Let's face it, horsepack trips require an adventuresome, if not hearty, soul. Setting and moving camps can wear out even the most experienced of backcountry travelers. The lure of remote waters and beautiful alpine lakes and streams loaded with fat trout often is not enough to entice an angler, especially one with limited vacation time, to commit to a traditional backcountry horsepack trip. What would be ideal is to have a horse carry you (and all your gear) into a beautiful and remote alpine setting (conveniently equipped with great trout fishing) where you could enjoy all the comforts of a seasonal basecamp complete with hot showers, tables, chairs and great food. If you seek this, we have good news for you!
When our most organized and experienced private ranch guide told us he was involved in a tent camp operation bordering the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area, we took special note. When he suggested we horsepack into his camp, we immediately rearranged our schedule, packed overnight gear, pulled out our pack rods and dusted off our cowboy boots and chaps. It took us 3.5 hours riding time to reach his Flatiron Troutfitters basecamp. The ride was gorgeous! We rode up and over coniferous hills climbing steadily into a fantastic alpine setting majestically perched below the 13,000' east face of Clouds Peak. Even for those of us that are not diehard horse afficionados, the ride was great, incredibly scenic and required no superhuman (or super posterior) effort.
Over the next two days, we explored five alpine lakes and many miles of streams brimming with brook, cutthroat and rainbow trout. The biggest fish were in the two lakes perched on rocky benches above our base camp. It took a little under one hour to hike to one and a little over an hour to hike to the other. Their names will remain a secret! Both lakes are absolutely gorgeous. Each has a panoramic mountain view filling the western sky and each is loaded with cutthroat and 'bows averaging 14" and regularly going up to 18". The biggest fish we caught was 21" and the biggest caught this summer was 24". To see an 18" cutthoat rise from the gin-clear depths to inhale your hopper is an exciting moment and certainly worth all the effort. These high lakes offer simply terrific fishing. Nearer to camp, three other lakes connected by miles of classic trout water produce brookies on nearly every cast and rainbows and cutthroats to 15". This is the perfect father/son trout destination. If you want a beginning fisherman to catch lots of fish and learn a great deal about trout fishing by repeatedly hooking and landing fish, this is your spot. We cannot overemphasize the beauty or productivity of this wilderness area.
The camp outfitters are true cowboys with lots of experience working with horses and with fishermen. They are an affable group, entertaining and scrupulously concerned about their clients needs. However, this is not a yuppie trout mill, but a remote backcountry camp where every amenity from heated wall tents to showers to babyback ribs marinated in Chipolte sauce have to be laboriously packed in. Concerning meals, this camp serves hearty chops, chicken and steaks complete with baked potatoes, rice, fresh corn on the cob... you get the idea. Traditional breakfasts of pancakes, eggs and homefries are served prior to the days events. Don't expect to lose much weight, even with all the exercise you'll get finding out what that stream looks like around the "next bend". This is an excellent trip for adventuresome families and the perfect trip for fathers and sons because of the almost guaranteed success on the rivers and streams close to camp. But it is also a great trip for more experienced anglers. The more remote "hike-in" lakes are top-notch and advanced angling skills will certainly be rewarded. These remote alpine lakes and streams can be visited during the "non-traveling" middle days while the lakes and streams in close proximity to camp are perfect for arrival and departure days. Great food, good horsestock, experienced outfitters, comfortable, yet rustic accommodations, all at a very reasonable price, insure a wonderful western high country experience. Only 10 weeks are available each summer, so make plans now to enjoy this fantastic experience.