I get up a little later than usual but find the extra light helpful. Today I am going hiking in Hayden Valley with Frank and Jane.
Once I have things packed and stowed properly I drive to Grizzly Overlook. Becky and Chloe are already here and tell me I've just missed some howling!
We scope a bit but find no wolves. Instead we see a mule deer buck come bolting out of the rendezvous area, running swiftly west towards the road, disappearing behind a forested hill. We also see several sandhills.
A little before 9AM I bid them adieu. They are leaving the Park later today and I am going on my hike.It's always great to spend time with these two lovely ladies from Missoula and I will miss them!
Now I head to the Canyon VC to meet my hiking partners: the group includes our leader, Ballpark Frank, his wife Jane, her daughter Sarah and Sarah's friend Lucy.Both young women are EMT workers so between them and Frank's Yellowstone expertise I feel particularly safe on this hike. We then drive south and leave my car at our exit point. Then I squeeze into Frank's car with all our gear and food and drive further south to our starting point.
We make our final preparations and add a bit of sunscreen, double check our bear spray and then follow Frank west into the wide open country hardly ever trod by visitors to Yellowstone.
We are as prepared as one can be, walking deliberately into grizzly country. When Frank first proposed this hike, my first question to him was "how many people are going?" We agreed that we would NOT take this route unless we had at least four people. Today we have five.
The day is clear and warm, with a delightful breeze that keeps the mosquitos away. The open sage meadows are full of early wildflowers, which I find endlessly fascinating.
Frank had been careful to get the latest bear update from various sources. He tells us of a particular sow with two cubs who has charged several visitors near the road when they inadvertantly crowded her. No contact was made, but it is a concern to us. It's not unusual for a bear to respond to crowding in such a way, but not all bears will do this. Many will turn away instead of charging. We have no intention of crowding any bear, much less a sow with cubs!
Frank goes over the protocol for us if we see a bear, and most importantly, insists that we stay together as a group. He warns us to be extremely bear aware on this hike and to be expecially cautious in any terrain that might block our view of wild critters.
Our course takes us parallel to what was once a dirt road used by the famous Craighead brothers during their legendary research on wild grizzlies in the 60's. The "road" has long since been reclaimed by sage and other mountain meadow plants but one can still see enough disturbance to see where it leads.
We are about a mile and a half from the road when Lucy raises her binoculars and calls to us. We stop and look through our binoculars. A mile away to the right we see a dot and two smaller dots. A mother grizzly bear with two yearling cubs.
She is far away and unaware of us, sssgrazing and grubbing and doing what she ought to be doing. We don't know if this is the sow Frank has told us about, but we know it could be. She is moving somewhat parallel to us. We discuss our options and ultimately, Frank feels it is safe to go on. We do but my heart rate rises a bit. We remain exceedingly wary and close together and we have our bear spray in the quick-deploy position.
We walk another half mile, mostly keeping her in sight as we both head further west. Then the terrain dips down, then rises to a low hill, and we lose sight of her for a few minutes. When we top the rise we look immediately for her.
She is a little closer and, unfortunately, has changed her course slightly. She and her cubs are now heading on a slow diagonal in our direction.
We stop again. We gauge that she is still at least a half mile away and still unaware of us. Frank believes the time has come to give the bear a chance to move away from us. But before we do this, he is careful to explain what to do in the unlikely situation that instead of moving away from us, our actions prompt a charge.
He talks us through the "plan", makes sure we all know how to best deploy our bear spray and how to drop to the ground at the last minute should the bear spray not have its usual effect. We listen carefully and prepare ourselves. It's tense but calm.
Frank also recommends that we take off our sunglasses. I'm not sure I understand why but we all comply. When we are ready, we stand in a group, about a foot apart, raise our hiking poles and begin to yell. In an instant the mother bear looks up. I see her cubs zip to her side as if drawn by a rope. She half-stands, then wheels and all three bears run north toward a line of forested hills.
We are sorry to make her change her grazing plans, but relieved to be out of danger. She stops once, looks over her shoulder at us, and continues to move away from us at a fast walk.
This is my first encounter with a grizzly while hiking in Hayden Valley. I am grateful to have had it, and thankful it turned out benign for us. I am grateful to my companions and especially to Frank who remained composed and practical, as he schooled us.
We see no more bears on this hike, but we do see many bison; some close, some at a distance. We cross Trout Creek, which is still fairly high even this late after the melt and I decide to take off my boots to cross in the cool water. We hike on to a forested knoll where we stop for our lunch break. All
I need is a log to sit on and some shade for relief from the blazing sun.
But I find the skeeters like the close air in the forest so I move back to the edge of the trees to take advantage of a nice breeze. We can see our destination, Craighhead Hill from here.
After lunch we hike up to the summit. The view is tremendous; a 360 degree lookout of Hayden Valley, parts of it never seen by non-hiking visitors, except perhaps from the air. We can see why the Craigheads would like this spot!
There is so much more to Hayden Valley than one can see driving along the road. There are endless mogul hills, forested knolls, streams and meadows. There are small thermals in hidden spots, too, places the bison seem to know by heart.
We find several snow patches back here, on north-facing slopes, slowly seeping into streams. We find a tiny toad, a killdeer, and see numerous tracks of various creatures. Then Frank leads us into Carcass Canyon, so-called due to the numerous partial skeletons found along the meandering stream and its banks, most likely from winter-kill. We see numerous elk racks, some dry and some wet. Sarah and Lucy have fun identifying the bones.
There is an overhang full of mud-swallow-nests and I'm afraid our passing does create a temporary disturbance for those birds. But I suppose, no more so than would a bison or elk.
But soon we are on high ground again. We head somewhat north before turning east. Ahead of us is a thicker forest than we've seen the whole trip and we hear a hawk crying. Then we see two of them in a lovely courtship flight.
As we approach the forest, the wind picks up and we notice quite a few blown-down trees. It's hard to tell how recent an event this may have been, but it's one of those spots that just funnels the wind, so the numerous strewn trunks and branches could be the result of repeated tornadic-like events.
Sara, Lucy and Frank decide to climb through the deadfall but Jane and I opt to walk around it instead. Just as we reach the other side and reconvene, we hear a sharp crack and an enormous thump! Another tree just fell!
The day remains cloudless and the temperatures hover around 60-70, so we have no complaints. Well, except for our feet. Mine are starting to whine a bit. No blisters, just sore from use!
After a brief stop we start again, now straight east. Our route takes us just south of the Crater Hills, of which I have seen the other side on a previous Loon hike. We had planned to explore them on this trip but after hiking 10 miles already, Jane and I feel we don't really have the legs for it.
And just as well, because we run into some un-cooperative bison, which forces a detour. A group of young bulls is having some pre-rut fun but they are a bit too close for comfort. Frank leads us across a thermal stream and up a steep hill to get away from them.
We see a big bull elk trot away from us and then move up a slope to get a better look. And another bison begins to prong across a hill - which makes me laugh. He literally hops away like a cartoon animal, all four feet off the ground!
Finally around 8PM as the trail stretches out ahead we begin to hear the road. We've walked 13 miles in about 10 hours! My feet are mercifully blister-free but my legs are sore. It feels great to take off my boots and slip into Tevas!
We talk about having dinner but when I learn it is nearly 8:30 I beg off. I am staying in Silver Gate tonight with Laurie and don't want to arrive too much after dark.
So I say my goodbyes and thank Frank for another great hike.
Now I head back to the Northern Range, over Dunraven for the first time. I don't stop for sightings on my way over the Pass but I do admire the rushing Antelope Creek on my way down.
I always feel most at home in this area and its nice to be back here. Hayden is beautiful and the wolf-watching was great but I find it too crowded overall. As a "welcome home" gesture, I am stopped by three separate bison jams between Slough Creek and Soda Butte Cone. But with dry roads they are fun for me now!
I arrive at Laurie's just moments after her.
Today I saw: 3 grizzly bears (including 2 cubs), bison, elk, 1 mule deer, 2 hawks, a killdeer, pronghorn, a toad and the spirit of Allison.