I arrive at the Canyon campsite at 6:30 to find my companions making breakfast by various methods. Jim and Bobby and Mark scramble their eggs in a zip-lock bag, drop in shredded cheese, salt and pepper then plop the bag in a pot of boiling water. It takes a while to cook but they taste real good and it sure saves on clean-up. Tim and Betsy cook their eggs with bacon the old-fashioned way.
At the backcountry office we register our names, ages and car license numbers and are given our permits. We drive to the Wapiti Lake Trailhead and begin our final preparations. Matthew and Mary pull in and we have a great reunion. Matthew is his same charming and energetic self and Mary is still outspoken and wise beyond her years. They have splurged on new equipment, big packs that are not yet properly fitted, and I worry for them since I learned that lesson the hard way once. But they are far younger and more resilient than I.
There are thirteen of us, but we are not superstitious. We are a diverse group, ranging in age from 19 to 49. Most have quite a bit of hiking experience but Matthew, Mary and I have not hiked more than five miles recently. Big Jim says he hasn't done a hike like this in 20 years but he was smart enough to train the last few months by hiking with weights.
Jake carries an odd item. It's a long mailing tube with rolled poster paper inside. He also has a package of colored chalk. He intends to create color renderings of all the features we encounter on our hike with Fairyland itself in the center. He has wrapped clear plastic around the tube in case of rain.
The Fairyland II expedition sets off at 9:15AM
The weather is fine; partly cloudy I would call it. The very first part of the trail is open, through a beautiful meadow of grass and wildflowers. We get a wonderful view of the northern end of the Hayden Valley, largely unseen from the road. It stretches for miles, soft rolling hills dotted with little ponds and cut by shallow streams. Mt. Washburn rises on our left and the Mirror Plateau looms in the distance on our right. A far hillside is dotted with bison and the peeping of ground squirrels can be heard all around. We see numerous butterflies as well.
We are all in high spirits as we begin our adventure. I can't tell you how good it feels to be out in this country, hiking on my own two feet, sharing the sights and sounds and smells with so many pleasant companions. We head downhill and into a bit of forest. As soon as we lose the breeze of the open meadows the skeeters discover us. Not too bad at the start but wait till later! We pass through a thermal area - an odd sandy spot. Matthew and Mary are intrigued and explore it a bit. My attention is drawn by a set of prints. Bear. Grizzly! The space between paw-pad and claw points is at least two inches. This is the first set of unmistakable grizzly tracks I have ever seen. But I feel no fear. I have great faith in our numbers (and our noise) to ward off bears. I wouldn't mind seeing one in the distance of course.
We come out of the forest into another meadow. The skeeters disappear with just a little wind. Our group has made a natural split. Jake, Leslie, the two Marks, the two Jims and Bobby have shot on ahead. Mary, Matthew, Tim, Betsy and Eric are all being great sports by adjusting their hiking speeds to me the slowpoke. We get to a marshy area where the skeeters are thick. We find more grizzly prints in the mud. Probably a few days old. So cool.
Back into the forest we go. I'm thankful for the shade but the bugs are really getting bad. I've brought some "off" with me and we take turns spraying each other; head, hair, face, neck, arms and legs. As Betsy is spraying me I look back at Eric. His legs are covered with them.
I find myself needing more and more stops. I keep getting winded. The trail is mostly flat, as was promised, but each tiny slope takes its toll. I try breathing more deeply, I try steeling my resolve, I try laughing it off, but I just keep running out of breath. Mary and Matthew strike off to catch up to the front group.
We pass a marker that indicates we have come three miles. This is good news to me. Even though I am tired, the plan for today still feels within my reach. In my endless thinking about this trip I would vacillate between extreme confidence and extreme fear. I made a back-up plan for myself that I told to no-one. The first was that if the hiking proved too difficult, I would stop at Moss Creek, camp there and hike back out the next day. The second assumed I would make it to base-camp but no further. While the others went to Fairyland I would spend all day perched in a tree since I would be scared of bears. But at the moment, knowing that I have come this far with a full backpack makes me hopeful that neither plan will be necessary. I'll get there; it will just take me longer.
Each time we start again after a rest I feel fine but then I tire just as quickly as before. After another half-hour I ask for a halt to eat something. I am getting dry mouth even though I am drinking lots of water. The forest is gorgeous, mostly lodgepole pine with a great variety of ground cover. It does not look overly dry. In fact it looks healthy. There are sections with lush green grass studded with tall stalks of blue lupine. There is constant birdsong and occasional squirrel chatter, but beyond birds and butterflies we see no wildlife. There are many varieties of forest wildflowers, I wish I could tell you what kind but they are every shade of pink between red and purple, plus yellow and white and blue.
I confide to Tim that I'm feeling guilty about slowing everyone down. He says "we've got all day". I tell him I usually sing to myself while I hike but that I can't manage it on this trip. He says if I can't talk while I walk then the pace is too fast. He says I should set the pace and the three of them will match me. Tim and Betsy are mountain climbers and this flat hike is nothing to them. They are true friends to stick with me and I will never be able to repay them. Eric doesn't even know me, having only met our group yesterday. Eric has climbed in the Andes. Aconcagua. He had a climbing accident and fell. He was saved from death by a carabiner on his ankle that held him upside down until help came. And this guy is hiking BEHIND me. It's just too cool.
We hike at "Wendy Speed" and I find it does help. I try not to think about the two miles of off-trail at the end of the eight miles. I try not to think about how I will ever make it back out if I'm this tired on the way in. I keep thinking if I can just get to Moss Creek I can rest. Rest becomes the goal. We enter another stretch of trail with green grass on both sides studded with lavender lupine. It is just stunning and reminds me of a scene in John Boorman's "Excalibur".
After about 5 miles I "hit a wall". I cannot imagine how I can continue. I think of the front group sitting at Moss Creek wondering "where in blazes are the rest of 'em? Why did we ever let that Wendy person come with us and drag us down?" All I can do is put one foot in front of the other.
And somehow, at a certain point I hear voices and realize the others are just ahead of us, sitting on a hillside. I see a clearing with a small stream snaking through it. The trail leads across a log bridge and up a small hill. I don't even realize at first that THIS is Moss Creek. I think that somehow the others have just decided to stop and wait for us. They've been here since a little after noon and it's 1:30 now. Eight miles in 4 hours and 15 minutes is surely no record but because it felt like 10 hours it lifts my spirits and gives me new confidence.
I take off my pack (oh does THAT feel good!) and then my boots. I soak my feet in Moss Creek, not minding for the moment the many hungry skeeters. Everybody starts pumping water. I gobble down carrots and cashews and raisins. I see a reddening on my little toe put a spongy blister thing on it. I am glad of the overcast sky otherwise I'd be roasted.
Jake has completed his sketch of Moss Creek so he and Leslie have gone on to Orange Rock Springs so that he can start sketching it. Tim pulls out his cell phone to call Allison but we mistakenly try her work number and keep getting a Spanish-speaking woman who doesn't know who Allison is. We decide to try again when we get to base camp. Jake and Leslie come back. It's just a romp in the park to these youngsters. Matt & Mary are in good spirits except for a few pack adjustment problems. We all feel good. Jim S is anxious to get going. "We're wasting daylight" he says. "Less talkin', more walkin'".
We set off for Orange Rock Springs. This is a short section, barely a quarter mile and a lot downhill so I don't get too far behind. We reach it in no time. This is a most peculiar thermal area, a bit stinky and not "orange" at all to my eyes. I would call it a rather sickly yellow-grey. I re-name it Puce Rock Springs. I'm not really in an exploratory mood so it seems an overly weird and dangerous area to me. Matthew and Mary like it very much. There are steam vents and lots of bubbling and oddly colored runoff. If it were closer to a road it would surely be a major attraction.
We have come to the moment of truth, where the real fun begins. We are about to start the bush-whack to camp 4B1, two miles or so of cross-country slogging that-a-way. Tim, Jim S and Jake all have compasses as do Matt, Mary, Mark W and Bobby. Jim S and Tim also have GPS but Jake has asked them to keep that information to themselves; he feels we should try to find our way without that device and save it for emergencies. We also have several walk-and-talk radios. And Jake carries a topo map which he consults frequently.
The leaders agree on our direction and we plunge into the forest. We charge uphill at a steeper angle than anything we've tackled so far. Of course it knocks me out right off. From now on we must climb over deadfall. This is a healthy forest and there is a lot of deadfall. Small logs, medium logs, big logs and JUMBO logs. We must constantly look ahead to see where the guy in front of us went. It adds up to a very wearying way of hiking especially under a full pack. But it's exhilarating, too, to be in this deep. For the first half-mile this is OK. I am committed and willing and even glad to be getting such a major work-out. The rest is pretty much agony.
I struggle to keep up but fall far behind. Eric stays with me every step. I find myself talking about every past situation in which I faced a problem and overcame it. In hindsight I think I was giving myself a pep talk. Eric probably understood this but if my chattering bugged him he didn't let on.
We head up hills and down hills, through marshy areas and over dry ridge tops. In fact this country contains every type of feature except FLAT! Tim & Betsy often walk with me and if they get ahead they turn around to check on me, smile and say encouraging things. I keep going only through peer pressure. I want to stop. I want to take off my pack. I want to lie down and sleep. Water helps. I nibble on snacks even though I'm not hungry. The bugs are relentless. Each application of "off" lasts a mere 15 minutes.
After one horrendously steep stretch I am huffing and puffing more than ever. Eric offers to carry my pack. I would LOVE for him to take my pack. An inner voice says Let him. Don't feel guilty. You're 48 and hopelessly out of shape. This hike is way beyond you! He's young and strong and barely breaking a sweat. It's just another hike to him. GIVE HIM YOUR PACK! But I know I would never be able to live with myself if I did. I try to focus on how good it will feel tomorrow when I don't have to lug the whole thing around. I find it oddly cheering when I hear some of the others complain of their packs. Misery does love company.
If we manage to find a twenty-foot section of forest without any deadfall it feels like heaven. Every time we go downhill my heart sinks because it invariably means we will soon be going up again. And going downhill is especially hard on the knees. Going up is easy enough on the legs, but hard on the heart and lungs. Eric says he prefers going up. Tim and Betsy teach me a mountaineering step for the steep uphill. I try it and find it works. I make steadier progress because I don't have to stop as often.
We are headed down again when I hear a shout and see everyone stopped. Matthew is resting on his back with his feet below him on the steep slope. It looks like he is joking that he's going to stop right here and take a nap, while the leaders are checking the map. Then I see Tim crouch down and touch his foot. Oh shoot. He's not joking. Matthew has twisted his ankle.
We are lucky that both Tim and Betsy are nurses. They give him some advil and talk a bit. It is determined that we must go forward and they will treat him in base camp. Matthew's pack is divided among the sturdiest of our group. Someone finds a hiking stick for him and he rises gingerly to his feet. I offer sympathy and encouragement but I'm not good for much else. I take it as a warning to be extra careful and not to hurry. To place each foot firmly as I go.
Matthew rallies and hops along, trying his best to keep from placing too much weight on it. A slight gloom comes over us but we forge on. It can't be far now.
Finally we top a ridge and see a stagnant pond below. I can tell from the voices that this landmark is familiar and it means we are getting close. The pond is surrounded by a sandy shore, which we now walk upon. We pass a set of bison tracks that are HUGE. We see other tracks here as well, those of moose and elk. As nice as it is to have flat, unobstructed ground to walk on, the mushy sand drags my boots. No path is without hardship at this point. The comfort of the flat is further marred by a long row of fallen trees which block the way, their tops in the water and their roots in a thicket that surrounds the lake. There is barely room between each trunk to put my leg. If I had any balance left I would climb up and step from one to the other, like rungs on a ladder. But instead I reach down with my hands and raise first my right leg, then my left over each trunk.
After this there is another hill to climb, then, finally, finally, finally I see the line of a river below; a dark, red-orange river bed with glistening water. Broad Creek. I am 100 yards from salvation.
This last hillside is steep and hard to manage as it's full of thermal features. I feel lucky to have Matthew and Mary with me. We slowly and carefully pick our way between the steam vents and possibly unstable crust and delicate thermal moss (which we try to avoid). I hear a mud pot plopping nearby and in the distance I hear faint hissing. This is really, really cool and other-worldly. I didn't expect this at all, at least not so near our campsite.
There is a wonderful view from here as the river snakes around a bend. There is a strip of green marshy land dotted with yellow wildflowers. And beyond it are strange barren hills sloping down to the river, like odd, hard sand dunes. My poor tired brain is able to register that it is wonderfully, weirdly beautiful but the need for rest wins out and I turn away from the sight. I creep carefully and steadily downhill. I see my friends below with their packs off. A yellow tent is being raised.
It's 4:45 when I reach camp. It has taken me 2.5 hours to go 2 miles. Everybody is saying they think we made good time. I am shot.
I find Tim and Betsy and unclip my pack. I let it slide off. O Heaven! O Rapture! I sit on a log and untie my boot laces. Out come my feet and off come my socks. Ahhh! Such delicious relief. Betsy nearly has the tent up before I come to my senses and help her. We get the rain flap on and stake it tight. The air is pleasant and the sun is warm. It is very considerate of the sun to have waited until now to come out blazing. I realize I brought way too many warm clothes. I will barely even need my sleeping bag tonight.
Matthew hobbles by with Mary and says he thinks his ankle is not as bad as he thought, that he can walk on it after all. They set up their tent next to us. I want to go swimming real bad. I walk along the bank exploring. There are animal bones all over this campsite, including antlers of both elk and moose. Since the area is so close to a river I figure they could be winter-kill. Size-wise Broad Creek is a lot like Cache Creek, perhaps a bit more shallow. The river-bed is a distinctive color. The pebbles and stones are tinged red-orange and where there is mud it is inky black. We know there is arsenic in the water and who knows what else.
The water is cool, not cold. I feel instantly better. I wade about, then dunk my head underwater and let the drops gush down my back under my shirt. It's really too shallow to swim in so I slosh water over my shoulders and neck and then I just sit down in it. Oh yes. That's it. I dunk my head again for good measure.
After a while I move downstream and join the others. Tim is pumping water and Betsy tries to keep the skeeters off him. I learn how pumping is done and offer to take over from Tim. I am too tired to care if skeeters bite me or not. I sit on a log in the sun and pump. Oh this feels so much better. I start to forget the agony and ache of the last four hours. I hear happy shouts and laughter. We have arrived. We did it.
Camp 4B1 is a remote and wild place. There is enough brush and timber to separate the flat tent areas and provide a degree of privacy. There is enough downed wood here to burn down a small country. What I especially like is that it's obvious that humans don't come here much. I would say it looks like a year since people were last here. There is a fire-pit and cooking area at one end and a bear pole as well. I'm told the fire-ring was built by none other than Basin Boy Dan M himself. Nicely done, Dan. The bear pole is a bit of a joke, however. It has been compromised by three dead trees which have fallen against it, providing an easy route for any animal to climb.
Once we have re-stocked our water and repaired our damaged feet, most people set off to explore. Jake and Leslie have already been to Joseph's Coat Hot Springs so Jake could complete that sketch for his poster. They return with news of a gigantic mud pot that wasn't here last year and ask who else wants to see it? They get several takers but I pass. No more walking for me today.
I lie on the soft green grass and look straight up. Three tall pines like green cathedral spires pierce the blue sky. I stare at this and relax completely. I feel great again. I am out here in this fantastic country with a bunch of terrific people and we are going to try something I have dreamt of for months. I remember how I felt last August when I read Allison's message on the Chat page that announced the Basin Boyz had done it! A voice in me said I WANNA DO THAT. I eagerly read their trip reports and looked at all the pictures and was even more intrigued. "I've got to go there" I said.
Welp, Fairyland is now five miles away and we're going there tomorrow. It's gorgeous, it's warm, there's a river gurgling to my left and a steaming hillside to my right. I can hear strange thermal noises and there is a whiff of sulfur in the air. I've come 10 miles with a full backpack; I ought to be able to go 10 more miles with just a fanny pack.
I rest and write a bit until one by one my friends come back and tell tales of what they saw. Tim and Betsy found a hot pool to soak in. Jim S went with Jake to see the giant mud pot. I think the rest took a look at the wonders of Joseph's Coat. I learn that Big Mark (Lurch) has developed a very bad blister on his heel. Tim looks at it and does his best to treat it. Matthew's ankle is much better, not sprained at all, and he declares himself able to walk. Being young is a wonderful thing.
We gather at the fire-ring and set about making dinner. Betsy and Tim tell me they've brought enough food for me so I am not doomed after all to the monotony of cup-a-soup! We each claim a spot and I build a tinder teepee to get a fire going. It doesn't catch right away so Bob comes to the rescue with some army thing that looks like a disk of soap but burns like a rocket. We now have a fire. Spirits are high and the teasing begins. Jim S baits everybody, especially Mary. She gives it right back, of course. Jim is razzed for his obsession with traveling light. Jake reveals that last year Jim burned his used t-shirt in the campfire rather than carry it out. He says he's carrying nothing tomorrow but water and his GPS.
Betsy and Tim and I have the best dinner; spaghetti and tomato sauce with mushrooms. Big Jim, Big Mark and Bobby do their zip-lock bag boiled-dinner thing again and share with Jim S and Jake. Matt and Mary cook their meal over the fire the hard-core old-fashioned way. Eric and Mark make the least mess and the least noise.
The comical high-point of the evening is when we start to hang our bags. Tim tosses his line clear but everybody else gets his rope snagged in branches of the three fallen trees. Our secret weapon, Jake the mountain goat, trots up the leaning trees and frees all the ropes, but not before he gives us a good scare when a branch breaks beneath him. He survives, scratched but unbroken, and returns to solid ground.
We talk about our plans for tomorrow. A 6AM start is mentioned. We newbies are counseled in what to expect. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts are recommended due to the heavy underbrush. We stay up too long but we can't help it. We're having fun.
Sometime around midnight we get rain. Betsy wakes me and we both climb out hurriedly to drag our boots and packs under the tent fly. The rain patters softly and I drift back to sleep.
Today I saw: chipmunks, squirrels, ravens, birds and 12 Loons (each one a Basin Boy or Babe)