Our overnight camp site was really nice and dry. I think we all got a good nights sleep and were slow to get moving in the morning. We also only had about 12 miles to get to our next camp site so we had decided we were in no hurry today. Plenty of time to enjoy being in Yellowstone.
We were still up in the hills and the south bound hikers prediction that Yellowstone was all flat was yet to come true. The morning was spent walking along a trail high on the valley wall. Our trail bounced up and down, sometimes bringing the stream at the bottom close and then taking a sharp turn and we watch the stream drop away from us.
By 10am we have made good progress and come to a bigger stream running down the hill. We decide this is a nice place for breakfast. As has become customary we pull out our sleeping bag and tent to dry any moisture off that may have accumulated during the night. Fireant finds some friends and sits on an ants nest, after a couple of moves we are all comfortable and enjoying the rest and some food. We have been getting more and more bitting flies on the way down and our restful breakfast spot is soon interrupted by these pesky little fellas.
About midday we reach the end of the valley and come out into a wide open space surrounded by mountains. It is a spectacular spot and we start to think we might have gotten to the flat part of the park. With the easy walking and great scenery we quickly cover the miles and come to the Heart river. Yeti and Fireant each carry a pair of river crossing shoes so they sit down to change shoes while I just pull mine off and go barefoot across. After years of running around at my Grandfathers farm barefoot and swimming in the stoney creek at our farm it seems natural to me to walk in the water barefoot.
Yeti is starting to get hungry and would love to have a wash in the stream we are next to. I look at the map and see that we cross the stream again about a mile below our camp site. For me this is a much better spot to wash as I will be sweating soon after we get out of the water and if it is close to our camp at least I might still be a little clean when we reach camp. The girls agree and so we head off to the next crossing.
As we work along the river we are climbing up and down small hills, sometimes barren, sometimes covered in willows. As we approach each thicket of willows we make our now well practiced bear notification noises. We are just about to enter more willows and I launch into my loud “Yo Bear” and immediately get a response from the gully below. There is a loud crashing noise and before we can get our bear spray out two large Buck elk burst from the brush. We stop, slightly stunned and watch these beautiful animals make their escape across the river and up the hill on the other side. It is a great sight.
We make the river crossing without any further encounters. There are few things better in life than getting clean and even in a cold river it is still a tremendous feeling. I wade out into the stream fully clothed and sit down, I have washed my body each day but my clothes carry a good amount of hiker funk and are in serious need of cleaning. I sit there getting use to the cold but then our friends the biting flies find us, it is time to take this to the next level and lay down in the cold water. I see this as having two benefits, more of me will get clean and I can try and drown some of the flies. The flies are on to my tactics and depart as soon as my body approaches the water but I do get a good current flowing through my shirt and it soon washes all the sweat and dirt away.
The girls are also in the creek getting clean and just enjoying the relaxed pace we have today. Once we have all finished washing, clothes are hung on the willows to dry and we sit down to have lunch and enjoy the warm sunshine. It is a beautiful spot and we even get a breeze that keeps some of the flies at bay.
After a couple of hours relaxing by the stream we decide it is time to make the last push into our camp. We put on our hiking clothes and climb back into our packs. It is only about 3:30 and we look at the map to see if there is a trail down to heart lake near our camp site. It looks like it would be about 1/2 mile from the trail to the lake but all we can see on the map is wooded areas. We decide we will keep an eye out and if we see a way we will go down to the lake.
As the map suggested there was no way down and we reached the turn off for our camp site and decided to just go and set up camp. Just before our camp we have to cross a river. This was not a problem at this time of the day when the air was warm but coming back in the morning would mean cold wet feet first up. Since we have lots of time we decide to construct a bridge across the stream. We start by throwing rocks in the stream but it proves too deep. We then spot a nice sized downed tree and add that to our rocks. Within minutes we have a dry path across the creek, well at least for the girls. Me being a water baby, engineer and at heart a small child I have been busily splashing back and fourth as much as possible.
Our home for the night is a great spot nestled in the fork of two branches of the stream. Fireants original permit was for this site and it had a note about a bear visiting the area. This made us a little extra cautious and we selected a camp spot the recommended 300 feet from the cooking area.