We made it to our first location in right at an hour of driving and within minute we both had our first species in the CHTC, the Kern River rainbow (Onchorhynchus mykiss gilberti).
A short drive on up the road and we were on the stream of our next species, the Little Kern Golden trout. I took the first hole, a culvert hole just below the road and I had me next species, the Little Kern Golden (Onchorhynchus mykiss whitei):
My partner caught two very nice specimens in "pot holes" in the meadow section above the road. After briefly exploring above the meadow, we decided to head back downstream. We both picked up several more fish before calling it a day on the west side.
I think it was only about 9:30 AM when we finished our first two species of the challenge - and 4 for 4 total on the trip.
This is where I actually realized the great size of California. We were just going from above the Johnsondale Bridge to Lone Pine, not that far on the map, but a 3-hour drive.
We made it to the USFS visitor's station in plenty of time, then the big question: did they have any of the 16/day walk-in permits for Cottonwood Pass remaining? They did, and they also informed us we had to have a bear canister - we didn't but, luckily, they also rented them.
Permit in hand; we stopped at a pizza joint in Lone Pine to carbo load in preparation for our hike into Big Whitney Meadows. I also had to mentally prepare myself for the drive into Cottonwood Meadow. What an insane road that turned out to be and no guard rails!
I survived the white-knuckle ride into Cottonwood Meadow campground - just don't look down. Once at the campground, we quickly set up camp and headed for Cottonwood Creek for the first "true" California golden trout of my life.
This little guy did not count toward the CHTC, as Cottonwood Creek is not in the California golden's native range. He didn't count but he sure was pretty!
Being a few yards from the campground, these guys obviously see some pressure, as they were very skittish. I did manage to pick up five or six of these little guys, though.
Nathan caught a couple too and he met his first marmet, who called the Cottonwood Meadow home.
We didn't fish long, we had work ahead of us tomorrow and we were in our tents for the night by 6:30 PM.
We were up and packing our gear by 5:00 AM. A cup of coffee, a granola bar and we were on the trail shortly after 6:00 AM.
This trip has been one of my life bucket list items for quite some time; I couldn't believe I was actually going to check this one off!
The hike to Cottonwood Pass (11,000 feet) was tough, but not as bad the hike into gila trout water. Once you reach the pass, you still have over four miles of downhill and flat hiking remaining.
I also had to take a photo with my Vandalia bamboo. This rod has landed several native salmonids!
After catching goldens on nearly every cast, it was time for lunch and a nap. On the way back to the creek, after our break, we started checking out the small trickles that feed Golden Trout Creek - there are goldens in there too!
This guy came from a trickle not much wider than my hand.
Another example of how many fish were in this valley: check out the video of Nathan catching a golden from one of these trickles on the first drift.
As we fished through the afternoon we noticed heavy smoke filling the valley and a heavy smell of smoke. By mid-afternoon we could not see the peaks at either end of the valley. Had my legs not been "rubber" from the hike in we would have packed up and made this a day trip.
We were signed it at the ranger station, we figured if the fire was close we would have been asked to head out by any of the rangers that had vehicles parked at the trailhead. We talked about moving camp to the base of the vertical, in case we had to make a fast exit, but we stayed put. It was a late evening for us this day; we turned in about 7:30 PM.
The next morning we woke to the sound of coyotes yipping at each other across the meadow. We also woke to crystal clear skies - the smoke had moved out.
As much as I hated to leave this location, it was time to pack up and head out. We were on the trail before 7:00 AM again and the climb to Cottonwood Pass was again tough. I was still recovering from the hike in. I motored along pretty good on the flat sections of the trail but struggled a bit on the uphill, particularly once we reached the 11,000 pass.
I did survive though!
From here it was all downhill back to Cottonwood Meadows.
The hike out was just a bit longer (time) than the hike in, which I was pleased with. After relaxing for a few minutes, it was back down the white-knuckle road to Lone Pine.
I survived this drive again - Nathan videotaped the entire ride down.
We dropped the bear canister off at the USFS office, then headed north on Rt 395 to Bishop. We had another great pizza in Bishop! We toss'em, they're awesome!
At this point we were 5 for 5 and from Bishop it was on north toward the central Sierras and the next couple of legs on our trip, including a day of rest in Yosemite National Park.