Thursday, July 17, 2008
Where the Hell is Duck Lake Anyway??
A few years ago, I remember some dude at the Ponderosa campground catching a 5 lb brook trout at Duck Lake. So, having an itch to take a hike to new territory, I decidied to give it a go. I had passed the trailhead sign many times on my hikes into Elk Creek and had seen the trail on my map of the South San Juan Wilderness so many times I feel as if I knew the way blindfolded.
Well, it turned out to be the most amateurish effort I have ever made. First off, they moved the trailhead from where I remembered it being. Undaunted, I thought how hard can it be to find that...well, pretty hard when ATV tracks are all over the place and a new road was bulldozed in the "move". Long story short, I wasted the first 40 minutes "lost" and ended up on the wrong side of La Manga creek near highway 17. What an idiot. At this point I had used half my bottle of water already, but was determined to find Duck Lake. So, back I go where I ask an elderly couple where the trailhead was moved to and finally got on the right trail. My next mistake was not even taking the map since I felt like it would be a straight forward hike. Wrong. Beaver ponds and another lake were enought to complicate the situation and I ended up taking a wrong turn. Luckily, I figured this out soon enough and was back on the trail to Duck Lake, looking at various beaver ponds and wondering, hmm....is THAT Duck Lake? Finally, I scale a rise and there is a nice lake, with, you guessed it, ducks! Big ducks, small ducks, baby duck quacking at my arrival. Ahh, this must be the place. Knowing that it dumps into South Elk Creek and makes a waterfall visable from the Elk Creek trail, I followed it around to see the waterfall, but like an idiot forgot to take a picture of it.
So, I go back to Duck Lake and rig up the old Winston 4wt fly-rod. The lake is deceiving...it looks about 1 or 2 feet deep at the most (and may well be), full of algae or moss or what have you, and swear there was not a fish in it except for an explosion or two sighted every once in awhile. I tied on a olive and black wooly bugger and cast it out. Before I could even grab the line to start strippin, something was pulling on it - a 12" brookie. Cast again - bam! 6 casts and 4 fish. The lake is simply loaded with hungry brook trout! Then, over the mountain, comes a lightening storm and after all my efforts and travails of the day, I had to put away the "lightening rod" and head for lower ground, careful not to step on the lil duckies whose broken eggshells and bodies were all over the marshy area next to the water. Only fitted that after such an amateurish effort I got very wet and cold before the hike was over. Hard for me to give exact times for the hike with all the wrong turns and false starts, but I figure it's about 1.5 hours from the trailhead(8,900 ft). The first part of the trail, as can be seen from the map contour lines, is a grunt uphill. Then, there is a nice meadow with leisurely walking, followed by a final grunt or two up to the lake, which is at 10,040 ft.
Some pictures are below.