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.

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