Go Day dawns bright and clear. We meet at Mark & Lori's camper in the Canyon campground for a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs and fabulous buttermilk pancakes while we get to know each other, tease and joke. A great beginning! We get a slightly later start than planned, leaving via the Wapiti Lake Trailhead around 9:30AM. The day is cool and bright - picture perfect. That first hill gets me huffing and puffing right away and soon I am doubting my fitness all over again. But this hike is different - all my companions are roughly the same age - 50 - and we are just not in a big hurry.
The first part of the trail goes through Hayden Valley: open, beautiful, and surprisingly bison-free. Well, truth be told, as we were packing up in the trail-head lot, some of the big beasts did decide to walk through the area. I love to hear them grunting and snorting!). This is supposed to be fire-season but due to the unusual amount of rain lately, our fire danger is greatly reduced. And to my delight there is a lot of spring-looking green, as well as sporadic wildflower color to brighten the trek across this open stretch. I find it fascinating to see what I remember about my earlier attempt 6 years ago. I remember a good deal of the terrain, and what I felt like or what I was thinking back then. We find some wolf scat, coyote scat and of course evidence of the pas sing of many bison and elk.
My pack is heavy, probably 40 pounds, but not horribly so. My feet feel great - I have learned a thing or two about the prevention of blisters in the intervening years!
We reach a hill crowned with trees, their bark heavily scra ped by bison, descend a fairly steep slope, cross more meadows and then enter our first thermal area. For the next 6 miles, the terrain is fairly flat and forested, with small hills every once in a while. At times we follow small streams or edge around marshes and sometimes pas s open meadows, filled with bright sunlight. The day warms and we shed some layers. We stop for short breaks, snacking and staying hydrated. At one stop Mark realizes he is missing one of his topo maps. He leaves his pack with us and heads back on the trail (with his bear spray) to find it. While he is gone we have a nice long break. My companions are wonderful people - warm and funny, generous and dedicated hikers. I feel totally included and completely comfortable with them.
We become a tad concerned since Mark has been gone a long time but finally Gary sees him. He found his map! Reluctantly we hoist our packs and move on. For the next couple of miles, my pack seems to grow heavier and I begin to get winded again. During one break I become downright gloomy, thinking that I am just not cut out for carrying this kind of weight. We seem to be making such slow progress and I find myself discouraged. Yet, somehow, this feeling pas ses and the next thing I know I see the familiar green of Moss Creek up ahead. I wish I knew what changed in me - I didn't make any resolution or secretly stash 20 pounds of gear in a tree (!). It may be that I just recognized that there wasn't anything to be done about it - everyone was carrying a lot of weight and that's just the way it is.
In any case, we slip out of our packs at Moss Creek and I get out of my boots, too. I treat my toes to a slosh in the cool waters, finding a sweet sandy bottom to plunge into. I soak my head as is my tradition, then wipe my face and neck. Oooh that feels good! Gary and Mark start pumping water almost immediately - we need to refill our bottles before we head off cross country to 4B1. I join Gary and Laurie to learn how their water filter works and pump a couple of bottles too.
The place holds many memories - here is where I dialed Allison on my first Fairyland attempt. She wasn't in when I called so I left a message. I remember the crew of that first hike being so anxious to get going and me being so utterly bewildered as to where we were about to go. This time everything is more relaxed and I happily realize that my feeling so helpless at the 5 mile mark today is definitely a thing of the past. Whatever it was it has somehow been banished and I am happy to say it stays away the whole rest of the trip.
Around 4:30 we hoist our packs again and set off for the next phase of our journey. We have hiked 8 miles of trail with heavy packs and are now going to test our mettle against deadfall and steep hills where no trail goes. We hike the final half mile of trail to Orange Rock Springs - which, my second viewing confirms, still does not contain a single orange rock. The rocks and water still seem puce-colored to me. There is also a smell of sulfer and various other thermal odors.
Mark has his trusty GPS out and shows us where we are going. We are trying a slightly new route - similar to one Gary took previous but very different from the one my group took back in 2001. It wisely avoids the extremely steep hill that nearly killed me the first time! Our way still includes a hill and it is steep and full of deadfall, but it is decidedly less high than the one I remember. Sooner than expected, we find ourselves in a very pretty area of tall-trunked trees and low-volume deadfall. The ground below the trees is covered with a low-growing plant with small green leaves, some of which are beginning to turn a pale yellow. The stems of these plants are unusual - multiple stalks, thin, stiff and deep green with many stiff "branches" underneath the leaves. I mistakenly call them kinick-kinick and I still don't know what they are but we saw this species throughout the hike; it was the predominant ground cover in most of the forested areas where we walked.
It is very pleasant to hike here, mostly due to the lack of troublesome deadfall. We enjoy it while we can because we know it can't last. And it doesn't. The land starts to slope downhill and we see a drainage, one that eventually empties into Broad Creek at Joseph's Coat, north of the campsite. We name it Meandering Stream. Gary and Mark make sure we all note it in case we need to find our way out without them. We do not follow this stream, though, we stay to the right of it, and eventually must go back uphill, and then down again. There is no way to avoid the various ravines in this area. This is what makes hiking here so difficult. One wants to get high and stay high but the land won't let you. Eventually we climb another impossibly long, steep hill and then have our first glimpse of a thermal something. I tell Gary that I remember a putrid-looking pond or small lake with many bison prints in the sand around it and lots and lots of deadfall blocking the way around it. He knows the spot I'm talking about and in another few minutes that very sight is before me. The lake is on our left as we hike carefully through an active thermal area, pas sing a loud fumarole that Gary says is the one Jake tried to get me to visit the last time I was here.
There are wonderful colors and odd smells and weird sights all around and Gary is especially helpful to us here, in avoiding the hotter spots.
Then we top one more ridge and find ourselves looking down upon 4B1. It is much, much changed since I saw it last. The bear pole, compromised though it was, is utterly gone, and in its place, in a different location, is a three-pole rig - where one can toss a rope and hang a pack. Unfortunately, the apex of the poles is not very high off the ground, so hung packs will still be well within the reach of a determined bear. But it's the best we have. I trust our numbers on this trip, and our conscientiousness, and the fact that I have never heard anyone complain of bear trouble here.
It is good, good, good to be here, although we are much later than we planned to be and have only about an hour of daylight left. We dump our packs and get out of our boots and into our comfortable sandals. Broad Creek is here, a good source of water, although there is arsenic in it and we must use our filters, of course. We choose our camp space and my friends are kind enough to let me tent between them. I am usually scared of bears at night but if I am close to the others I think all will be well.
We get everything set up and then start to work on dinner. Gary and Laurie are sharing their dinners with me so I have time to fuss with getting a fire started. There is a rock-ringed fire pit near the bear pole. All traces of the original fire pit, where Jim S burned the clothes he didn't want to carry, and Matthew burned his socks trying to dry them, are gone. With the help of some crackling-dry fir needles my fire takes off and soon we are happily gathered around its warmth and light. I am treated to a meal of pasta and chicken with alfredo sauce - yum! There is dead and downed wood all over the place so we will have no trouble keeping our fire going. A gorgeous sunset begins and we all take time to admire it.
While we eat, we lose the light and dark begins, that wonderful REAL dark you get only in the woods, that is both comforting and a little scary. We finish our dinners and just sit and enjoy our fire. What's better on a camping trip than sitting at leisure around the fire? We all have headlamps (mine, courtesy of Gary and Laurie) but we don't much need or use them. We look up and see the heavens ablaze with stars, planets and the fuzzy swath of the Milky Way. To think that once the whole world saw the Milky Way every night - or at least every clear night. Since we all live in cities, we especially enjoy this glimpse into the "once upon a time" world of our ancestors.
Our talk slows and quiets and soon we know it's time for bed. Even though we are loathe to waste our pumped water, we are careful to put out our fire and to stir the ashes. We know that we could get wind in the night and a stray spark could bring real trouble to us all. But now it is out so we carefully bring all our foodstuffs and bear attractants to the bear pole for hanging. My extra beeners come in handy and I am glad they can be of use.
I snuggle into my sleeping bag, carefully placing my fleece stuff nearby in case I need it. But the night is quite warm and I end up half-way out of the bag. I sleep well and look forward to tomorrow.
Today I saw: bison, a chipmunk, a coyote, various birds, four Loons and the spirit of Allison