It was one of those days when the experience of fishing was superior to the actual catching of fish. We stood entranced beside Lake 4 (of 7) in the Ten Lakes Basin of Yosemite’s High Sierra. We’d backpacked in the day before under the threat of annihilation by lightning bolts, or at least it felt that way. The stress of being exposed on Ten Lakes Pass dissolved, however, when we found a dreamy campsite on the ridge above Lake 2. Our tent tucked in perfectly between giant salt and pepper granite boulders. From our “front porch” we could watch the lake and a magnificent bald eagle fishing the few trout it possessed. We thought our luck would be better if we went higher. Everything gets better with altitude.
We packed poles, backpack margarita kits, and a picnic then headed up drainages connecting 2 to 3 to 4. Lake 3 was more beautiful than our swimming hole below, but we still failed to see activity swimming in the emerald water lying beneath those sheer granite walls. So we walked up the spillway with shallow water dancing across polished rock beside rosy fireweed blooming in the small gardens. It was classic Yosemite and we were joyful that it was way off the road and away from the buzzing summer crowds that have now overtaken even Tuolumne Meadows.
We found life at Lake 4 – buck-naked chick life. At first I didn’t believe Stephen when he said he was looking at bare posteriors as we came to the lake. But I did note someone had scurried into the tent near the lake’s outlet. We walked past the clothing optional tent to a giant flat boulder where we could lounge on all day like lizards. On either side of our fishing pier the lakeshore was awash in creamy wisps of California corn lilies waving in the breeze. And just off shore were boulders submerged like sunken pirate ships in crystal water – perfect trout hiding spots. Stephen threw in a line and quickly caught dinner.
Then I saw them, my patron saints of naked frivolity. They had backpacked in through the maelstrom with a blow up raft and were on a skinny-dipping mission to get to the rusty boulder on the far shore of our shared lake. The water was cold enough that their laughter always seemed to have a touch of chill, but that may have been me projecting my thermal intolerance. Their joy was primal, sincere, and infectious. They reached their sunlit boulder and performed random acts of yoga and calisthenics, no doubt to warm up. While we kept fishing, they kept basking in full frontal Yosemite beauty.
I was a tad jealous. Their disregard for clothing was admirable. We could all stand to remember our inner happy toddler chasing around the house, especially when we’re in the middle of wild places. We let society tell us the norm—more sunscreen, bigger sunhats, and what’s with all the sun mittens in California? Sometimes it’s good to chuck it all and paddle across the lake naked. If it’s good for trout, it might as well be good for the trout chaser. So thank you to the free spirits of Lake 4. You made an impact on our trip and I’ll always think of you when the urge to strip bare and plunge in surfaces.