CDT 19: Grizzlies and Geysers

‘Hwy 26 to Yellowstone National Park’

We were exhausted when we arrived in Dubois so we decided to stay for two whole days. Perhaps we were just tired, perhaps we dreaded the rain, or perhaps we feared the bears.

There have been so many difficult challenges on this trek, but grizzlies change everything that makes even the worst days bearable. Imagine scary, steep, really steep, traverses on snow, raging river crossings, freezing temperatures, hail, snow, hoards of mosquitoes, the list is long …but, when things are bad you can shut it all out the moment you crawl inside the tent and zip it up tight. The big difference in grizzly country is that you don’t bring your food in with you–you sit somewhere a hundred yards away to eat with the mosquitoes, in the rain, the cold, the hail, the dark …and then you look for the perfect tree a hundred yards in a different direction to hang your food for the night. You crawl into the tent, cold, eaten by mosquitoes, and shiver as you unravel your sleeping bag. Then, as you comfort yourself to sleep, dread sets in about crawling out of the tent in the morning, packing it all up, and shivering again as you untie your food from the tree. Are we excited about breakfast yet, no, we’re excited for the sun to peak over the horizon.

We bought bear spray before leaving Dubois, called to reserve our backcountry campsites in Yellowstone, and hitched back to the trail. We hiked in from Towgutee Lodge so that we could cross the south fork of the Buffalo River on a bridge instead of fording the raging river on the regular route. It was long uphill miles on a wide path, a horse superhighway of a trail, it rained, but luckily only briefly. We stopped early, sipped jäger as the sun set, and found the perfect tree to hang our food.

The morning came too early. We hesitated how to begin. Should we go get our food, eat and then pack up, or should we pack up and then go get our food and eat. It all felt so clumsy, but we packed up, and then got our food and shivered as we ate.

We dreaded this new routine for each night and each morning. It rained everyday. The mosquitoes and flies were thick. The wildflowers were spectacular. And we saw no bears.

Though I’m not exactly sure what I expected, our transect through Yellowstone was still different than I imagined. I guess I imagined it would be extraordinary and magical, but instead it was pretty, kind of plain, more beetle kill forest, periodic stunning wildflowers, swampy, muddy, meadows, and some mediocre to amazing steam vents and geysers.

My favorite night was our camp on the eastern shore of Shoshone Lake. It was almost warm, there were almost no bugs, and there was a great sunset. The next morning it was cold, finger numbing cold, but it was almost magical watching the fog lift as we as ate our breakfast on the shore of the lake.

We had underestimated our food for this stretch and our last day into old faithful was fueled by, well, very little. I saved what I had left for the evening and shared it with Neon before bed. I’m much better at going hungry than he is. I also saved twenty almonds and one Larabar for the morning to fuel our last four miles into Old Faithful Village.

Neon didn’t sleep well. When we woke he told me he didn’t feel so well. I gave him the larabar and kept the twenty almonds for myself. We trudged the last four miles through the rain. We went right to Snow Lodge for their “all you can eat” breakfast buffet, did laundry, and then headed to the Old Faithful Inn for showers. Neon was looking pretty pale at this point and it became clear that we were going to be staying somewhere for a few days instead of hiking on.

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