Thursday, March 29, 2012

Yellowstone 2010, Day 5

This is the latest installment of the Yellowstone report by guest author, Oliver Lignell.

Day 5 – Hangin’ in the hood (0 Miles)
When I woke the next morning, I was more comfortable than a bug in a rug. The thought of getting out of bed was not rousing, but I had to force myself to. I had a plan. In the never ending search for ever more excellent food in the back country I had found and brought along a few new items. One of them was ingredients to make orange maple scones. That was the plan for this morning and I knew it would take time to get them right, so I had planned them for the lay-over morning. Since failure was not an option and cooking included sipping fresh pressed French roast coffee, I hauled myself out of bed and hobbled down to the cook area. Kevin was already up and eventually decided to prepare some hot cereal – he was too hungry to wait for scones.
As I opened bags, mixed ingredients, and boiled water a few other folks stirred. It was probably a good thing that everyone was moving slowly that morning. It was an involved and sticky activity to make the scones and they took a while to cook just right. Dan T., cook extraordinaire, had to be called upon to assist with dough management. However, when all was said and done, the crisp light and fluffy scones were excellent. No one refused seconds and there were no leftovers. A light breeze picked up as we considered plans for the day.
The plan had been to have a leisurely day exploring the Shoshone Geyser basin, but now that we were 3 miles further away, the idea of a 6 mile round trip on sore feet was not enticing.  Therefore, we followed a time honored MountainGuy tradition. We punted. Each of us retreated to our tents to organize, rest, cogitate, and generally do nothing. It was well earned nothing.
I modified my tent area in to more of a living room, building a small windbreak with a few logs propped against a nearby tree to shelter it from the lake breeze. Dan S. explored the shore from a trail that led from his area, finding a choice spot for relaxing at a small sheltered beach. I believe Dan T. napped and Rick read. It is not recorded what Kevin did.
However, all gathered again near lunch time at Dan S.’s small beach to check it out, have lunch, and discuss our plans. It was sunny and sheltered from the strong and constant wind coming off the water. Pads were unrolled, food options evaluated, and serious snacking began. Dan S. dipped in the lake. Dan T. sunned and napped. And, it was here I believe that the stunning idea of splitting up was first aired. Dan S. floated this idea after reviewing the map and considering another two days of hiking with a toe nearly detached from his foot.
“You know”, he said with his usual tact, “ there is a much shorter way to get back to the car. If we left this way, we could save a whole day”.
Rick replied, “Why would we want to save a day?”
“What about the Shoshone Geyser Basin?” I said. “How could we miss that?”
“Well, you know”, Dan S.  replied. “If we headed north on Shoshone Lake trail we would have only 12 miles to hike to get out. We could do that in one day, drive over to see Old Faithful, and get back home a day early.”
Dan T. thought about this for a minute. “Hmmm. I’ve never seen Old Faithful before.” Dan T. seemed a bit taken by this idea. And, to be fair, he was getting tired of the foot surgery he performed on a daily basis. Each morning he would unroll a 5 pound foot care kit and begin by peeling and slicing off shreds of dead zombie skin and then wrapping, sewing, injecting, padding, and binding the remains of each foot. He rarely complained, but the whole business seemed to validate that there was, in fact, and issue with his boots.
As the de facto planner for the trip, I had trouble wrapping my head around this idea. Leave early? I was always scheming to stay longer. Old Faithful? I’d been there, it was cool, but crowded and the last thing I would willingly submit myself to was crowds. Heck, that was one of the MountainGuys by-laws, unwritten of course – thou shalt never knowingly seek out areas crowded with other people. On the other hand, there was another conflicting by-law – thou shalt never impose your will upon another, unless life or limb is at risk.
“Well”, I said. “This deserves some thought. We can figure it out later.” When faced with a decision that is difficult to make, the true MountainGuy punts until more propitious timing arrives.
Dan T. tent at our Shoshone Lake campsite--next to the no camping sign.
Back to the site we went, each to our own devices. I, for one, was keen to map out a Frisbee golf course. In this endeavor, however, I was thwarted. No matter where I searched, the trees were uniformly too close for good throws. I found a few potential holes, but two holes do not make a disc golf course. I was grumpy, but decided I should beef up my personal lounging area since the wind had now increased to near gale force. This occupied me for several hours and required moving approximately 2 tons of downed trees and small boulders as well as mixing up an adobe clay mixture – all of which would be carefully returned after used. Once complete I had an impervious wall supplemented by a neat angled gull wing formed from my tarp. It performed quite well and looked really cool.  Alas, there is no documented record of this architectural masterpiece.
Dinner that night was cooked and consumed at the shelter, where we could relax out of the wind. First, we had beef jerky (reconstituted) fajitas with hot sauce. As we ate, we had our closest encounter with a large animal. A Bald Eagle glided over us several times on immense wings, probably no more than 30 feet away. We were excited to actually see some wildlife. Who knew that eagles fancied beef jerky? After this excitement, it was time to unveil the secret weapon: Chocolate Lava Cake.  Since this was a bit more complicated, requiring forms, a whisk, and complex instructions, I had asked Dan T. for help “baking” this before dinner. Alas, despite Dan’s help, it did not meet the advertised specifications. Each cake was really more like a pudding-like wedge, leading Kevin to dub it “Inside Out Pudding”. Despite the mess, it was all consumed.
"Inside Out Pudding"--not likely to be on future trips.
Further discussion on the plans for the next day was the next topic. The Dan’s were wedded to the idea of a single long hike out to Old Faithful. Rick, Kevin, and I could not give up the Shoshone Geyser Basin and another night in the wilderness. There was only one solution. So be it. The parties would split up and meet at the car in two days. Dan and Dan would hike out the next day, visit Old Faithful, and then find a room or place to camp that night. We would meet at the Shoshone trail head the day after. With that decided we started figuring out the logistics of who would take what. This seemed to require more calories, so Kevin whipped up some popcorn and we munched this as the moon rose and we finalized our plans for the next day. After hoisting the food up above the ground we stood around joking and enjoyed our last evening as a group in Yellowstone.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Yellowstone Report, Day 4

This is a continuation of the Yellowstone Adventure (September 2010) by guest author, Oliver Lignell.
Day 4 – Many miles to Shoshone Lake (15 to be exact)
When I opened my eyes early the next morning, the tent walls were dripping with condensed moisture. The outside of my bag was wet.  I cautiously struggled in to dry gear trying to avoid the chill dampness and keep my bag from getting wetter, with limited success. I unzipped the fly and peered out to see a transformed world. A thick cloud of fog shrouded the camp in a ghostly embrace. I could barely see the trees next to my tent.
“Hello?” I said.
“Over here,” said Rick. He was up already and trying to drape wet gear over wet tree branches in the dripping fog in order to dry them. Good luck, I thought.
His movement was all the confirmation I needed to get going. Life was stirring. I gave up on trying to dry anything in the near term and bee-lined for the packs. I lowered them and began to dig out stove, coffee, and all the essentials. It was a chilly 36 degrees and coffee was required before real cogitation could commence – at least for this MountainGuy.
With coffee in hand, we could begin to think and talk about the day. As the second pot of water boiled, the rest of the group gathered. We all admired the fog. Water infused the air. Even spider webs sparkled with dew as the first beams of sunlight finally reached the small clearing. Clearly, the combination of cool air, warm water from the hot springs, and steam from the nearby steam spout created perfect conditions for megafog. We stamped around trying to get warm and find little patches of sunlight to spread tents, clothes, and sleeping bags for drying.
As we worked, we talked about the plan for the day. It was going to be our longest hike. It would take 12 miles of hiking to get up and out of Bechler Canyon, cross the Continental Divide, and come down to our camp on the shores of Shoshone Lake, where we would enjoy our layover day.  As we discussed the plan to visit Mr. Bubbles again, the MountainGuys displayed an unfortunate tendency to mock Dan S. The slurs, gibes, profanity, sarcasm, and hurled insults will not be recorded here in order to preserve a certain level of decency. The reader will just have to use their own imagination. Use a lot.
The group agreed that another Mr. Bubbles visit was imperative, despite the length of the hike. To that end, the group packed gear that was not even fully dried and hit the trail by 9AM, hustling to the hot pool after a quick meal but satisfying spicy breakfast burritos. Once at the pool, the MountainGuys relaxed. Gear was spread out to more fully dry, exploration of Jupiter’s bowls was initiated, and many pictures were taken. Relaxed hot pool lounging was enjoyed by all, even Dan S., though we did notice him anxiously checking the sky from time to time, no doubt watching for fast approaching thunderheads.
Finally, about 10:30, the gear was dry, pictures taken, bowls explored, and maximum wrinkle-ation had been achieved. After all was “tight and right”, we hoisted our packs and began to hike. We would return to the main trail and then head north for 10 miles to the junction with Shoshone Lake trail. While turning to the north at the junction would take one towards Old Faithful, we would head southwest instead and, in two miles, reach Shoshone Lake.  We were looking forward to the five star campsite we had reserved on a peninsula jutting out in to the lake. 
We made decent time. Packs were lighter, we were clean and lean. Rolling hills rose towards the Divide as we bid farewell to the Bechler River. The Dans, who both had sore feet, decided to blaze forward and get it all over with sooner. Rick, Kevin and I were a little too relaxed from Mr. Bubbles, so we set a more leisurely, but still manly, pace.
The trails began to show tiny black pebbles mixed in with pine needles and dirt. These tiny and sometime large pieces of rock caused much speculation. Was it compressed lava from millions of years ago? A form of obsidian? Ejecta from a crashed spaceship? Vitrified soil from forest fires? The question was never answered, but we continued to see this ubiquitous stone everywhere over the next two days.
We stopped for a late lunch near Douglas Knob, the high elevation of the trip at 8,800 ft. We sat in the shade of a tree next to a large meadow, perhaps a mile wide.  Brilliant fall colors from Mountain Ash at the margins of the meadow and clusters of shrubs with tiny yellow, orange, and red fruits created a choice autumnal backdrop to our lunch.
After lunch, it was over the pass, hang a right at the trail junction and head downhill to Shoshone Lake. By this point, our feet were pretty pounded and we were like horses that could smell the barn. We traded the point position as the most motivated MountainGuy would surge to the front. The last mile or so followed a beautiful valley. Kevin described it perfectly:
“It was a beautiful, lush valley, with the stream wandering from side to side, separating small meadows from each other. The dazzling water had lots of swaying grasses and seaweed. We hiked above it on a dry, lodgepole covered hillside. The shade was a blessing, but our feet were hurting. We hiked over or around several large "cow pies", and discussed whether they could possibly be from cows. We decided that moose or bison were much more likely”
In less than an hour, we reached a small junction with the trail that circled the entire immense lake. Unfortunately, there was no sign that indicated where our 5-star campsite would be. However, the trail we were on crossed the circumnavigating trail and appeared to head straight to the lake. We reasoned hopefully, that it would lead straight to our campsite and forged ahead expectantly. We were wrong.
The trail ended at the shore of the lake, but not at a campsite. With little appreciation of the beautiful lake spread out before us, we threw down our packs in a combination of exhaustion and disgust. Where the hell was our campsite? The map we had of the sites did not show enough detail to tell. However, not far from us, we saw a canoe pulled up on the shore and a couple talking and taking pictures. Maybe help could be found. We approached and Dan T. asked if they had a map. This led to a discussion where we learned several unpleasant facts.
First, we were nowhere near the peninsula camp site. They pointed out over the water. We looked. Across a large inlet we saw a peninsula. It was far away. Second, the site was occupied.  At the very end, we could see what looked like two tents. We contained, for the moment, the worst of our reactions and thanked the couple. We retreated to our packs to begin the process of re-evaluating, position finding, additional map viewing, swearing, and blaming. Pressure was mounting. I’m pretty sure there was a scuffle as words were exchanged between Rick and Dan S., but no blood was spilled. I pulled out the permit again to see if I could figure out anything new. I examined it closely.
 “Crap!” I cried. “Look at this!” I pointed to the permit.
The others crowded around. I waved the paper. The Site we would stay for the next two nights was clearly printed. It was campsite “8R3”. Not “8R5”, as we had requested. Every other site had been exactly what we had requested. The reservation I had received had confirmed we had 8R5. However, the rangers must have made a change some time before they printed the permit. And I had not noticed. We all groaned. I looked at the high level map campsite map, and oriented it to where 8R5 sat across the inlet. The picture was all too clear. We groaned again. Three more miles of hiking!  Some serious talk ensued about whether we should just find our own site and the hell with Yellowstone rules. I believe Dan S. said he would even cover the cost of any fine, however Kevin extolled the virtues of an epically long hiking day and swayed the group to stick to the straight and narrow.
Coping with frustration at Shoshone Lake--3 more miles to go.
We grimly hoisted packs, tightened boots, and adjusted hats. When the going gets tough, the MountainGuys buckle down. Literally. Back up to the Shoshone Lake Trail. Turn right and hike northwest. Up and down the rolling shoulders that surrounded the southwestern edge of the lake. Afternoon light filtered down through mixed forest of Ash and Aspen. Gold, green, and brilliant red leaves brightened the woods. The trail was mostly soft duff and about 18 inches wide. It was a great trail. And a good thing too, our feet were sore. We marched and marched. Small talk was non-existent. We just wanted to get it done.
Finally, we got to the sign for the site. It marked a short trail about a quarter mile long leading down a long slope to the edge of the lake. There we found the three star site. It was small and perhaps 5 feet from the shore behind a screen of several trees and bushes. A stiff wind blew off the lake. The lake was big enough that the wind caused waves a foot high across much of the lake. The view at least was excellent. We could see the southwest end of the lake where we had first arrived about a mile away as the crow flies. From our vantage we could see multiple columns of steam marking the Shoshone Geyser basin. This high profile thermal area was one of the reasons for coming to the lake.  We also had a clear view to the far shore to the east about half a mile away. Shoshone Lake is shaped like a large hour glass tipped half-way over. We were on the lower half. The upper half was bigger. Overall it stretched more than two miles from end to end. 
View to the southwest end of Shoshone Lake--thermal steam rises, falls, and drifts down the shore

 We were bushed and our feet were hamburger. Despite the Park rules to pitch tents far from the cook area, Dan T. and Dan S. grabbed the closest flat spots nearby. Dan T. was 4 feet from the cooking area. Dan S. was much safer, all of 15 feet away.  Given that the biggest mammals we had seen were a few squirrels and chipmunks after four days of hiking, this seemed a reasonable risk. Rick, Kevin, and I spread out and wandered upslope looking for flat spots to pitch our tents. We all found nice spots with good views, pitched our tents, and collapsed with sighs of relief. Groans could be heard as boots were gingerly removed.

The sites by the Lake did not allow campfires, so it was stove-only as we prepared a dinner of Potato Corn Chowder. Though tired, we did feel a strong sense of accomplishment. The view was great and we watched the few clouds and the thermal steam turn pink as the sun went down. It was perhaps the longest day the MountainGuys had ever hiked. While unplanned, we found we could do it. And, perhaps, it might be the only way we would ever do it. Who plans for 15 mile days? We pondered this thought over cookies and tequila.  The next day was our layover day and we could sleep in with not a care in the world. Life was good.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Yellowstone Adventure, Day 3

Day 3  - More Falls and into the Caldera
The morning was a bit warmer than the last few days, in the low 40’s. Not bad for the third week of September in Northern Wyoming. With the sun shining down, we followed the typical morning routine. Packs and food were lowered, water was heated on the stove, and the guys queued up for hot coffee and oatmeal with an assortment of dried fruits. Then, tents down and pack reorganization.  As is often the case, I am done packing first. This is not due to any superior organization or brain power, but more a statement on single-minded focus. Unfortunately, being first does not lead to any real benefit. In fact, it’s detrimental. All I do is wait with increasing irritation for everyone else to finish. Invariably, this leads to me breathing down Kevin’s neck as he wipes off and polishes each item before carefully packing it away according to precise routines. Ah well, he took it with good grace and we left camp before 9:30.  
We hiked on the south side of the canyon, with the river to our left, as we would for our entire time in the canyon. We had hiked a couple of miles and were on our way up a hill when we heard a rumble. As we reached the top of the hill we had our first view of Colonnade falls. This was the finest double waterfall I had ever seen. The view from the trail was somewhat obscured and we immediately headed down a well-trod side path that led to a perch directly in front of the lower falls. We had to shout to here each other over the thunder of the falls. We were all excited and in awe. This was Yellowstone! The two falls totaled a drop of more than 300 feet.

Awesome Colonnade Falls. (Photo KR)

We continued hiking and came to a second awesome waterfall – Cascade Falls. There was, of course, a viewing perch near the top of the falls. More sight-seeing was called for and Kevin took another dozen pictures. Inspired, the rest of us goofed around until he finally took a picture of us.  Fortunately the Dan’s cooperated with dance moves and Rick demonstrated his latent desire to push them off the cliff and in to the water.
Four MountainGuys goofing around at Cascade Falls. (Photo KR)

 From here, the trail climbed more steeply while the river bounded down to the falls in a long series of cataracts that inspired me to envision inflatable skis that one could use to slalom down the river. Alas, I did not have the materials to construct them. And, it was a good thing, since I would have missed the change to Yellowstone’s thermal features.

The steeper climb was taking us up and over the rim of the Yellowstone Caldera. Not everyone knows, but most of the Park sits within the remains of a massive volcano that blew up umpteen millions of years ago. The hot pots, geysers, hot springs, and mud boils are all left over and still active signs of the immense magma bubble that still bubbles below Yellowstone. Almost as soon as the trail leveled out and the river became placid again, we began seeing hot pools with weird algae-covered rocks as well as spots of unnatural colors staining the rocks around them.  According to the map we were within a mile of the campsite and a hot pool we could bathe in. Yahoo!
It seemed only moments before we came to camp 9DI, Ferris Fork. Ferris, I assume, for ferrous. Meaning, iron related. Fork, as in split in the river. In fact, the dividing and merging of rivers at this fork still remains a mystery, despite the map. It was a minor Devil’s triangle. We never seemed to cross a river, yet somehow we were in between branches of it and then alongside a single river only a few steps later. It turned out this was only the first, and lesser of the mysteries we uncovered at Ferris Fork.
After only a little to-ing and fro-ing, we pin-pointed our site and began to set up out tents. I was in a particular frenzy so that I could find and try the hot spring said to be close to the camp. This was, of course, quite believable since there was a large puffing jet of steam less shooting out of a mound less than 30 yards up the creek on the far bank. It had orange and white stripes running down its side into the river.
I’d like to believe it was my eagle eyes that spied the hot pool but, in all likelihood it was Dan T., who was at least as interested in dipping as yours truly. Once it was pointed out, it was obvious. Right across the river from the camp was a spot where a circle of stones had been built up against the bank. We sped over and dropped ourselves in to the water. The temperature was great. Close up we could see that a hot spring mixed with river water upstream from the circle of stones and then flowed in to the pool.
However, the sad truth was that only 2 of us could fit in at once, and that was when we contorted. The deepest section was perhaps 2 feet deep. Well, so what, it was hot and felt great. We all took turns and felt clean and relaxed afterwards.  I tried not to be disappointed at the rather limited nature of the hot pool.
As the rest of us hung out at camp and began to prepare for dinner, Kevin took off to explore up the trail. Having already experienced the joys of the hot pool, no one was too game to join him. Later, as I prepared for dinner, Kevin returned. He interrupted our desultory conversation.
“Hey guys, I found something really cool. I think you should really come check it out”. Kevin’s eyes gleamed. There was a palpable silence around the campfire.
Now, you have to understand, this nearly doubled the number of words that Kevin had said the entire day. Into the shocked silence, there was only one thing I could say:
“Kevin, if you say we’ve got to see it then I believe we must.”  The rest of the group nodded their heads solemnly. It was the closest thing to wisdom I said that day.
Since dinner was just being started, and in high demand, we agreed that we’d go afterwards. Dinner that night was Bangers and Mash. It was quite good, but we ate with speed as we all wondered what Kevin had found. He refused to say, but his enthusiasm was infectious.
So, a highly unusual after-dinner hike ensued. Dusk was falling and we could see storm clouds off to the east. We hustled up the trail for about 10 minutes until we came to another smaller trail heading off across a field and out in to a wooded valley. As we gazed over, wondering what they hid, the wind picked up and we heard a rumble of thunder coming from a distant dark cloud bank that was illuminated in the fading sunlight as dusk approached.
Kevin, took the side trail without hesitation. Dan T., Rick, and I hustled forward without hesitation. Dan S. followed with some reluctance.
 “Hey”, he said with a tone of foreboding. “Do you guys see any lightening?” He paused, “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea”. When he saw none of us slowing down, he sped up and followed, though he continued to mutter under his breath.
As we headed down an incline and in to a small valley, we could see two puffy columns of steam rising from the trees down below. We sped up, excited to see what they harbored. Adding speed to our heels was the now clear crackle and flash of lightning coming from the clouds, now maybe less than 5 miles away.
The path came down to a stream and followed it. Soon we came to the source of the first column of steam. It was on the other side and was the most magnificent volcanic pool of boiling water and colored stone that any of us had seen. It must have been named already, but since we did not know the name I gave it one: Jupiter’s bowls.  Perhaps 15 feet above the surface of the stream and just a few feet back from it stood a boiling spouting pool of electric blue water.  That was the main “bowl”. It poured over and down to the river on two sides over ochre and green bulbous “arms”. In the center, the water flowed down to a secondary bowl. The sides of this smaller pool were pure white and cobbled, like cauliflower. It was amazing, but I was worried – as beautiful as it was, the temperature must have exceeded 500 degrees and there was no way we were jumping in there.
Jupiter's Bowl. (Photo KR)

Jupiter's Arms, the lower second bowl, and Ferris Creek. (Photo KR)

Close up of Jupiter's second bowl. (Photo KR)

Kevin looked at us with a triumphant smile and said, “but wait, there’s more!”
We could hardly believe Jupiter’s Bowls could be topped, but still hurried after Kevin. And then we saw it, through the trees just below the trail. It was a large pool, almost perfectly circular, perhaps 40 feet in circumference. The trail went right down to it. As we came close we had to step over two steaming trails of boiling water that bubbled from above the trail and trickled down to the pool. A broad semi-grassed area filled a small spot between the pool and the creek the flowed right next to it.
Before you could say, “Bob’s your uncle”, Dan T., Rick and I had shucked off half our clothes. I touched the water to make sure we were not about to make MountainGuy stew. The water was hot and well below MountainGuy cooking temperature.
As I stood to remove the last of my clothes, I noticed that Dan S. was not with us. He was still on the trail above and he was pointing over our shoulders.
“Ah, guys”, he said. A few more spatters of rain hit us with a gust of wind. “Did you happen to notice the lightening about a mile over there?”
We looked. He was right. The bank of dark clouds now covered about half of the eastern horizon. It glowed an ominous purple along the edges and jagged bolts of lightning flashed regularly within it.
I looked again at the pool and noticed bubbles coming up from the center. And then it hit me, THIS is Mr. Bubbles. I must have said this out loud since Kevin was nodding his head and smiling.
“Yes, that’s what the lady said who pointed me down the trail,” he said smugly.
I whipped off the rest of my clothes and waded in. Perfect! About 3-4 feet deep. Rick, Kevin, and Dan T. were right behind me. I looked up again. Dan S. was waving his arms wildly.
“Don’t do it! You guys are going to get electrocuted!” He was literally jumping up and down. He seemed to reach a decision. “Not me, I’m out of here!” The last phrase trailed off in a screech as Dan S. tore back up the trail for the presumed safety of the tall trees and metal tent poles surrounding his sleeping bag. Go figure.
The rest of us hunkered down so that only our heads were above the water and luxuriated in what was surely the best hot pool in North America. Did I mention the bubbles? Not only did big ones stream up to the surface in the middle of the pool, but the soft flat ground underneath actually trembled underfoot. Quite often little bubbles would pop up under your toes and trickle up your body. While this initially caused some concerns regarding imminent explosions, it soon became clear this was how it worked and we were not at risk – at least from getting boiled. So, we settled down as the chill rain began to whip against our heads from the rising wind and the lighting flashed closer. This was the conversation, best as I can recall.
Rick said, “What was up with Dan S.? He seemed pretty freaked out.” Rick’s voice was measured and puzzled.
Dan T. grinned, “Maybe it had something to do with our impending electrocution.”
We all oriented ourselves to face the storm and watch the lightning braiding across the sky. We dipped down closer to the surface.
“Well”, I said, “we are in a low spot. That should be good.” I thought for a moment. “I can’t remember. Are we safer in the water or at greater risk for immolation?” A gust of wind whipped away my last words.
Kevin said, “I’m pretty sure we are not safe”.
“Well”, I said, cheerfully. “If this is how it all ends, I say: ‘What a way to go!’” I shouted my last sentence to be heard over a blast of lightning that incinerated a tree less than 200 yards away.
Yips, yells, and shouts of glee were the only response I heard as we basked in the glow from the flaming tree. At this point we all settled down even further until only our noses and eyes were above the water line. If we had Japanese breathing straws, we would have deployed them. The rain hammered down and the flashes of lightning and thunder were continuous. We were in a maelstrom, squeezed between the shaking of Mr. Bubbles below and the howling sky above. It rose to a crescendo.
Then, the storm front passed. The rain died down. The tree smoked. The wind stopped. In moments, the storm had passed over the ridge of the little valley and the sound and light faded. The sky was velvety black, sprinkled with stars as bright and hard as diamonds. We all breathed again.
Dan T., “Sweeeet.”
Rick, “Oh, yah. Wow.”
Kevin, “Awesome!” His smile glowed in the darkness.
Me: “Right ON!” A moment of silence as we all basked in the moment.
A voice spoke up, in the darkness it was impossible to say who it was. “Dan S. sure fucked up”.
“Yep, “ came a chorus of voices.  We all laughed.
For bravery in a hot pool in the face of near certain electrocution, the bathers were given the Raw Naked Courage Badge with the Fig Leaf cluster.
Finally, we reluctantly left Mr. Bubbles. Our wrinkled skins made us look like shriveled aliens. We were so relaxed that even putting on our boots seemed to take 5 minutes. We floated slowly back to the camp. What an incredible day. What an amazing hot pool.  We all agreed. We had to go back to Mr. Bubbles in the morning and Dan S. surely deserved some lightning-free pool time.
The amazing Mr. Bubbles--with bubbles (Photo KR)

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Yellowstone Adventure, Day 2

Day 2 – On to Bechler Canyon (8 miles)
 Our second day of hiking in Yellowstone would take us to the entrance of Bechler Canyon. It would mean a modest day of hiking, a little under 8 miles, nearly 3 miles in a northwesterly direction and then almost due north for almost 5 miles until we arrived at the mouth of the canyon. We would stay at Campground 9B4 at Ouzel Falls.
Given our knowledge of the day – little elevation gain and a modest distance, the group took a relaxed approach to the morning. Kevin talked about the 4 shooting stars he saw at 4 a.m., Dan T. talked about his latest batch of girlfriends, and Dan S. managed to lose his stuff sack. Rick wandered. And, once the packs were ready, it was clearly a nice flat area for a little Frisbee. After all was said and done, we ended up leaving camp at about 10:15. This was much later than the traditional time of 9:30 and, in recognition, the entire group earned the Lay-About Camper Badge with the Lazy Bone Cluster.
As we expected, we began to cross streams within minutes. Kevin dunked his boot in the first crossing, but no serious riparian issues occurred until the third crossing. This was a modest stream whose narrow spot could be crossed with a lunging jump. Of course, with a 50+ pound pack, this is no walk in the park, as Rick discovered.  He crossed in the middle of the group and, anticipating that he might need support, he lunged while simultaneously grabbing at a bush on the far bank. This proved to be one too many activities. As the group watch in horror, Rick’s grip – and the bush itself slowly slide backwards.  In slow motion we saw Rick fall backwards in to a creek that was probably no more than 3 feet wide and a foot deep. Filled with the understanding and compassion that is the hallmark of a true MountainGuy, to a man, we were unsure of whether to laugh or offer help. As a result there were several strangled squawks, twitches, and finally, a few hands came to help a dripping Rick out from the soup. Aside from a few scratches and curses, no harm was done.
We stood around trying to determine why this had happened. What had led to this curious event, how could it have been avoided? Aha! The cause was clear. It was John’s fault! If he had been there, he would have supported the bush or given Rick a boost from behind. With the root cause firmly established, we could move on to other activities. Since Rick had to take off his pack to change some clothes, the group quickly determined that lunch was in order. At the top of a nearby knoll the group opted for sausage and gouda on flattened bagels, dried fruit, and cookies. The main topic of conversation was the fat in the sausage. What was it? It was determined that is consisted of the four basic fat groups: saturated, polyunsaturated, supersaturated, and hypersaturated. With that knowledge in hand, we could rest easy.
An hour later we came to the single fork in the trail we would hit that day. As is the case with every potential change in direction or trail, the map was consulted. It did not matter that the direction was mostly or even, probably clear. Absolute certainty was required and that meant close review of the topo map. As fully licensed MountainGuys one is required to review the facts, offer opinions, and usually contrary ones. In this manner, truth is found. A lot of truth.

Truth was found. (Photo KR)

On route again and headed north, we quickly crossed intermittent meadows, hiked through pine forests, and approached the Bechler Canyon. Our first glimpse that we were coming close was the sight of an escarpment in the distance. It looked like it might be the west wall of the canyon entrance. In fact, it was. As we got closer and approached our campsite for the night, we saw the flash of a waterfall through the trees. This, we reasoned, must be Ouzel Falls.
Camp 9B4 was a bit cramped. Stuck along the edge of the Bechler River it offered no spacious meadows or open camping areas. Each of us had to search for some time to find spots to pitch our tents. Perhaps because we were naturally more courteous, or maybe just slow on the update, Kevin and I were stuck with searching out in the back forty for a place to settle in. Finally, fifteen minutes later, and some 100 yards or so from the fire ring we found several potential spots. All we had to do was traverse 3 different fallen logs above thick thimbleberry and other dense ground cover. A careful balancing effort with our packs allowed us to get to two lumpy spots of ground mere inches from the river. In fact, while staking one corner of my tent, the stake went through the dirt overhang and nearly speared a trout hiding under the bank.
Once the tents were pitched, each of us went to our natural camp prep activities. With five experienced campers at work, this took all of 10 minutes. After that each person followed their backcountry instincts. Dan T. announced it was nap time. Rick announced he had a good book. Dan S. grumpily added that he wasn’t going anywhere and parked himself. Kevin and I looked at each other and said “Ouzel Falls”.
The river adjacent to the campsite was fairly wide and relatively shallow. This offered the best place to cross and head up to Ouzel Falls. We knew the general direction from our approach to the campground and a stream entering the river identified the way to the falls. The river crossing was a non-issue for those smart enough to bring Crocs™, namely, me. Kevin however, loath to get his boots wet opted for bare feet. He found out that rocks look at lot softer when viewed from a distance – up close and personal was different and Kevin was clearly in some pain. However, while I was busy patting myself on the back for superior planning, we chose the south side of Ouzel Creek to climb to the falls. Kevin wore long pants and fared well during the next 30 minutes spent thrashing through heavy undergrowth and fallen logs. I however, confident in light-weight shorts, suffered numerous scratches. Needless to say, I cursed a blue streak and he had the last laugh.
All these minor challenges were forgotten however when we reach Ouzel Falls. We approached through a narrow, deep moss covered ravine. Steep walls and tall trees created a shadowy dell. What we came to was several shallow pools at the bottom of a canyon wall. The falls cascaded down the rounded cliff face creating a wide cascade of water braiding down from three hundred feet above. It was, in effect, a box canyon with a creek pouring in from above. It was beautiful and well worth the extra effort to find it. We took our time viewing it from every angle. Well, I did and then waited another 10 minutes as Kevin took approximately 8,000 pictures. Then we turned to head back and, as is often the case, the actual path back was obvious. The real path was on the north side of the creek and heading back took a mere 10 minutes to return to the camp.

Ouzel Falls. (Photo KR)

As dinner was prepared and consumed that night, Kevin and I described the beauty of the falls to the rest of the group. They were not moved to visit. In fact, Rick thought it more likely to be 30, not 300 feet tall. Dan S. did not even believe there was a waterfall at all and was convinced the whole story was a ruse to make him head off in to the woods at night. Dan T. just shook his head.  All of us looked forward to the next day’s hike. The map confirmed more waterfalls and there was said to be a hot spring near the next camp site.  After packing it all, we retired to our tents. Which meant, for Kevin and myself, a minor trek, balancing on damp logs in the dark, and falling to sleep with water running 5 inches from our tents.