A Stroll to Little Tiffany Lake, September, 2019

It’s early August and I am anxious to fit in another backpack trip before fall.  After striking out trying to line up alternate companions on such short notice, I considered several solo trips while my usual companion, Pasayten is enjoying an outfitter-guided horse packtrip into the Pasayten Wilderness.  My considerations about soloing received little enthusiasm and no approval from my wife.  Mentioning all the solo trips I have done in the past only succeeded in being told I was no longer young and foolish. Fearing that further argument might result in being told I was now old and foolish, I decided to stay home and grumble while waiting for Pasayten’s return.

I contacted my companion Pasayten just as soon as he returned from the guided trip. He says he is too gimpy to go hiking, or even sauntering, after an acrobatic dismount from his, uh, mount. Inquiring why he chose to vacate his saddle in such a fashion only got me a vivid description at how well he tucked and rolled upon landing. I wondered why, if he had executed said dismount so well, he had such a hitch in his getalong that we couldn’t, well, get along with a late summer/early fall backpack trip?  After being admonished that using such a word was cruel, I asked. “What word?”

“That ‘F’ word you just used, ” said Pasayten. “You coulda said ‘early autumn.’

After several massages and some physical therapy, as well as extended recline-time, Pasayten is well enough to try a short, easy trip by early September.  The easiest backpack trip close by is the Black Lake stroll we did with the grandkids at the end of July. A repeat  of that so soon did not appeal to either of us, so we decided to try a walk into Little Tiffany Lake.  The distance of the hike is similar to Black Lake, but requires somewhat more elevation gain.  Since the trail to Little Tiffany passes right by Tiffany Lake itself about 1-1/2 miles from Tiffany Springs Campground, where we’d park, we had a bailout spot to camp and fish if Pasayten’s discomfort was unmanageable. Tiffany Lake – the big one – is actually downhill from the campground/parking spot. From there, the trail heads back up to Honeymoon Pass where we’d take a right turn up the hill to the ridge above Little Tiffany. 

Pasayten mentioned that he and some family members had camped up on the ridge on a past trip because there wasn’t enough flat spots down by the lake. Said the views from up there are really great and there’s a lot of nice tent spots. I asked if there were any sources of water up on the ridge.  I heard an answer, but decided Pasayten couldn’t really have said that in view of his, uh, affliction, that I was to be the water-boy.  I am no longer a boy and certainly the senior member of OGHC. Doesn’t seem quite fair to be reminded often that I am older, and then to be labeled a boy assigned to haul water.  Surely Pasayten meant that we would share the water-fetching chore – – –

The road to Tiffany Springs seems to have gotten rougher since our spring ride to Freezeout Pass and  backpack up onto Tiffany Mountain. Maybe so, or maybe it just seemed rougher because of the groans that emanated from Pasayten when navigating over the rougher spots. Anyway, I covered the road conditions in the tale of that earlier trip. The road up to and over Freezeout Pass, and then down to Tiffany Springs was clear of deadfall and navigated successfully. We arrived and parked at Tiffany Springs Campground. 

There were a couple of what seems to be hunter’s camps set up, but we see no people.  Maybe they are out scouting.  Seems late for anyone to be sleeping in, and I see few vehicles.  Anyway, I am hoping they are only scouting as I am not wearing Blaze Orange.

Down the trail we go to Big Tiffany Lake.  Pasayten is moving right along kinda in between sauntering and hiking(or marching, which I hate).  When asked how he’s doing, he indicates that he is moving OK and that the hitch in his getalong is not too bad though a bit tender.  So without really pushing, we make pretty good time down to Tiffany lakeside where some handy logs provide a nice break spot.

The walk up to Honeymoon Pass and onto the ridge above is pretty mellow even by OGHC standards — at least the standards and philosophy of this senior member. My goal is to embrace and enjoy the journey, not to miss seeing the trees while glancing st the forest, and not be so focused on getting to any particular destination that I find myself focused on the trail as I march along. Somehow I sense that Pasayten might be more interested at this particular point of getting there and relaxing in his Helinox Zero UL chair. If I were sore — which would make  me “Gimpy Gnome” compared to Pasayten’s “Painful Pete” — I probably would be too.

As soon as we arrive at the ridge camping spot, Pasayten does exactly as I thought he might.  Arriving at the site where he camped before on the ridgetop, out of his pack comes his UL chair.  He sets his chair up along the drop off that looks back down the valley and over the top of Honeymoon Pass.

It is a nice ridgetop — many very acceptable tent spots.  Even a nice fire-ring and surrounding logs to perch on if one does not have a UL chair to nap in, but – – -.  I am once again reminded to take what comes after the “but” as what the speaker or writer really thinks.  But, the lake is farther down the hill than this old Gnome likes. Still, being old(er) and senior is set aside because of Pasayten’s possible pain. Pasayten occasionally being a pain does not figure into this situation.  However, I know he will be heading down to the lake periodically to fish and will then, of course, have to climb back up to this ridgetop camp site.

I ask why he and companions really camped this high above the lake?  Sure, the views are great and there is ample room for many tents, but the lake is quite a ways down the hill.  He says they couldn’t find adequate or acceptable tent spots down by the lake.  I have seen him settle for more sidehilly spots than I can tolerate and even agree to camp in “Lumpy” and “Shady” — we do name our spots — so I know he ain’t really that picky.  I also know he likes to camp up high, loves the distant and panoramic views, and will take off dayclimbing to get to see what’s over that next ridge.

Anyway, I start to mention how many times he will be up and down the hill in the next couple of days as he sprawls in his chair over where the impressive panorama plays out and the view is unhindered. Not quite hanging his heels over the edge, but close enough that if he stumbled getting out of his chair – – – WAIT, not to worry. Pasayten doesn’t ‘get out of his chair,’ he rolls out and then stands up.  I look over the edge below where he is sitting and decide he wouldn’t roll very far, so I ask for the so-called Dirty Bag part of the gravity-flow water filter system and head down the hill to the lake.

As I near the lake — I find three leveled tent spots carved into the side of the hill not more than twenty feet in elevation up the trail from the lake.  Taking one quick look around, I decide to leave the water bag and head back up the hill to get my pack.  About the time I thought about filling the bag and carrying it up so Pasayten would have water if he chooses to stay on top, I hear voices and see two backpackers coming down the ridge from the Tiffany Mountain summit.  Hmm, there’s three tent spots – each adequate for a single tent.  I need one, so will Pasayten if he moves down here.  I leave the water bag in the most desirable spot and charge back up the hill to get my pack.

Grabbing my pack, I somewhat breathlessly tell Pasayten about the level spots and there’s others headed there  I tell him that I will bring him a bag of water after I grab the camp spot I want.  I had realized that I have my personal water filter, the lake’s close by, so if he decides not to join me down below, I will be able to filter enough water for my needs.

I charge back down the hill and drop my pack in the middle of the largest level pad.  Then I move up the few steps to the tent site where I left the water bag just as the two newcomers arrive.

“Howdy,” I said, ‘How ya doing?”

“Real good,” one fellow says, ‘but we hoped to be here sooner.  You packed up and heading out?”

“No,” I said, “we just got here ourselves.  I’m holding off pitching my tent till I see which spot my partner wants.  I kinda like this spot.  I’m thinking he might like the one where I set my pack.”

“Well, it don’t matter to us,” the one guy said, “we’re just here for a day of fishing.”

And with that, the pair headed down to the lake.  I decided to follow them down, fill the water bag while lakeside, and maybe see if they fished here often.  Maybe they have some good info about what lures work well here.

After filling the water bag, I wander over to where the two guys are setting up their spinning outfits,

“You fish here much,?”

“We get in here a couple of times every summer,” one guy says, “but usually right after the ice melts and then after the first hard frost.  Never been here this time of year before.  Early fall, I mean.”

“So what works well here,” I said?

“Sometimes it really doesn’t matter, like any alpine lake,” the one guy says.

“And sometimes I wish I had a stick of DuPont,” his partner contributes.

“Sounds pretty normal to me,” I said. ‘well, I better get my camp set up.  Good luck.”

I grabbed the bag of water and hiked up the short hill to the leveled spots.  Pasayten is there – setting up his tent on the pad I wanted!  When I mentioned that I had planned to set up there, he questioned why my pack was sitting down in the other spot? I said I was reserving that pad for him since he needed more room than I did.  After mollifying him that I was. of course, referring to his two-person dome tent versus the one-person unit I had brought and not to our personal physical sizes, I ‘swept’ the larger pad of twigs and such.  The process stirred up some dust.  When asked if I really needed to sweep so assiduosly and was I just trying to work off my displeasure at the location?  I justified my brooming stuff in his direction by saying that I surely did not want to damage the floor of the new one-person tent I was testing for him.

“Just set it up on the footprint that came with it,” Pasayten directed.

“You really think I would pack that extra weight,” I asked as I kept sweeping.

OK, so I got a little carried away clearing the tent pad and now I am officially set up in what Pasaytem has designated “Dusty Camp.” Relaxing in my UL chair, I considered borrowing the dirty bag after the water in it was filtered into the Clean Bag — using a bag full of unfiltered water to to ‘spritz’ the area around my tent.  I woke from a doze realizing that if I watered down my campsite, I would probaby end up in Muddy Camp. Easier to shake the dust from my boots so the camp is what it is.

Another pair of dayhiker fishermen appear.  These guys walked in to Little Tiffany the way we did.  Made it here in much better time than Pasayten and I had managed. Petty much what I expected since they are younger fellows with much less weight to carry in – smaller packs, too.

I’d been watching the first pair of anglers from our camp. I noticed that they didn’t seem to be doing a lot of fishing and not a lot of catching.  The second pair were setting up flyrods.  Since I would rather use flies than toss hardware, I thought I might wander down and watch them from lakeside, maybe see what fly or flies they were using — if they started catching, that is — and maybe after a short after-lunch power nap.  Serious fisherfolk should note that for us fishing is always fun, catching is better and if the fish aren’t cooperative, a nap works.  Since I had four anglers to watch not catch fish, and wasn’t seeing any surface activity from feeding trout, it is nap time.

I used to fish from can-see to can’t, seldom taking more than a quick sitdown to perhaps munch a granola bar.  I used to carry home my limit of trout more often than not – even after eating a few while camping.  Fishing has become more a pastime than a passion for me.  Pasayten will fish a lot if he’s catching.  Usually seems to catch a few – claims he caught the largest one always. One can track his success by the number of upside-down fish pics he posts. Maybe it should be pics of upside-down fish? Whichever.

The fishing at Little Tiffany was fine. Nice lake, beautiful spot, cooperative weather.  The catching was sporadic.  After a couple of exploratories around the lake, it was evident to me that many folks have fished here this season.  From the number of set pole-support sticks, I assume that bait-fishing is not unpopular here.  I can testify that fishing a fly behind a bubble with my UL spin outfit produced several reasonable-sized trout.  Not enough to keep me ardently pursuing piscatorial success, but enough to occupy a few hours between meals, chat sessions, cloud and reflection watching and naps.

The first pair of anglers head out the way they came in.  It’s a good looking ridge that takes one up onto the shoulder of Tiffany Mountain.  I mention to Pasayten we could come down that ridge next time we want to visit Little Tiffany.  He points out that while the walk down might be nice, hiking all that uphill just to walk clear down the other side of the mountain might not interest him.

Pretty soon the second pair of dayhiking fishermen depart.  I happen to be reclining down near the lake outlet when they walk by.  The first guy just disappears down the hill below me.  The second guy stops, looks at where his buddy has gone, turns to me, shrugs his shoulders with a sigh, and heads done the hill.  I get up and walk over to where I can scope out the route they are taking.  Hmm, I think – they must not have wanted to climb up over the ridge, or maybe they are late for something.  I think about the number of times I have taken such a shortcut and how often it proved to really be such.  I also wisely think that being a mature individual now, I would not take that route unless it was the only way.  Oh yeah, I was napping – I mean reclining, counting clouds, examining the insides of my eyelids.

Our first night was stormy – a fair test for the 43-oz. One-Person Ozark Trails tent  I was trying out.  Another budget almost UL unit that handled all it was exposed to just fine.  I slept dry and comfortable, had no condensation to deal with in the two-layer modified dome tent.  Discovered that I do not like being limited to setting up with the single door and vestibule always on my left side due to the trapezoidal shape of the tent floor.  In fact, I realized that I do not like only having one door and vestibule. and that the 48 oz. SOLO Ozark Trail single-layer tent I had used earlier this year was quite OK – that I would rather have double doors and vestibules and deal with a certain amount of condensation inside – at least on short trips where there consensation evaporates daily. I have always carried a bivy bag when camping in a tarptent on a glacier, or in condensation-producing weather. Sometimes one just has to toss the UL credo to ensure comfort and safety.

Note that we did hike up to the ridge camp area to enjoy the sunsets and early morning sunshine – both are more than adequate reasons to camp on ridges. A reasonably close water supply is always nice, but we have the equipment to supply adequate water in dry camp spots.

Coming down off the ridge and onto Honeymoon Pass,  Pasayten stops and says, “You hear that?”

“Uh, you talking to me,“ I said? A common response from those of us who enjoy selective hearing.

“You hear that wolf howling over  there?  Sounds like it might have made a kill,” Pasayten said.

“Yeah, I do hear that,” I said, and I really did — at least the lower decibel parts.

And then, the other side of that valley erupts in a series of howls and yips that even I can hear

“Sounds like momma or poppa wolf calling the kids to dinner,” Pasayten says, “must have made a kill.  maybe we’ll get to see them cross over.”

“Uh-huh, “ I said, “you mean right where we’re headed?”

“Could be,” says Pasayten, “that worry you?”

“Naw,, if they’re headed for some nice fresh venison, they won’t be interested in two tough old goats.”

As we finish the hike down to the trail intersection on the pass, we keep listening and watching to see if we might catch a glimpse of the pack crossing over to join in the feast.  No such luck, however, and so we just continue on continuing on

On the way out, nearing the trailhead we meet a young couple hustling into the area to see if they can find the wolf pack – we share what we heard earlier today up on Honeymoon Pass and wish them luck, though I doubt they heard our good wishes as they rushed off .

On our last sitdown break before the final climb up to the trailhead, I allowed Pasayten two “gimmees” – I decided that since he had made the trip in spite of his gimpiness and with minimal grousing, grouching, and groaning, I should be nice to him.  I allowed that he probably did catch the nicest fish this trip — that the three-foot long trophy I hauled out didn’t qualify, it being a mossy stick and all. The other concession was that next time here we should camp up on the ridge – enjoy that Sunrise/Sunset Camp. Maybe bring along a grandkid or two to haul water for us – either that or schedule the trip when there were still piles of snow around. This senior OGHCer is determined not to be the waterboy.

Gallery of pictures