Monday, August 4, 2014

Day 56: Firehole Creek to Old Faithful

Beep beep beep!  Beep beep beep!  For almost two months now, we've slept when we were tired and woken up with the sun. But this morning we planned to visit the Lonestar Geyser, which only erupts every three hours, so we wanted to get there as early as possible. 

Within minutes after we arrived at the geyser, it began rumbling and splashing water. By 6:45 am, torrents of water were shooting up 30 feet, accompanied by a cloud of steam, lasting about five or six minutes, a "minor" eruption for Lonestar. We stayed afterward for hot chocolate and coffee, and Soulshine joined us. At 7:30 the geyser erupted again, shooting torrents of water up to 40 feet, accompanied by a huge cloud of steam. Water and steam continued to shoot out of the geyser for 20 minutes. Then the geyser settled back down, with smaller clouds of steam emerging from it. 

Gray clouds blanketed the sky, and a slow, steady drizzle began just before the second geyser eruption. We hiked on in the rain, reaching Old Faithful with plenty of time to get settled before its next eruption. 

Right on schedule, Old Faithful shot a large jet of water into the sky. The eruption was significantly shorter than the Lonestar Geyser, lasting only a few minutes. Then we were off to the Old Faithful Lodge for ice cream. 

Despite the dreary day, we spent a little more time exploring the area around Old Faithful.  Although we feel the strong pull to keep heading north on the CDT, for us summer is over, duty calls, and it is time to go home.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Day 55: Beaver Creek to Firehole Creek

A cool fog descended in the night. We bundled up slipping our feet into sodden shoes and heading down the trail. 

The trail followed the Heart Lake beach, where the cold, gray lake water disappeared into the fog. A faint sulphur aroma wafted toward us on the cool morning breeze. 

A ranger approached and asked to see our permit near the Heart Lake Patrol Cabin. He radioed the number into headquarters while we took a lengthy, unscheduled break, unable to hike on until he cleared us. Finally he cleared our permit, shifted our campsite reservation to another site farther up the trail, and allowed us to hike on. 

Steam rose from the creek next to the trail. Small, bubbling, cauldron-like pools lined the creek. A scalding hot stream trickled from the pools into the hot tub like Witch Creek. A large pool of emerald green water steamed nearby. 

Day hikers proliferated as we neared the Heart Lake Trailhead. "Are you from Bishop?" a family asked Sierra. The Jellison family, from our hometown of Bishop, were day hiking to Witch Creek and had heard we were on the trail. We also met two more northbound CDT hikers, Birdie (PCT '12) and Tibetan. 

Rain and hail pelted us as we reached Shoshone Lake. We waded into Summit Creek, knowing we were unlikely to get any wetter than we already were.  Soulshine shivered on the far bank, having swum in the creek with his clothes on just before the storm. 

The Shoshone Geyser Basin was the highlight of our day. The basin was dotted with steam vents, bubbling pools, cones, hot streams, geysers, and other geothermal features. Canadian geese strutted along the warm, swampy marsh next to the river. 

Upstream from the basin, hundreds of bright yellow monkey flowers clung to the shifting sand at the bottom of Shoshone Creek. 

Tired after a thirty mile day, we reached Soulshine's assigned camp near the Firehole River only to find squatters already there, food hung, enjoying the nearby hot pools. They darted away when we approached, disappearing into the trees and leaving their food behind. Soulshine arrived. Although the designated bear pole was too low to inspire confidence, we hung our food next to the other hikers' food and hoped for the best.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Day 54: Mink Creek to Beaver Creek

The soft early morning sunlight glistened on wildflowers covered with dew. Still bundled up against the chill of the morning, we waded into Mink Creek and felt the icy water nipping at our toes. 

We caught up with Soulshine (AT '12, PCT '13) a northbound CDT hiker we haven't seen since Leadville, just after the Mink Creek crossing. We shared Yellowstone itineraries and campsite numbers in the hope that sharing sites might provide each other with more flexibility over the next few days. Soulshine would like to hike beyond his assigned site tonight, and sharing our site would allow him to get in a few more miles. Similarly, Sierra and I would like to get closer to Old Faithful Village tomorrow night, and sharing Soulshine's site would allow us to do so. 

No sign marked the entrance of Yellowstone National Park. We found the sign hidden behind the Fox Creek Patrol Cabin, but the cabin was locked. No ranger. 

We followed the Snake River as it wound its way down the valley, wading across it and its tributaries several times. Then we followed Heart River upstream to Heart Lake, crossing the Heart River twice, and countless smaller creeks. Whenever our feet began to warm up or dry, we reached another crossing and waded on in. 

Clouds gathered throughout the day. Thunder rumbled over a nearby ridge. Late in the afternoon the rain came, briefly pelting us with raindrops, but stopping shortly after we put on our raingear. 

We stopped for the night at our assigned campsite near Beaver Creek, complete with two large metal bear lockers, a high food storage pole, and several downed logs Sierra enjoyed climbing on. Beaver Creek snaked through the nearby meadow, making several u-turns along its slow, meandering path. Soulshine joined us. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Day 53: Rocky Meadow to Mink Creek

The Soda Fork of the Snake River was presumably named for the frothy white water raging down the river. We stood on the bank, staring at the deep whitewater rapids at the trail crossing. Just upstream, a high round log spanned the river several feet above the water. Fight through waist deep whitewater rapids or balance precariously on a high log while wearing slick, muddy shoes?  Neither option appealed, but we eventually opted to stay drier, nervously inching our way across the log. 

The North Buffalo Fork of the Snake River also flowed swiftly with whitewater rapids, but the water only reached just above our knees and we crossed easily. 

Mile after mile, charred trees and stumps lined the trail, with a variety of wildflowers beginning the long, slow process of regrowth. Sierra also discovered ripe wild strawberries mixed among the flowers. We gathered as many of the tiny, sweet berries as possible, eating them at once. 

Although the day dawned clear and bright, dark clouds gathered all morning. We ate lunch with towering thunderheads closing in around us, listening to steady rumbling over several nearby ridges. Rain, then hail, began pounding us shortly after lunch. We shuffled along the muddy trail as the rain continued for hours. 

We reached the Parting of the Waters in late afternoon. Here, along the Continental Divide, Two Ocean Creek divides into the Atlantic Creek, which travels 3,488 miles to reach the Atlantic Ocean, and the Pacific Creek, which travels 1,353 miles to reach the Pacific Ocean. 

From the Parting of the Waters, we climbed steeply to a grassy plateau dotted with small lakes.  The Tetons and Mount Moran rose to the west, still dotted with patches of snow. Dark clouds to the north poured sheets of rain. 

On the climb we met Cloud Walker, the second southbound CDT hiker we've met this year. He has already met eight northbound hikers, and I know there are many more behind us. Stride, Smiles, Shutterbug 2, and Smudge should be close behind. Chili and Pepper (PCT '12), who we never saw on this trip, a few days behind. Atlas is five or more days back. And then there are all the hikers who flipped up to Wyoming to hike the Basin and avoid the snow. Last I heard those hikers are still finishing Colorado. 

Although the plateau was beautiful, we did not want to camp in such an exposed area under threat of another storm.  We quickly descended to a lower camp in the trees near Mink Creek.