Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Yellowstone- Part 3

My time in Yellowstone was becoming immanently short and in the last weeks there was much to be done. I woke with the morning dew glittering in the sunlight, poured a cup of coffee and watched the sunrise into the sky. I would take my freedom and run with it. My decision was to abandon the trail and bushwack through the backcountry to where ever my curiosity desired. I easily decided that I would go to the area south of Avalanche Peak and head towards Top-Notch Peak, then heading towards the mountains on it's backside.

Exiting my car I took a quick note of the general direction of Top-Notch and headed into the woods. Before hitting the tree line, the going was not easy. But as things opened up I picked my way up a ridge line that appear to make it's way reasonably to the summit.

The ridge line towards Top-Notch

Armed with my pack of essentials, I was feeling strong and energetic and the sun was not yet high in the sky. As I climbed the steep scree and as I crested what I thought would be summit, I found myself on the edge of less than favorable cliff edge. Knowing that what lay in front of me was impassable, I grudgingly headed down and around the backside of Top-Notch with the new intent of reach Mount Doane.
The top of Top Notch

Having crossed over the backside of the mountain into a beautiful pond filled bowl, I began my traverse toward Mt Doane. But the going was not easy, as I found myself down climbing into steep gullies and climbing out again. I was beginning to get tired and hot, as the sun was now baking the earth around me. I got within 6 miles of Doane and looking at my clock knew it would have to wait for another day. I headed back up and over the shoulder of Top-Notch and scrambled down another gully. Into the wood I went a clamored my way through the forest back to the vehicle feeling weary.

Mt. Doane in the distance

An alpine lupine

Two days later having given myself an ample day of rest, I made it out of the cabin late. I quickly decided I'd do the "seven mile hole" trail that took one to the bottom of Yellowstone and to what I presumed was a nice hole... as in whitewater. So I embarked from Canyon village by running down the trail until I reach the descent into the canyon. About half way down, I heard some ominous cracking and breaking of branches. I stopped dead still. Barely breathing I listen intently. Something large was moving on the trail ahead, and I was not about to find out if was a bare. I quietly walked back up the trail with my bear spray in hand and found a decent tree. I climbed up 20 ft up and waited. After hearing enough commotion I decided I'd let whatever it was know I was around and begun singing a tune. Whatever it was it took off.Yellowstone Canyon

I continued down the trail and made it to the edge of the crystal waters of the
Yellowstone Stone river. After the disappointment of finding no hole, I decided to take a quick swim before making my way out of the canyon. As I reached the canyon brim I halted my brisk walk to observe two set of bear tracks that had not been there on the way out. I nervously forged ahead, and found no sign of bear. I made it back to the car and drove back to my lodgings weathering the normal afternoon Yellowstone traffic.

The Yellowstone River

After two nights of rest and noting that I had time for one last adventure, I set out to hike a classic trail. I decided I would hike the Yellowstone river trail from Hell Roaring Creek to Gardiner, MT. I would have to leave a bike at the end of the trail and bike 20 miles uphill back to the car after hiking 18. Honestly, I wasn't sure I could do it. I had plenty of doubts as I left a bike under the bridge in Gardiner. But once I got back to Hell Roaring Creek and got established on the trail, my mind wandered elsewhere. However, I did notice that I was on the hot open plateau and hoped that I would find shad along the way. However the shade never came as the temps reach up into the 90's. I soaked my T-shirt in the river many a time in an effort to quench the days heat.

I kept walking along the river until the Mountain sides squeezed together and the water began to roar. I had reach Knowles Falls. Granite (or some other metamorphic rock) walls and smoothed formations pinched the river into some gorgeous whitewater. Viewing it from a kayaker my description is as follows: If kayaking the Yellowstone were not illegal, Knowles Falls would be a classic run. It consisted of 3 or 4 big water class IV+ and V rapids that looked absolutely beautiful.

The Lead-in to Knowles Falls

Knowles Falls!
(much bigger water than it seems)

Moving on past the enticing water, I again began to notice the heat. I walked on in a state of thoughtless motion, there but not really present. However, my conscious came crashing in on me. I had been walking looking maybe only 3 ft ahead of me. It took a second for mind to register what had entered my vision, but when it did I jumped back. I had nearly stepped on a extremely large snake, who otherwise didn't seem much alarmed by me. I'm not generally afraid of snake, but I also don't prefer to get ultra close with a bigger and hissing snake. I took a wide path around him as I snapped a picture. I later discovered that was a non-venomous bull snake, but really wasn't interested in finding out otherwise.

The bull snake

I kept marching down the trail find the Black Canyon of Yellowstone River and being disappointed I could more easily view the crazy whitewater that passed through it. I went on ward and just before the mountains opened up into broad plateau. I was shocked again, as a smaller bear ran from the trail in front of me. My bear spray's safety was off and I crept up a near by hill making all sorts of noise keep the bear from startling. For my good fortune, he had taken off and not looked back. I continued ferociously heated plateau. I was hot, tired, dehydrated, and slightly delirious as I finally reached Gardiner at 6 pm. The thought of biking another 20 miles uphill made me worry. Instead I waited until an older couple came up to the trail head. I asked for a ride and they agreed with thick French accents. I was elated to ride and talk with this couple who had touring the park just in from Paris. But as we neared the trail head, I was feeling more and more faint. I became so nauseous that I had them pull the car out. I felt so hot, faint, and clammy I quickly took off my shirt laid down on ground and poured water over my head. Before long I was ok again and made it back to the car. It was clear that the heat of the day had gotten to me and that I was pretty dehydrated. I made it back to my lodgings and fell asleep quickly.

And so with that adventure my time in Yellowstone expired. I was sad to leave the place I had called home for a month. It was a time for real growth in myself and a time of rejuvenation. I mounted a greyhound bus two days later, waved goodbye to my companion watched the open road open before me.

However, my bus ticket was not for Duluth but St. Cloud. I was on my way to meet a friend and head back to Sturgeon Falls for some last minute whitewater paddling before the start of school. (To be continued....)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Summer in Yellowstone: Part Two

The days turned to weeks and the passing of time was of little concern. I never knew what time I fell asleep and likewise never was quite sure what time I woke up aside for the amount of sunlight streaming into the bed room window.

After several weeks of regular hiking/ running my body was adapting to the regular exercise, sweat, and dirt. I woke one morning and decided to hike up to the top of Avalanche peak, one of the highest points that there is an official trail to. It was a grey day that had enough patches of sunlight for me to get out the door.

Leaving the car behind made my way up the trail excited to leave the treeline and experience the expanse the alpine tundra instills. I was feeling good and brisked my way up the 2,000 and some odd vertical feet in hour and a half.

The view from atop Avalanche Peak

However when I reached the top I noticed some lightning and thunder clouds to the northwest of me. After sitting and watching to see which direction the clouds would roll, I decided to descend. However by the time I reached the tree line the sun was shining again. Looking at the expanse around me, I looked up to the ragged Hoyt peak and decided I might try and summit it and go completely off trail. Letting my curiosity take me where it would. I mounted the gap between Hoyt and Avalanche, and began to realize that Hoyt's peak upon closer look was going to end up in nasty loose 5th class. Looking down into the basin below Hoyt peak, my curiosity was peaked by clear alpine lakes.

I as I descended I felt more and more enthralled as I climbed into one of the most gorgeous places that had graced my eyes. The landscape was foreign to me. Mottled with little lakes along avalanche carved giant furrows and with snow covered remnants of the season previous. I scrambled around with the wonder and curiosity of my childhood. I went where ever interest took me.

Video of Hoyt Valley

Seeing the sun falling lower in the sky I picked my way up the scree filled gap and felt fatigue meet my legs. As I crested the gap, I looked to my right to see ominously dark clouds pouring over and obscuring Avalanche peak as the sound of thunder rolled in my ears. Seeing my venerability being above tree line and 10, 000 ft of elevation I began to run. My flight took me down hill at speed that only my adrenaline could have taken me safely. Thunder roared as I met the treeline and snatched the rain jacket from my pack and dressed myself in it. The rain came soon after and poured down in torrents, and I continued to run until I reached the road and hopped into the car and drove to the dry comforts of my lodgings. I had no idea how far I had traveled, and had little care of making any quantification.

After a day of rest, I headed back into the wilderness. I decided to explore the waterfalls in the southern portion of the park, namely, Union Falls. Getting to the trail head proved more perilous than the actual hike. I knew from my maps that I would be on gravel management roads, but never expected what I was to encounter. The road started out as normal dirt road, but as the miles went by the size of the gravel grew, along with the size of the potholes. Driving a borrowed and new vehicle with little clearance to begin with, I respectfully was forced to drive at an average of 10 miles an hour. After driving for an hour and a half the road became so bad I pulled the car over and began running to the trail head. It now the time being one in the afternoon and having the knowledge of a 16 mile hike in front of me, caused me to run the entire trail. The way out to Union falls went fast. People gave me inquisitive looks as I ran by and bounded through ankle deep river fords. When I got to Union Falls and felt it's cool mist floating from it's base I could not help but relax and feel drawn to it. I climbed down a muddy slope to the base of the falls, and let the ice cold water rain down on me and quench the heat of the sun filled day.

Gorgeous Union Falls

Despite me scarfing a granola bar.... Union Falls video

After a soaking from the heavens, I climbed back up to the trail an began running back. Things were a little more painful on the way back as my knees began to ache and my quads stiffened. I emerged from the trail head and walked back to the awaiting car relieved to drive back to comforts of shelter and companionship.

Giving myself a few days to recover, I headed back to the south and made my way to the top of Mt. Sheridan. Arriving at the trail head at 9 am I was aware that it was going to be a long day. Ahead of me lay 7 miles to Heart Lake then 3.2 miles to the peak of Sheridan then back, round trip totaling 21 miles. The miles towards Heart Lake went by fast as the sun had not risen to it's full height yet and as the lake was visible in the geyser filled valley before me.

Classic thermal pool in Heart Lake Valley

Mt. Sheridan from the beach of Heart Lake

Shortly after passing along the sandy beach of Heart Lake, I began hiking up Sheridan. Monitoring my condition so as to make it back in a reasonable condition, I was feeling pretty good and kept myself cool with the passing mountain streams. I kept the pace up the weaving ascent until reaching the glorious summit. I stopped to rest and soak in the expanse before, seeing the Tetons to the Southwest and all of Yellowstone Lake to the North. I took a few deep breaths of fresh mountain air and let my mind clear itself so as to find room to fit appreciation the vast horizon before me.

Myself atop Mt. Sheridan

I came down from the mountain, and retraced my footsteps as the afternoon heat set in. The sun being high in the sky, the trek back was more slowed and I fell into my normal meditative hiking state, only vaguely aware of the trail and lost in thought. As the trail ended and I headed back to my lodgings content and hungry. Having been lost in my own mind for a majority of my days, I came home to the shelter of warmth, shade, and company. I went to bed at night content and filled with happiness wholly.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Summer In Yellowstone- Part One

After medical school came to a glorious close, and I finished off the month of July banking a small income while gaining a little practical experience in an internship at the Cloquet Hospital. With money in the bank and the month of August free of obligation, the stage was thereby set for my next set of adventures . I started my journey to Yellowstone National Park.

My gravitation towards Yellowstone was two-fold. I needed to regain my soul and spirit and reconnect with that which is the essence of me. It is something that easily is stripped while in medical school, where I lose the absolute freedom to feed that which I love and the nourishes that deep part of me. Secondly, but not secondary, was the opportunity to indulge in the company of my significant other who generously offered a place for me to stay within the park.

I arrived in Yellowstone through smoke and flame. The east entrance to Yellowstone gave me my first experiences with forest fires, as helicopter bearing water flew over head and "hotshots" passed by. Having arrived, my new home for the month was beside Yellowstone lake whose waters reflected the surrounding mountain sides.

Clouds of smoke from fires near the East entrance to Yellowstone

Each day was a taste of freedom I had so missed. I woke every morning and lived by mere impulse alone. My impulse compelled me to hike into the backcountry, 3 days a week, often for 6-8 hours at time. Each day a new location, a new destination, and yet the same pristine solitude.

On the first of these outings, I mounted one of the more stereotypical paths summiting Mt Washburn. However, to spice things up, I decided I'd run the entirety of it. I recall getting many smiles, scowls, and looks of indifference from passers as I ran up and down the slope that reached the peak of Mt. Washburn. The view from on top was the first horizon of many that would come to grace my eye's.

Days later, I ventured onto the Thorough Fare Trail that followed the Northeastern shore of Yellowstone lake. By this time I became aware that carrying a bearspray canister was not necessarily an optional accessory for the backcountry. At this point I had not been entirly convinced of this but on this day was made a believer. I began by running the first few miles until coming up the bank of a creek. I stopped at the sight of grizzly tracks. This is being a heavily todden trail and with the knowledge that a party with horses was ahead of me, I knew these tracks were less than an hour in age. I walked slowly, singing loudly my newly formed and improvised grizzly bear song, which alerted the world to my presence; bears primarily but humans included. I wasn't able to relax until I passed another hiker who, with a grin, complimented me on my song and operatics. I must have hiked 14 or so miles that day. I topped it off by indulgent swim in the lake that quenched the heat of the day and washed the salt from my eyes.

From the paw prints, I guess bears are attracted to the stench of a backcountry outhouse on the thorough fare trail

After a few days had passed, I was back in the back country. I woke early as to avoid the frustrations of the daily traffic that infects the buffalo and tourist clogged Hayden Valley. I often spent more time in stuck in traffic in Yellowstone as I have in some metropolotin centers. Having successfully avoided this fate, I headed North to Tower. Leaving the trailhead behind, my feet carried me across the Yellowstone River and on to Hellroaring creek.

Hellroaring Creek

After fording the creek, I continued along it's banks. As I went the landscape around me changed. I started the day in the dry and open plateau covered in sweet smelling sag brush and blanketed by the noon heat. As I went further up the creek, the tree's and understory grew thicker. Small streams flowed down the mountain sides and the green came into the land. It started to feel like home again, seeing huckleberry's and wild rapsberry's while trodding through a muddied trail rather than the dust sand filled trails. I hiked 11 miles out as the heat rose into the 90's and on my way home jumped into a deep pool of Hellroaring creek's cool waters. By this time I was becoming my comfortable with the notion of Grizzly's and since I was in fairly open country my concern was lessen. However on the way out I noticed a park serive bear trap, along with a couple of old carcasses along the trail. Attempting to drive home, I had the misfortune of hitting traffic. Rather than waiting it out, I decided I'd go around it on a joy ride through the park. The sun was falling as I passed Old Faithful and Grant Village. I arrived home happily

The mighty Yellowstone River

I had gradually fell into a routine of waking each morning pulling out my guide book and deciding a destination. I spent my hours hiking being complative and enjoying my freedom from responsibility. I went to bed at night tired and content!