Monday, February 20, 2012

Yellowstone National Park, September 2010

September 2010
By Oliver Lignell 

Copyright Oliver Lignell, 2012

[Readers: This edition of the MountainGuy News has been written by guest author, Oliver Lignell, one of the original MountainGuys. But please do not hold that against him. Enjoy the story, and, as always, comments welcome. Ed.]

Preparing and Staging for the Bechler Canyon-Shoshone Lake Shuttle Trip—September 2010
(Author’s note #1 : Rather than the usual exaggerated, one-sided, semi-fictional hyperbole published as MountainGuy news, this report is fair, balanced, and a purely factual account of the events. It is not only based on the author’s rigorous and extensive note taking, but exhaustively cross checked against the meticulous notes kept by Kevin. Therefore, relax, make yourself comfortable, you can be sure that everything you read is unadulterated mountain gospel.
Author’s note #2: This narrative could not be fully experienced without use of the excellent pictures taken by Kevin. In fact, this narrative is peppered with more than the usual number of photos, for which I apologize, however there were just too many amazing photos and for each one you see there were a handful of others you did not. This speaks to the spectacular nature of the nature we saw. Naturally.)
Yellowstone! What an icon. It was a definite bucket list item for the MountainGuys. The most discussed topic? Bear. Bears were the content of almost every planning conversation for months as the mighty MountainGuys pondered, planned, and philosophized about taking on the fearsome bear-infested Yellowstone backcountry. John did serious research, Dan S. trained for the trip by wearing a home-made sign on the back of his pack that read “ Bear Meat”. He also changed his mind about going at least four times. I invested in triple-redundant safety systems: a personal siren, pepper spray, and a REALLY big knife. Kevin maintained a steadfast optimism. Rick played it cool.
In the end, a route was found that – in theory, avoided the greatest concentration of grizzlies, and only featured an average population of black and grizzly bears. It was a 60+ mile shuttle trip featuring a multi-day journey up the Bechler river canyon. Were the MountainGuys nervous? Yes. Would they admit it? Perhaps – but only as a sign of maturely admitting fear to show even greater, though understated, courage. Little did we realize that bears would be the least of the threats they would face. Far greater threats would arise as we took on the Bechler Canyon-Shoshone Lake shuttle trip.
In the last month leading up to the trip it was learned, with dismay, that a key stalwart member of the pack would not be able to join the adventure. John was not going to come. Not only did this leave the dubious task of journalism to yours truly, but it shook the foundations of the MountainGuy institution or, at least, caused some indigestion and maybe a little gas. John ALWAYS came. How would we do it without him? There was no easy answer, but John’s absence, while doubtless for reasons that can not be assailed (but were), did provide someone to blame for any issues that occurred in his absence: a proud MountainGuy tradition.
So, a reduced team gathered in Boulder one fall morning and departed for the wilderness in two cars. This trip was to be a rare shuttle trip with a car at either end, allowing for greater mileage and scenery. And, as usual with our map and route finding, we agreed to disagree. We drove North and West, one car guided by Mapquest and the other by Google, each sure that the directions they had were more efficient.  In this case, Google (and Dan S.) won the race to Laramie. We continued on to Lander – where a terrific burger place was discovered (to be revisited). Lander is the home of NOLS and had a healthy percentage of granola mixed in with the usual agricultural/rural mix of small town western America. Past Lander, through the Wind River Indian Reservation and, finally, ten hours after leaving Boulder we caught sight of the majestic Tetons rising in the west. Finally, we were approaching the launching point and mere moments from our trailhead lodgings on the outskirts of Yellowstone.
Once we reached Jackson Lake and completed the requisite oohing and ahhing, we turned north and soon reached our destination. While the tradition, and a good one, is to find a convenient campground close to the trailhead, this proved nigh impossible for this trip. The state campgrounds were closed this late in the season and the Yellowstone campgrounds were full months in advance. That left us with an odd fifties style KOA style campground called Flagg Ranch. An “authentic” western cheapo lodge/gas station/restaurant with a ring of campsites hosting RVs, Campers, and a few lonely tents. The ratio was, I think, about 50 to 1. But, we had a spot and it was ours. We squeezed our five tents in to a spot made for four and called it home. Yours truly managed to grab one of the few spots with duff and Kevin, by far the politest guy in the group, was stuck camping on the gravel parking pad next to the car. Hey, it’s a dog eat dog world.
The MountainGuys soon made it a comfortable spot. Tents were pitched, food bins unloaded, and beverages consumed. A strange incident then occurred, as the group was milling about organizing and unpacking.
We noticed a somewhat disheveled women in running shorts jogging along the paved road linking the campsites. She appeared somewhat disoriented, bobbing her head in one direction and then another. She gazed our way.
Dan T., trained in handling situations like this, asked in a kindly voice, “Do you need some help?”
“Um, well, kind of, yes.” She wandered a little closer – at least as close as a lone woman would come to a group of scruffy and getting scruffier outdoor kind of guys.
“You see, um, my husband.” Her eyes darted around nervously.
“Yes. I see, your husband.” Dan was comforting.
“Well” She paused. “I need an axe. Do you have an axe?” Her voice was plaintive. She seemed in real need.
To confirm we all understood this, Dan said, “So, you need an axe. For your husband.”
“Yes”. She said.
“So, there’s been some trouble?”
“Well, I didn’t bring one and I really need one and, you know” she paused rather breathlessly, “do you think I could borrow one? I’ll run it right back. No problem”.
Dan seemed to be weighing the situation. But I, always ready to be helpful, jumped in. “Sure, we have an axe – will this do?” I handed her the large axe that I, as a prepared MountainGuy, had within easy reach.
“Oh yes, thanks!” She grabbed the axe and jogged off rather quickly with the axe held at the ready.
“Wow!” said Dan S. “What a nut case, I wouldn’t have given her the axe. Who knows what she’ll do with it?”
“I know what she’ll do with it”, said Dan T., “and I wouldn’t want to be in her husband’s shoes right now!”
“Oh, come on, you guys are so suspicious”, said Kevin. “She was just a little distraught. I’m sure she had a perfectly good reason.” Kevin was the trusting one.
Not me. “I’m checking for blood when she brings it back – if she even comes back.” Everyone burst out laughing.
Alas, the axe was returned, there was no blood (I checked), and no further suspicions could be reported.
Thereafter, a fine evening fire-side mean of grilled pork chops with chipotle raspberry sauce, veggie kabobs, and yams was enjoyed by all.  We each retired to our tents that night replete with food and anticipation for what our trip would bring.

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