 10 and under) dark flies

The sun set on our campsite and the cold quickly took hold. So a roaring fire was made and we had some soup and cocoa. We prepared the fish in foil with spices. One can only spend so much time wandering around in total darkness or in a tent, so we sat around the fire telling stories for a long, long time. Some of them were even true! 

We climbed into the tents about nine pm and drifted off to sleep listening to the sounds of the night woods or football scores. We were up early at dawn the next day for breakfast of cereal, fruit, and cocoa around a warm fire. We decided to fish the lake we were at for a few hours and then to fish the first lake in the canyon on our way out. We got several fish to carry out at our camping lake. However, we tried in vain to get some of the wary trout “cruisers” at the first lake. So we consoled ourselves with an afternoon dinner at an excellent Mexican restaurant in Madera called Burrito King on Olive St. 

It was a good trip with many great shared memories. Did you ever hear the story about camping next to the giant snow bank . . .

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