Day 5: Blisters and Red Meat

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

As morning approaches I am awakened once or twice by the patter of rain on the rain tarp. I listen for a moment or two and it goes away. This happens a couple of times. Since I don't have my watch with me, I don't know what time it is. But I sleep very, very well.

Finally I peak out from under the rain tarp. It looks like morning. I feel no hurry to get things going. On the other hand everything I want today is at the end of the trail. In my mind I have broken the hike into two sections, the bushwhack back to the trail and then the trail back to the Chittenden Picnic area. A shower and a good meal await me in West Yellowstone.

I haul myself out of my sleeping bag and test my body for aches and pains. I feel pretty good considering what I did yesterday. I am a little stiff, but not too bad. I put on my jacket and my boots and head out to the food preparation area. I drop the bear bags again--it's probably a good thing I did this alone because there was plenty of evidence of late-night incompetence in tying the thing off. I am thus able to hide the evidence. I open Jake and Leslie's bag and rummage around for my watch. It's under a couple of things. Then I open my own bag and start looking for breakfast. I'll have to repack everything in it before we leave.

I can't remember if we had an agreed upon wake up time or not, but pretty soon Leslie arrives to begin work on their breakfast. Jake arrives pretty close on her heals. I was hoping to be hungry, but my appetite is now down to a normal level. I make two packets of oatmeal and force myself to finish them. Then I start to work on cleaning things up and packing them up.

I'm not too happy about the intermittent rain. I forgot to put in the garbage sack that I usually use to line my backpack and to make it waterproof. If the rain wants to get really bad, I will be more or less at the mercy of the weather. I definitely do not want my sleeping bag to turn into a sloppy pile of wet down. I will have to pack some items differently because of the weather. I want to make sure my rain jacket is near the top.

So while Jake and Leslie are busy packing up and putting their rain covers on their packs, I am busy hoping the rain will stop. But it clearly is not. Finally I just bite the bullet and start throwing stuff in the pack. Jake helps me take down my tent and pull out the stakes. I do not roll it up with my usual care. It's all wet anyway. Unknown to me, Leslie has grabbed the water filter and my tent stakes and put them in her pack. That's got to be another pound on her back. Thanks, Les.

Jake asks Leslie what way she wants leave. "Let's go the easy way," she says. I'm all for the easy way, whatever way that is. Jake says that he will take us by some of the features we missed on the way in. That is fine with me.

The first thing I discover is that my feet are not working well. It takes me a few steps and a minute or so to get up to speed. This is a combination of mostly my battered feet and a little bit of muscle soreness. So we head up the hill behind 4B1. We pass the ridge where the mud pot is and come to the stagnant pond. Wendy described this and I am pleased to finally see it. The shore is packed hard and is dry and cracked. At the far end of the pond we pass the interesting tree that I remember from Dr. Sarah Boomer's trip report. This is great.

I gather from Jake and Leslie that the "easy way" involves more or less following drainages as much as possible. After the initial climb out of 4B1--steep in itself, but not nearly as bad as the trip out of Fairyland--the way is not too bad. We pass over the little creek that drains into the area where Laurie and I camped and we pass through meadows, forests and deadfall. Finally we come to the creek that Laurie and I followed down.

I tell Jake that we can follow this creek for a little ways to the south until it gets pretty small. Somehow I get pushed out in front to lead. When I ask why, Jake says it's because I've been here before. But I am doing nothing more clever than following the creek. I try to stay mostly to the ridge above the creek. It will be better to avoid the marshy sides of the creek until the ridge disappears into meadow. The deadfall is not too bad along this way and it is a pleasant thing to hear the creek bubbling below us.

When the ridge finally gives way, we descend to the meadow that the creek runs through. When the creek is clearly meandering here and there I decide that it is time to cross. We should now be about a half mile from the trail. Jake takes a look at his compass and map and we follow the meadow for a ways, jumping the creek once or twice as necessary. Finally we leave the creek.

Jake doesn't seem excited about the trip anymore. I understand. But I really want to finish this hike and the end of the trail is a finite number of steps away. I want to avoid lollygagging as much as possible. Job one is to get back to the trail.

So Jake takes a compass reading and we head off. Jake seems to think that we should be coming out on the trail soon. He says he wants to come out as close to Orange Rock Springs as possible. After we travel a bit further, he more or less gives up that idea. "It's time to take the direction sure to get us to the trail," he says.

When we finally come out of the forest we are somewhere between Orange Rock and 4M2. We never see Orange Rock on the way out. On the trail I take the lead again and we head towards 4M2 and lunch time. We probably hike less than ten minutes before we pass 4M2 and come to the place where we ate. We all drop our packs and break out the food. This is my last peanut butter sandwich. It's good, but the beef jerky is absolutely to die for. I cannot get enough. I wonder if it is a salt thing?

We decide that we have plenty of water, so we don't pump from Moss Creek. The day is cloudy and cool and a little rainy. The hiking conditions are perfect as long as a cloudburst doesn't turn the trail to mud. I ask Jake about landmarks again. Now that we are at the trail, there is nothing else to do but get to the trailhead. We still have not seen any other hikers. So Jake and I run through the list: disappointment meadows; the creek along the trail; the two creek crossings; the trail junction and then finally making our way up the big hills in Hayden.

My feet and legs are still not working so well. Whenever we stop, it takes me a few steps to get up to speed. I'm not particularly hurt, just stiff and sore. No one seems to care that much. They just make the adjustment until I am up to speed. I check my watch and we leave Moss Creek. Jake has found his bad trail attitude again. I just want to make tracks. Once again I plan on stopping about once an hour in hopes of making two or more miles an hour.

Jake and Leslie are still holding out some hope of seeing Fan and Mortar Geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin. They plan on checking on that when we get out. I want a shower and red meat for dinner. I try to talk Jake and Leslie into joining me for dinner. They say they will come if there is no chance of seeing Fan and Mortar. I want to treat them for giving me the hike of a lifetime.

I try to keep pushing on, even when I would rather stop a bit early. Stopping just means a slow start again after a rest. So I pretty well keep to my stopping schedule. Even when my back hurts some, I push on. At the rest stops I make sure that I stretch. Leslie shows me how to do her funky hands-behind-the-back stretching exercise. Boy does that feel good. Thanks, Les. I am still doing that one to this day. It's fantastic.

I am excited to see each bit of trail that we know along the way. Even the deadfall is now familiar and it is a pleasure to go around it or climb over it. At rest stops, Jake seemingly takes every opportunity to complain about the trail. Forest, streams and more forest. I try to get an interest going on when we will see someone else. I say in Hayden; Leslie says at the trailhead; Jake says at the Wrangler Lake junction.

The miles pass pleasantly enough. Jake hikes to the oldies again. It's great to get to the Ribbon Lake junction. We now have about three miles to the trailhead. When we get to the thermal areas outside of Hayden I pull off the trail to let three horses come by. One of the horsemen is familiar. He calls Jake by name.

"Jake, is that you?" It's Lee Whittlesey, of all people. No one tells me this. I recognize him from his photo.

"Yeah," says Jake.

"You out doing the Ribbon Lake loop?"

"No, we went to Fairyland," says Jake.

"Fairyland?" There's something of a look on Whittlesey's face. "Well, very few people have ever been there." He smiles.

"Jake's been there four times," says Leslie.

Whittlesey is going out to Wapiti Lake. I make a generous offer of $50 to borrow a horse to the end of the trail, but my suggestion only brings smiles and laughter. "The good news," says Whittlesey, "is that you are not all that far from the trailhead." Perhaps not on horseback, but we still have about two miles to go. So it turns out that none of us were correct about when we might see another human being.

As we part company, Jake has a new target. "They'll be eating prime rib tonight," says Jake. "That's some kind of tough backpacking."

It's one last break in the forest by the thermal area and I hobble into Hayden. It's great to see Hayden. Even though we probably still have a mile to go, even though we still have the two big hills to climb, Hayden symbolizes the end of the hike. When we get to the first hill Jake says, "This is where I remember you took off last time." There will be no taking off this time. My sore, blistered feet and tight legs won't allow it.

Finally we get over the last hill and past the trail junctions. We can see the trees that mark the parking lot and the last curve in the trail. My Fairyland adventure is almost over.

Back at the cars we set a time for dinner. 6:00pm, I think, maybe 7:00. I tell Jake and Leslie to meet me at the Three Bear restaurant. There will be red meat tonight. It's only about 3:00 right now, so I should have plenty of time for showering and cleaning up. Frankly, I am a stinky mess.

So I drive to Canyon Junction and head off towards Norris. I tell myself that I will only stop for a bear. Okay, I will only stop for a bear or an eruption of Steamboat. I find myself hoping that the Madison bison are kind and let me pass unobstructed. I pass each landmark without incident--Norris, the Chocolate Pots, Gibbon Falls, Elk Meadows, Seven Mile Bridge. I keep thinking about Fairyland as I get close to West Yellowstone. I can't quite believe it really happened.

Dinner is everything I was hoping for. Jake and Leslie are there and we all eat heartily. We decide to meet at 11:00am tomorrow for some geyser gazing. I need to do some laundry in the morning. I will have to make a decision about my feet and the Bechler trip then. Sleeping tonight is going to be good. I say goodbye to Jake and Leslie and head back to my room. I still have stuff to sort and put away before bed. I make a trip to the grocery store for a few items as well. Life is very, very good.

On to the next day