4M2 and back to the Wapiti Trailhead

The rain stops altogether near sunset and we are glad to see some sky and stars and to be able to set our tents up without the rain. Mark tries to get a fire going but it requires so much effort to keep it going that it hardly seems worth it. Lori fans vigorously and the flames get going, but the wood is so wet that the flames quickly calm down. We keep the fire going long enough to try to dry socks, but we hardly make any progress. Dianne and Laurie end up putting socks on their hands and waving them over the flames. An extremely silly sock puppet show erupts in falsetto. They laugh and laugh. I fan the flames.

Mark calls his daughter to get a weather report and to find out if she got the part in the play for which she was auditioning. Dianne even knows the play. It pays to have someone in the business who can give us details. I call Allison.

"Allison," I say, "it's Uncle Gary. I'm calling from backcountry campsite 4M2 in Yellowstone."

"No way," she says.

"We went to Fairyland yesterday and saw eight wolves in Hayden before we left. We weren't even trying."

"No fair! I'm stuck here in school."

Such is the life of a teenager. Well, it is fair because I have already paid my dues in school.

After dinner we grab the s'mores fixings that I brought along and keep the fire going long enough and hot enough to enjoy our s'mores. Fortunately Dianne wants to go to bed early. It is probably a good thing with her arm and all. We helped her put her tent up and she clearly avoids using her left arm. To add insult to injury, her sleeping pad got wet. But she has garbage bags and a space blanket to put between her sleeping bag and her pad. So that works out okay.

Mark and I have no problem putting the fire out. With the rain and the damp wood it isn't the least bit difficult.

This seems to me to be the coldest night we have had so far. Mark lends me a pair of dry socks. I don't need them during the night but I am very grateful for them in the morning. I removed the insoles from my shoes during the night in hopes that they would dry out. In the morning I am not sure I can tell any difference.

When morning comes there is an off-again-on-again drizzle and we put our rain gear on immediately. It is cold enough that at least in camp we keep our hats and gloves on. We all decide that the best thing to do is to get out of there as quickly as we can. Warmth and comfort wait at the end of the trail. There is only eight miles to go.

It feels so good to be on a trail that it seems like the miles just slip away below us. Dianne cranks up her song machine and we all join in when we know the words. "Crazy"-one of my favorite songs-seems to get a luke-warm receptions from the group. But when Dianne breaks into Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" everyone joins in the chorus. Mark and I must then endure the abuse of being "just a man." One of the songs is an elvish prayer from "Lord of the Rings". It is amazing that a language can be so musical and well constructed that even without understanding the words, the overall effect is still moving. But by far my favorite song is one that Dianne and her sister made up as children. It is about a fox and a rabbit and the song see-saws the advantage between them. Each verse begins with a prolonged, "Weeeeeeelllllll." I can image those two clever-as-you-please girls sitting in the back of the sedan making up songs on family vacations.

As we cross the meadow areas-the places that Laurie and I named Disappointment Meadows in 2003-the tall grass gets my shoes, socks and feet wet again. There is nothing to do but suck it up and not complain.

Dianne's arm seems to be holding up pretty well. I keep us "on the clock," as I say, and even without the aid of Mark's GPS I can pinpoint our progress with some accuracy. At about the half-way point we spot and confirm a grizzly track. I had been in the lead and had been wondering about griz for a while. But now we have a well-defined paw print in the dirt. I try taking my bear spray out with my gloved hand. That isn't going to work. So I take that glove off and leave it off for the rest of the trip. My hand gets cold, but not so cold that I couldn't get the bear spray out if necessary.

Before you know it we are at the trail junction at Ribbon Lake and we have but three miles to go. Mark, Lori and I amuse ourselves by trying to figure out where we saw that bear in 2005. When we first break into Hayden Valley we are relieved. We have but two miles to go and only two major hills to climb. But when we break out of the trees in front of the first hill there is a herd of bison blocking our path. We line up shoulder-to-shoulder, hoping to look big. Maybe they will move. But they show no inclination of moving. They are decidedly *against* moving.

So we bushwhack to our left to get around them. The Wrangler Lake trail is in that direction and so we head over to pick up that trail. We still have to ascend the hill, but at least we are getting around the bison. The bison keep a careful eye on us and as ill fortune would have it, one of the bulls is still in rut. He likes us even less than the others. So we hurry up the hill and out of the way. While the others rest slightly before the crest of the hill, I go on up to the top to see if there are any other bison that might be in our way.

"Hey guys," I call. "I can see the Canyon stables." The Canyon stables are a good, good sign and it is now impossible to stop us. Warm showers, dry shoes and hot food await.

So we cross the last mile or so of Hayden on the Wrangler Lake trail until we get to the junction with the Wapiti Lake trail-our trail-once again. Then it is just a short jaunt to the very last hill. "I can see cars," I say.

As we come down the very last hill and enter the parking lot there is someone I think I know. In a southern drawl he says, "Well isn't that a motley crew."

"Frank?" Is it Frank Walker? But he turns and gets something from his cooler.

"Frank? Frank?" I say. It is Frank! Auwingwalker and his friend, LuAnn. They were going to go to the Tetons today, but stopped short to camp at Canyon because of the bad weather. The Tetons must be socked in. We drop our packs and give Frank a hug. Much to his credit, he doesn't care that we all stink and are dirty and wet.


We agree on a meal time and head off to get our rooms and our showers. Laurie and I are tickled to discover that Dianne has the cabin very next door to ours. We share a porch. So we help her get some of her gear in and help her drape her tent and tarp over the railing.

After showers Laurie and I get the laundry started and I head over to Mark's trailer to get the PLB into the mail. It needs to be returned as soon as possible.

Frank and LuAnn join us for dinner and we are a giddy bunch, eating way too much, talking way too much and laughing way too much. We try to figure out something to do after dinner and decide on going to the Visitor's Center. But they are closed. So we head out to Hayden for sunset and wolf watching.

We find Dianne again at the Grizzly Overlook. She is happily watching wolves and has news. Apparently the young elk that we saw trapped in the Yellowstone River escaped. It is unbelievable.

It is so good to be clean, well-fed and warm that I have no trouble falling asleep and sleeping the sleep of those who return from Fairyland.

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