Day 92: Old Faithful 

We start the morning with thunderstorms rolling around us and a light sprinkle on our tent. It was just enough to get everything wet for when we pack up. Even packing up wet could not damper our spirits however as today we have a goal! We want to get in early to old faithful village to take full advantage of the AYCE buffet breakfast and then spend some more time hanging around the village before hiking out to our last campsite in the park. Fireant is picking up a resupply box at the post office and we plan on picking up some extra food at the store.

John and Gavin spent the night with us again and it has been a lot of fun having a larger group while hiking the shorter days and enjoying the park. Hiking through Yellowstone is an incredible way to see this great national park and sharing it with some fun people make that even better.

John very very generously pays for our breakfast saying this is his way of doing some trail magic. His company for the last days was enough for us but his generosity is greatly appreciated.

After a long stop just getting stuff together out the front of the store we head off out through the park and past the spectacular thermal features. John and Gavin have parked their car at one of the car parks on our trail and so we walk together until this point and then say our goodbyes.

We Leave the tourist throng behind as we start to climb a long hill in the afternoon sun. It is hot and slow work and after the last couple of days relaxing it is hard to get motivated. To top it off Yeti has picked up some sort of bug that is knocking her around. We get a couple of last glimpse of old faithfull as we climb the hill back into the trees.

To  pass the time we listen to our audio book as we walk. Yeti does not improve and she starts to think it may be a reaction to sulphur that permeates everything in the park. We have been using our steripen to treat our drinking water but this does nothing for the chemicals in it. We decide to use Fireants filter to try and remove the chemicals first and then the steripen for Yetis drinking water.

That night our last campsite of the park is amongst the trees next to summit lake. When we arrive the wind is up and the surface of the lake is rough. As the night wears on the wind drops and the lake takes on a mirror like appearance reflecting the trees and the stars to become one of those magical sights you only get to witness by putting in the effort to get out into the bush.

Day 91: Lone star and hot pools

As we have a short hike to our next camp site we take it slow this morning just enjoying the sun by lake and chatting. We are now a party of 5 and it seems like a holiday with friends.

Our trail heads through a thermal area with a hot pool area marked in the creek that is too good to pass up. We hike for about 40 mins and find the hot pool. John and Gavin join us for a few hours soaking in a ring of rocks someone else has left in the stream. It is a delicate balance of mixing the near boiling water flowing out of the ground with the cold water coming down the stream to get a pool of exactly the right temperature. At first we don’t have the technique worked out and we have waves of cold followed by scalding water in our pool. Soon however we figure out that by keeping our legs moving and mixing the water we can have the perfect temperature.

It is hard to leave our pool as the sun is out and the water is good but we want to see the lone star geyser which is just past tonights campsite. We hike to our campsite, OA2, set up our tents and then pack our dinner and hike on to the Geyser. We had run into some people earlier in the day that had seen it erupt so we knew the approximate time that it would go off again. We sat on the grass and prepared our dinner waiting for the big event. Just as we finished cleaning up dinner the geyser started erupting. Lone star erupts for a long time, about 30 mins and puts on a good show that makes the extra hike worthwhile.

We headed back to camp and light a camp fire. We have the camp fire keeping us warm and we are surrounded by several hot a steaming thermal pools, it is a eerily beautiful spot. We are eventually driven to bed by mosquitoes which even smoke from our fire could not drive away.

Day 90: Shoshone Lake

We start the day with a visit to the Backcountry office to get our permit reprinted. We have changed it so many times that the one we are carrying in no way resembles what our booking now is. We thought this would be a quick stop but the people in the office had other plans. They force us to sit and watch the safety video before they will give us our permit. Given we have already survived two bear charges and have been following bear country camping guided lines for a couple of weeks it seems pointless but you can’t argue with the city hall.

We stop at the post office and pickup our resupply box and some new stays for Yeti’s pack for Zpacks. By the time we have breakfast at the grill and get organised it is 11 am when we hit the road to start hitching.

We have our sign and almost immediately we are picked up by a pickup truck. He gives us a lift out to the main highway but unfortunately they are going the opposite direction so the drop us there and we put out our sign again.

It is a long wait with lots of cars going past but none stopping. After about an hour a giant RV stops and gives us a lift. The RV is hugh and even includes a cat hiding in one of the back bed rooms, yes I think it has multiple bedrooms back there!

It was afternoon by the time we start hiking and so we put in some extra effort to cover the miles. It is a good trail with some glimpse of the lake from the top of the hills. We emerge from the trees for our first view of Shoshone lake and it is spectacular.

We cross the canal that joins the two lakes and take a break to admire the view. We see a couple of kayaks out in the distance and envied them for the apparent easy they move across the lake. Our campsite is probably 3 miles by water from us but it will be a 6 mile hike up some reasonable hills before we see that spot.

We came to the original campsite we had been allocated for this segment and we were very thankful that we did not still have it. It was amongst the trees next to a small creek and the bugs were bitting with gusto. As we crossed the creek we heard some hikers coming towards us doing their bear call. We quickly set our calls off in greeting and we all had to smile when we met. We chatted for a while with the young couple. They had spent a week hiking around the lake and were headed for the campsite we had just passed. We wished them luck with the bugs and pushed on to our site.

Our camp site was incredibly beautiful and we were happy to get in with several hours to go before dark so we could sit and enjoy the view.

We had two unexpected guests, John and his son Gavin shared the camp with us that night. It was a very festive stop. Lots of time to enjoy the lake, a good Mexican dinner and new friends to get to know. We all ended the day sitting on the beach together watching the sunset and the moon rise over the lake.

This campsite was one of the most spectacular of the entire trip and we will have to come back one day.

 Day 89: Old Faithful

Today is a zero of sorts. We take a leisurely breakfast at the grill in the Grant village store. Yeti and I stop and talk to three cyclist who are doing the trans American route. I think we are both starting to long for our bike and we take every opportunity to talk to cyclist to find out what the riding conditions are like. We will definitely be back here one day on the bucket, our trusty tandem.

After breakfast we move out to the road to get a lift to old faithful. We have our sign and the three of us stand on the side of the road at the edge of town trying to look friendly. Pretty soon it works and a couple pull over and offer us a lift. They are about our age and have flown into Denver and driven up for a couple of weeks touring. We have a great ride with them and soon are at old faithful.

Our first stop is the impressive visitors Center as we check the next eruption time. We have about 20 minutes so we walk around the displays and learn about the park. We take our seats amongst what we think is a large crowd but we latter see that compared to the afternoon crowds it was practically empty.

After watching old faithful erupt we walk along the board walks and visit the various pools and geysers. It is a spectacular place and we are all thankful that we delayed our trip through the park and have the time to spend a day being tourists. We take our lunch at the new lodge and hang out and watch the crowds build on this beautiful afternoon.

We eventually decide it is time to go back to Grant village so we find the road out of the carpark heading in the direction we need to go. It is an extremely hard hitch back with a constant stream of cars passing us. A lot are either overflowing with family or if only caring two people are overflowing with bags and other gear stuffed into the back seats. After traveling all this time with just our packs it is amazing to see how much stuff people bring with them on holidays. We eventually get a lift with a young couple that are doing a crazy long road trip around some national parks. I think they have been on the road for a week and driving about 12 hours a day. It sounds horrible but then walking for 12 hours a day would sound horrible to many people as well.

As we are sharing our camp site with others we decide to get Hot dogs and smores to cook around our fire pit. We don’t know if anyone else will be at our site tonight but if they are we can extend some hospitality. We even pick up a six pack of moose drool beer, being in town is a really luxury.

When we get back to the camp site we have two guest cyclists to share with, one young trans am rider out on his first big trip and one more experienced rider doing a loop around WY. The young guy is riding his mothers touring bike which while it is a great touring bike he has loaded with way to many things. He is even carrying a full size hammer to pound his tent stakes in with. The older guy, who is about our age, is riding a really nice carbon fibre road bike and packs the exact opposite of the younger guy. I don’t think he even has any street clothes in his tiny pack as he spends the entire time in his riding gear.

We have a great night around the fire and it is a perfect way to finish our day at Old faithful.

Day 88: Hot Water Soak

Today our goal is Grants Village and we have 13 miles to the trail head and then a 7 mile hitch. Along the way we want to stop at a thermal area and see if we can find a warm spot in the creek. We planned to be on the trail by 6:30 so this means a 5:30 start.

I wake with the first light but then hear the dreaded rain drops on the tent. I look at the sky but it is still to dark to see. In this light it looks grey all over. I lay there thinking this may change our plans. The drops get heavier and then stop. The sky is now light enough to see. There is not a cloud anywhere, not sure where the rain drops came from but it is a relief to know we have another beautiful day.

We all pack up and even with the slight rain delay we are away by 6:30. Heading out from the camp site we cross the creek on the log bridge we laid down yesterday and are all thankful not to get our feet wet while there is still frost on the ground.

We follow the trail around heart lake and see signs of bear activity. There are rotten logs on the side of the trail that have been ripped open to get at the grubs inside. We see some prints in the mud and trees that they have been used to sharpen their claws on. They have ripped the bark from these trees and left deep 12″ long claw marks raking the trunks.

When we originally booked our permit we had camp site 8J1 near the north end of heart lake. When we reach the turn off for this site there is a sign posted saying the site has been closed due to bear activity. We were later to find out that the day before a bear had visited the site and ripped into someone’s tent!

As we pass the heart lake ranger station we see the first hikers that we have seen in this leg. We know we are getting close to a trail head now.

We spot the hot springs that we want to detour by this morning and start cross country to see them. There are lots of different pools in a multitude of colours and temperatures. We wander through the area in amazement and head down to the creek. We find a spot where one of the thermals flows into the creek and decide this is a good place for a morning soak.

There a small fish in the stream and once we sit still for a short time they swarm around us and start sucking the dead skin off our legs. Fireant has a scab on her leg and the fish seem intent on this. By the time we hop out there is nothing left but fresh pink skin.

Being a boy I was soon trying to catch the fish with my hands. Yeti bet me her breakfast that I could not catch one and so the challenge was on. I pulled my hat into the fray but once again Yeti was right, her breakfast was safe, I did not catch a single one but I had fun trying.

After an hour relaxing in the hot water we reluctantly got dressed and headed up the hill to the pass. As a true water baby, as Yeti calls me, I was in heaven and totally relaxed by the warm water. We took the hill at a good pace stopping several times to look at more thermal features and at one point feel the ground on the trail because it was radiating heat.

We arrived at the trail head at 1 O’Clock.  We had been chatting with a hiker on the trail down and Fireant got a lift into Grant Village with him. He did not have room for Yeti and I so we headed out to the road to hitch. It took a long time for us to get a ride as most people where on holidays with their families and had a full car. Eventually a truck pulled up. They had 4 adolescent children in the back seat but plenty of room in the tray and we welcomed the ride.

After checking into the campground we headed back up the road for a shower, washing and then a nice dinner in the restaurant with a great view of Yellowstone lake.

Day 87: Swim

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.

It was a great night as we took our time and sat around the fire chatting and watching the sun set over the stream. It was another great end to a great day.

Day 86: The Big Climb

We chose our camp site last night because it was the last place before the 2000ft climb that has been placed in front of us. If we had any other choice we should have taken it. Not only did the jingling of horse bells keep waking us up the spot we camped in has to be the coldest and wettest place so far. The tent built up a good layer of condensation on the inside during the first part of the night and then this froze solid in the morning hours. Our tent was like stiff cardboard. As we pack it the ice cracks and most falls off but plenty is folded into our packs.

We have a couple of miles before we start the climb up the hill and as we pass through the bottom of the valley we walk through willow bushes. The willows are covered in a layer of heavy frost. Although it is cold  we are actually thankful for the frost as it means we don’t end up soaked as we push our way through the willows that have grown over the trail.

The hill climb takes us a while as we are all out of practice of climbing hills. We have many stops to breath as we take the switch backs and climb higher up the mountain. Our plan is to have breakfast at the top of the mountain but hunger beats me and we stop about 2/3 of the way up for a break and some snacks.

The trail at the top takes one last zigzag to reach the highest point. It is obvious from the second trail going straight ahead that many people skip the summit. We look at the lower path for a second or two but know we will love the view from the top so turn and continue up.  Reaching the top was well worth the effort. We take a few photos and pull out our wet tent and sleeping bag to dry in the sun. Fireant unrolls her tent and it still has a thick layer of ice on the inside.

As we have reception Yeti rings the backcountry office to change our permits again. We have realised we will be in Grant Village on Saturday and the post office is not open on Saturdays. We now want to spend two nights in the campground in Grant and hitch up to old faithful on the Sunday to look around. We should have planned on this all along as there is a lot to see in Yellowstone. Yeti also takes the opportunity to get Fireant added to our permit so we can continue to travel together.

That afternoon we reach the border of Yellowstone. We are all very excited as it is one of the highlights of the trip for us. We stop to take photos with the Yellowstone sign and give each other high 5’s.

Today’s campsite is BC9.

Day 85: Fireant Joins The Team

We start our first day hiking with Fireant and it is filled with the normal conversation of getting to know each other. Our hiking paces are similar and it interesting learning about Fireants life.

We have not met many people on the trail but near the end of today we come across a guy doing a few days in the back country. He is tall and gangerley. His backpack is and old aluminium frame and it is hanging off his back at and odd angle. His clothes are new and there is a brand new 45 pistol on his hip. He looks at our bear spray and makes a comment about a person being attacked who had bear spray that got mauled. He obviously thinks his gun is better than our bear spray.

We come to the spot that we have planned to camp for the night and see a tent already there. It was a big space so this was not going to cause a problem. Then we see more people in the trees and horses. Turns out to be a NOLS group out on horses. We set up our tents and notice that something must be wrong as some of the horses are still saddled. One of the students had fallen and all the instructors were looking after her and no one was looking after the horses. Yeti being a true horse lover became agitated that the horses were not being looked after and was ready to go over and take care of them when a guy road in with obvious horse knowledge. He quickly spotted the problems and had them rectified which made Yeti and the horses feel much better.

As we were heading off to bed they let the horses out to feed with hobbles on and bells around their necks. We went to sleep with the sounds of bells all around us. We woke half way through the night to the sounds of close quarters munching. Fireant sticks her head out of her tent and tries to make the horse move. No luck it just turns its bum towards her and backs into her tent. I shine my tourch out and see two horses. Yeti comes to the rescue with her hardened horse voice and both horse take off through the trees.

Day 84: Plants and Lakes

It is a much nicer day than yesterday. The morning air is still cold but the sun is shining and the wind has dropped. The forecast calls for a 10% chance of rain.

We are ready early and as we wait in the sun for Matthew to drive us back to the trailhead Yeti starts talking to Liz as she waters and feeds her plants. Pretty soon Yeti has a watering can of her own and is busy enjoying the act of looking after flowers.

I have three young visitors who are eager to chat. Their parents have driven from Kansas City to take them for the first trip to Yellowstone. They are all very excited about their holiday. I start talking to their father, Alex, a Russian who has move to the US. He now works for Garmin and we have a lot to chat about.

Matthew drives us back to Brookslake and we say our goodbyes and wish him luck in his upcoming trip down the Mississippi. It has been a good stay in Dubois and we will always have fond memories of this small town.

The days hike is great as usual. We have lakes and trees and great views. We are making lots of noise every time we come to a blind spot in the trail not wanting to meet another bear.

Fireant was going to have breakfast with her host from last night and then start to hike a bit later in the day. She is hoping to catch up to us sometime during the day.

By afternoon Fireant had not caught us so I start leaving signs on the trail to tell her what time we went through. We decided to camp and choose a spot on a ridge in clear view of the trail. By the time we have the tent set up and dinner cooked Fireant comes around the corner to join us.

Day 83: triple zero

We pack up this morning and climb into Liz’s, the motel owners, car for a lift back to the trail. We have been monitoring the weather forecast and it is still not looking good but we are reluctant to stay another day.

As we start out of town we can see the pass in the distance, it is covered in heavy black clouds and the wind is blowing. Yeti starts to feel uneasy about going out and with some prompting from Liz and me she rings the backcountry office one more time to see if we can change our permit back a day.

Liz pulls over as the phone reception drops soon after we leave town. 5 minutes later we are turned around and heading back to our cosy room 11.

After Liz drops us back at the hotel she heads back up the pass to Jackson and sends us a text message saying that it is very windy and snowing an the top of the pass where we would have been starting. Looks like it was a wise decision to stay another day.

We spend the morning in the local coffee shop and then go to the only restaurant open on Monday, The Cowboy. We have a big lunch complete with home made pie and a massive pile of ice cream.

The day is cold and everyone is walking around in down coats and hurrying from car to shop.  We feel very luck to still be indoors.

Just as we were going to bed that night Yeti checks out the Facebook group. Fireant has put up a post saying she is now in Dubois and hiking alone. She wanted to know if anyone wanted to join up to hike through bear country. Yeti gives her a call and we arrange to meet on the trail tomorrow.