by Courtney Nicolson
It was a little after 6pm when Elisa rolled up at my house in her pick-up truck. As always, she was wearing cowboy boots, true to her Texan roots. I packed my bags into the cab as she realized…she had not brought any sandals. It was unbearably hot in the dry heat of Denver; I tossed her a pair of my flip flops. They were clearly two sizes too big but with a smile and a shrug she said “These will do!.” It’s that go with the flow attitude that makes it easy to see why we are best of friends. We hop into the truck, I take the keys and we start on our 12 hour overnight drive to Montana.
We trade off snoozing and watching the center lines tick by, alternating between her country music and my folk and bluegrass tunes. It’s 7am and she nudges me awake, we’ve arrived at our destination, a tiny gas station in Montana. We’re here to meet our friend Noelle who we hadn’t seen in some time for an overnight backpacking trip to fly fish an alpine lake. She pulls and rolls down the window revealing a happy Keema Bear the dog, the fourth and final lady on our trip. They chat about flies as Elisa scrubs the bugs off Noelle’s windshield. The customers at the little gas station couldn’t help but look on in curiosity; what was this rag-tag group of gals, and where were they headed??
Off we went, winding our way through dirt roads, over cattle guards and creeks that widened as the miles went by. Just as the coffee in my mug ran out so did the roads, we were here. We dragged the contents of our trucks into the parking lot as we sorted through who had what. This was Elisa’s first backpacking trip, she was borrowing one of my packs and we filled it with all of the essentials. We divided the parts of the large 4 person tent, strapped our fishing rod tubes to our packs, slathered ourselves in sunscreen and bug spray, and turned to face the mountain.
The sun beat down on us as we snaked our way up the steep switchbacks, higher and higher. We crossed a section of steep shale we dubbed the “moon walk”, pausing to take in the views. Back down we went, crossing a large creek while staring up at a snow caked waterfall, our destination being the top. Being the plant enthusiast (nerd) that I am, I was always stopping to inspect the wildflowers that changed every half mile or so of elevation. Yellow columbines giving way to purple flowering vines, mountain buttercups and glacier lilies. I was grateful for an excuse for my slow pace. I have spent the last year perusing the flat lands of the Midwest, this being my first true hike in a longer time than that. My lungs ached as my friends pushed me to go on. Elisa flashed me a grin under her cowgirl hat and said “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m having fun!”
Finally we reached the top. We looked over the beauty of this lake and sighed in relief, we could break out our rods! We were visited by a family of curious mountain goats who took to lazily sunning themselves on some nearby rocks. Fish after fish were caught sipping on our delicate dry flies dancing in the twilight of sunset.
One hungry trout had swallowed our fly so deeply that we decided that, unable to remove it, it would be part of our dinner. We filed into our tent, and tucked into our bags for the night. Goodnight Elisa! Goodnight Courtney! Goodnight Noelle! Goodnight Keema!
There’s nothing quite like sunrise looking over the vast expanse of northern Montana. After a big cup of camp coffee, we poke around the lake one last time chasing the rising fish. Sadly we pack up the tent, hoist our bags onto our backs and say goodbye to our special place.
Back at the trailhead we dip our feet into the cool creek water and reflected on what we had accomplished together. We each came with our own skills, our own sense of humor and stories to tell along the 7 miles of trail. This is how you elevate women; give them a trail, and watching them rise.