The water we have been using at Coffee Pot is just awful. The filter must be cleaned after little more than one bottle. The water is full of a black algae that quickly clogs the filter. The water tastes like nails. It is heavily iron laden. While it doesn't make you sick, drinking it is an act of will. Clever folk-that would include everyone who isn't me-had Crystal Light or orange Kool Aid with which to flavor their water. Whether that was due to good planning or due to good fortune I do not know.
We cross Coffee Pot Creek east of the thermals and right below the meadow. There is a good place for it there and we begin the climb up through the thermal area on the north side of Coffee Pot. This is an area of small fumaroles and occasional frying pans. One must be careful not to step in a hole. The best news is that the way is easier and there is little deadfall. We stay to the edges of the thermal areas.
Dianne is very interested in the mountains we can see in the distance. She and Mark try to figure out what they are looking at. It is hard to know since we are all used to seeing the mountains from Lamar or near Mt. Washburn. Many guesses are made and I think that at some point Mark and Dianne reached a consensus and she was satisfied with the conclusion. For my part I am happy to identify Mt. Washburn.
After we believe we have exhausted the thermal areas, we break into the forest towards Mark's waypoint. The area is thick with undergrowth and deadfall and neither Mark, Lori nor I remember it being quite this bad. In addition, we seem to be climbing more than I remember. We work our way through gullies and around the deadfall. Occasionally a grouse thumps at our approach, but we never see them.
After a long climb, we come to the edge of a large meadow. Dianne is glad to see it and remembers it from her 2001 trip. Mark and I have not seen it before. Dianne tells us how Tim and some of the others were interested in some of the small thermals in the area. We are all glad that we can make better time without the deadfall slowing us down. Unfortunately, we must go back into the forest and while I am sure that we should be getting into the area burned by the 2002 Broad Creek Fire, we don't seem to be getting there quickly. Looking at the GPS track log, I am inclined to believe that we passed to the west of this area in 2003 and 2005 and hence never saw it.
We make it into the burn area and the travel improves some. The live trees are small now, shorter than your knees. In 2005 I was concerned that there didn't seem to be much in the way of new growth. But now that I can see that the saplings are growing quite thick in some areas. It won't be too much longer before those trees make the area nearly impassable. A lot of the burn has fallen since 2005 and that slows us some-we must negotiate our way either over or around the deadfall. It is not always an easy thing to do. The ground is thick with a green ground cover that Dianne thinks is kinninnick. I have no idea what it is. We occasionally pass through areas that still have some wildflowers.
Dianne calls out, "Hey guys, look at this." In her hands she holds a balloon-the printed kind that you might have at a birthday party. She has taken it off the branch of a fallen tree. So we have come eight and a half miles by trail; bushwhacked for about four miles, crossed creeks and backcountry thermal area and now we come across this little reminder of civilization. This is what happens when balloons are released. They end up in entirely in appropriate spots.
We next come to the great hills that guard the way into Fairyland. Laurie wryly notes, "It looks a lot like St. Helens to me." Earlier in the summer we had ascended the steep slopes of Mt. St. Helens and I had promised Laurie that nothing she would do in getting to Fairyland would be as hard as what she did that day. In truth, there are some similarities. I remember Leslie flashing me a "look" when I made that claim on St. Helens.
With the new deadfall, these hills are very tricky and we watch our footing carefully. We zig and zag down the steepest portions of the hills. Meanwhile we can see the great canyon walls of Broad Creek to our left and Shallow Creek to our right. The sliver of land on which we travel is being squeezed together and the way is narrow. I do not remember being so conscious of my whereabouts on previous trips.
Finally we run out of down and Mark says that the GPS indicates that we are at the Promontory. The problem is that it doesn't seem like the Promontory and Mark, Lori and I begin to discuss the "problem" and what we remember from last time. Where is the boulder where we rested? Where is the bowl-shaped meadow? Then I wander down a slight slope to our left. There I find one of the famous views of Fairyland and we have visual confirmation that we are at the right spot. The area we remembered as the Promontory from last time was in reality about a hundred yards above us.
There is nothing like a game trail at this point, but we begin yet another obnoxiously steep descent towards the spot where we know the game trail to be. The recollection I have of this area is entirely inaccurate, however, and I am very glad when we begin to approach the familiar canyon walls. We are now at the most dangerous portion of the descent where a misstep will send you tumbling some 400 feet down towards Shallow Creek. Mark has brought a rope and carabineers for this section and he begins attaching the webbing to a secure tree. The burned spruce has shifted down towards the canyon some, but not in a way that is helpful to the hiker. There is a fallen spruce that blocks the way at a most inconvenient spot and must be either be gone over or under. I volunteer to go first and take the rope to the other side of this area; Mark clips me in and feeds rope on belay. There is no way I can get under that spruce with my pack on and so I elect to go over the tree. The problem is that Lori and Dianne are much too short to go over the tree and if I attach the rope to a tree on the other end, they will have to unclip right at the most precarious spot. Mark calls to me and we decide that he will pull the rope back up and belay everyone over one at a time.
I stand on a fairly small but firm piece of ground. Dianne comes over next. She sits and slides her way under the spruce. When she gets close enough, I unclip her and help her get around me. Now she can see Golden Fleece Falls for the first time. I call to Mark and tell him that we all cannot fit on that little ledge and that Dianne and I will go on. He waves us on and pulls the rope back up to them. I wait until I am sure that the rope does not get stuck on anything before I leave.
When we round the corner by the canyon wall, Dianne and I are suddenly alone with Golden Fleece Falls. I had expected the falls to be a mere shadow of what I was used to seeing. It is, after all, September and the water is low everywhere. But the falls seem to be as vigorous as ever. They are wild and wonderful. From up high on the canyon wall we can see them make a sharp S-curve through the canyon before breaking out into the cascades of Shallow Creek. Below us we have the relative safety of a broad area covered in ferns.
Given the difficulty that we had in getting down to Shallow Creek in 2005, I had decided to go through the boulder area. But I do not remember the boulder area being quite so large and dangerous. I decide that it really isn't that much different from the boulder fields on St. Helens and off I go. Dianne questions me for a moment, but follows along. I think her route was somewhat better. We probably should have gone around the boulders as much as possible. The boulders are a tricky area and there is all kinds of evil that awaits someone who misplaces a foot or rolls a rock down on a companion.
I find myself near a large and colorful thermal. I wonder if this is Arch Spring, but I don't see anything that strikes me as being particularly arch-like. I take out my tripod and get my camera ready to take a few photos of the lower portion of Golden Fleece Falls. Just then, Dianne has finished making her way through the boulder field. The rush from the falls is so loud that we must yell.
"What's the best way to Fairyland?" yells Dianne. "Should I stay up or get down by the creek?"
"Wait just a moment," I yell back, "and I'll go with you."
"No!" And I know she really means it. The look in her eyes! The determination on her face! She will not wait.
"No! I want to go now." Even though we are yelling at each other Dianne manages to emphasize the word "now".
"You have to get around that boulder," I say, waving in the general direction of a boulder down creek. "But then we are hoping to stay down by the creek. Just give me a minute and I'll go with you."
But Dianne is filled with Fairyland lust, or so it seems to me. She is going to go. "I have to go now. I'll see you in Fairyland," she says. And with that she goes on.
I go back to my photo making. I am sure that getting past that boulder will slow her down. I know it is *that* boulder and that getting around it is not easy. The light is changing on me and I make an adjustment to my camera settings. I don't want to let the sun get all the way onto the water. My camera whirrs and clicks.
I cast a quick look over my shoulder. I expect to see Dianne struggling over the rock. But she isn't there! She's gone! This is *not* a good spot to fall into Shallow Creek. I can't hear a thing. I know the cascades of Shallow Creek are steep and dangerous. I look up at the fern field to see if the others are coming yet. I see no one. As quickly as I can I bust my camera from the tripod and shove everything into my pack and I head in the direction where I last saw Dianne.
I move as quickly as I can. I keep one eye on the way in front of me and the other on the banks of Shallow Creek. Where can she be? I watch for anything that looks like a slide or skid mark. I hurry over the boulder and get over to a thermal that must be gone over. Even though I remember that as being tricky last time, I go over it quickly this time. There is stinging nettle there and I put my hand straight into it. But I don't care. Now I can begin to see Fairyland. But I do not see Dianne. I look at Shallow Creek again. Nothing. I look up at Fairyland. Nothing. What have I done? I have a terrible, sinking feeling. Dianne is nowhere to be seen; Mark, Lori and Laurie are also nowhere to be seen. Suddenly I am feeling very alone in a very large canyon in a very remote area of Yellowstone.
A few steps later I find Dianne's fanny pack and her hiking poles. What does this mean? I look again at Shallow Creek. Still nothing. Why would anyone go to Shallow Creek at this point? When I look back at the Fairyland Shield Dianne is standing there smiling an enormous smile and waving one arm over her head. This is very good news. After a few photos I pick up Dianne's gear and bring it down closer to the basin. And I take another look over my shoulder to see if the others are coming. Time no longer stands still for me and it feels good.
Dianne wants to pump water and I tell her there is a way by Broad Creek. "It would be better if you just showed me." As soon as Dianne says it I realize how ridiculous and unreasonable it is for me to say something like that. I hand Dianne my water bottles and pump and show her the way down the little hill. She is worried about the water because it looks thermally. "It's okay, we always pump here," I say. Dianne dutifully goes down and pumps water until the filter clogs.
Mark, Lori and Laurie have still not arrived and even though I take a lot of photos, I am very worried about them. I tell Dianne that we'll give them a half hour and then go looking. If anything bad has happened, we'll need the extra time to find them and to try to help.
We use the time to document that Dianne has made it to Fairyland. I give her the "grand tour" of the Shield. I say things like "that is the Magic Mushroom" and "that is the Pitcher's Mound". As soon as the words come out of my mouth I feel foolish and I now think that some of that was simply my worry for where the others might be. Even though the others have not yet arrived, I decide that I had better send my pre-programmed text message off to MA Bellingham.
"Wendy has landed in Fairyland," it says. "Everyone safe. Send pizza." It is a bit of a lie since we don't know where the others are, but at least I know that I can get enough of a cell phone signal to get a text message out of Fairyland.
The half hour deadline arrives and I am just about to point at my watch and tell Dianne that we have to go back for the others when three happy souls appear over the hill. Then there is a mighty shout from the whole group. We are united once again. Finally we can relax and enjoy the Fairyland Basin.
My next text message is to my niece, Allison, who has had a fascination with Fairyland since she first saw it on my screen saver three or more years ago. I send it to her mom's cell phone. "Tell Al that this is from Fairyland." Am I the first person to text message from Fairyland?