Where is the Trail?
This is something we kept asking ourselves once we made it to the end of the maintained trail and set out on the footpath that leads up the mountain. This is also when maps and research pay off. My biggest piece of advice to anyone making their way into the backcountry is this: Do your research, know your destination, and know your reasonable limitations.
The research we found on Leah’s Lake included four sentences on a Wikipedia page, some information on the Canyon leading up to the lake, and a few videos from 10 years ago.
Alpine Creek Canyon:
Erik via Youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8ZpLx9d2iA
*Thank’s Erik for posting your video!*
Needless to say, we spent most of our downtime looking at possible trails, topography maps, and as many videos and reviews that we could find of the surrounding area. Leah’s Lake sits at an approximate elevation of 8,500 feet. Since we don’t have a GPS unit that reads elevation, we are approximating from the trail head which starts at 7,072 (Outdoor Project, 2018). The nearest mountain-top labeled on Google Maps is Snowyside Peak which has an elevation of 10,651. From the pictures at the summit of Snowyside you can see a corner of Leah’s and most of the upper lake we trekked to: Lake 9050. Lake 9050 sits above Leah’s by at least 1,000 feet putting it at an approximate elevation of: 9,500.
So, how did we hear about Leah’s and Lake 9050?
Golden Trout & Arctic Grayling
That’s right, we’re looking for fish. Go figure.
Did we find them?
At these elevations, it’s still very much early Spring. Which means the fish are just starting to warm up and getting ready to spawn in one of the harshest environments possible to live in for a fish. Most of these high mountain lakes have been stocked at one point with cutthroat. Much like Upper Hell roaring and the Finger of Fate lakes that I wrote about in my last post. But some of them, have also been stocked with golden trout and arctic grayling at one point. From our research and word-of-mouth, Leah’s has cutthroat and Lake 9050 has golden and grayling. So, up the mountain we went.
Remember when I said that the views are breathtaking, but the mountains will make you work for it? Well…that is especially true here.
When we got to this point and looked back at where we had come, we could see Galena Pass on the far side of the valley. It was pretty humbling to realize the vastness of the space around us, and crazy to think that we were only halfway on our climb up to Leah’s. From the trail head to the end of the maintained trail is three miles. From the end of the maintained trail to Leah’s, the footpath is about another three miles. That’s six miles one way for those of us who can’t math (i.e. me!). The last 1/2 mile up to Leah’s on the footpath is spotted with places to climb hand-over-hand from one set of granite boulders to the next. But it is possible, even with fly fishing gear and an adventure puppy.
Once we had finally reached Leah’s lake both our lungs and our legs were burning, but we were not disappointed with the view.
We had reached the Leah’s around 7:00pm with plenty of daylight to still explore our side of the lake. The water is crystal blue-green, and is surrounded by grey granite.
And yes, there is fish.
We sat in camp with a sunset dinner and watched our favorite performance: an evening high-mountain hatch. Clustered at the center of the lake and along the granite walls noses broke the surface sending ripples across the mirrored water. One right after the other, like there was a light rain without water falling from the sky. Exhausted but excited, we finished our dinner and walked to the outlet to do some sight-fishing before bedtime.
And there they were.
Clustered in the outlet, hiding under and among the timber, and starting to pair up to spawn were the golden trout we had been looking for. Their bright shimmery bellies and dark backs making them stand out from the darkly-pebbled bottom of the outlet. Story confirmed: Leah’s has cutthroat and golden trout.
But notice how we don’t have any pictures? Well, that’s because the ones we found were just about impossible to land from among the timber. The others were a little too much in the middle of the lake to reasonably get to without a float tube. And no, we’re not making the hike to Leah’s with a float tube, it’s strenuous enough on its own.
I’m not ashamed to say we slept in the next morning. The trek up to Leah’s was exhausting for a first-of-the-year backpacking hike. We were the only ones at the lake all night and all morning until another solo hiker met us at our camp around 10:00am. We had a nice breakfast chat, and he let us know he was headed to the summit of the peak nearby and then around to a lake near 9050 for the night. We wished him well and looked forward to maybe meeting up with him in the afternoon.
We set off for Lake 9050 about an hour after breakfast, and plotted our path on our downloaded map. We would pass three smaller and empty lakes on our way to 9050, and so we made sure to plot each of them out as key points before we left.
Like the footpath we took from the end of the maintained trail head in the valley up to Leah’s, there isn’t much of defined trail to 9050 and these upper lakes. There are game trails and footpaths. So, as I said before, it’s important to know your destination and your limitations.
After 2.5 hours of mostly up-hill and patchy snow, we set sights on our destination.
We weren’t able to fully confirm the fishing because when we got to the lake it looked like this…
I have no doubt that there is fish in there. It looks too good for there not to be! But we didn’t catch them. It was pretty frozen and pretty cold. Yes, even at the end of June, it’s still early to fish some of these higher lakes. Also, from the outlet, the hike around the right side of the lake is significantly shorter and easier than the hike around the left side of the lake. Just in case you were wondering…
Also, Bella was pretty proud she made it up the mountain. We were pretty proud of her too. Even when we lost the trail, she always found it for us again. What an adventure buddy!
When we got to the 1/4 of the lake that was not frozen over, we took a well-deserved break and had some lunch. Wes took some time to cast out on the glassy waters, but nothing was rising and nothing was cruising the shallows. So instead we took video and pictures, played in the snow, and made our way through the frost back down the mountain to our camp at Leah’s. Knowing the fish were spawning and that they would be extremely difficult to land because of the timber, we contented ourselves with having dinner and watching their golden bellies twist and turn, wave and dart in the clear water of the outlet. We tended to our bruises (yes, I fell on a stick) and our blisters (yes, after five years I need new hiking boots). Then we went to bed.
And sometimes that’s adventuring!
We left our first backpacking trip of the year without landing a fish, but that’s okay. We were able to experience the quiet majesty of the wilderness, see some other-worldly beautiful places, and watch some fish get after it. Well-rounded trip? I’d say so.
For more pictures of our trip visit our Gallery page!
For more information on spawning trout visit Orvis at: