At 5:45 I take the last hot shower I'll have for five and a half days.
I grab a cup of coffee in the lobby and head out. The day is overcast and cool with a slight threat of rain. I wonder if we'll be hiking in rain? Up until now, my concerns have mostly been about heat, sunburn and skeeters. Rain may be a blessing in disguise.
I find a quiet shady spot at Bridge Bay and begin to pack up. I carefully separate the mess in my car into three piles: pack deep, pack shallow, or leave behind. I've done this 6 times already, making minor adjustments each time but this is "for reals" as Buck would say. Oh, Buck I do wish you had come! I fill up my water bottles and make sure the caps don't leak. I make a final adjustment to bring less clothes and more food (both decisions proved useful).
By 7:45 I'm all done. I drive to the boat dock and see Tim at his truck having breakfast. I park nearby and we yak. He gives me Betsy's hiking poles as I had requested and we confer on cooking items. I end up leaving another few ounces behind in an un-necessary pan and lid. Then Tim gives me the tent, rain fly and ground cloth we will be sharing. Since he is carrying so much other stuff that we'll be sharing, I have volunteered to carry the tent.
The back-country office opens at 8AM, so Tim heads off that way and I re-pack since I forgot about the tent. A little later I find Tim talking to an unusually grumpy fellow behind the desk. Tim is a great planner and had this trip arranged neat and tidy months in advance, yet all his careful preparation is being undone by this one unexplainably hostile guy. I ask an innocent question and just about get my head cut off. Tim gently steps on my foot and I get it. I smile and agree to everything the guy says and ask no more questions.
Conversely, the people who operate the boat were wonderfully accommodating from beginning to end. We are taking the boat across the Lake to Park Point to begin our hike partly because it cuts our first-day hike in half (8 miles instead of 16) and partly because an hour-long boat ride across the Lake ought to be an enjoyable experience all by itself. Since there are six of us the cost is quite affordable.
The Young family arrives and we start to load up. Our boat is named "The Grizzly". We are asked to leave our bear spray and stove fuel separate from the rest of the packs. For the ride over, this stuff is kept in a deep plastic bucket in the stern to prevent accidents. We cram into the cabin and our nice young driver takes us out. Now we learn the reason, perhaps, behind Grumpy's mood. It seems The First Lady has chosen this weekend to have a "wilderness outing" with a bunch of her sorority sisters. Secret Service has been swarming all over the place and making all the NPS personnel uptight. She arrives today and is staying in a cabin somewhere on the Southern Arm of the Lake! So, now I have another reason to dislike the Bushes! (LOL)
I was originally nervous about the prospect of riding across the Lake due to the accounts in the book "Death In Yellowstone" and the tragic drowning this year at Shoshone Lake. But once I got to the dock I saw my fears were exaggerated. "The Grizzly" is not a large boat but it's sturdy enough, and our skipper, though young, proves that he knows what he's doing.
The hour-long ride is a delight and offers views I would not have seen from anywhere else. It's too overcast to see the tips of the Tetons but we do see Stevenson and Doane peaks, which I re-name The Charles Mountains in honor of our charming Loon from Texas, because they look like the pointy wolf-ears symbol he uses when he posts. We pass Stevenson Island, Frank Island, Elk Point and finally, the Promontory.
We pass lots of waterbirds; gulls, pelicans, mergansers and golden-eye and many more I don't know the names of. As we near our drop off point I begin to get a feeling of remoteness. There is no dock here, just a sand and gravel beach. There are marshlands ahead of us and the forest grows thick, right down to the beach. Jake and Tim hop off and we pass the packs to them one at a time. Then we each have to jump from the boat to the shore, and hopefully avoid landing in water. It's a perfect potential ankle-turner but we all land fine.
When we have everything on shore we bid adieu to our skipper and off he goes. In this moment I get my first true Thorofare thrill, watching the boat disappear. We are six people on this desolate shore and it feels great. I look around. In both directions the shore is piled with driftwood; behind us is a wild meadow bordered by thick forest. Mountain peaks poke up hazy and blue in the distance.
The overcast sky and the quiet makes for a slightly gloomy atmosphere, which I find appropriate and appealing. We re-pack our fuel and bear spray and apply the bug-off. Jake has his map out. There is a campsite here, right on the edge of the lake, with a large fire-ring. It looks like a wonderful spot. Tim says it cannot be reserved and isn't mentioned on the maps; it's an emergency overnight spot for hikers, especially when the boat can't come due to high waves.
We are ready. The Loon's Thorofare Hike begins at roughly 10:30AM. We head into forest and high grass meadows. The bugs are after us in no time and I slip on my trusty head-net. After a short while we come to our first creek crossing, Columbine. There is a wide-trunked fallen tree that serves as a bridge about three feet above the water but I still have trouble with such things. Tim is very encouraging and the poles help a great deal with balance. I step down on the other side, pleased with my first victory.
Our first stop is on a bank above a dried-up creek near the Brimstone Basin. There's a bit of a breeze here, which is all it takes to subdue the bugs. We have a snack and some water. Laurie's pack is giving her trouble. She and Lonnie work on adjusting it. Jake and his dad hiked this trail several years ago on a fishing trip, as far south as Mountain Creek. Jake has some pretty clear ideas of what would be cool to explore off-trail and one of them is the Brimstone Basin. Pete is game for it so the two of them take off. They say they will catch up to us later.
The remaining four of us start again and the trail becomes hilly, a lot of short descents into gullies where the bugs are fierce followed by longer-seeming ascents on the other side. The gullies have either a creek or standing water at the bottom; many are simple enough to cross, but a few require some fancy footwork and extra balance. I have been using only one hiking pole so at one of these crossings I offer Laurie the spare one, which she takes and makes good use of.
We have about 8 miles to hike today, which is nothing to some people but a serious first-day workout for me. The terrain is "easy" overall but there is an awful lot of it! But it's nowhere near as daunting as the bushwhack to Fairyland was. I make reference to that hike fairly often. Half-way through the trip Laurie makes me laugh when she says I have thoroughly convinced her; she NEVER wants to get anywhere near Fairyland!
We come upon some wildflowers that none of us have ever seen. They look a bit like tulips. Three white petals form a cup; each petal has a maroon spot in the center. They are very lovely and I name them Thorofare Threelips. (I find out later that these are Mariposa Lilies) There are sometimes whole clearings full of them. There are also fields of fireweed and lupine, and others full of yellow daisy-flowers. There are bursts of color where you'd least expect them. We also pass huge dandelion puffs, or goat's beard.
Laurie's pack is still not right so Lonnie decides to speed ahead of us and dump his pack at our lunch-break spot so that he can come back and help Laurie with her pack. So Tim and Laurie and I hike as a threesome for several miles, up and down several more gullies. The terrain is quite varied and we talk as we walk.
We meet some hikers coming out who turn out to be Lynx researchers. (You were right, Ranger Bill). We chat with them a while. They don't do collaring, they gather hair samples and then study the DNA. They tell us they have made a confirmed sighting of a female. It's exciting to me to be walking in habitat that a lynx has found to her liking!
We get to an area of widely spaced trees with little undergrowth and a merciful breeze. At about this time Lonnie re-appears. He tells us "no more gullies" which is a relief to hear. He hoists Laurie's troublesome pack and we continue on. After about a half-hour we come out in a meadow and get a fantastic view of the Lake. We're 100 feet above it in a breezy meadow full of wildflowers and dozens of tiny butterflies. The sun has come out and it feels good. This open area gives me my first clear sense of the progress we're making as well as a tantalizing glimpse of what lies ahead.
A little further on we stop for a short break while Lonnie and Laurie consult about her pack. I admire the views and take out my small binoculars. I see an osprey flying and a flock of pelicans. I can see the Promontory - a peninsula that separates the South Arm of the Lake from the Southeast Arm. I see a cabin in the woods just back from the shore and a number of white tepees. It looks like quite a settlement! We discuss what it might be and come to the conclusion that since Laura Bush is going to be "roughing it" on the far side of this peninsula we may be looking at a Secret Service encampment. Secret Service disguised as Boy Scouts!
A lone day-hiker emerges from the trees on the trail we just came up. We wave hello and he stops to chat. He says he and his party are here with their boats for their annual hiking and fishing trip. He notes our heavy packs and asks where we're headed and where we're from in a very friendly way. We mention the teepees and what we know about Laura Bush's visit. He then says that he and his friends were run out of that spot where the teepees are, told by Secret Service that it was off-limits and they'd have to camp elsewhere. He seems mildly annoyed and mentions he saw a side-arm on one of the agents. He also says their boats have been breaking the "no wake" rules, disturbing the usual peace and quiet of this area, zooming in and out all day.
He heads uphill from us and we never see him again. Once he's gone we speculate that he may have been Secret Service himself, on a mission to check us out!
Shortly after this Jake and Pete arrive and report having seen a mule deer. They give the Brimstone Basin a decidedly poor review. "Not much up there" is Jake's terse dismissal. We move on to a further meadow, our pre-determined lunch-break spot. The view here is even better. We can see the immense Yellowstone Delta, flat and marshy and dotted with willows, perfect hiding places for bears and moose. There are patches of trees here and there and in the background a thick green lowland forest. The high ridges and peaks of the Thorofare rise in the hazy blue distance. And oh, do they beckon!
The breeze here is delicious. I take off my boots and elevate my feet. Oooh, does that feel good! We are amused at the variety and amount of dried scat we find on this hillside. Coyote, bison, elk, deer and lots of smaller stuff from, say, weasels, geese or squirrels. I call it Many-Scat Meadow.
Jake heads down to the Lake to try some fishing. I watch a couple in a kayak paddling close to the shore, and I notice a lone pelican on a prime perch in open water. It's either a rock or a large tree-trunk. The pelican is asleep with his big head tucked under a wing. I see gulls and geese along the mud flats of the delta. I close my eyes, lulled by the warm sun and the summer-sound of snap-hoppers and the peeping of ground squirrels.
Eventually we rouse ourselves for the rest of our walk. We are making for Beaverdam Creek which is roughly four miles away. I am asked to lead the way so that I can set a pace I'm comfortable with. See what we've learned since Fairyland? On my way down the first hill I see a creature dash across the path. It's low to the ground and has a longish tail. It's tan in color with darker feet and a black-tipped tail. I don't really see its head. My first thought is ferret as in black-footed ferret but I have no idea if they live in an area like this. It may have been a weasel but it was twice as large as the weasel I saw on the Blacktail Lakes hike I took with Gerry. It could have been a pine marten but I thought they were brown or reddish. I'm sure it wasn't a marmot or a squirrel. Oh well, I'm gonna stick with weasel for the time being.
We plunge back into forest and I need my head-net again. It works very well keeping the skeeters out but it also restricts air to a degree so it gets stuffy and close. We come down to the edge of the meadows of the delta and then climb up again. The views are spectacular.
It feels absolutely wonderful to be here. It DOES feel different than other parts of Yellowstone, far, far more remote and far, far more "untouched by man" despite the obvious stock-traffic it gets. I feel the presence of travelers past and the hunting and trapping history of the place, and it is chock full of wildlife. Not as visible, perhaps, as in other areas but their sign is everywhere. There are huge stalks of cow parsnip missing their tops, having been bitten off by bears. I've never seen that before. There are countless trees with rubbed-off fur still clinging in tufts and a multitude of tracks and scat nearly everywhere you look.
And the further we go the more of it we see.
We drop down and walk in a nice smooth flat for a while. Ahead we can see that we are approaching a major creek. It is Beaverdam. We come down a steep hill then enter an area of high willows before the creek itself. This creek is wide enough to take off our boots and wade. I take off my pack and pull out my Tevas. Jake and Pete go ahead to scout. It is amazing to see what a torrent this must have been in the spring. This becomes one of my favorite things about the hike, seeing wild rivers and tributary streams, and how their banks and beds change constantly with the seasons, and how the life around it and within it changes, too.
I absolutely LOVE crossing streams. It is still such a novelty to me. I can't do it often enough. It is also a supreme relief to hot, tired, boot-bound feet to feel that first plunge of cool, clear water. Jake and Pete lead the way, testing out the best spots and warning helpfully of tricky places. The water here gets just above my calves, but remember I'm short. It feels absolutely delicious.
We make the mistake of thinking we have arrived at the campsite. Instead, the trail continues for a good half-mile or more, through a forest of willows, high and thick, topping out way above our heads. Besides being perfect for hiding bears, it is still quite soggy in spots, so you have to watch where you step. We make a good deal of noise going through here.
Jake and Pete help tremendously when we get to the soggy spots by tossing downed trees across them to make bridges. Laurie and I both have a bit of trouble in some of these water crossings, but all the men-folk are solicitous of us. Tim's hiking poles come in especially handy and Jake often devises ingenious solutions. Of course Laurie and I give each other encouragement as well.
Right about now I reach a point where I've had enough of willows in the face and mud-soaked boots and the ceaseless buzzing of mosquitoes. And right about now we see the marker for our site. Yay! We trudge a few more yards and the willows get lower and lower and finally the land opens out into a grassy field with scattered stands of pine. We're here! We drop our packs and rest our weary bones.
Tim goes over to the cooking area to check for bear sign. The fire-ring area is in a sheltered area surrounded by many tall Douglas firs. I am struck by the height of the bear pole, twice as high as any I've seen before! Tim comes back say all clear but he reminds me that a bear was reportedly seen near this campsite just this morning. I look around. Well, no wonder. This place couldn't be more suited to fish-eating, berry-loving bears.
Tim heads to the stream with the water-pump and I start to set up the tent. Tim comes back after a few steps to grab his bear spray. As I watch him go I see the willows are thick all the way to the water's edge!
Jake and Pete set up their tent quickly and then disappear so I figure they've gone fishing. Lonnie and Laurie pitch theirs under a big Douglas fir and head inside to rest. I no sooner get the tent secure when I feel the breeze pick up. A quick check of the sky says RAIN. I see Tim heading back and I start to drag the packs under the fly. None too soon, either, as I feel the first sprinkle.
We wait out the rain inside the tent. I am happy for an excuse to rest. It's a light rain that falls, not a torrent but pretty steady. I love the sound of rain on a tent. Tim and I relax and talk quietly about what a great place this is, how it matches (or exceeds) our expectations and what's in store for us tomorrow. I show him a small blister I've developed on my toe. He recommends lancing, draining and letting it dry into a callous overnight. I follow this advice and it works great.
The rain lasts less than a half-hour and then we get up again. We explore the cooking area more thoroughly and find something neither of us likes. In the center of a large area of trampled grass we see a dark stain, which looks very much like grease. It may have been spilled accidentally but it doesn't look like much was done to amend it. That could tempt a bear to come for a visit!
I tell Tim I'd like to explore the creek. He says sure so we head through the willows. Beaverdam is a lovely mountain stream, clear as the air and just as blue. We cross a shallow channel to a little pebble bar and I sit down on a log. The bugs are annoying but there is an intermittent breeze. I soak my head and wash my face and neck. No soap you understand, but refreshing doesn't even begin to describe it!
We wander among the pebbles, finding cool rocks and fossils and lots of petrified wood. I am delighted at all the wildflowers here, too. I find red monkey-flowers, golden-eye, bright yellow stone-crop, and pale-yellow paintbrush. There is a pink-on-pink flower that grows in bushy clumps that I name Art-Class Flower, because they look like they were cut out of construction paper by a grade-school art teacher. Now that I have compared the photos with my wildflower book I think they are a species of fireweed.
As the evening approaches, the bugs get worse so we head back to camp to see about dinner and a fire.
Tim prepares our feast of Kung Pao Chicken (yes, you heard me) and I stand over him waving the bugs away with my swatter. Lonnie and Laurie get a fire going and the smoke helps. We all find ourselves ravenously hungry and gobble our dinners. Jake and Pete prove to be extremely helpful at clean-up by eating all the left over food! We start joking and talk about the Page and try to explain Buck to Laurie and Pete. Tim says how Dan would have loved it here. Well, shoot. All the Loons would love it here (well, except maybe Deb and Lew and Geri. LOL!) We enjoy our first sunset together and watch the cliff behind us grow golden. Then the night descends.
Man, does it get DARK back here!
We clean up and brush our teeth and stuff all bear-tempting items in our packs to be hung. Then I say, well, call me a wuss, but I'm going to bed. Jake says "You're a wuss." I head over to the tent anyway. Tim and I have decided on a "my-head-to-your-toes" sleeping bag arrangement which gives us both a tad more privacy and keeps my ears that much further from his snoring (Just teasing, Tim!) With the help of an advil and my trusty ear-plugs, I sleep like the proverbial log.
Today I saw: chipmunks, mergansers, pelicans, squirrels, 1 bald eagle, 1 weasel, 1 osprey, lotsa bear sign and 5 Loons.