We are up before dawn. Luckily it promises to be another clear day. We get breakfast more quickly than usual and then get our packs ready. We will be travelling light today (thank goodness!) yet we must still bring survival and rain gear since you just never know. I am so pleased that my feet are in such good shape. My moleskin is holding up, and I have developed no new hot spots.
We set out around 8:00 AM and start uphill. Once we're past the main part of Joseph's Coat, we follow Broad Creek to its first little island where we stop to switch into our river shoes. We cross the river (oh! that water feels so good!) and then stop in the marshy grass of the far shore to put our boots back on. Then we head up the first of several steep, steep, deadfall-infested hills. Many people have asked why one does not just follow Broad Creek all the way to Fairyland - the answer is, that it is just not possible.
No route to Fairyland is easy - the trick is to find one that is "easier".
While I am hiking up this hill, I could never have agreed it is any easier than what I tried before. And I don't think Jake's "stay high" route is easier, either. Only if this area burns would it get any easier - and only for the first two years right afterwards. This is simply deadfall central, and steepness central. It's just the way it is. But at least it was easier with less weight! Once we gain some height, and find some relative flat, we rest a while and I look back and can see the hillside on the opposite side of Broad Creek. It looks like there could have been a burn over there - I see dark tree trunks with no visible leaves or needles, and and odd orange-color on the slope beneath. Could that be old fire-retardant? The place where we stop is covered in that pretty green ground cover plant - and some of the leaves are also turning yellow. I notice harebells and a few other wildflowers, which make me smile.
We press on, going up hill and down hill far too many times until we start to get a little cranky. Then Gary calls out "I see sinter!" and, sure enough, we soon emerge at Coffee Pot Springs. Now, the first time I saw this spot I came up from below, following the runnoff channel (which empties into Broad Creek) so I am already up high as I approach it (which I prefer!). I see the opposite hillside where I remember taking a rest, and Tim A gave me my first Luna Bar (which I still love!). I reflect on how I feel at this moment compared to how I felt 6 years ago. A world of difference! I am brimming with energy and good spirits and feel ready to keep going and going.
I really like Coffee Pot. Laurie, Lori and I take a break on the hillside for a bit while Mark and Gary explore in hopes of finding a source of water to pump. We are consuming a lot of water as we walk and we'd rather have extra in case we cannot make it down into Fairyland to pump from there. We ladies are glad of the break and we get to enjoy the sights and sounds of Coffee Pot while the men perform their search. The only water they find is a putrid pond but the multple bison prints going to and from the pond and the lack of bison carcas ses or skeletons around it make them confident that it is water our filters can handle.
The water tastes metalic so we solve that problem by adding crystal-light or gatorade mix. That makes it drinkable! We explore a bit more and look longingly at Upper Coffee Pot, wishing we had enough time to explore it, too. We eat a bit and drink a lot and make slight adjustments to our packs. Mark and Gary confer with the maps and Mark fiddles with his GPS and then off we go.
Past the mud pots and sizzling frying pans and bubbling cauldrons and rushing runoff we go. Up the sinter hill. I huff and puff again. Then we walk along the sinter plateau for a while, paying close attention to what Gary tells us, to avoid stepping on hot pots. We leave the sinter and enter deadfall forest again. We can see Washburn from here and also (Mark thinks) Amethyst Mountain. Mark points out the line of the canyon that TYT and his party got sucked into, which prevented them from getting to Fairyland on their attempt in 2004. At least they realized their mistake and got out of there in time to get back to 4B1. Try as we might, we cannot avoid various ravines ourselves, and the deadfall here is just not to be believed! It's not the logs that are hard to get over, it's the mult itude of branches sticking out of the logs that grab you and poke you and scra pe you and scar you. And then the hillsides with thick gra ss, under which are rotted logs you can't possibly see until you trip over them!
We flush several grouse who thump thump thump thump away from us and alight in another tree, and then we flush them from that tree, too! Then we come out into a meadow, a very large meadow, with thermal areas on several hillsides. I remember pas sing a place somewhat like this on my way back from the Promontory on my earlier trip. I can't be certain that we are now standing in the same place but it was extremely similar. Funny thing, though. Neither Mark nor Gary nor Lori, all of whom have been to Fairyland before, had ever seen this meadow at all! I suppose this country is just so big, that traveling in it, even following GPS coordinates, all it takes is a degree or two east or west and you would miss a major landmark like this. Kind of a scary thought!
The meadow area is so large and incongruous with the deadfall forest we have been tramping through, that we joke about it being a deveoped campground and that certainly the ranger cabin is just over there, next to the pit toilet! But no, we are still in deep wilderness, and it closes in on us again very soon.
We knew that the Broad Creek fire burned a lot of this area in 2002 and we were expecting to be walking through it already. I keep seeing glimpses to the right of what looks like burn to me but it always seems out of our reach. Finally we get there, and it provides something of a "disappointment" because instead of offering us better and easier footing, it is now so rife with blow-down that we get little relief. But it is somewhat flat, and getting here means we have made progress, so my spirits lift.
There is a great deal of dried fireweed in the burn area. It's dry and golden-brown with the cottony tops they are famous for. And every once in a while we see a bright pink blossom still on the stalk. The air is full of fireweed seeds, wafting here and there and clinging to our clothes. We notice young lodgepoles taking hold, and Gary finds a young aspen. Lovely! There are also many totally charred, fallen logs which I sometimes sit on for a second when they are too high or fat to step over. Of course, my pants become blackened the more I do this!
We trudge on and soon I recognize the line of Shallow Creek Canyon to my right and the line of Broad Creek Canyon to my left. I can see how the land is beginning to slope downwards and to grow more narrow. Mark adjusts our direction of travel several times and suddenly I realize that I am in the lead, walking ever more eagerly. I recognize small things from my first trip, like a group of rocks I scrambled over. One thing I distinctly remember is the tilt of the land, steeper and steeper and how I thought then, I CAN'T go into Fairyland, I'll never get back out! I remember the spot where I finally confessed to TimA that I knew I could not go on, that I had to stop to rest and I remember him telling me - we're almost there, you can do it!
By now the incline is so steep that we must walk in switchbacks to rest our knees. It's a steepness that seems to go on forever! Twice I think I see the Promontory and twice I am fooled. And then, there it is. The Promontory! It is SO, SO different from before, all because of the burn. It is no longer a thickly wooded spot where I waited for my friends to complete their quest. It is bare, burnt, scarred and open, with maybe four live trees left - making the drop-off all the more precipitous for being nearly bare of any anchoring vegetation. But when you stand there, you can see Fairyland below.
I pause barely a few seconds because my blood is up! I don't want to stop here - not this time! I am an entirely new person: strong, fearless, determined to get to this place that was denied to me before. No hill is too steep, no drop-off too scary. I am going to Fairyland and nothing will stop me.
I head down along what looks a little like a path. It's only a game trail and it soon peters out. But first it leads to an even steeper section full of small, loose rocks. No sweat. Done! We come to a spot were the ground turns to rock and the path hugs the cliff. The earth/sand is slippery as can be and there is precious little to hold onto or to plant your pole in. So what? Down we go. Done! Now we come to the worst section of all. About 25-30 feet of "trail" with a 400 foot drop to the left, an overhanging cliff wall to the right, a decline of about 45 degrees curving to the left and a great big tree fallen over in the middle, barring the way.
We stop and Mark gets out his rope. I know if I look too hard at the drop-off that I will freak out so I just don't look. I concentrate on what's nearby and I pick my route down the scary section. It's weird that it took us so long. We thought we'd be here at noon but it is now past 1PM. Well, we are still going.
Mark finishes fastening the rope and clips the end onto Gary's pack, ready to belay him if he gets into trouble. Gary is a pro, and although this is not easy, he is able to get down ok to the next "safe" spot, which is a three foot square area next to a lone, firmly rooted tree! I go next and don't really know how to use the rope so I end up scrambling on my butt most of the way. I am not about to try to climp over that tree; I choose to go under it. The ground is loose and many pebbles go into free-fall, but I do NOT look down. I make it the rest of the way on my hands and knees. Woo hoo! Gary helps me unclip from the rope. He points to the right "Do you know what that is?" I look and say "Golden Fleece?" He smiles. I start to fish for my camera but he says there's a better view a little further on. Then he yells back to Mark, "We're going on!"
Mark, Laurie and Lori say OK, so Gary and I leave the 3 foot square safe spot and move closer to the cliff. We are now in the "fern" section. There is the barest indication of a trail hugging the cliff, but the ground before us is covered in tall ferns, higher than my knees, growing so thickly that you can't see the ground under them. What's under them is unseen deadfall, and worse, loose rock. How loose? Well, you never know until it gives way beneath you! Still, I don't mind this section as much, because I can grip the cliff a little, although the one time I take a firm hold, it breaks off in my hand!
But Gary is right, at the end of this stretch you get a superb view of Golden Fleece Falls. It's a very LOUD waterfall on upper Shallow Creek, and I find it notable for the long sloping section which seems tailor made for a "silking" type photo op, and also for the astonishing right turn in the watercourse right after this sloping spot. Below the turn the water courses nearly straight down over its rocky bed, churning white. I bet in Spring some of this water becomes free-falling, extending the length of the falls, but here in September the only part that gets airborne is the spray.
I do stop here and take a photo, then another one of Gary threading his way through the ferns. Then I put the camera away to keep my attention focused on where I step. The "trail" ends here and one is faced with a steep boulder field (I hate boulders) or an even steeper cliff covered in fern growth and deadfall. I always prefer vegetation, but Gary chooses the boulders so I doggedly follow him. Any mis-step here could break my leg, but somehow, I don't know how, my body doesn't fail me. I am amazed at how strong I feel. I still maintain reasonable caution but I am moving at a more aggressive and determined pace than I have the whole hike. Nothing hurts and I am not tired. Above all, I am not scared of anything! I have no idea where this came from but it sure had good timing!
Once I finally reach the end of the boulder field I pause to rest by a long, burnt log, sitting on it, despite knowing my butt and hands will be blackened. I suddenly smell mint - rich, wet mint! I look down and see a whole hillside of wild mint growing beneath me. In fact, its flowering! I reach down and pull up a sprig, and deeply breathe in the rich aroma. It's all the more delicious for being so unexpected. I yell to Gary - do you smell the mint? He smiles and nods. I yell because the noise of Golden Fleece and the rushing roar of Shallow Creek tumbling down from the heights is overpowering!
Shallow Creek is chock full of debris: boulders and rocks, tree trunks and branches. Many branches are whitened, having been stuck there for decades. Others are more recent, charcoal-black trunks from more recent fires. The bed of the creek - what little can be seen, is gold-colored and the water rushing over it is the strangest combination of milky pale blue, and I don't mean milky from the froth of white water. The water is not clear, it's silty or cloudy, perhaps from being churned up so much on the way down from the heights but more likely from some thermal mineral. Someday I hope to learn why that water looks the way it does. My overall impression of it, though is that it is a very intimidating creek! If it's this loud and wild in September, I can't imagine what it must be like in spring flood!
I see that Gary is setting up his tripod to take shots of Golden Fleece. I look down at the river and realize there is basically no shoreline: the steep hillside rises right out from the bank and I know from hiking to Dunanda Falls that there are likely hidden thermals on the banks and I don't want to get scorched. So I ask Gary "what's the route for the rest of the way, high or low?" Gary calls back that if I wait five minutes he'll show me. I yell back "No offense, but I don't want to wait". He looks at me, quizzically, and I turn to go. I admit now that it was kind of weird and unsportsmanlike of me, but at the time I was thinking I didn't want to rush his photo taking and I was simply ga-ga to see Fairyland. Gary said later that I was overcome with Fairyland lust. He's probably right.
I am so close I can't stand it and I want to see the place I have so longed to see. I don't think I even realized just how badly I wanted to see it until this very moment.
So I forge on alone. In my temporarily fearless mind, I wasn't doing anything dangerous, but in hindsight, I feel I cause Gary some worry so I am sorry for that. Anyway, I start down to the river, thinking it would be really cool to walk in the water a bit but the boulders are too large and the slant too steep, and the noise of the rushing water too daunting. So I reverse course and climb up and begin to side-hill parallel to the roaring water. I remember thinking, I'm so good at uphill now, this degree of steep is nothing!
Hah! But there are obstacles the whole way. After the mint field I come to an area dark, wet, green moss, which I presume means there is a thermal underneath it. I am shocked to see dozens of bright orange and black caterpillars (wooly worms?) all over the moss. Well, there is insect life here, at least! I avoid smushing the wooly worms and walk on.
Next obstacle is a spot of raw earth, where a huge boulder once sat, but now has slid about 10-15 feet down the hillside ti the edge of the creek, perhaps during a spring flood, perhaps an earthquake. The disturbed earth looks too dry and slick so I climb higher to cross above it. Then there is more deadfall and thick vegetation which forces me down again. There is a tight spot between a rock and several trees and, wouldn't you know it, a patch of stinging nettle! Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! It sticks me right through my pant legs! Then there is more runnoff and marshy spots and crumbling rock.
Then I see my first cone - huge! right in Shallow Creek. Yes! This gives me a new surge of energy.
The sunlight is streaming down and the wind is blowing and the river is ROARING to my right. I am all alone in this secret place, seeing it for the first time. I reach a standing stone and beyond it...THERE IT IS! The white travertine shield circled by cones! The confluence of Broad and Shallow Creeks. I'm looking at Fairyland! I stop and sit down and find that I have teared up, despite the broad smile on my face. I look at this strange and weirdly beautiful place and see that indeed it DOES look like a meeting place for otherworldly creatures. I have seen Stonehenge and I sense a similarity that I didn't expect.
I sit by the stone and take a picture. I think to myself, if Gary comes over and says - we have to leave NOW, at least I will have seen it and recorded it! I look back and up but don't see any of the others so I go on. I left my back at this spot - lord knows why I did that? Drunk with Fairyland lust I guess. I wander around the strange formations and see so many of them oozing moisture, with colorful run-off and slimy bacterial mats.
I walk up to the phallic cone and look beyond it where the rivers rush together and form one flow - and see that they don't join here but run roughly parallel for 25 feet or so and then join. In this lower portion are lots of exposed rocks and a fallen cone. In this lower section, both creeks are sporadically lined with cones and interspersed with big rocks and whitened wood from years of flooding. I look behind me, up at the high cliffs, the Promotory where I once sat and cried and scan the area in a full circle, seeing cliff after cliff after cliff on all sides. I look up at Broad Creek and see how it comes crashing down its own steep ravine, full of even more enormous boulders - some are SUV-sized - but I note its water is normal colored.
I look at the ground, so much hard, white travertine and such strange alien-looking grass - as if some alien plant is trying hard to mimic what usually grows on the ground near rivers. The one thing I don't see is the magic mushroom and I wonder if maybe that is in a different place. There are so many more cones than I thought, and so much more variety than I thought - and the hills and cliffs are all so much steeper than I thought. I can't believe I'm seeing it. And I can't believe what one has to go through in order TO see it!
Despite the intimidating roar, I find it pleasant to be here. For some reason, I feel totally safe, perhaps (foolishly) because I can't imagine many animals going to the trouble to get down here. There must be easier ways for them to get water and there is nothing that looks particularly nutritious or edible to draw them. I wonder what it looks like in winter? You can hardly call it a valley, as I see little that's flat, including the shield. I think what amazes me the most is how steep and "protected" everything is, in every direction I look.
I turn around and see Gary. We celebrate a bit and he shows me the magic mushroom, quite changed, he says, from the first view we got from the Basin Boys back in 2000, and his first view in 2003. He is about to set up his tripod again and I ask if I should pump some water. Being first in, I feel a certain responsibility to do some work for the group! He hands me the pump and two bottles. He tells me the best place is right behind me, in Broad Creek, and I clamber down into a little cove carved out from the rock. There is a space next to a car-sized rock were the travertine is relatively flat and dry. There is a pool of water under the car-sized rock that flows past the travertine. And there is a little thermal outlet mixing its warm water with the cold. It puts out a slightly unpleasant sulfery smell, but it's not too bad. I can sit here in relative comfort. I fill three bottles, then stand up to check on Gary.
At first I can't find him but then I see the others coming past the standing stone where I stopped. I climb out of the pump cove and rush to greet them. Everyone is smiles and I make sure they are not mad that Gary and I went on by ourselves. They are not. Laurie and Lori hold up their hands and I see they are blackened from burnt logs. Lori says, cheerily, that she has several itchy/burny spots from the stinging nettle! I suppose it is just the price you pay for coming to a place like this.
We roam around the area, wide-eyed and amazed and then Lori sensibly sits down and takes off her boots. We all follow suit and sit in the sunshine, eating gorp and jerky and power bars and drinking water. We talk about the way down and the mint and the waterfall. We can't believe we did what we did and are just so happy to have accomplished it. We deserve a nice rest and take one.
Gary insists I get up so he can take a picture for the Loons. I do. Amazingly, he gets cell service here (thanks to the proximity of Mt. Washburn, although it can't be seen from within the basin). He sends a pre-arranged text message to Roadie that "Wendy has landed in Fairyland. Everyone safe. Send pizza!". I can't stop smiling. Gary shows me the colorful pitcher's mound and says it was dormant last time an is now quite active. He points out some fallen cones in Shallow Creek, including the one I saw beyond the confluence.
Whoa! I wonder what caused that? Then he takes more photos and I decide to explore some more. My memory has already become a bit hazy and I think it's due to the heightened excitment I felt being there. I felt a little bit "outside my body" the whole time. Perhaps that is just adrenalin at work?
I want to dip my toes in both creeks so I scramble down between two cones to the lower portion of the sheild. Once I leave the travertine, the ground is all colorful rocks - white, brown, gray, gold and orange - lots of them softball-sized. It is SO LOUD down here, between the two rivers, that I get a little intimidated again. I would really like to cross each creek, but I stupidly forgot my poles to steady me and the water looks much more treacherous close up than from above, so I settle for just stepping in Broad (cool) for a moment, and then into Shallow. I expect a difference in the water temperature but Shallow feels cool, too. But they are both much too scary to walk in, without poles, so I just stand a bit and watch them. I had planned to stand at the confluence with one foot in each creek, but the path to the actual confluence is further and more difficult than I expected. Of course I wish now that I had simply gone back for my poles but I didn't. However, I do walk back over to Broad and dip my bandana in the water, then slosh it all over my head, for an instant cool-down. Ahhhh!
I look as far as I can down the steep valley where the co-mingled streams continue, on to the Yellowstone. I'd like to have time to hike there some day, although it would promise to be awfully difficult, I'm sure. The cliffs are probably pas sable only in short sections. Now I have to scramble back up between the cones to the main shield in wet sandals but I manage it. I watch moisture percolating out of the pitchers mound and from a smaller roundish cone. This pne is covered in colorful bacterial mats and strands of bright green algae. It's strange and wonderful to look at, kind of like an alien ice-cream sundae. There are also three small cones that seem old, dead and dry.
I plop back down with Laurie and Lori. Lori is now laying down with her feet up. Gary and Mark have filled up all our bottles and come up to join us. We are all smiles, so proud we have accomplished our goal. We know we can't stay long, but we are reluctant to leave. It would be nice to be able to camp down here one night, but then we'd have to have brought our heavy packs with us! I can't imagine getting down that cliff with a 40 pound pack! But I do wonder what sounds can be heard at night in this place, filled with the roar of water and wind?
One wonders what animals might make it down to this spot? Looking around, there is no obvious access from any direction other than the one we came, and although animals such as deer, elk and cougar would certainly be capable of traversing it, would they be tempted to do so? What would draw them? I don't remember seeing any animal prints or scat, although it is certainly possible that I missed some. Nor do I remember seeing any bones. (Apparently I just wasn't looking! There was a huge antler right near the edge of the shield!)
All in all, we stay in Fairyland about an hour and a half. It is tempting to stay longer, there is so much to explore. Just as we begin to talk about heading back, two dippers fly right past Gary's head and up the Broad Creek canyon. I decide to start back ahead of the group. I walk along the slope, looking at everything for what I as sume will be the last time. At the standing stone, I take a photo of the two couples, my trusty companions, as they sit gathered just behind the shield. I trudge on and have a long look at Golden Fleece falls. I stare at the huge cave in the cliff wall high above Shallow Creek. I sit on a charred log next to the slope full of mint and rest, looking around at this amazingly wild place I have been lucky enough to see. I think about my mom and dad who have passed on, and my two sisters back east who I love. And I feel very proud of myself to have done this, although I know my job isn't over yet.
Then I look above me and see that this would be a great place for cougars to roam. And that the forest above probably supports plenty of deer. I try not to think about cougars too much, LOL!
The sky above is changing and I have a feeling we are in for some rain.
I breath in the smell of mint and the fresh, clear air and vow to remember what this roaring sounds like, so I can bring my mind back here if I need to. Just as I begin to feel a tad lonesome I look down and there are my friends. Yay!
They make their way up to me and I ask Mark if he came down the boulder way? He says, no, they came down through the ferns. That encourages me so I follow him up that way. It's not at all easy, as there is an inordinate amount of deadfall bebeath the fern growth and it's hard to find a solid foothold. Plus much of the deadfall is charcoal-burnt and slippery with moisture. And there are stinging nettles interspersed throughout the ferns which is just not fair! LOL!
There is one very large burnt log about half-way up that is really hard to get over but finally we manage and find ourselves at the tree where Mark tied his rope. The three of them crossed here lower than did Gary and I. For me, it's more comfortable to stick with what I know so I scramble up to the "path" along the cliff that I followed down. I join Lori at the tree where you get the first good view of Golden Fleece. She came up using the rope as a guide. We get to rest a bit while the others negotiate this section.
The next section is the scariest for me, but, inexplicably, I am STILL filled with adrenalin and "ever-ok-power" (a childhood term my sisters and I use). As Mark removes the rope from the fern section and prepares it for the fallen-tree section we realize someone has to climb up without the rope, in order to fasten it to the higher tree. I volunteer. Somehow my insides know that I can do it, plus I always like uphill better than downhill. Mark clips the rope to a beaner on my pack and he tells me how to fasten the end to the upper tree.
I set off with shortened poles but soon I'm on my hands and knees, crawling. I totally ignore the drop off to my right. Seriously, I do NOT look at it. If I did, I'd freeze or get the shakes. I reach the fallen-over tree and take a little breather, pressing close to two new-growth pines there for security. Then I crawl on my belly under the tree, scrape my face against a thorny plant (probably wild strawberries) and then my water-bottle snags on some part of the tree. I wiggle a bit and finally make it through. Then I talk myself up the next steep slidy part. Get up that hill, girl! And then I'm safe! I get to the tree.
My friends cheer.
I yell down to Mark that his black webbing is still around this tree and he yells back that I should just clip the rope into the webbing. This is good because I really don't know how to tie a knot. I fasten it securely and call down OK! Then I sit and watch the others come up, one my one. Lori is next - she goes under the tree, but her back-pack is bigger than mine so she has to really wriggle. Lori and I are giddy with relief to have made it this far without trouble.
Then Laurie comes up - she elects to go under the tree, too, but her pack gets stuck and it takes her a bit to maneuver out of there. She gets a cut on her scalp for her efforts but doesn't complain. Then Gary comes up and he manages to climb OVER the tree. And finally Mark, who uses a self-belaying device which I've never seen before. I can't imagine what we would have done if he had taken a fall, but thank goodness he doesn't. I think it is ultimately do-able without rope, but we were ALL happy to have it. And if one of us HAD taken a fall, the rope would no doubt have come in handy for rescue. So I highly recommend it for anyone contemplating this course.
We get sporadic sprinklings of rain as we go, but luckily nothing hard or lasting. Laurie develops a pain in her side, similar to what Lori and I had yesterday. But either it passed or she just tolerated it, because I did not hear her mention it again. Bravo, Laurie! Now it's time for us to get up the rock pas sage, and we slip a bit, but manage through sheer determination to reach the next slope. This is the small-slippery rock section. Ugh! Then we pause a bit at the Promontory. Gary makes another cursory look for the watch he lost in 2005 (he did this on the way down, too) but does not find it.
The slope ahead goes up and up and up and up - just as you feel you are about to reach the top, another slope is revealed above it. This is the most singlarly strenuous part of the hike, I think, this long, long, long unending uphill slope that just wears you out. It's so tiring, we give up traversing and switchbacking in favor of fewer steps. Fewer steps means straight up and we do it. one step at a time. It seems like ages before we finally get to what pas ses for flat in this area, but we do get there. We take another break and gulp water and grab some snacks.
We all begin to worry that we will not get back to camp before we lose the light. Poor Gary is having foot issues. We try to make better time in any section where the deadfall is less or the landscape is flat-ish, but it doesn't change our pace much. Mark decides to lead us back on more of a beeline to Coffee Pot than the way we came. I worry that this will get us lost but I don't know anything about GPS and Mark does. When we get to Coffee Pot we are thrilled, but we still have a lot of land to cross so we take only a short break. We don't pump water since we know we will have that option once we get to Broad Creek. We are aware that none of us is eating or drinking enough. Instead we are trying to concentrate on making better time, getting out of the woods before dark hits us.
The moon is nearly new so we know we will not have its light; besides, the sky is becomming more and more overcast! One thing I am very glad of is that we followed Mark's advice and put our sleeping bags and clothes inside plastic bags inside our tents, so that if rain DOES come, we have a better chance of finding a dry sleeping bag and dry clothes when we get there.
We head for Broad Creek along the right side of Coffee Pot, through a burn forest full of the drying stalks of fireweed. Every once in a while we see some deep pink blossoms of that flower. When we rest we usually try to find a log to sit on, and all the logs in this section are charred, so our hands and butts become black with charcoal dust. Oh well.
The ridge we are on starts to slope downward and then comes to an abrupt end as it drops precipitously down to Broad Creek. This is both good and bad. Good because once we get to Broad Creek we can easily find our way home; bad because we now have to get down a very steep hill with barely any light. One of the last sights visible before we commit to the steep is the orange-colored slope I noticed on our way up on the other side. It is so daunting to enter the dark of a forest at this time of day! But we stick close to each other, yell "Hey Bear" requently and luckily our nerves hold. We climb down carefully, switching back and forth until we come to some rocks. We go slowly here as it is quite tricky. But we are encouraged by the sound of Broad Creek below. We try not to think of the rain that our senses tell is is coming soon.
We manage to get down to the bottom just as the light dies. Of course, this is very scary because it is the most likely time bears are on the prowl. We make plenty of noise, though and I am confident in the safety of our numbers. But we are very good at sticking close to one another.
Once we reach Broad Creek we switch out of our boots into our sandals. I wear snug polartec socks with mine, both for warmth and safety. We each put on our headlamps which are, indeed, enough light, and begin our walk upstream. Anytime a gap develops, the leaders stop and we stay close. When the bank is walkable, we climb onto land for a while but spend more time in the river than out. Honestly, the water feels good on my feet and does not make me cold, although at first I worried that it would.
We trust our poles, our feet and each other. It seems to take forever, though, because the wet rocks are too slippery for us to go fast. The river is, at least, an unmistakeable path home. Gary calls out "I see Joseph's Coat!" which makes us all feel better. We leave the river and follow Gary in single file through the thermal area. He is careful to point out smokers and hot holes on both sides. We cross two warm run-off streams before we begin the last climb towards 4B1. Despite being so close to "home" I still feel scared when we leave the relative comfort of the sinter and enter the dark, dark, dark of the forest. I suppose it is just a childhood fear that is inate in all of us. All the nursery rhymes I ever heard came in to play at that moment. Thank goodness for my friends.
With great relief, we top the hill above our campsite. I don't think I have ever been so happy to see three tents in my life! I hug Lori and thank everyone over and over for helping us get home. I reach my tent and happily find my gear bone dry. We dump our packs and head to the bear pole to lower the stuff we left here and haul it over to the fire ring. Then...RAIN! A hard, steady rain, too. Not likely to let up. NO! Not fair! 8~)
We pull on our rain gear and gather around the fire-ring. The effort it would take to make a fire stops us from trying. We consider going to bed without eating or pumping water, but wiser heads prevail. We take stock of our water and find we each have enough to drink and I have enough for all of us to cook with, so I happily donate it. Laurie gets to work while I dash to my tent and slip on my extra rain pants. I also change out of my damp hiking clothes and get into a dry shirt and fleece jacket which makes me feel MUCH better. I pop my rain hat and coat over all and then head back to the cooking area.
By the time I get back, the water is boiling and Laurie makes hot lasagna for the three of us. The rain continues to fall. At least it's not cold, but it sort of spoils our plans to celebrate our victory, both of seeing Fairyland and getting back safely in the dark. It would be so much nicer if we could have savored our accomplishment around a roaring fire, instead of huddling under dripping branches. But it's fine. You can't control the weather, and at least it didn't rain while we were hiking!
I eat as much as I can, which isn't that much, and then prepare my stuff to be re-hung on the bear pole. We bid each other good night and shuffle back to our tents. Once at my tent, I am careful to remove my rain coat and hat in the vestibule rather than getting the inside of the tent wet. I leave my soaking wet boots there, too and snuggle into my warm little nylon cave. I keep enough water to swallow two advil and fall asleep to the sound of rain pattering on my tent fly, but before I drift off, I say to myself "I made it to Fairyland today!"
Today I saw: birds, squirrels, chipmunks, grouse, four Loons, the spirit of Allison and...FAIRYLAND!