Zimmerman Lake

Location: Roosevelt National Forest, north-central Colorado
Maps: USGS 7.5' Quad: Chambers Lake, Clark Peak; Trails Illustrated 1:40K: Cameron Pass #112
Access: From Ted's Place on Hwy 287, take Hwy 14 for 56.2 miles to the parking lot at the west end of Joe Wright Reservoir. 
Trailhead: NAD83 zone 13  425289e 4487963n  Elev: 10,020'
Fees: None
Trail: Easy, short trail 1 mile long and only 500ft in elevation gain
Dog Regulations: Voice Control
Weather: Current and recent conditions     Local Forecast

June 2002
Far up in the Rocky Mountains lies a secluded and placid lake visited only by moose and elk. Zimmerman Lake is not that lake. Instead, Zimmerman Lake is visited very frequently by anglers hoping to catch the now endangered Greenback Cutthroat Trout (Colorado's State Fish), thousands of which are being reared in this small lake for possible reintroduction into other lakes and rivers. Therefore, it’s catch and release only. I intended to try my hand at the first part of that mandate while there. 

Andra had just recently purchased a pointer pup from a couple in Kansas and named the little wriggling beast Makenzie. This was Makenzie’s first backpacking trip. My dog went along, or I should say, the dog that is frequently seen with me since one can’t really “own” a dog as one would own a coffee mug or a tent. Anyway, us four, our pack of mammals, left the car parked forlornly in the lot of Joe Wright Reservoir and struck out on the short trail that led steeply up to the lake. The day was warm, clear and sunny. As always at elevation, the blue sky was brilliantly alive with an electric hue. The entire trail wound its way up steeply along an old logging road (and I suppose current Department of  Fish and Wildlife access road). Thick stands of lodgepole pine and spruce lined the trail, with occasional patches of aspen, slowly dying, here as everywhere,  in the shade of unburned conifer forests and the merciless grazing of ungulate populations run amuck in a land without wolves or bears. The trail was short, but steep, so it wasn’t walked very quickly. Our lug soles kicked up little clouds of dust on the parched road that hadn't seen rain in over a month. We arrived at the lake on the north side, at the outlet, where water ran in a small trickle over the earthen bank. The east bank of the lake was swampy and littered with snags and dense shrubs, so we went along the west bank where the forest was open and the ground hard-packed and barren from the many footsteps of outdoor enthusiasts. Three men were earnestly flycasting in the shallow water, and we tried to keep the dogs from tearing into the water and splashing about. Success on that front. A faint Makenzie ruins Frank's hunttrail led around to the south side of the lake, where the slope of the land continued on up through the thick woods toward barren jagged cliffs high above. We bushwhacked up the hill a respectful distance from the water and pitched our tent in a shallow depression in the undergrowth of whortleberry. The dogs ate voraciously, both jealously wolfing down food in fear that the other might get more. I see that same behavior in humans, everyone buying up land and using resources as fast as possible, always afraid that their neighbors might get more at their expense. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may?

After settling in, we went down to the water and threw sticks into the lake for the dogs. Only Frank would get in to retrieve. Makenzie was still unsure. The sun sank swiftly in the afternoon sky, and soon, long shadows stretched out across the lake. We ate a dinner of jerky and cheese, then I fished in the dusk. At last light, the surface of the lake bubbled with thousands of hungry cutthroat trout snatching pregnant mosquitoes on their maternity flight. Not a one nibbled on my fly...must’ve not looked pregnant enough. I tried several. No luck. Owell. The secret to having fun fishing is expecting to catch nothing...then you can never be disappointed. Despite what the TV shows depict, nobody catches a fish on every cast, at least, not more than one day a lifetime.  The last fisherman departed the lake, and I felt that shoulder-relaxing release that always comes at the realization of complete aloneness. I’m sure you know what I mean. If more people could spend more time alone, I think they’d be a lot happier on the whole. I know that I am. 

As dark settled in, we retreated to our tent, wishing we could stay up a little longer in front of the now almost forgotten glow of a campfire. Fire restrictions in 3 of the last 4 years have made open pit campfires a memory only. We settled for the white glare of a flashlight while we read a few pages in our paperback books before falling off  to sleep. 

The next morning we got up early, or rather were woken up early, by the young pup who apparently is able to live off of only 5 hours sleep per night. We actually spent very little time in harmonious slumber since the little one kept wiggling around all night long. We got up and kept an eye on the dogs while they wrestled and romped in the dappled morning sunlight on the pine needle floor of the clearing next to camp. We went down to the water and interrupted a moose on the far side of the lake taking a sustained drink from the lake. It shambled off on stilty legs into the forest quickly, but in no panic. Andra ended up crawling back into the tent to snooze more. I fished more (again with the absence of success), then sat away from camp in a patch of sunlight to read and keep an eye on the dogs as they wrestled. Once, both dogs ran down the hill toward the lake, charging after an innocent, though obviously suspicious-looking, couple and their black collie. I had to go all the way down the hill to fetch them. Dang dogs. 

At 10 o'clock I cooked oatmeal on the stove near the ancient fire pit and Andra got up to eat. More fishing was in order, and more frolicking with the dogs in the water. Naturally. Try as we might, we couldn’t convince Makenzie to get out into the water and swim. More time spent reading and relaxing. Soon, the urge to move on came, and we packed up camp and left for the city. Back to the madness. 

Frank tries to walk on water

Andra tries to entice Makenzie

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Page created November 21, 2002
Updated 12-16-02