Guest Blog Entry by Flyathlete Ben Wostoupal
On Sunday, July 12th I set out from the Wild Basin trailhead in a much different place than I did during last year's Flyathlon. 2019 was my very first year of the Middle Creek Flyathlon, and to say I had a blast is an understatement. Both me and Michelle (my fiance) were blown away by everything surrounding the Flyathlon. A fantastic community, important conservation, wonderful place to camp, as many great beers as you wanted, live music, BBQ, and a challenging Flyathlon course. We had an absolute blast last year, and it was fun to reminisce about this during my 2020 solo run.
I decided only a day or two prior to get my Flyathlon run done on Sunday. Available weekends for the Summer were starting to dwindle fast, and with work being as busy as ever I was ready to get out for a day in the mountains. I decided on Wild Basin because it is far and away my favorite place to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). Essentially every good hike past the main waterfall in Wild Basin requires a 6+ mile approach, which keeps crowds away and adds a nice little challenge. I’ve hiked quite a bit of Wild Basin, but only just got into fishing, so I was excited to try out both.
Luckily, only a few days before fishing on Left Hand Creek, I broke a segment of my Tenkara rod trying to put it away too quickly (word to the wise: don’t do that). I won this Tenkara rod during last year's Flyathlon, and it is truly a perfect lightweight fishing companion, so I was bummed that it wouldn’t make the trip to Wild Basin. This may have turned out for the better as I was casting pretty far during my fishing attempts.
Anyways, back to the run, I started off from Wild Basin TH around 8:00 AM or so. My destination was Thunder Lake, which sits around 10,500 ft., is a 13.2 mile run with 2,250 ft. of gain. Actually pretty similar to the Middle Creek long course. The first part of the trip was mostly getting used to the trails and avoiding the many tourists that frequent the first mile. Once I peeled off on the campsite trail (little shortcut), I was pretty much alone save for 2-3 people until I made it to Thunder Lake. The ascent was relatively uneventful, but super quiet and peaceful, past wooded areas and several creeks. I ran/hiked most of the trail and made it up there in about 90 minutes.
Once I was up there I beelined for the inlet to Thunder Lake. Something in my novice-fishing mind told me there would be fish there. After fishing near some boulders on the North end of the Lake, and after snapping off two Parachute Adams to poor casting (this happens a lot), I made my way to the actual inlet of the lake.
Right at the inlet were several huge cutthroat trout, and I could hardly tie on an elk hair caddis fast enough. I threw this dang fly about 15 times right over several cutthroat, actually getting a really nice drift, and they couldn’t have been more disinterested. I tried out several other colors of elk hair caddis (red, black, etc.) and no luck. A local fisherman passed me by (he was actually quite chatty) and told me he caught one on a black beetle. Since my fly inventory is nearly always lacking (I lose quite a few as you can tell), I switched over to a #12(?) Black Flying Ant, at least I’m pretty sure that’s what it was.
It only took two total casts to get a nice strike from a pretty big cutthroat. I’m pretty notorious for hooking fish, but letting them fall off the fly, so I was very focused on keeping my line tight and getting this beautiful fish up to my bib. After about a minute or two of struggling, I finally landed a wonderful cutthroat trout (my personal best!) and took a picture. I had to use my old Flyathlon bib from 2019 because the USPS apparently does not want me to have my new one.
I was elated after catching this fish, since it is always nerve-wracking to run 6.5 miles one direction and potentially not catch a fish. Afterwards I took a break and ate half a snickers and a mini-Coke (true ultra-running fuel), and headed back along the shore. I tried a few more casts, and actually got a few good strikes, but couldn’t land any, so I packed up and headed down.
The great thing about running uphill oneway is that the downhill is so cruiser. I was absolutely cooking on the downhills and having a great time rock hopping on some of the more technical sections. After about 45 minutes I was back at the TH and my car, and I was a happy camper.
I ended the day with a bag of Lays chips (true ultra-running fuel), a slice of cold pizza, and an ice-cold barrel-aged Avery Fortuna, which was fantastic. All-in-all a very successful day out on the trails, and my first Flyathlon attempt of the year. I have a few more ideas about long Flyathlon attempts in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, of which I may wrangle a few other runners this year to join me on.
Enjoy the summer, guys!