It’s Throwback Thursday! In 2017 a couple of friends and I decided we would start an annual backpacking trip, the goal was finding exotic fish species to catch in beautiful places along Alberta’s Eastslopes. Our first trip was pretty ambitious, we would backpack deep into the Cline River area in search of Michele Lakes and Golden Trout.
We spent months planning before the trip, researching the area non-stop, buying gear, and making sure we knew as much about what we were getting into as possible. We traveled out of the city Thursday after work and stayed the night in Rocky Mountain House so we could get an early start up to Michele Lake Friday morning.
The weather could not have been better on this trip. All summer we had been experiencing pretty terrible wildfires in the area and the smoke had been thick leading up to departure day. On the way up the mountain the smoke was hanging in the air but by mid day it cleared up nicely.
The journey to Michele Lake begins at the Owen Creek Trailhead. There is a small parking lot on the side of the David Thompson Highway and a well used trail leads up the side of the mountain towards the waterfalls. The very beginning of the hike started off easy, following a lazy creek through trees and meadows. All of a sudden it started to climb, at some points on the trail I was crawling on all fours to get up the near vertical slope. After the waterfall the trail started to narrow and the foliage drew in closer, clearly becoming less used as we went. At times the trail would disappear but every time a clearing opened up we could look around and spot a rock Inuksuk to mark the way. The hiking was often up steep inclines, loose rock, or running along a loose hillside but the payoff was some amazing views.
We stopped only a couple times to check the map and make sure we were heading in the right direction. It would be pretty easy to get turned around in some areas but we paid attention to the slope of the mountain and the heading on our compass and we were good to go.
Once we made it to the peak of the pass I was surprised to look down and see snow in mid August. It’s a good indication of what the temperature was like up there. From the peak we could also see we still had another few kilometers to go.
Fishing was spectacular. Golden Trout are not large in these lakes, maybe the biggest was 14” – I didn’t measure. Where the creek flowed into lower Michele lake, fly fishing with terrestrials was hot. You couldn’t keep them off the hook. I caught and released quite a few fish but wouldn’t keep any. Golden trout are a rare species and I’m sure have a hard enough time surviving in such challenging conditions. I know I would at that altitude. We spent the night beside the picturesque waterfall that flowed from the upper lake to the lower one, which was great to look at but as soon as my head hit the pillow I knew we made a mistake. The roar of the water was deafening and coupled with the constantly gusting wind made for a pretty sleepless night.
After our terrible sleep we spent the morning fishing and exploring around the lower lake. I remembered from my research that there was a potential route to Michele from the Cline river valley directly north of the lakes but the cliff edge was very high and I didn’t venture close enough to see if it was possible to climb. By late afternoon, we decided we would hike a couple kilometers down to the treeline so we could get out of the wind and have a proper fire. This was a great choice as we all needed a good sleep and it made the steep decent out pretty manageable.
Was it a good adventure? Absolutely, it had all the makings of one: cold temperatures, miserable sleeps, injuries, fishing, food and camaraderie. Hiking into the backcountry has become something I look forward to every year and I’m constantly trying to get better at it. My pack has become lighter and my gear is more streamlined, but most importantly I have become more aware of my backcountry etiquette. On your next fishing adventure remember the Leave No Trace principles and respect the fish and the land so that the next Angler can enjoy it too!