I'm up at 5 and begin to pack up. It feels overcast and gloomy and when I go outside to put my pack in the car I find it has rained in the night. This wreaks havoc on my mental state.
Gary and Laurie come over and we finish loading up the car and then walk over to the Grille. It is our tradition to have a good breakfast before we go hiking and no one loves bacon and eggs more than I do, but this morning I can't eat. Lori and Mark are here and I am glad to see them but I just can't get food down my throat. I have never nervous before a hike and it's unsettling.
Nevertheless, soon we are driving to the Lone Star trailhead in a light drizzle. We joke and take photos and have many hugs. Lori and Mark wave goodbye and the three of us we strike off towards Lone Star to begin our hike. My pack is covered in a black plastic bag.
The good news is that my feet feel fine!
As we walk the day brightens, and I find the physical exercise helps my mood. About half way to Lone Star the sun comes out and we begin to see puffy clouds. Hmm, maybe this will turn out all right and all we need to do is to have faith.
This part of the trail is flat and easy but it's longer than I remembered. But then as we arrive, the geyser erupts in greeting. That's nice! We unload our packs and take a break. We chat with a friendly couple from Maine, as well as some hikers who just came up from Bechler. I love how friendly everyone is. Spirits are high and I am encouraged. The eruption is strong and long and Gary gets some great photos.
Now we pack up again and head off into the backcountry. The more I walk the better I feel and the sun cooperates with some warmth and light. There is beautiful country back here. We cross the Footbridge over the Firehole (where I soaked my head with Loons on a day hike way back when). And then we pass through the small thermal basin I remember, too. This portion of the hike is really pleasant with a great variety of scenery. And despite the welcome presence of the sun, the abundant forest cover keeps us from becoming too hot.
I point out some scat near the trail. It's probably coyote but I like to think that maybe it's wolf!
There are many nice campsites along this trail and one can imagine many versions of this hike, depending on which campsite one gets. There is a thermal meadow on the right and for most of the way the trail follows a stream of one size or another, which makes for very pleasant walking. There are a few marshy areas too, but the trail is very well maintained. All in all we find very few spots where we have to walk around a fallen tree and even then, it's easy enough. A far cry from our trek to Fairyland!
In a cool, woodsy section we encounter a young couple and stop to talk to them. They were camped at Shoshone Lake last night, which is about 3 miles from where we will stop for the night. They tell us a story that sends chills down my spine. As they were packing up this very morning, two grizzly cubs wandered into camp. They had just lowered their packs from the bear pole and they knew cubs meant there would be a sow, too. They stayed together and got their bear spray in hand, awaiting her arrival. She soon appeared and saw the backpackers, took two steps towards them, and then wheeled and ran away, cubs following.
Whoa! We congratulated them on staying cool, wondering if we would have the strength of will to do likewise. The young woman confessed that "it was a little close" but we noted that the bear ran away, which is what is "supposed" to happen. We went our separate ways and talked about it a good while. Scary as the story is, it gave me comfort that this grizzly was a "good" bear, as she could easily have attacked them, but didn't.
We reach a steep section and I get winded pretty fast, needing frequent breaks. Laurie says I shouldn't worry, that she is happy to have the breaks. Gary can seemingly hike anything endlessly with no change whatsoever in his heart-rate or demeanor. 8~)
We finally get to the top of the hill and take a lunch break. Only now do I feel a little hungry. Gary reveals that we have crossed the continental divide! Whew! Next we have some fairly steep downhill and then below us we see a sweet meandering stream, Shoshone Creek.
Above this marshy riverbed is our campsite - Shoshone Meadows - set on a knoll above the stream. There is a very high and sturdy bear pole and several pleasant, woodsy areas in which to pitch tents. In addition, the pit toilet is a wooden throne, with a great view of the meadow below. I take a quick tour around the site, looking for bear sign or any reason why we should not stay here. Everything looks fine. The area is pretty stripped of firewood, but we won't be making a fire tonight anyway.
It's a little after 1PM and I am very happy to be here. We've walked about 6 and a half miles all told. Our plan calls for an exploration of Shoshone Geyser Basin which is nearby. I have developed small blisters on both ankles due to the sloppy way I placed the moleskin this morning, so I sit down to fix them. We will be hanging our packs and hiking light to the Basin so I feel ok about that. More troubling is the sky. There are dark clouds on the horizon and the wind kicks up. Gary is anxious to get going because he has photography plans, but Laurie and I want to make sure our tents are set up in case it rains.
A hiking couple comes up to ask a favor. They are going to the next campsite but want to take a short trip to Shoshone Geyser Basin and they ask if they can hang their packs on our bear pole so they can travel lighter for the side trip. Of course we say yes.
Remembering my lesson from camping at Coffee Pot, I make sure that my ground cloth does not stick out beyond my tent and that my clothes and sleeping bags are inside plastic bags inside our tents before we go. But luckily, the dark clouds blow over and it's sunny again.
So off we go to Shoshone Geyser Basin, unburdened by our heavy packs. Gary discovers that the usual trail has been washed out and the detour trail requires two creek crossings which are both a little tricky. People have dropped logs to help but they make for rickety crossings. I have brought only one pole which I now regret. But when I get across pretty easily it gives me confidence.
This hike covers some of the prettiest landscape yet. The trail follows the creek quite closely. Sometimes we walk right alongside it, other times we are high above it, looking down on its winding curves, bordered by bright green reeds or grasses. It's relatively easy, but surprisingly long. Two miles feels like four. Probably because the weather is still so unsettled and all I can think of is getting drenched!
However, Shoshone Geyser Basin is quite wonderful, worth the visit. It's very, very big and reminds me both of Norris, for its sprawl, and of the UGB because the river runs through it. There is a bare hill that slopes down to the river full of colorful runoff similar to various spots along the Firehole.
The trail is somewhat treacherous as it takes you past open hot springs with delicate crusted edges and hissing frying pans as well as constant bubblers. There are two steep, crumbly sections that worry me a little, like some of the areas we traveled at Joseph's Coat, where a mis-step could be deadly but I get through them alright. Eventually we reach a wider area with a few bent trees and a little grass where Laurie and I drop our packs. This is near Minute Man Geyser. We lay back in the sun and I try to find a tree sturdy enough to support my feet so I can elevate them. While Laurie and I rest, Gary goes to look for things to photograph and to see if he can find a way across the river to explore that side of the basin - most of the geysers are over there.
I had no expectation of the SGB but I am surprised at how extensive it is. In more settled weather I could see spending several days here. Gary is on a mission to photograph certain geysers and pools but he isn't at all happy with the light conditions. Laurie is her usual easy-going self. Minute Man Geyser seems to be asleep this afternoon. Laurie and I chat softly and enjoy the intermittent sun baths between the clouds.
We gaze across the river from time to time, expecting to see Gary roaming around over there. But we don't and after a while this begins to make me nervous again. I won't presume to know what Laurie was thinking but she must have been a little concerned. Of course, they have been here several times before and she is used to him doing things like this. But we see no moving creature at all, except two sandhills who fly noisily over head heading (we figure) for Shoshone Lake.
After about 15 minutes we decide to go looking for him. We head up the trail and top out in the open on the bare dome of the geyser hill. There are thermal features on all sides of us and in the distance, the slighly steaming cone of Union Geyser, which has not had a recorded eruption since 1977. The "trail" is just a faint area of slightly tracked sinter through the center of the bare hill, crossed by the slightly pink water of run-off channels.
Laurie heads downhill towards the river and begins to call for Gary. The slopes is steep enough that I can tell I will soon lose sight of her so I call out, asking her to please stay in sight. Then we hear Gary's voice. We can't see him and can't tell where his voice is coming from but when Laurie turns around to call to me she suddenly points and smiles - Gary is behind us!
I am greatly relieved to see him and to have us all together again. Between the wind and the gurgling of the thermals, it is not easy to hear each other. Gary says he gave up on crossing the river and found some other areas that intrigued him. He suggests we hike over to take a look at the Lake while he tries one more time to get across the river. Laurie seems fine with that, so we do. We don't have to go far - we follow the trail as it curves around the edge of the geyser hill and passes through a bit of scraggly woods and there it is, huge and blue. I am quite amazed at how large Lake Shoshone is. The wind is blowing in our faces and we can see (and hear) people on the Lake, even though it is at least a half-mile away. I can just make out two people in a canoe paddling close to the shore.
We see sandhills and geese and ducks. The Lake seems to be surrounded by marshes except for one white area which looks like sinter to me. We look across and see the campsite where the couple saw the grizzly and I wonder if the people in the canoe are staying there tonight and whether they know about the bear sighting?
We go back up the hill and join Gary again below Union Geyser. He shows us old bear tracks in the sinter (definitely grizzly) and shows us the best spot to cross the river. But we have all noticed that the sky is looking a bit threatening again.
So we walk back and take another rest by Minute Man. Just as we begin to talk about getting ready to leave, Laurie says "hey look at the run-off channel - something's going off". Gary jumps up and grabs his camera. He points to Minute Man's pool which we can plainly see is overflowing. That's the sign! In another few seconds, off it goes! Once Minute Man starts, it continues to erupt over and over, with only a small break between spounts.
Then the spouting shuts off abruptly as if a valve has been turned. Then after another minute of quiet it starts spouting again. This goes on for three, four, five eruptions. As much as we enjoy seeing it, the sky is telling an ominous tale so Laurie and I try to give Gary a hint by packing up our gear and heading slowly back. Gary takes a few more shots and then follows.
Before we leave the area, we take the short trail for one last look at Shoshone Lake, from a different angle. It is very pretty from this viewpoint.
We get sprinkled on a bit as we walk, but no downpours. We make the river crossings more easily than the first time and the drizzle has stopped by the time we reach camp. We set about making dinner and pumping water. I am happy to have a bit more of an appetite and actually enjoy our dinner of macaroni and cheese and peas. Yum!
The wind kicks up and the sky darkens but the rain holds off until we are nearly finished with our chores. There is still light in the sky when I head to my tent to turn in. Once out of my sweaty clothes and into dry warm ones I feel much better. The one thing I have forgotten is to take an advil. Gary has asked that we hang our water bottles tonight as an extra precaution and that means I have nothing to help me swallow the pill!
Ah well, we have hiked over 11 miles today so I get to sleep pretty easily anyway.
It rains all night except for about an hour or two, when it snows!
Today I saw: ducks, geese, a hawk, gray jays, 2 sandhills and four Loons