Goose Lake

It looked as if two very large bears, walking upright, were headed my way. As they skirted the shoreline and got closer I could see that the bears were wearing backpacks.

As we came face to face, I had never seen two such filthy, bedraggled humans. Covered head to foot in soot, they said they were smoke jumpers headed back to Cooke City. They had been dropped in a few miles to our west the week before, and with nothing more than shovels and axes had managed to put out a lightning strike fire without having to call for reinforcements. From where we were, well above timberline, I couldn’t see a single tree, burnt or otherwise. They asked if we had anything to eat.

We had arrived at Goose Lake the evening before. There was a big tent set up...a canvas wall tent complete with stove...but in spite of its hominess my cousin and I chose to sleep outside on the bare ground. The stars were amazing, but of course they would be from an elevation of over 10,000 feet. It was as if we had been transported to the center of the galaxy as the Milky Way seemed to fill the entire sky. Jane, a few years older and far more studious, pointed out the constellations. All I saw were stars. If it had been a week or two earlier, before ice-out, cousin Jane and I would have been sleeping on snow, fully zipped into down sleeping bags, and in so much discomfort the stars wouldn’t have been noticed. We’d have chosen the tent.

With morning, and the smoke jumpers well fed and on their way down the trail, Mom and Dad and my two brothers and I split up in different directions with the plan to meet up at lunch to report on what we had found. I headed for the short stretch of water between Goose and Little Goose Lakes as Mom and younger brother Bruce headed for Grasshopper Glacier. We had heard of the glacier for years and they decided to climb the saddle between Iceberg Peak and Sawtooth Mountain to see it for themselves. Named for the grasshoppers that were embedded in the ice from a long ago storm, they promised to bring back a sample or two.

Watching them grow smaller as they climbed the ridge, I headed for the little stream between Goose and Little Goose.   The stream was no more than thirty feet across. Even with the runoff going full bore it was no more than a foot deep at the deepest, and most of it was just inches deep...just deep enough to hold a trout mostly underwater. I say “mostly” underwater because as I stood on the bank I saw nothing but shore to shore dorsal fins. A swirling, frothy mass of fish doing what fish were meant to do. If I had chosen to rudely interrupt their courtship rituals, I’m certain that I could have walked across on their backs.

These were native Yellowstone Cutthroats, but it was hard to tell that by looking at them. Because they spent the majority of their lives in the deep water of the lake under a sheet of ice, they looked more like silvery salmon. I saw that they were entering the outlet from the big lake and positioned myself on a rock ledge just above the water line to pick them off. As I watched, every few minutes a nice Cutthroat would cruise by heading for its reproductive rendezvous. Easy pickin's...or so I thought. With just one thing on their minds though, they were very selective.  It was about that time that I heard the yelling....and the hysterical laughing.

The laughing was coming from mom and the yelling from Bruce as he tried to stop mom from an insane rock hopping run down the mountainside. As they were climbing to the glacier the high altitude got to her, and as we later learned, she had a good case of Acute Mountain Sickness. Seems that one symptom of the sickness is hysterical laughter and unreasonable behavior. Of course as she skipped down the rockslide she was the only one laughing...the rest of us, having no idea what was wrong, were scared to death. Fortunately the symptoms passed rather quickly as she got down to a more hospitable altitude. It's a wonder she wasn't busted to pieces as she skipped down the boulder field. They didn’t attempt a return trip.

Assured that all was well, I returned to my rock perch and through trial and error managed to catch a few of those Cutthroats for dinner that night, tossing them behind me onto a handy spot of lingering snow.

This scenario was repeated during each of the three days we spent at Goose Lake. I don’t remember too many of the other details. No idea what I caught them on or how many were actually caught...just a great memory of a barren lakeshore, high above timberline, the clear Montana sky, the icy cold clear water and a few willing trout. The bouncing jeep ride down the trail to our base camp probably involved a stop at Star Lake for another futile attempt at the Goldens that lived there, and maybe another stop at one of the lower lakes down towards Cooke City for the Brookies...but the details escape me. So be it. These Goose Lake memories with family are enough.




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