Hiking and Liking the Boulder Mountains

By John Campbell 

First off a note to you people who are waiting for the Boulder Mountain lakes to open up: you're already 3 weeks late. While the the upper lakes were inaccessible and still frozen for the Memorial Day holiday last year, this year the situation is different. The ice is off, the roads are dry, and the trout (big, fat, hungry trout!) were belting nymphs about two inches off the shoreline. You better get your gear together and hit the road.

Now, for the rest of you who have the time to take a hike with me through the rest of this story and across the North Slope Lakes trail, grab a chair and have a read. We'll make a rapid climb to Blind Lake, skirt around Pear Lake, and set up camp for the night at Beaver-dam reservoir, near Fish-Creek Lake, and then make the steep descent down the Fish-Creek Trail.

Some of you may recall my story about a canoe trip to Shoshone Lake in Yellowstone National Park with a group from the University of Utah last year: I survived a 9 mile canoe trip (2 miles of it dragging the canoe up the Lewis River), an attack by 14 gazillion blood-thirsty, repellent-loving mosquitoes who apparently thought I was a big hunk of prime rib (my wife would debate that!), and learning the finer techniques of dragging an 800 lb. cooler full of food up a 15 ft.-high bear pole.

Well, I'm still beating my 45 yr. old body to death in the name of adventure, something I swore I'd never do again after that trip. Of course, if you read that story, you'll remember that I'm a slow learner when it comes to common sense issues like the mortality of man, and, in this case, his ineptitude.

I approached this spring and summer fishing season with what I thought was a cautious and well thought-out learning and conditioning program. I "outfit" in the Boulders so its imperative that I keep up to speed with the latest environmental issues, how to deal with outdoor emergencies etc. In my case there no such thing as knowing too much.

First off, I signed up for two University of Utah courses to prepare me for the summer's activities, an aerobics class taught by Susan Stauffer, and an outdoor survival skills class taught by Mike Tyler.

This is a generalized map showing many of the lakes and the main roads on the Boulder Mountain. It is not meant to help you find your way around on the mountain, mearly to give you an idea of the fishing and camping opportuinties the Boulder provides.

Before you head to the Boulder Mountain invest in the 7.5 minute topographic map of the area you plan to visit. Use the topo map to plan your trip.

Many of the dirt roads are rough and rocky and a 4x4 is necessary. Other roads can be traversed by almost any kind of passenger vehicle.

Many of the lakes require a short hike, but most lakes are within a mile or two of a road.

The Boulder Mountain roads can be very slippery after a rain so be prepared!

As far as the fishing goes — we can't tell you where the hot spots are. Utah Fishing and Outdoors has so many readers that if we single out a few lakes full of big brook or cutthroat trout it would be only a matter of a few days and those lakes would be fished right out!

So, instead of destroying the fishing in a few lakes, we are going to challenge you to figure out where the big fish are by your self — and when you find them — please don't tell anyone! Keep it a secret.

If you do come across a lake full of big fish — please practice catch and release. It takes years to grow trophy brook trout and the lakes with big fish only have a few fish in them (that's why the fish get so big). If we all take the trophies home with us, it won't be long and there won't be any big fish leg.

Now, get out and enjoy the Boulder Mountain.

Aerobics (l08N-02 in the University catalog):

I assumed this class was geared to a bunch of out-of shape folks like me. Not necessarily so. The class consisted of an even mix of hardbodies (mostly female), a number of us who obviously spent the winter in various stages of recline (perhaps decline is a better word) and a few prodigious protuberances, purportedly powerful pavement pounders (I think they were football players) who usually showed up late, shook a leg or two for a minute without breaking a sweat, and took off early for a well deserved breakfast of champions, I guess.

I had my usual honor of being the oldest in class. The class was broken down (no pun intended, but an apt description of me, actually) into two week increments where we varied routines and intensities, including a stint with choreography (jeez, Lord, don't let any of the guys see me now, I prayed. Being a part-time atheist does have some advantages, in case you didn't know it. You can say a prayer in case you have to).

I immediately found out in the stretching and warm-up exercises that no 2 appendages of mine could achieve more than a total of 45 degrees in any direction (ceptin' my ears, of course), a sorry state indeed. Most of the students appeared to have no problem at all in placing their legs at 180 degree angles and then banging their foreheads on the floor in front of them. The only way I could touch the floor with my head was if I was laying on my stomach or my back, but that wasn't how it was supposed to be done, one of the more agile students next to me commented. (?!#%?/^**!!, I muttered under my breath. This is a family magazine, Sam tells me, so I'll let you fill in the above expression).

After 4 or 5 weeks, I was feeling a lot better and my chest pains were a lot more infrequent. My wife still claims the chest pains were psychosomatic and due more to the scenery bouncing around me than the actual exertion, but I swear that was impossible with my eyeballs rattling around in my head doing the "Pony" or the "Frug" or somesuch full-tilt in the middle of a killer high intensity session.

Still I credit Susan's aerobics class with getting me ready for my outdoor survival class and the clients I had booked for the early summer outfitting season. I know I probably would have keeled over and died a slow agonizing death without her classes' help. By the way, Susan also teaches a Yoga class at the U. I'm going to look into it once I get a little closer to being able to touch my knees without having to raise my legs.

Outdoor Survival Skills (385R-60 in the University catalog.)

I initially looked at this class with a jaundiced eye, remembering that I thought I'd have the opportunity for some serious fishing on that canoe trip the year before. I had no such delusions this time and expected to eat cat-kibble, drink water out of potholes, or worse, and learn which variety of poisonous snakes or spiders were edible.

We attended our classroom sessions (this class has a serious academic bent so don't think you can just waltz in and gut it out in the field) and discussed where we were going, equipment needs, environmental issues, group dynamics, compass and mapping techniques, and practical applications of the above principles. Each of us were given our separate assignments for the papers to be turned in at the end of the quarter. To my delight, we were going to the Boulder Mountains to put our classroom exercises to the test.

I stopped in, as usual, at Darrell's Chevron in Loa, Utah (about 4 hours south of SLC, 20 minutes south of Fish Lake) to fuel before we started the climb to the trailhead. I've had trouble with bad fuel at different places down the road, but never at Darrell's and I always believe in gassing up before heading up the mountains (also Darrell is a good friendly source of information on the area). In fact, I don't know of anybody more knowledgeable. Stop in and see him the next time you're down there. Say hello for me.

Directly across from Darrell's Chevron is the Road Creek Inn, a fabulous new bed and breakfast Inn and formerly an old general store. I walked through the facilities a few months back and was astounded with what I saw. Each room is unique, with puffy down comforters, there is a sauna and hot-tub downstairs, and a room for meetings. Stop in, look around, and have a chat with Mike Dearden, the manager. And check out their menu!

The class met at a camping area Friday evening, May 15, near the Blind Lake trailhead and had a late clutch-oven turkey-breast and stuffing dinner and called it a night.

First thing in the morning we had some more discussion about our equipment and the area we would be hiking through. Our instructor, Mike Tyler, had laid out a display of what he always takes on outdoor trips. My stuff looked pretty miserable in comparison. Obviously, I wasn't going to take the dutch-oven along. As I mentioned before, the lakes were still frozen on Memorial Day last year, and here we were 2 weeks ahead of that, so we expected some snow at 10,000 ft. elevation.

Any dreams of a leisurely hike through my favorite piece of Utah came to a screaming halt when we were dropped off at the Blind Lake trailhead. Incidentally, this trail has been closed off to any ATV use now (including motorcycles and little 3 and 4-wheelers). For those of you familiar with the area, the Blind Lake trail is a fairly strenuous 1.8 mile climb.

I have a little personal game of trying to determine the origin and reason for the names of some of the lakes and landmarks, but, after the hike, I knew why they called it "Blind Lake". Sunburn and mosquito bites are indigenous to high-altitude backcountry jaunts, so most of the group had applied sunscreen and repellent liberally. Those of us without sweatbands (there I was, unprepared for the elements, again) had a rather delightful mixture of sweat, DEET (the active ingredient in repellent), and, in my case, Sunblock 96, dripping profusely into my eyes. I was truly "Blind" by the time I got to the lake. Hence, the name, Blind Lake. If somebody knows better, please clue me in.

Blind Lake is a large 57 acre body of water at 10,233 ft. and has a maximum depth of 75 ft. There were already a number of people there and rather than impact the area further, we decided to push on to a less crowded area. We took a break for lunch, discussed what impacts we saw, including 3 fire rings within four feet of each other. We disposed of the one that obviously had been constructed by an anal retentive bent on building the world's largest symmetrical fire-ring in history (Where was he during the Yellowstone fire?).

We pushed on to Pear Lake (named for its pear shape, obviously), but had to continue on as the area for camping wouldn't support a group our size. The University is very committed to environmental issues, as we all must be now, before it's too late. I watched a fisherman pull a fat 3 lb. trout out as we passed by, and made a mental note (I still have enough space left in my head for important things like this).

Some of us were tiring rapidly (I was close to doing the low-crawl myself) and we finally found a suitable site at Beaver Dam Reservoir. We were given 2 hrs. to set up our tents, and have some dinner, before we had our evening class. I had my second high-tech $5.00 dehydrated meal of the day (a 49 cent cup-of-noodles from the local supermarket would have been just as satisfying), and limped my way down to the lake to check out the fish I heard crashing the shore-line.

I spent the next 20 minutes casting a jakes spinner to trout obviously more interested in the nymphs treading water barely 2 inches from shore. I cussed myself for not bringing any flies. I had never figured there would have been a hatch this early in the year. It was frustrating to see them at arms length splashing all around me.

I heard the class gathering up for our evening discussion, so I trudged up the hill and sat in. A few of the students gave their reports on outdoor cooking, first aid, and clothing issues. Some had come along with only shorts and minimal cold weather gear. Fortunately, the weather couldn't have been better. Some who had over-prepared (Is that an oxymoron?) shared their extra clothing and sleeping pads. Another lesson in group dynamics, help thy neighbor.

As I snuggled up in my sleeping bag and stared up at the stars (they are just as big around and shiny as last year), my stomach grumbled over my meager meal. Visions of cheesy, gooey, pepperoni pizzas rotated around my head and I was positive I was suffering from altitude sickness or some other vicious malady. I succumbed to the myriad visions, dived head-first into one particularly large pizza, and slept.

Sunday morning and we all woke up to the raucous sound of a one-lung dirt-bike with no muffler roaring past our campsite, trailed closely by a small ATV. They were on their way to Blind Lake, circumventing the law and going in the backside because of the other trails closure to motorized vehicles. I've got nothing against the use of a trailbike within the law, but there is nothing as nerve-wracking as having something like that tearing through a quiet pristine setting. I'm sure you've all been through the same thing, even in the improved campsites. If you're going to drive a piece of scrap (I'm trying to be nice here) at least put a good muffler on it. Give us all a break.

Breakfast of boiled lake water with instant oatmeal and a cup of hot chocolate. We had another class discussion, and got the last two reports about wildlife and dealing with the elements. After a compass and map-reading orientation we broke camp and headed down the Fish Creek Lake trail, about a 3 and a half mile hike. The trail was quite steep and slippery in places and we all learned about hiking downhill, a whole different kind of walking. 2 hours and 14 minutes later and we were back to our original starting point. I've got to point out that, even this early in the season, there were a lot of fresh signs of litter, beer, and pop cans strewn about. It's a shame that after all these years of education and advertisements begging us to clean up behind ourselves, some people still don't give a darn. Somebody once said that there are a lot more horses-asses than there are horses. How true, how true.

The front and underside of my two big toes were just to the blistering stage and I crawled into my suburban and fired it up. An ominous popping sound came from the carburetor and it sounded strangely like the rocker arm problem I had in my jeep on the Yellowstone trip the year before. Here was another case of adversity we were instructed about, on a wilderness trip. We shifted our passenger load to the other vehicles and I nursed the "burb" into Loa, hoping to make it to Darrell's Chevron and get some help. I knew my suburban wouldn't make the climb out of town, and had almost resigned myself to calling in a tow truck from SLC.

Darrell looked at me kinda' strangely, and pointed to a house and a shop in line of sight of his station just a couple of blocks away. "Go over and talk to George Batty, maybe he can help you." I popped and banged my way over to his house where his wife greeted me, also giving me a strange look. They were just sitting down to Sunday dinner (my timing is usually impeccable like this) so I offered to drop back in an hour. I went back to the station and decided to clean up a little.

It was then, looking into the mirror, that I found out about the strange looks I'd been getting. Geez, what a mess. My hair was sticking out everywhichway (yeah, that's one word), my shirt was covered with dirt and had a huge ugly stain of god knows what on it, and I generally looked as though I had just fallen off a train on the wrong side of town (I want to take a minute and personally thank everybody, classmates, instructor Mike Tyler, and Darrell for letting me wander around looking like this; very funny).

Anyway, I went back over to George's shop (if you ever need help in this area check in with Darrell and he'll point you to George's house) and found him friendly, outgoing, and a hell of a mechanic. He had the problem diagnosed, rocker arm replaced, and me back on the road in less than an hour, and under thirty bucks! On a Sunday, to boot! I'd strongly recommend him to anyone with mechanical problems in the Fish Lake/Capitol Reef/Boulder Mountain area. Honest, straight-forward, and friendly. I do suggest you try and look a little better than I did, though.

I made it home about 9:30 p.m., tired, dirty, and ready for sleep. I bounced off the shower walls for a few minutes and fell into bed. My wife said I was delirious, calling out for water, pizza, and chocolate simultaneously, and falling back asleep before she could even reply (and I can just imagine what she would have said about my requests had I stayed conscious long enough).

O.K., the Boulders are open. You'd better get packing.

You might also want to check into some of the outdoor/recreation classes at the U for the upcoming summer. There are river trips, dutch-oven cooking classes, hiking and biking trips, and the opportunity to really learn about our wonderful state and the environment. I'd strongly recommend any of Mike Tyler's and Susan Stauffer's classes, among others. For more detailed information on what's offered, give John Cederquist a call at 585-3204.

John Campbell: is a free-lance writer, dutch-oven cook, and a Forest Service permitted outfitter in his favorite part of Utah, the Boulder Mountains above Capitol Reef National Park. If he is still booking dates for the Summer and Fall seasons. If you have any questions on the area or if you and your friends, family (3 kids go for the price of one adult, 3 adult minimum), or business associates would like to join John on a first-class float-tube and fishing excursion (at any level, novice through expert), give him a call at (801) 534-1620 or drop him a note at The Outdoor Source P. O. Box 520632, SLC, Ut. 84152 for a brochure.