[This is the last installment of the Yellowstone Report, by guest author, Oliver Lignell.]
Day 7 – The last day: Carbon Totems and Car Trouble (6 miles)
Day 7 – The last day: Carbon Totems and Car Trouble (6 miles)
After six days in the backcountry, breakfast and packing was efficient. No one lingered in their tents. While the hike out was short, less than six miles, a 10 hour drive home was still ahead. Not much conversation took place around the camp as we all were occupied with thoughts of our return – spouses, families, work, etc. However, at least for myself, this was not obsessive or depressing, but actually refreshing. It had been some time since thoughts from normal life had been considered and we were hiking through beautiful, treed trails under blue skies. The air was fresh and crisp.
After a mile, we started to climb to the top of a ridge where we saw the bigger picture for the day – and the bigger picture in Yellowstone, for the first time. Between dense woods, the Bechler River Canyon, and close, low hills we had never truly seen an unobstructed view of the greater Yellowstone landscape. But, from the ridge, we finally had a bigger view and saw snowcapped ranges to the west and to the north of us. It was a reminder of the non-Alpine nature of this shuttle trip. While we had all enjoyed the canyons, rivers, falls, geysers, and – of course, Mr. Bubbles – we had not touched on the high Alpine experience. And I, for one, vowed that next year would involve off trail and high altitude hiking.
(Author’s note: see the Popo Agie blog for details on how well we hit that mark)
The other observation was the change in the landscape due to the Yellowstone fire. We had not seen any signs of fire in our route so far, but the bulk of the trail ahead of us had been scarred by one of the 17 fires that blazed just over a decade before. This accounted for our ability to see to the mountain ranges more than 50 miles away. While there was a healthy and abundant growth of bushes and small trees, none of them topped more than 12 feet. Also of interest were the burned trees that had not been consumed in the fire. Some lay on the ground, but there were occasional standing survivors bare and sere like lone sentinels over the new growing forest. I had dubbed similar trees in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico Carbon Totems. I shared this with Kevin and Rick and they agreed it was descriptive.
|A carbon totem stands tall.|
We hiked quickly as we came down from the ridge and soon the trail widened in to two tracks. Within the hour we were at the Shoshone Lake trail head. But alas, there was no waiting car with the Dans. What had happened? Had our meticulous plan gone awry? With various attitudes of disgruntlement, we dropped our packs and snacked, read the trail signs, and considered jumping one of the few cars parked at the trailhead. However, our lack of patience was eventually rewarded. The car pulled up about 40 minutes after we had arrived.
After the necessary greetings, we got down to the details. What had happened? Well, this was a bit of a longer story as the two filled us in on their travails from the last two days. When the groups had split, both Dan S. and Dan T. knew that they had faced a really long day of hiking. What they did not realize was that the entire way would be hard scrabble hiking up and down interminable rolling landscape from hills surrounding northern shore of the lake. They had both started out with foot challenges and, by the time they finished, those foot challenges had escalated to foot crises. Dan T. had blisters that had blisters. Huge bubbles, some bleeding. This explained why, despite his sunny disposition, he hobbled over to greet us.
While Dan T. hobbled, Dan S. limped. It turns out that his boots did not fit very well. As he grudgingly explained, he toes had been bumping up against the inside of his boots for days and the pounding of the last hike out was the last straw. Both big toes were quite bruised and he expected to lose the nails. But the look of chagrin on his face was more than just pain. As he explained, that was the least of the dilemma’s they had encountered the day before.
As planned, my car was at the trailhead waiting for them. They hobbled and limped over. Dan S. pulled out the electronic key and pressed unlock. No beep-beep. No nothing. He tried it multiple ways: over his head, resting on the door, pointing at the engine, between his legs. Nothing worked. Dan T. grabbed it and tried his techniques. No go. They scratched their heads and determined that the battery must have died and there was not enough charge remaining to unlock the doors. They found and slid out the emergency key, but it did not fit and they were unable to open the doors.
So, on to the backup plan. They did have a cell phone and were able to call Yellowstone village and have a tow truck come out. As they waited, they tried other approaches, but nothing worked. Finally, with no other options, they sat down and finally had some food. They hadn’t eaten for hours in their focus to hike out. After Dan S. finished his energy bar, he reached in his pocket for another one and found another key. Suddenly, it all came together. He pulled it out and pointed it at the car. He pressed the button. Beep-beep, the car unlocked.
As Dan later explained to us, he had first pulled out his car’s electronic key and tried to use it on my car. And it wouldn’t work. Go figure. Once he had some calories in his brain, as he put it, he realized he had two sets of keys and used the other key. The one I had given him. Then it worked. The car started right up and they threw there packs in. It was right about then that the tow truck pulled in.
Dan S. rushed out waving his arms. “We don’t need you now,“ he said. “We got it started. Thanks anyway.” Dan started to walk back to the car.
“Well, just a minute,” the mechanic said. “I drove 30 miles to get here and I’m glad you got it started, but whether I helped you or not, you still have to pay the service fee. That’s $139 and 52 cents.” He enunciated the amount with precision and satisfaction. Perhaps he had memorized it.
Dan S. was silent as his natural thrift, or as his friends would say – cheapness, struggled against his impulse to do the right and ethical thing. This took some time. Dan T, who witnessed this struggle, spoke up.
“You know, Dan”, he said. “I’m happy to help out with that if you want to, you know, maybe split the cost”. Dan T. is very generous at heart and meant every word. Or almost every word. Dan S. must have sensed that this was offer was over the top. Even he couldn’t make Dan help pay for his own bone-headed mistake.
“No”, Dan S. said. He sighed. “I’ll take care of it.” With that he gave the credit card to the mechanic, who had been whistling with some delight as he waited for the problem to be solved.
“Well”, he said, as he started up the tow truck again and started to pull out. “You all have a great day!” He tipped his hat. Dan S. grumbled. And, as he later related this story to Rick, Kevin, and I, he was still grumbling. And, if truth be told, at the time of this writing, Dan S. is still grumbling.
However, despite their pain that day; physical, financial and emotional, the two did reach their goals. They did see Old Faithful, they did spend the night in real beds, and they did have hot showers. This would explain why they looked a whole lot whiter than the rest of us. They also had retrieved Dan S’s car, so we were all ready to roll. We sorted out packs and equipment and began the long drive home broken up of course, as planned, with a stop at the Gannet Grill in Lander, where good burgers and fries were had by all – and beers by those not driving.
Another memorable MountainGuy adventure was complete. One more bucket list item was checked off. Our only regrets were not having John along and the lack of peaks. Well, we knew that we would remedy that in next year’s hike. It would have been even more memorable to have seen Grizzly bears, but we decided that was ok. As we drove back some of us were already thinking about where we would go the next year. And, to be completely honest, some of us were thinking about sore feet and whether they would go at all. For the record, that was not me. I still think about Mr. Bubbles.