The Troutman

The Troutman

I was nearly waist-deep in a gooey concoction of stagnant mosquito water and cow shit, fighting to find a piece of dry ground. Surrounded by blowdowns, I hauled myself up onto a dead spruce to observe the area. I was surrounded by an ocean of runoff muck and downed trees. I performed a quick gear check to make sure everything was still in place after this hellacious bushwhack. Fly wallet on my pack straps? Check. Day pack and water? Check. My broken down 5-weight secured to my pack by several of my girlfriend’s old hair bands? Check. I rolled my wrist to take a look at my watch. The stopwatch continued to count up. 4:54:10, 4:54:11, 4:54:12…

Some distant thunder rumbled over the ridge I was trying to climb. Classic afternoon Colorado weather sounded like it was on its way. I glanced at my emergency beacon and thought What have I gotten myself into?

A ridiculous outdoor contest, that’s what. The Troutman Challenge*, dreamed up by the folks at Running Rivers, is an endurance event, angling contest, beer fest, and suffer clinic all mixed into one painfully epic day. The parameters for the challenge are simple and straightforward:

1)      Run at least a trail marathon (26.2 miles or more)

2)      Gain at least 3,000 vertical feet

3)      Catch four different trout species

4)      Drink a beer of at least 12% ABV

5)      Complete all the above within 12 hours.

 *Oh, you haven’t heard of this prestigious event? Well, that’s probably because only seven insane people have ever completed one.


A few days prior, my brother Danny and I arrived in Southern Colorado to attempt this piece of lunacy. On the whole, planning was fairly minimal.* I had committed to a somewhat intense running regimen. Mixed in with a summer’s worth of backcountry mountain trips, I felt physically ready. On the fishing front, I felt confident that I could catch fish, especially on smaller alpine waters, and especially if I had 12 hours to do the whole thing. The beer was almost an afterthought, as I figured I’d be able to chug anything quickly if it really came down to it. All in all, I felt ready to take on The Troutman.

*Cue the foreshadowing

My plan was pretty straightforward: I would wake up early Saturday, fish the lower part of the tributary for browns and rainbows, target cutthroat in the higher meadows, then climb up to the continental divide and fish a series of lakes that held brook trout. After that, I’d haul ass downhill and leisurely drink my beer before stopping my GPS and basking in eternal Troutman glory. Danny had recently injured his knee and would be out fishing on the trail, but not attempting the challenge.

The trouble began on Friday, which we spent fishing near our campsite. Normally, I would have considered this a fantastic day of fishing. While a bit inconsistent, we managed to pull out quite a few larger trout, many of them on terrestrials. Used to prowling the small watersheds of Arizona, I was reminded how fun it is to fish big Western waters. The only issue? We were only catching brown trout. Between the two of us and hours of fishing, we didn’t see or touch a single rainbow.


Initial concern about the lack of rainbows was compounded by a stupid issue: I hadn’t grabbed my beer. I had naively assumed that the weekend warriors of the Colorado front range would be slinging 12% ABV brews on every street corner. This, apparently, was wishful thinking. So, while my brother plied the waters for any sign of rainbows, I embarked on an unplanned 4-hour round trip that eventually landed me in the surprisingly active streets of Alamosa, Colorado. After two gas stations, two liquor stores, and one excited cashier adamant that I just buy a Four Loko instead, I was ready to give up. As I opened my car door, the liquor store owner ran out and suggested that I give a local brewery a try.

The kind, albeit somewhat mystified, worker at SquarePeg Brewery was more than happy to sell me a $25 bottle of 16.5% ABV milk stout. Yummy.

And just like that, we were back in business.

When I got back, Danny gave me the grim report: no rainbows. We hatched a new plan: if no ‘bows were found in the river, I could tack on 6 more miles to the run and end up at a lake that had rainbows. My legs did not like this idea, but as usual, they didn’t get much of a say. With the beer secured and a plan for the fish, I headed to bed feeling optimistic.


We awoke Saturday morning, geared up, and hit the trailhead. A sign indicated that it would be 13 miles up to the brook trout lakes. Perfect.

I ran three miles over steep and rocky terrain before entering a wide meadow. I quickly spooked a few fish before settling into a smooth rhythm and was able to land a really nice brown in about 30 minutes. After documenting the fish with a picture and GPS coordinates, I packed up my gear and hopped back on the trail.

My first fish of the Troutman

The first real issue popped up a little over five miles into my run. I was making good time, had one fish under my belt, and was feeling great physically when I came across another mileage sign. 10 more miles to the lake. Uh-oh. This meant that the original trail mileage must have been off. Now, I was looking at something like 30 miles just to get to the lakes and back to the trailhead. This wouldn’t have been the end of the world, except I was still expecting to add an additional 6 miles to reach the lake with rainbow trout. 36 total miles? Oof. I downed some sour gummy worms and continued on.

About 10 miles in, I felt like I was at a high enough elevation to find some cutthroat. The creek was smaller up here, with some nice pockets. I cast a dry fly along the bank and was hooked up on my first cast. A little cutthroat! I quickly documented my fish and hustled to get back on trail.

My cutthroat. Small fish, but it counts!

At this point, trail conditions started to rapidly deteriorate. Small streams of runoff began crossing the trail every hundred yards or so, creating serious mud. Despite being a wilderness area, cows were still grazing in this field and had stomped all over the muddy path. What was left was a horrible sludge that threatened to suck off my shoes.

Eventually, I started to hit some blowdowns. A fallen tree here, a dead tree there. The blowdowns continued to get worse and worse until they had formed an imposing wall of sharp wood and nearly impenetrable branches in all directions.

After battling the blowdowns for over an hour and barely making it a mile, I decided that making it up to the lake was just not in the cards. Sure, getting up there was possible. I’ve seen (and successfully navigated) worse blowdowns before. But at what cost? I was burning serious energy and time. Plus, I had already cut myself dozens of times on exposed wood and didn’t feel like tempting more serious injuries. Caked in a gross mix of mud, blood, sweat, and bugs, I turned around.

I knew my Troutman dreams were likely over at this point, but figured that maybe there was a miracle rainbow and brookie swimming in one of the meadows below. Once I was clear of the blowdowns and mud, I started running back to one of the meadows, where I planned to fish until the buzzer.


As I ran into the meadow, I spotted Danny crouched over the bank of the creek about a quarter mile off trail. I started running in his direction through shin-deep water and head-high reeds. At this point my body, which was currently running on nothing but measly PB&J sandwiches and sour gummy worms, decided to rebel. My right hamstring went into a deep cramp, from my butt to my knee. I yelled out loudly and collapsed into standing water.

Like any good fishing partner, Danny looked my way but continued fishing. There were fish to catch. I massaged my hammy while I watched him hook into what looked like a full size fish. After the release, Danny came over with good news and bad news. The good? That fish had been a rainbow. The bad? It was the first rainbow he had caught in six hours of fishing. Also, no brook trout to be seen.

Fishing the meadows

For the next several hours I fished. Through thunder, through distant lightning, through an awesome BWO hatch. In many ways the fishing was phenomenal. The fish were large, challenging to catch, and rising actively. As the clock wound down, I netted nothing but browns and cutthroats. Darkness began to fall and we headed back towards camp.


Finally (perhaps even mercifully), my watch hit the 12-hour mark and my Troutman attempt was officially a failure. Back at camp, I skipped the high-alcohol beer and settled for a lukewarm Gatorade while we waited for burgers to cook over the fire. Overall, I had run/hiked over 30 miles, caught a lot of fish, and had a unique and epic experience in the mountains. And if not that, what the hell else was I out here for? The Troutman Challenge delivered, and I plan on coming back.

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