We sleep in. Delicious sleep.
There is an active but 80% “contained” fire on the east side of this mountain, so our hike today is a reroute along dirt roads on the west side.
We meet a Man from Texas on a wagon with his son and 4 horses. Two of the horses are carriage ponies from NYC pulling the wagon. He tells us story upon story of being lost, killing elk, and being attacked by a grizzly he and his buddies had to take down with 7 gunshots and then call fish and wildlife for a CSI style investigation. Grizzlies, like humans, are a protected species.
On a long break under a bridge we rinse clothes and review maps, deciding which of the half dozen routes to do thru Northern Wind river range. There are many alternates and side trails to discover if we have enough food.
The afternoon carries some challenging way-finding up to Sheridan pass. Exhausted, we decide to sleep here… it’s too beautiful to move along.
A day of reckoning. Are we brave enough to attempt the cdt wind river range high route? A little dotted line on our map indicating less than distinct trail. We’re told it’s like combining katahdin with mahoosic notch in some areas. Both the toughest parts of the Appalachian Trail. Hum.
The morning moves fast but I feel lonely. And by 3:30 we’re at the turn off for the alternate, squinting at the sky. Are those fluffy playful clouds or storm clouds? Map notes say to ensure a clear forecast before attempting the high route. We’ve seen clouds the last few days but no rain. We don’t know the forecast but a cautious couple on an ATV say they think it’s supposed to be warmer this week.
After dinner at Lake of the Woods we decide to go for it. The first 10 miles are along an ATV road but gains 3000 feet elevation. This will be the rest of our day. Then tomorrow we’ll have 14 miles up and along the high route before 4-5 miles descending and rejoining the CDT.
Feeling excited we set off and are making good time but the last few miles are killer on the jeep road and we get to the pass right at sunset.
We look at the map. now we’re supposed to bushwhack off trail for 1.2 miles, toward some lakes and find another footpath that will connect us to the base of Shale Mountain.
For this task we use a paper map and the compass on our phones and the Gaia app which will use the phone GPS to draw our route in case we want to go back.
As we start down the last leg of the jeep road I realize we already missed the “turn” for the bushwhack section. We can either backtrack, or just start from here. I pull out my tools, okay let’s go.
The bush whack would take us straight up and then down the other side of the mountain on our left. We decide on a round about course following a topo line for awhile and judging our way down the hill based on what we see. We avoid the super steep areas and head for wider spaced topo lines on the map. This works for awhile… until the sun sets.
Around dark we reach a place where the alpine meadow transitions to a tallus field where we maneuver around huge boulders. We attempt to descend slowly and carefully toward the tree line we can barely see below. Eventually we begin to feel mossy dirt under our shoes and see sparse scraggly trees here and there. In the dark, with just Groucho’s night vision and my headlamp guiding us, we maneuver to soft tho slopey duft under the protection of several trees. We are adjacent to a glacier and sleeping close to 11,000 feet.
We eat snacks and pack away all our food in our opsaks. Grateful for the odor barrier ziplocks since we have no trees tall enough for a bear hang.
At 4:44 I awake to rain?! Oh wait no… Actually it’s snow. What?!
We scramble and throw our tarp over us batwing style and are warm and dry but worried what for this mean for the high route?
We talk and hit snooze on the alarm, waiting until light to check the scene out. The popcorn snow stops, but as the light seeps grows we behold a persistent cloud cover blanketing the sky. Menacing dark clouds hang just beyond our beloved high route. Shale mountain shrouded in mist.
We make a difficult choice to forego the adventurous high route and (ugh) retreat 11.8 miles back to the regular CDT and resume south from there.
We encounter more light snow, hail and rain off and on all day. Also scattered sun and wind. By noon we are back on trail and though I feel relieved believing we made the right and safe choice, I dread the days ahead now we are squarely in the middle of this section and I have a sneaking suspicion we are low on food. We review the maps and look at our remaining food, realizing yes… we will have to ration food… having added approximately 24 miles to this already-long leg of the journey
The morning goes like this: pack up, walk on paved road to bridge bay store, charge devices, drink coffee, get a camp permit for tonight on the thoroughfare trail, go to the bathroom a dozen times (town food? Too much coffee? the free beer yesterday? Too much bison poop in my water?) hitch to Fishing Bridge for resupply (mostly ramen, bars and oats), hitch to nine mile trailhead with a super great family from Wisconsin!) all these chores take about 5 hours. Generally speaking, 5 hours is enough time for basic resupply. Throw in Internet, correspondence and laundry – a good town day can last 8-24 hours. But none of these spots offer wifi. And we decided not to invest in laundry at this time. So we’re out pretty quickly.
The amazing thoroughfare trail runs along the east side of majestic Yellowstone lake for about 20 miles. Today we knock out 13 miles finding wild strawberries, raspberries and huckleberries, bear scat. And huge dog prints? Or Wolf prints?
Groucho and I engage in good, challenging, invigorating conversation and hours pass quickly till we arrive at our spacious lakeshore site. It sleeps 12 but we now know that the Park’s policy is first come first served and they make no attempt to share sites among multiple parties. So we are wonderfully alone except for the chirping chipmunks.
The thorofare trail runs remarkably easily, breezily and beautifully along the east side of Yellowstone NP. Reportedly this area is the most remote in the lower 48, with no road access for 40 miles in any direction.
We follow a long river valley, stopping for breaks and seeing huge Pelican claws in the sandy river shore.
I’ve begun reading again on trail. I enjoy reading stories about women and make an effort to download books with the free library “overdrive” app. This week is finally “wild” by Cheryl stayed. Surprised but I love it. Don’t know why the patriarchy tries to smash her so hard. Brave and interesting writer.
Reading makes me feel creative and enjoy my blogging more. Groucho and I discuss how we might be ready to process/communicate more outside our blog about the thru hiking experience. Today we discuss these possibilities at length.
A tragedy befalls us. I’ve lost my beloved Jean Luc aka Patrick Stewart. Tho he was just a .6 oz, golden, anodized aluminum poo trowel he was treasured by all in the Wrong Way Gang. I know Future Dad particularly will be sad to learn of his disappearance.
*a moment of silence*
so yeah. It’s lonely out here. Groucho wakes on the wrong side of the bed. We indulged in a series of intimate conversations yesterday about families, relationships, friendships, personal histories and he is emotionally depleted.
I walk alone all morning, looking for animal prints in the sand with the same expectation I used to attend to my email inbox. Hello squirrel, hello hawk, hello chipmunk and bear and dear buddies. The only human prints today are Groucho’s wavy vibram soles. I feel far away from everyone.
No matter. Im in no shape to accept company. It’s been 12 days since we were in Ennis and indulged in soap. The musk under my arms has transformed from salty to sour. I have a weird scab between my eyes, and tiny ones up and down my calves like topo lines – caused by bush whacking thru the brushy sage. My Fingernails collect dirt and grime no matter how short I cut them. My feet look like a cracked desert landscape.
And today I accidentally stowed my spoon in my trash bag instead of my snack bag. It may have touched a packed out poo napkin so I spent most of my morning break hosing it down with hand sani and water.
Groucho wants me to tell you that his poo is more regal than my plebeian poo. This is penance for accidentally spraying his Taboo-tees with the water while cleaning off my poo spoon. Groucho’s magnetic, majestic patriotic poo p. (This from a man hiking in socks and sandals. )
In the mid morning we rejoin the CDT and run into 8 consecutive northbounders and 3 consecutive thunderstorms. Our gear stays *mostly* dry but the trail alternates from slippy to squishy to shitty (literally from horse manure and figuratively as the horse shoes tear up the ground.)
We make camp at 8pm under two big trees, just as the clouds break and the sun spills over the plateau to dry our gear.
Crazy day. We fight hard, first thing in the morning, about style differences. It’s pretty trivial but dramatic.
Groucho speeds off and I follow reluctantly wondering many things: does he want to hike alone? Do I? Can we? Do I want to bail and head to my high school reunion this weekend? Do I want to “finish” this hike? What does it even mean to “finish”? Isn’t this trail, this line thru the rocks, this process, this idea just another trap/job/shackle/competition if my whole validity is based on some narrow concept of finishing created by who knows… God?? Am I trapped in some patriarchical religion invented by an unknown leader? I thought I was supposed to be discovering neo-transcendental America. I thought I was supposed to be discovering myself.
Or do I just really need a day off?
As I huff up the hill my anger ebbs, then renews. We always stop after the first hour or two for breakfast and three hours later still no Groucho. “He must be really mad.” I eat oats sorrowfully alone and skip hot coffee cause he has the stove (I carry the fuel).
I scan the ground looking for vibram soles but only see the Brooks and the Altras belonging to Dirt Wolf and Cheese Snake who are just ahead. Huh…
An hour later I see two weekenders and ask if they crossed paths with Groucho. They don’t think so. “Unless he is from Nebraska?!” One inquires. Uh… no.
So now I wonder if I somehow am ahead. No tracks. No sightings. But it doesn’t make sense. where the heck is he!? Did he take the wrong route or step off trail to poo?
We are lost all day from each other, but we both have maps. And we both know we are going to pick up resupply box at Brooks Lake Lodge.
I now assume I am ahead but how far? Should I wait? What if he is ahead and waiting makes me fall behind? There’s no way to know for sure. So I keep myself found, and go to the lodge. At least if I don’t see him by nightfall there will be a phone and people there to help.
I feel almost bad going inside the Lodge. It’s super beautiful and clean and smells good. All things I am and do not. They are so super sweet. It’s amazing they offer to hold boxes. I can’t afford to stay the night (it’s over $300 says my guidebook) but they let me use their phone to call my mom, and when my resupply arrives by UPS they let me unpack it on a picnic table.
About an hour and a half later Groucho rolls up. I’m so relieved to see him. We discern that early in the morning he pulled just off trail for coffee as usual and I walked right by, we were both too quiet to notice the other. He waited and then retreated 2 miles to make sure I hadn’t hurt myself at the ford. Adding 4 miles to his day. We extend compassion and harmony to each other but it’s also tough. We are about to go into a 7 day section without going into town. Do we need a break first? Are we about to emotionally collapse?
We decide no and push on walking an easy 5 miles to a friendly Wyoming campsite in the foothills of the Winds where we enjoy a small campfire in a fire ring and sleep under a huge tree.
Something about being in Yellowstone is making us very mad. Accessibility to nature is needed and desired to permit the masses to connect with wonders. But utter accessibility also means cars, roads, giftshops crammed with tchotchkes, and a wilderness experience designed primarily to keep everyone safely in line. In line to see the hot springs. In line on the popular 3 mile loop trails, in line buying hot dogs and ice cream. And within lined parking lot campsites that can host upwards of 600+ people. We sorrow at the disneyfication of the park that makes the natural world seem unnatural. Less wild.
Simultaneously the park is remarkably inaccessible as soon as you step off the pavement. Even for weathered hikers like us. The back country rangers here seem green, unable to tell us first hand knowledge of our route or sites.
Also no one will give us a hitch to our trail head. Tourists rarely feel comfortable, or their cars are filled. And there isn’t any public transportation in Yellowstone. How’s that for access?
It’s confusing because as much as I critique all of this, I am a part of it. I participate in the patriarchy. The raping of resources for processed food and manufactured goods. The consumption of synthetic fibers and plastic bottles and fleece and the stuffed animal bison I want to purchase for $9.99.
Despite being vegan (which research suggests saves 600-1100 gallons of water a day compared to a meat eater.) Despite giving up my apartment and house and living for 5 months a year outside, limiting my ability to purchase and consume excess. Despite rarely buying clothes or electronics. Despite finding ways to live more simply on less than 15 grand a year. I can’t escape my participation in the US hierarchical capitalist patriarchy. Mainstream media, wifi, social media, technology, packaged food and buereaucratic permitting systems pull me back into that life as often as I attempt to escape it. Despite my dislike of the system there are so many ways I accidentally and unthinkingly accept it. And isn’t acceptance the same as support?
So today is a major disappointment. We escape the bad wifi and relative lack of tasty town food around 2:30pm which should get us to our permitted campsite (in 10 or so miles) around 7pm. Perfect. One mile in I sit down while we treat water. It’s blazing in the heat of the day. I look at the map and add the mileage markers… We still have 18 miles to go. WHAT?!
We feel seriously bummed. We have no idea how the ranger so thoroughly misunderstood us. Not only is 19 miles NOT a rest day, but in this heat with full packs there’s no way can we arrive to camp before 10pm. Unacceptable.
We decide to bail out. We walk 5 trail miles to a junction with the road and a beautiful creek with a roadside rest area. After swimming discretely in front of picnicking tourists – whose mouths hang wide as they openly stare – we try to get a hitch to a trail head 9 miles east. From there we can walk Just 3 more miles to get to our permitted site. Technically replacing trail miles with a ride is “yellow blazing” and frowned upon by purists. But technically we’re not on the CDT anyway, haters. My hike. My rules.
We hitch for an hour and tho a stream of cars pass us no one even slows down. Discouraged we return to the comfort of the picnic area and attempt to eat our way out of the crisis. The plan works. We strike up a conversation with an adventurous couple from PA (WE ❤ PA!!!) and they offer us a ride!!! Saved! As they finish their picnic I look at our itinerary and attempt to calculate our mileage for tomorrow. Except I can’t because we don’t have the complete map. Thankfully our new friends do and we photo the 20 mile section we need.
Sadly none of the maps list where the camp site is for tomorrow. We’ll just have to hope that it’s at 20-23 miles where it’s supposed to be.
Day of the Bison!! Also the day we begin to suspect the ranger is messing with us. Our route today is 3 miles more than we requested but also climbs over 5000 feet elevation. And has a long dry stretch. All things we wish we had known.
No matter. We fall in love with Speciman ridge. The day is full of views, bison and prong horned antelope dancing across the fields.
By late afternoon we descend off the ridge into the Lower Lamar valley. We ford the creek than eat dinner near a beautiful lone bison who followed us across the creek in a lumbering gentle giant fashion. They are magnificent animals.
Our campsite isn’t at mile 20-23 like we expect. By mile 25 it’s dark and we have no idea how close but we might be several miles off still. We give up guiltily stealth camp near an occupied camp.
Today is a day off! Well kind of. We expect an easy 8-mile walk based On the itinerary. But of course, again, we should do our own math because we end up walking over 14 to get to our campsite. WHY CANT I JUST HAVE A REGULAR DAY OFF?
We wake at 4:45 to rain and decide to pack up and walk on before light so as not to be found stealth camping. 1.5 miles later we come across our designated site and peacefully have breakfast. Then start the official hike to our next campsite. On the way Groucho trips and bends a toenail back, I meet an extremely friendly, bug-eating bird that follows me trying to land on my umbrella AND we meet 4 friendly STOGs (swaying towers of gear) from Pennsylvania here to play catch and release with the fish.
Regardless we arrive at camp by 2pm, rinse our clothes and selves in the river, make first dinner, eat first dessert, take a nap, eat again, make a fire and roast vegan marshmallows courtesy of our friend Bug, and go to sleep early. It’s really cool to have time to relax on trail rather than waiting for town to chill out.
We sleep in because it is so cold at cold creek. There is frost in the grass.
And we begin the day with two river fords right in a row. My feet are painfully cold before 8:30 am. Then a rather nice and super easy 16 miles to the road. Along the pelican creek we meet a couple from Netherlands and a parade of 16 animals, 4 tourists from Arkansas, and their chef, wrangler and guide.
Sean- A young fellow from PA – gives us a hitch and a beer! our first booze in 34 days. Our rule for clarity, efficiency and budget is no booze unless it is offered spontaneously as a gift.
Bridge Bay offers a ranger station, enormous campground, marina and modest camp store. All services seem staffed by retirees who have bought RVs and are touring the country. It’s pretty nice here but not gonna make it my forever home.