It's past 7AM when I open my eyes.
The sun is blazing but the air is still cool. I have a major pain in my knee from my crash in the river. I try bending it. Ow! That's worse. I try straightening it. Ow! THAT'S worse. Oh man. I manage to get out of the tent and try stretching to warm it up. Standing on it actually feels ok. After moving a bit it does start to feel better. Boy, I really banged it good.
Slowly our camp comes alive. 13 sore people go about their quiet morning rituals. We are all surprised when Jake and Leslie are the last up. We gather at the fire for our last breakfast. Betsy suggests I pop some advil for my sore knee. I do and it helps. We burn more items this morning including what is left of the burnt socks. Tim fishes out the unburned metal and plastic goop to pack it out and then we begin to douse the hot coals. We make many repeat trips to Broad Creek before it's out.
Under Jim S's steady prodding we finally shoulder our packs and set off at 10:15. The day is warm already. Up the steep first hill we go, and I turn around to say goodbye to camp 4B1. I want very badly to keep up with the others but I just can't. Still, my comrades don't desert me. They take turns walking with me and I have a variety of companions on this leg of the trek. We pass the strange stagnant pond and see the giant bison tracks again. In a marshy area Bobby points out something I didn't see on the way in, an unusual pinkish-purple wildflower called elephant's head. It looks like a wild cousin of the hyacinth.
I have been learning things while being the caboose. I notice that Mark W is the most apt to choose a deadfall-free route. He may take a few more steps to do so but he has a real knack at finding the clearest way. He is also good at avoiding asinine hills (the ones you climb only to find it was a just a knob you could have easily gone around). Jake is the most direct. You will take fewer steps behind him but since obstacles mean nothing to him, many of the steps you DO take will be over logs. Asinine hills mean nothing to him either.
In spite of my dragging we make great time. We split up on the last quarter mile. Jake starts down a drainage hoping it will turn out to be Moss Creek and a shortcut. It IS a shortcut but it's not Moss Creek. And it is full of deadfall so our two groups reach the trail at Puce Rock Springs at the same time. I look at my watch. We really blazed that two miles or else we took a much shorter route. It is 10 minutes before Noon. What took me two hours and 45 minutes going in just took an hour and a half. Well, of course, we are fresh. Except I'm not. I have far more mileage on me now. Maybe hiking begets better hiking.
I feel great. It could be the advil of course, or the euphoria of making such good time, or being done with deadfall at last and back on a trail. I promise to appreciate trails from now on. I think bushwhacking is great and I intend to do it again but I have a new-found love of nice hard-packed deadfall-free zones now.
A little while later we are all together again at Moss Creek. We fill up our water bottles and eat the last of our food. We call Allison and each take a turn yakking to her. We meet a young hippie chick who says she is lost, having turned the wrong way about 5 miles back. She's without food, water or bug spray. We give her all three. She says we are the first hikers she's met in three hours. The guys are happy to give her directions and I tell her she can walk back with us if she'd like. She tells me she slept on the Canyon rim last night, that it was really cool.
Ah yes. Those were the days.
There is no longer any need to hold back those who want to go fast (Jim S, Big Jim, Big Mark, Mark W, Eric, Bobby and Betsy) so we say our good-byes and off they go. Betsy tells Tim she is pumped and wants to push on through. Tim understands the feeling, as do we all. Jake, Leslie, Tim, Matthew, Mary and I hang out a little longer.
We set off around 1:15. They let me set the pace. We do a lot more talking going out than we did coming in and I find it quite pleasant, despite all my new aches and pains. I slow down at each hill and sometimes Jake walks ahead. He keeps me laughing. Leslie tells me she always hurries up hills in order to more enjoy going down again. I tell her I can't do that. But then somewhere along the line I try it. I find that it doesn't wear me out like I thought it would. This tiny little achievement energizes me like nothing else on the trip and I wonder how this can be possible. It could be because I'm going out instead of in or that the workout of the last two days has toughened me, or that I'm finally acclimated to the altitude. If it's the advil, then oh how I wish I had taken it sooner! Whatever it is I am happy to discover it and I put my new ability to use the rest of the way.
I really enjoy looking at the forest on the way out. The trees are so tall and there are many old ones with very fat trunks. The trail follows a creek for most of the way, although it is merely a trickle at the moment. I ask Tim not to tell me how far we've come until we have only three miles left. I am amazed when we get there so quickly and a whole new surge of energy hits me. I know there are several steep uphill climbs ahead but I continue to hike strongly. We find wildflowers and scat and bear claw marks on trees. We kill hundreds of skeeters.
At last we stand in the open meadows of Hayden Valley. There are bees buzzing in the clover patches and the sun glistens on distant ponds. Now suddenly I don't want to get back to civilization at all. I want to stay out here. I want to go find a spot where we can camp and stay out another night. And then I think of how nice a shower will feel.
When I finally see the cars it's 4:23pm
Tim and Betsy are here in the parking lot to greet us. Some of the others are here too, having waited to say goodbye. How cool of them. We bid them all a fond farewell and hope to hike with them again soon. Jim S split already but he left a welcome gift of cold soda. Thanks, Jim! We drop our packs and open our cars to let them cool off. We seven Loons sit in the parking lot in our bare feet and gulp our sodas. We are loud and happy and proud of ourselves. We compare blisters and scrapes and bruises.
A little later Matthew and Mary head back to Old Faithful. Drive safely! The rest of us go to Canyon for showers and then meet again to have dinner at the Canyon Dining Room. We are rowdy and happy here, too. We relive our favorite moments and discover some firsts. Leslie is the youngest person ever to get to Fairyland; Jake is the only person to carry poster paper and chalk into Fairyland and I have the only silver bracelet worn by a person who has ever seen Fairyland.
In the midst of this raucous celebration, who should saunter into the restaurant but our very own Ballpark Frank and Cathy Montana! I just about leap from my chair, I am so delighted to see them. They join us and we have an even better time. Frank has more stories to tell and we catch up on John and Page Chatter and hear of other Loon sightings. We all have ice-cream (hands down the best part of the meal). Then we bid a sad farewell to our dear friends Tim and Betsy as they have a long drive home tonight. Safe trip you Loons! Thanks for everything!
It's still early and I say who wants to go to Lamar? Frank and Cathy's eyes twinkle and Jake and Leslie aren't even close to tired yet. They go with me and I follow Cathy & Frank. On the way over Dunraven Jake mentions a hike he and Leslie are thinking of doing tomorrow, to find and explore a little waterfall in Lamar at the end of the Jasper Bench called Fairies' Fall. I can't believe I am even considering another hike but he hooks me when he says it involves fording the Lamar.
We drive into my favorite valley and find it mostly quiet. We travel its full length and finally pull in at Hitching Post. Cathy and I set up our scopes on a hillock. In no time we are joined by another Loon! Pat and her husband Len and two of their friends have just arrived. We tell them a brief tale of Fairyland and I show off my bruises. Pat says she's seen Tonya. I tell her I think Sandi and Rick are here, too.
Cathy spots a bear out past the confluence moving through the sage. Since we can't really tell species at this distance we decide it's a black bear. I tell Leslie it feels like we're gonna get wolves tonight. And we do. First we hear howling. We all hush and listen. I do a Druid Dance. The howling continues, a wonderful, multiple-voice chorus. Many people don't hear it because their car motors are running. We try hand signals to get them to turn off but it doesn't work. We just listen and watch the slope for what we know will happen any minute.
There they are! Wolves in the road! Lots of them! They cross in a big group - so many I can't distinguish individuals. My heart is in my throat as I forget all my aches and pains. I just stay in my scope trying to follow the running shapes as they flit from one clearing to another in the brushy river bottom. I see splashes in the river as they cross. Wow! The water level has gone down a lot. A month ago I saw a wolf swim the river in this same spot.
I can hear excited whispers and I gather that there are still more wolves crossing the road and again some wolves that get stuck up on the hill. I glance away from my scope to look back at the road and can see with my naked eye that there are cars stopped and wolves both in front and behind them! I make a wish that the people in those cars are first-timers to Yellowstone.
I go back to my scope and try to stay on the leaders. The wolves come into a fairly open spot below the cut bank. I start counting 1,2, 3, 4…Oh there he is! It's 21! He's the big one. Now I have to start my count over. When I do, I notice a thin dark wolf with a whitish muzzle and I can't be sure but I think I'm looking at my sweet girl 42! If they have the alphas with them, the pack is going hunting for sure. I start to count a third time. They are all milling about so it's hard. I can only confirm 8 but I know in my heart there were twice as many.
They are in among the aspens and cottonwoods and therefore hard to see. I watch them form a greeting pile - oh that's nice. They romp and wag their tails. This activity makes them look so cute and friendly. I have to remind myself that the reason the pack is out here is to chase down an elk for dinner!
Eventually the wolves move too far away to be seen in the dim light so I turn back to the road. Frank says there are still wolves on the hill. He says they won't come down until most of the cars are gone. He says if we stick around we may see some more. The way Frank says this I can tell he has tested and proven this theory. I'm all for staying.
We chat up a family from Chicago with two girls who have just seen their first wolves. There is a French couple with a little boy who wreaks havoc among the scope tripods, running in between the legs. I shudder to think of this couple touring the geyser basins with him.
We see cars stopping in the road to the west. In the spill of headlights we see an animal trotting along the roadside and think for a split second that it's a wolf. But no, a coyote. It probably wants to cross the road but the car is trailing it slowly and thus preventing it from crossing. If the driver would stop the coyote might cross and go down into the meadow. Other cars coming this way see it and stop. Now there are four cars stopped on the road, all for one coyote. The coyote sees his chance and disappears into the brush.
There are now only five cars left in the pullout, three besides our two. We get our reward. One lone wolf voice, a long sad howl-song comes from the den area. Oh that is just too gorgeous! The heartbreak in that voice! We wait but the song is not answered. Perhaps it was meant as a solo. What a lovely night. What an incredible day. I woke up in a tent, hiked 10 miles of gorgeous backcountry, had dinner with dear friends AND saw the Druid wolves.
That's my Yellowstone.
Today I saw: 1 black bear, bison, 1 coyote, 8 Druids (including 21 and 42) and 15 Loons