WY - 2005/08/16 to 2005/08/25 - Backpacking in Yellowstone National Park Thorofare

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Want to escape the crowds? Go to Yellowstone National Park, the most heavily visited park in the United States. A few miles from your car and you will be all alone.

By Hank McComas

One of the great things about backpacking is the ability to get away from civilization - the noise, the rush, the clutter and even other people. Get out in the open country where one can think. Where man is not the omnipresent dominant disruption of a contemplative existence. Go to the most roadless area in the lower 48 states. Go to Yellowstone National park.

Say what? You mean go to the most visited National park in the U.S? Go to where 5 million people come every year? Where bus loads of camera toting, Spandex wearing, old fat people descend on a whistle stop platform, rush to spend five minutes gaping at a geyser before being herded onto an air conditioned super coach to be shuttled to the next stop a quarter mile away?

Yup, that is just what I mean. And once you have made it past the long line of cars waiting to get into Yellowstone and walked 2 miles down a back-country trail, you will be backpacking in one of the most beautiful and empty natural areas in the Lower 48, I kid you not.

The Thoroughfare

I have visited Yellowstone many times in the past thirty five years. I have even been there in the winter 4 times. But except for a brief 3 night backpack trip into Heart Lake in 1976, I had never spent any significant time in the back-country. Sure, I had taken some long day hikes from road side trail heads and I had always marveled how in a place so packed with tourists, even a minimal effort to walk down a trail made them all disappear. Whether walking into Shoshone Lake in the south, Hayden Valley in the center, along the Madison in the west, on the shores of Yellowstone Lake in the east or on Specimen Ridge in the north, a few miles from the hard surface road and the place was all yours and yours alone.

So I was intrigued by the prospect of a long trip into the most roadless area in the lower 48, the Thorofare region of southeast Yellowstone National Park. Here the Yellowstone River flows north in a series of channels making a broad and flat valley surrounded by the cliffs of the Two Oceans Plateau on the west and the Absaroka Mountains in the east. At a point in the valley the closest road of any kind, dirt or surfaced is 40 miles away. The channels of the river form a broad marshy delta as it flows into the south side of the cold and deep Yellowstone Lake. Home to many of the grizzly bears for which Yellowstone is famous, I was hoping to see my first every grizz - just not too close. With all the trips I have made there, I had never seen one.

I decided to go in August as that is the best time to be in the Thorofare. Streams are low then, mosquitos are mostly gone, the bears are not as hungry as they are in spring or as desperate as they are in the fall. The days are warm, the nights are cool and the weather is usually dry. By the middle of August, the summer crush of visitors is starting to fall off. Only half the number of people are in the park as at the height of the season in July.

I checked the flight ticket prices for flying into Jackson, WY, but the cost was much higher than getting off the plane in Salt Lake, renting a car there and making the 6 hour drive to Jackson. I decided to split the drive into two parts, arriving in Salt Lake at noon, and then driving up I-15 for 4 hours to Idaho Falls where my hiking partner Julio and I stayed in a motel. We picked up some supplies there including a can of bear spray in one of the biggest sporting goods stores I have ever seen, the Sportsman's Warehouse.

The weather report for the next couple of days looked depressingly glum with rain forecasted for Mexico to Canada and California to the Mississippi River. Didn't look like we were going to miss this one. Sure enough the next morning it was raining heavily as we drove over the Teton range and down into the valley of the Snake River where the busy tourist town of Jackson sits at the bottom of Grand Teton Park. We stopped at Bubba's, a favorite eating place of the locals, for a last big breakfast as the rain continued to pour down. After chowing down on a big omelet, hash browns and toast,we drove up through Grand Teton National Park. The usually majestic mountains were hidden in heavy cloud and one could not even tell that they were there. At a moose jam, we got out to take a look as tourists pressed in too close to the fortunately sedate bull moose.

The line at the South Entrance of Yellowstone National Park was just beginning to form when we arrived at 10:00 AM. We pulled into the picnic/trail head parking area and went into the ranger station to get our back-country permits. Anyone staying out overnight in the Yellowstone Parks is required to purchase a $20.00 permit. I went in to make arrangements.

There, Rick a young ranger, greeted me. I was his only customer so far that day. With the late start we were getting, it seemed like my plan for an uncrowded back-country experience was off to a great start. I discussed my intended route and selected various campgrounds. Although it is possible to reserve campsites by mail months in advance, it really isn't necessary. Even though a few sites were taken by commercial horse pack trips, most of the sites along our intended route were open. Once we got past the turn off for Heart Lake, the most popular trail in the Yellowstone back-country, everything but one site was available. Over 40% of the back-country permits in all of Yellowstone Park are written for the Heart Lake area.

Day 1 - 8.5 miles

We planned (map of back-country campsites and planned route) to walk along the Snake River on the South Boundary trail until we reached the southern portion of the Thorofare. We would then turn north and follow the Yellowstone River up the Thorofare to Yellowstone Lake. We would then follow the trails along the south edge of the lake, cut back toward Heart Lake, follow Heart Lake River down to the Snake River and then back to our car. We would complete the 90 mile trip in 7 days.

A light rain continued to fall as we completed the requirements for our back-country permit. This included a rudimentary video presentation on safety in grizzly bear country. The video contained most of the important points and probably provided enough information to keep the Park Service from being successfully sued should anything tragic occur.

Ranger Rick struggled with the computer to fill out our permits. After 20 minutes, he finally gave up and wrote out a manual ticket. So exasperated about the computer, he forgot to charge us after we returned from the car with our packs. With the advise that the rivers would get wider but not much deeper unless it rained a lot more over the next few days, we set off on the trail at the back of the ranger station.

Back-country travel in the Yellowstone region involves a lot of stream and river crossings. You get the point immediately as you cross the Snake River just two minutes after starting out on the trail. Even at the low water season, fords can be waist deep. Fortunately, this first one never got over the calf.

The ford over the wide and shallow Snake River was to be repeated many times in the coming week. On the other bank, we turned upstream to follow the river to the East along the southern border of the park. A meadow of bright yellow sun flowers greeted us on the other side. The clouds had stopped dripping on us as we walked down the level, but muddy path through the bright flowers. We were off with eight miles of nearly flat walking ahead of us.

People come to Yellowstone to see the spectacular geysers, hot springs and mud pots. Most of them are just off the road, but there are some in the back-country also. These unprotected sites need to be respected as they are as fragile as they are beautiful. Boiling water and thin crusts make them dangerous.

We stopped along a small brook to filter some water. While we were there we saw the only tourist backpacker we encountered the whole week. That was only an hour away and just two miles from the trail head.

The trail varied between spruce forest and open meadows. A small flat clearing or meadow is also known as a wyoming and the ones here in Wyoming were beautiful. We crossed over the only bridge of our 96 mile trip. It spanned a large run off channel full of scalding water. The heavy strands of algae thrived in the steaming water. This was one creek we were really glad we did not have to ford.

We entered another meadow and walked past the first camp along the trail. Unusually close to the trail, this site was positioned against a small ridge and only 100 yards from the Snake River. Guarded by a group of marmots, Camp 8C1 looked to be a pleasant spot 5 miles from the trail head. A small hot spring emptied into the river. Earlier campers had positioned rocks in the river to catch a mixture of the hot spring water and the cold river water. The few places where river and hot spring water mix are the only places were it is legal or advisable to bathe in spring water. With a large grazing area, I suspect that this site is generally reserved for horse pack groups. As the clouds began to dissipate, we continued along the still wide and shallow Snake River.

The trail began climbing onto a low ridge burned in the massive fires of 1988. Much of the southern portion of the park was burned. In the seventeen years since then, the park is making a slow recovery. Many old snags still stand even after this long a time. The downed trees show little sign of decay. New growth has reached a height of eight to twelve feet. Instead of the closed in spruce forest that used to dominate this region, the raging fires opened up the valleys and allowed us to see much more than we could have prior to 1988. Although the charred trees were not a lovely as the deep forest, we appreciated the open meadows and riot of mid summer flowers on the now dry, hot and dusty ridge.
While we were walking the ridge we encountered a pack string of horses and riders moving back down the valley. This was a ranger patrol with one ranger and two park employees. They stopped to chat, asking us where we were headed and making sure that we had our permit which was conspicuously displayed on the outside of our pack. When Ranger Dave Phillips heard of our plan for the next day he did his best to talk us out of it and offered to call in by VHF radio to get our permit changed. He warned us of the difficulty of our planned route as it was both long, 19 miles and strenuous, 3000+ feet ascension. We stuck to our plan as we recognized its nature and were prepared to deal with its rigor. Ranger Phillips looked a little skeptical. The next day we would agree that he was correct to question us as this proved to be a taxing hike. Less accomplished hikers would be well advised to choose another route and take two days instead of one. After insisting on our plans, he led his string on down the trail and we continued on to our camp.

We descended off the ridge to walk along the river once more. We came upon the small grey sign post on the side of the trail indicating our camp site. We could see the horizontal log tied high in the trees. There we would be able to hang our food out of the reach of any marauding bears. From the trail, that was the only indication of the presence of the camp.

After setting up our tent about 100 yards from the cooking area and hauling our provisions up into the trees, we went down to the river to soak our feet in the water and clean off the trail dust. The sprightly flow felt good on the feet but was too cold to tempt us all the way into the water. In camp a log with bright green moss presented an interesting contrast of color and form. The sky began to fill with clouds from the southwest as we returned to camp to prepare dinner.

Finished with dinner, we walked around the meadow near camp. A pair of sandhill cranes stalked across the open meadow. Clouds covered half the sky and an eerie light washed over the grasses as dusk came. The view in the opposite direction just minutes before gave no indication of the strange evening light that was to come.

Day 2 - 14 miles

That night it rained. The patter of drops on the tent was pleasant to sleep to, but by first light when it had still not stopped, it looked to be a cool damp start to our long day. For this day we planned to hike about 19 miles while climbing 3200 feet and then down almost 2000 to our camp near the Snake River once again. That meant we needed a fairly early start so that we could not wait out the rain for long. Fortunately, it stopped just as needed so we could clean up camp and get on the way. The sun even came out as we followed along the southern bank of the Snake River and then forded the river. We began climbing to the pass through lush regenerated post-fire growth. As we climbed higher, the area became more sparse with lighter re-vegetation, finally becoming standing snags, downed trunks and undergrowth. The open country exposed us to the cool winds and drizzle that started just as we began climbing in earnest. We thought we could see the top of the pass. As we got closer what we thought was the top receded as the rounded back of the ridge revealed more climbing was required.

We stopped along the track to use our stove to cook a warm lunch to keep up our energy level and our spirits. The open ground provided no shelter and it was cold as we cooked in the spitting rain and wind. Hunkered down in a slight draw, we kept an eye out for bears as we finished our meal.

The weather worsened as we climbed higher. The rain continued and we were now in heavy cloud and visibility was restricted to perhaps a 100 meters. The slog up the continuous grade got tougher. (Bad conditions/Bad mood - so no pictures.) Then we came to a section of glutinous mud. Each step pulled up another overshoe of heavy mud. Within three steps we were 3 inches taller with 10 pounds of mud on each foot. So much mud was on our shoes that we could not pass one foot past the other in a normal step. The mud would not come off with shaking or even use of our walking sticks. Only by scraping on a rock or log could a majority be removed. But then three steps later and it would all be back on. The heavy mud overshoes made the final 1/4 mile of climbing very difficult. I felt like I was getting a small sample of what it was like to climb at high altitude when every step is agony. The mud ended just before the top of the pass, which we didn't really know was the top because we couldn't see anything. As we topped over the pass, the thunder and lightning started and we moved quickly down the other side, not slowing until we reached the tree line once more. The lightning was moderate but we kept going lower looking for a campsite that we had seen on the maps, but short of where we had signed up to stop. We were getting tired.

We apparently missed the camp because we were soon almost all the way down the mountain when the skies cleared, turning completely blue just as we entered the Snake River valley once more. I was unsure of the exact location of that nights camp as I had not transferred its precise location to our map from the map at the ranger station. Now we were too tired to search for it. At will camping is not allowed inside the park. If you are not at the site you are permitted for, you are subject to a fine. Since we were right on the Park's Southern border, we crossed over into the Teton National Forest and made camp on a small ridge 200 yards from the trail and water. We spread out our gear to dry and set up the tent. After cooking our dinner, we hauled up our food bag into a tree and went to bed. We were very tired.

Day 3 - 14 miles

During the night we had what we thought was very heavy rain. But when we awoke, the tent was surrounded by a ring of pea sized hail that had bounced off the tent and formed an ice halo around our tent. The front that passed through during the night brought a clear and crisp morning. I retrieved our food bag from the tree and we finished drying our gear as we slowly prepared for the hike.
Starting out we immediately had to cross the Snake River, so our feet were wet in the first five minutes. Just a half mile on the other side of the ford, we came across our designated camp site. The site was pleasant enough, but I preferred where we had stayed in the National Forest. It would have been nice to have had the horizontal log to haul our food up into the tree.

We followed a tributary of the Snake up the valley and then turned up hill once again for a 900 foot climb. At the top was another wyoming with a big lake in it. The fluffy cumulus clouds seemed to hover over the brown grasses and lake water. It was an idyllic setting. The walk leveled out for a mile as we walked through alternating stands of trees and open meadows filled with wild flowers. I particularly liked a frilly iris-like flower that was everywhere.

We came to the edge of the plateau we were traversing. There we could look out toward the valley of the Yellowstone River. The track ran beside a small stream that cut down deep between the volcanic rock of the cliffs on both sides of the track. As we started down to the valley, we saw a well fed coyote running across the open grassy meadow to disappear into the trees. Smaller than a wolf, this individual was quite large for a coyote.

The meadows became less frequent and the trees more common. We forded several small streams and spring run-off that gushed from the walls of the canyon we were descending. The water was delightful. We were able to cut back significantly on the concentration of iodine to savor the taste of the newly emerged water.

We left the trees to enter once more into the burn area. With the openness, we could see across the valley that was our objective. It was an impressive sight.

On the valley of the Yellowstone floor we turned south and followed along the east edge for a short distance to a junction of trails. From there we turned east to follow the trail to Confluence ford over the Yellowstone River. But just a couple 100 yards from the trail sign, the trail faded to obscurity. It was there, and then it wasn't. We scanned far ahead over the low willows looking for any sign of the trail. About 3/4 mile sway I spotted an orange trail sign on the opposite shore of the river. We made our way through the willows, every once in a while thinking that we spotted hints of the trail. We arrived at the confluence of two branches of the river where the map said the ford was supposed to be. But the river here was shoulder depth and I had no intention of crossing here. I looked upstream for another point to cross while Julio looked down stream.

Finding nothing promising in the swift and deep sections to the south of the confluence, I joined Julio as we searched to the north. We saw several otter slides and grizzly bear tracks in the mud of the bank. Several 100 yards downstream the river separated into several channels over what looked to be shallow rock bars. The first and second one looked to be no problem, but the main channel still ran swiftly and looked much deeper than the other two. Still it was better than the deep crossing at the confluence. We found it hard to believe that the Confluence Ford was much used and agreed that was probably why the trail had faded out. The steep uncut bank at the ford also confirmed that no horses had used it in some time.
The main channel proved to be waist deep and swift as we had suspected. We forded it almost without incident. The only problem was Julio forgot to take his digital camera out of his pocket. It got soaked. It was only water resistant, not water proof. The minute long dunking did it in, at least temporarily. Mine was packed safely in my pack where it stayed, so we have no picture of this crossing.

Now on the east bank, we immediately came cross some huge grizzly prints, with the claw marks projecting well out from the pad imprint. It was a sobering sight. We continued south down the trail looking across the willow flats to the Absaroka mountains. We pushed through the mid torso high willows, headed south down this gorgeous valley ( movie of us walking )

The weather matched the fine view. Just a few puffy clouds drifted over the lake 40 miles away. Overhead the skies were completely clear. The bare brown/grey flanks of the Absaroka mountains contrasted with the green and yellows of the willows. The place looked like a perfect feeding ground for deer and elk, but we did not see any. Perhaps it was too early in the day or too early in the season.
We reached the signed trail junction of the east side of the Thorofare and headed north to our campsite. We were dragging a little as this had been a long day with the fording, backtracking and bushwhacking we had to do. Julio had a nasty blister building on his foot and we needed to get to camp soon. At campsite 6Y5 we found a nice little clearing in among cottonwoods and spruce along a rushing small creek. We even had some wood left by the previous campers. We settled in and began preparing dinner. The mosquitos drove us into the tent at dark, but we didn't mind as we were ready to get some needed rest.

Day 4 - 14 miles

With a clear night, the next morning was cold with frost on the ground, keeping the flying drill rigs in the weeds. We prepared our breakfast and were soon on the trail. With the morning light, the golden hue of the late summer grasses contrasted with the purplish shadows of the breccia cliffs of the Absaroka mountains to the east. The trail runs along the east side of the valley on level ground. The valley floor is open with large meadows, low willows and stands of trees mostly along the banks of the meandering Yellowstone. Several creeks and streams flow out of a series of westward valleys to join the Yellowstone River. Our feet were wet soon after leaving camp. We would cross several streams during the course of the day, some on difficult or precarious logs toppled over the water.

After several hours of walking along the valley floor, we turned slightly uphill to climb onto the fore-slope of the cliff. Here once again the area was burned over with snags and blowdown all over the ground. The foliage was rampant here as on the previous day. Many of the wildflowers had peaked and were going to seed, including some "super dandelions". In a dry section of the trail, we stopped for a rest and a snack. Autumn grasshoppers clicked their wings as they crossed each other's path as we rested on some large logs.

The trail worked gradually higher as we approached the delta of the Yellowstone River where it emptied into the lake. It was a fine view up and down the river. (large pan shot of the river) We passed the southern ford of the river. It looked deep and swift. We were glad we would not be crossing there.
Fifteen minutes later we passed the trail junction for the northern ford of the river. It was back in the trees and we could not see where we would ford the river the next day. Camp was almost three more miles down the trail and we would have to backtrack the next morning. The more convenient camp on the other bank of the river was the only one that was occupied when we were signing up for campsites. We had seen no one this day for the second day running.

We came up to another stream rushing down the slope to the valley. As with all the other times during the past four days we yelled as we came into the limited site distance of the trees lining the stream bank. We crossed the 3 yard wide, loudly gurgling stream and began climbing up the trail on the other side. When we were about 15 yards from the stream I heard a strange sound. At first I thought it was some water sloshing around in a bottle on the side of my pack. Then I heard it again. It sound like a snort. I turned to see a large grizzly not 25 yards from us standing up out of the heavy willow cover on the edge of the stream. Worse yet, I saw two cubs bounding over the willows and downed trees. The mother grizzly was between us and the cubs who were making a hasty retreat. The mother took one bound over a willow in our direction and then stood up tall on her hind feet.

"Oh Shit!" I said softly. This always seems to be what one says in such situations. Then to Julio who had also turned around after hearing the warning, I said, "This could be bad!" I turned partly away from the bear looking at it out of the corner of my eye. I spoke in a loud deep voice and began backing slowly away from the bear along the trail, keeping my head down and trying not to look directly at the bear. I moved right up to Julio who had not moved yet and said, succinctly, "Move!". The bear spray still hung from his belt, strapped down and not even thought of. What a huge powerful and frightening animal. She could have taken us easily in two bounds in just as many seconds. Fortunately, she quickly decided to turn and follow her cubs into the willows. We turned down the trail and walked swiftly onward. Neither of us remember much of the trail until we got to the turn off for the camp.

And what a beautiful camp 6B4 was. On the edge of a meadow, we pitched the tent under a large tree. The cooking and food hanging area was a good 75 yards away. Another 75 yards away was a wonderful swift stream with a small pool in it that allowed a full immersion. Even in the middle of summer, the water was cool but it felt great. We spent a relaxing late afternoon washing, napping and eating in the pretty little meadow.

Day 5 - 15.5 miles

The next morning we had time to dry our dewey gear in the early morning sunshine. Another nearly cloudless day lay ahead of us. We packed and reluctantly left our little camp and headed back down the trail to the Yellowstone delta and the ford. As we passed through the weeds on the side of the trail, they gave off a heavy cloud of pollen that rose like a mist at our passing.

As we walked along the trail keeping a heightened lookout for more grizzlies, we realized how little of this trail we remembered and how much longer it seemed today than yesterday after our bear encounter. But we passed the scene of our meeting and we looked and measured where we had been and where the bear had been. Surveying the scene it was easy to discern what had happened. Although we had both called out as we approached the wooded stream bank, the loud stream had drowned out our puny voices. The wind had been in our faces so no scent preceded us. Laying down in the willows, the bears did not see us coming either. It wasn't until we crossed the stream, started up the other bank and got upwind of the bear did she know that we were there. Then it could have been too late.
Even though we did most things right, we still managed to get into a bad situation. And once in that situation, we did everything right. But we were just lucky. If the bear had charged us, I doubt if we would have effectively used the bear spray. After seeing the immense size of such an animal pepper spray seems a puny and unlikely defense. Even with it strapped to a belt, it was probably too slow to be utilized in such a close encounter. If the spray had been in the backpack, it would be totally useless for almost any situation.

Oh, did I mention that we didn't get any pictures? Even with my camera in my pocket, I wasn't the least bit interested in getting a photo. I wonder if pointing a camera would be considered a sign of aggression on my part. I don't need a photo anyway. The impression of that large silver haired face, coal black eyes, and huge forepaws is burned deep in my memory. But we survived and we have a great story to tell.

Soon we were back at the ford over the Yellowstone River. The water was running swiftly and about knee deep at the deepest point along the far bank. Julio went over first and I followed without incident. We walked into a large meadow and passed the camp that we had tried to use. There we saw the first people we had seen in 2 full days, a group of young people who were sampling water quality in the Yellowstone/Thorofare region. They were summer employees of the park service.
On the other bank we followed Trail Creek trail across the flat valley floor in young growth and dead fall. The amount of bear tracks and scat was impressive. Big tracks followed along the trail, the pad impressions and claw marks clearly visible in the drying mud. We made sure to make lots of noise as we moved along the trail to the west side of the valley. Turning north from there we skirted the delta itself. Across the broad expanse of grass and marsh we could see two young grizzlies tussling in mock fighting. This is the kind of distance from which I wanted to see grizzlies. It seemed very strange to see such a large marshy region at such a high altitude. The delta gave way to a shallow bay as we approached the East Arm of Yellowstone Lake. The trail followed the edge of the lake as it headed west. An immature bald eagle sat quietly in a tall dead tree as we passed underneath. It was unusual to find this big raptor so comfortable with human presence.

We continued along the shore of the lake headed toward the ranger station. What a beautiful location that is. With a big cabin, a stock corral, a lovely beach on the edge of the lake and a small stream tumbling into the lake just yards from the cabin door, it is a million dollar location. Nice place to work. We spent some time relaxing in this idyllic and empty spot. We were once again the only ones here.
The trail continued across the peninsula between the two arms of the lake. We passed through golden meadows of grass along ponds and flats in an open sparsely treed meadow. We scared up several pairs of sandhill cranes and sent them honking off to another valley, where we watched them land and begin stalking in the tall grasses. Creeks wound lazily through the flat terrain. Occasionally we would come across a bigger stream that seemed to call out "Trout here!"

The gentle rise in the trail had taken us several 100 feet up as we climbed over the ridge separating the two lake arms. As we dropped down the other side, we came upon a small lagoon on the very southern end of the eastern arm of the lake. As we approached a moose cow heard us and ran out of the middle of the small bay She had been harvesting the aquatic plants out in the water. She sent spray flying as she ran at what looked to be about 30 miles an hour out of the water and into the trees and up the hill. It was quite a display of power. We sat and watched an otter cruise along chasing small fish which fled in all directions.
Further along we came across the SPYL monument, which I assumed stood for the Southern Point Yellowstone Lake. Here is Julio attempting to make it a souvenir.

We arrived late afternoon at Camp 7C1, or at least what we presumed to be camp 7C1. There was no sign here but it corresponded to where the camp was supposed to be. There was a fire ring here and a tree had recently fallen in the camp fire ring. It had been sawn up into sitting logs and branches had been piled to one side for firewood. It convinced us that this was indeed an approved site, even without the official imprimatur of a little metal sign.

We cooked our meal over a wood fire as we were getting low on fuel and the wood for our fire had been provided so conveniently by the downed tree. We supplemented the small sticks with dried driftwood from the nearby stream. We set out tent well off from the cooking as usual. After a gorgeous sunset over a ridge we retired for the night.

That night we were treated to the loud snorts, stompings and calls of a moose whose territory we had apparently invaded. Perhaps we were keeping it from the stream as the creature seemed quite agitated. With some mild concern for being stomped on while still in our tents, we were happy that it soon moved on. As first light began to appear in the east, a group of coyotes began to howl. They sounded very close, perhaps just on the ridge just to our west. It was quite a treat.

Day 6 - 14 miles

We awoke to a pink sunrise on the only clouds in the sky. We started another small fire for cooking our breakfast. It was a nice luxury to be able to have a wood fire. Most overused park campsites are stripped of available wood. The smell of the resin in the smoke drifting across the frosty meadow brought back memories of camps from decades ago.

After breakfast and a thorough dousing of the fire, we started south on the trail toward Heart Lake. We saw a couple of mule deer off in the woods. We hadn't seen many on this trip and the ones we did see were easily spooked. Perhaps the presence of the bears made them so wary. We were still seeing many tracks on the trail.

We hiked through a region of semi open forest. There were many downed trees across the trail - we counted 13 on this section of trail. Clearly, the trail had not been cleared this season. Some of the downed trunks had very orange center wood a looked as if fires were still burning in their interiors.

The trail climbed up several hundred feet and then made a slow descent through open meadow. It was another gorgeous day. The warm sun contrasted sweetly with the cool air. We ducked in and out of shade as we passed under the few trees on the valley floor. Marmots clambered over rock scree slumped down the ridges on both sides of the trail. We found an elk skull along the side of the trail and could not resist trying it on. The thing had to weigh thirty pounds and was an effort to support even for a few seconds.

We followed the narrow trail down the middle of the valley. It was amazing how unused this trail was. Just two steps off the trail and the thing was invisible.

We came to a small stream running across the trail. There was evidence that once there had been a log across it but that was long gone. We started wading across the stream but were knee deep in the muck of the decaying reeds on the bottom with the first two steps. We backed off and found a log lying on the bottom. Walking through the water on the submerged log, balancing with our hiking poles, we were able to cross without getting too mucked up.

The meadow ran out to a ridge high over Heart Lake. Walking through the burned region we descended toward the lake. The large mountain on its west shore was stained red with the mineral deposits brought up by the thermal activity. We kept descending until we reached a small stream. I decided to cross on a log instead of just wading across the stream. I took one step out onto the almost submerged log which was splashed with the spray of the stream. It was more slippery than ice and my foot stayed on it for only a fraction of a second. I fell off the log, straddling it in the water. But my foot turned on a rock on the bottom and I was thrown face down into the water in the little pool with my backpack on top of me. I got my hands and feet under me and stood up in the shallow stream.

I retrieved the map that had fallen out of the open pocket in my backpack. Then I realized that I had forgotten to take my digital camera out of my pocket before crossing. I reached into my pocket and felt a full pocket of cold stream water. I lifted the camera out to see water run out of the case and battery compartment. I opened the compartment and removed the batteries, returned to the bank and crossed the stream wading across the rocks as I should have done in the first place. On the opposite bank I took stock. I was soaked through. My backpack was dry as I had gone in face down. My fingers were bleeding from the rocks on the bottom of the creek as I pushed up out of the water. I stripped down at a sunny log, spread out the wet stuff to dry and got out the first aid kit. The camera looked really bad. I opened up all the compartments on the camera and set it in the sun. With bandages on and dry clothes I was feeling pretty good, but I would not be able to use the camera for the rest of the trip. I let it dry for two weeks before putting new batteries in and trying it. It worked perfectly. All pictures from here on were taken by Julio's camera which had dried out nicely since its dunking at the first crossing of the Yellowstone. We continued on the trail crossing other streams on dry logs. Eventually we came to Heart Lake River, the outflow from heart Lake itself. There we had no log, so we were not even tempted to repeat my earlier adventure and we simply waded across.

We followed the Heart Lake River Trail down through a gorge carved through the red soil. The river made a steep decent through the gorge as it headed for the Snake River. We could see the valley of the Snake where we would be the next day.

At the junction with the Snake River Trail we turned northward and passed several camps that are usually reserved by horse pack trips. There was no one there. At the next junction we turned south on Heart Lake Trail and in 2 miles we were at our camp 8B2. This camp was obviously much more heavily used as people hike in and out of the well trafficked Heart Lake area. Unlike the previous night there was no wood to be had, so we nursed the last of our stove fuel to heat our final dinner of the trip. A large log provided a couch for resting while our meals simmered.

Day 7 - 10 miles

The next morning a mist hung over the lake across the meadow as we packed our gear and got ready for our walk out. The shallow lake was rimmed by willows. There were a number of swirls on the surface as trout rose to catch insects. We didn't see any beaver sign. A large raptor circled overhead as we walked past.

The trail followed along a small creek. We came into another section of soul (sic) mud like we had encountered on our second day. Not as sticky nor as extensive as our first experience, it was still troublesome. At least we were able to get a picture of it this time.

We entered another meadow with a stream looping back and forth. There we found beaver sign everywhere and eventually came upon a beaver house, this one apparently still having its Christmas tree up.

After the meadow, the river made its final plunge through a deeply carved gorge to the Snake River. There we waded over the mostly ankle deep river to the south bank of the river and rejoined the trail we had walked the first day. We headed downriver and passed camp 8C1 with its antler decoration and large grazing meadow. We passed near the hot spring runoff channel next to a large rock outcropping covered with contrasting red lichen.

We followed the now muddy trail, retracing our steps toward the ranger station. The trail was beat up by horse hooves. In one depression we found thus huge toad. Just 2 miles from the trail head we ran across our second camping party, a horse and mule pack string with 2 guides and about 8 toursists. Besides the one guy we had seen the first day, this horse group was the only non-park employees we had seen the whole week. We finished the trail by making the final ford of the Snake River over to the South Entrance parking lot. After a brief struggle with our rental car locating the trunk release after we locked the keys in the trunk (with the doors still open), we drove back down to Teton National Park where we had a shower, indulged in some decadent fast food and visited the indian museum, all at Colter Bay Campground in the shadow of Grand Teton mountain. We scored a campsite for the evening, which at this time of the year is not difficult. The compressed ground of the heavily used site would hardly take a tent peg and provided a restless nights sleep after the cozy duff of the past week's backcountry camping.





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