My stomach bursting at the seams with sugary oatmush, we got into our hiking groups and sat down for a map briefing. The hike was described as a relatively flat 8-9 miles. The first half would be off-trail while the second would be on what Nan called "a superhighway" compared to what we walked on the last few days. Worked for me. I took a cursory look at the contour lines and was heartily excited to speed through a flat hike and get to camp in good time, ready to get the feet up and relax with my Hunter S. Thompson book.
This day taught me something very important: Really look
at the map and contour lines before the hike begins. The "flat" description of the hike was, as the Irish might say, just a wee bit off. We began by bushwhacking our way South. Our goal was to go down a drainage to the North Fork Yellowstone, at which point we would hike around Thorofare Mountain, arriving at our campsite virtually straight across from the previous night's campsite as the crow flies, only with a big impassable mountain in between. The Leader of the Day was Theo, and he did an extremely good job navigating the group through the wilderness. It is no small task to navigate yourself through forest. Even though we did find a few game trails, they didn't necessarily lead us to where we wanted to go. The task is made much tougher when you know that you have to get to a certain place, but can't readily tell from the maps a safe place to get there. You just have to survey the current surroundings and make the best decision possible.
Twice while making our way down to the river, we had to go down very steep but passable terrain, walking down sideways to minimize the chance of falling. There was little trepidation among the group, but falling would have been none too pleasant. Once we crossed the North Fork Yellowstone, we saw no sign of a game trail and Theo ended up calling for a vote on which way we should go. There was a bit of tension in the group during the initial conversation, with everyone tired from the last day's hike and eager to find the promised "superhighway". But the vote calmed everyone down, and we ended up deciding to climb the 100 foot ascent to keep us on the north side of the river as opposed to crossing the river and staying on somewhat flat ground. This proved to be the correct choice. We continued walking up and down inclines and declines, respectively, with the river to our south, and we eventually regained a really good idea of where we were on the map as we crossed a drainage near the "superhighway" for which we were looking. Not a half-hour later, we were walking down a trail about 5 feet in width. A big morale boost, and one much needed!
About a mile after finding the trail and having to hike over about 15 dead trees (a not altogether easy proposition with 40-pound packs), the trail opened up suddenly into a meadow of melodic proportions. A vast green field surrounded by quick-rising mountains entered into our eyesight, and a waterfall in the distance sealed the precious implications of this place. Finding this to be a great place for a break, we all sat down on a big log. Amazingly enough, right next to where I sat was an old bullet casing of considerable size, a stark reminder of the fact that in the not too distant past, this land was a wilderness lived in by people that depended on it for survival.
The final 3-4 miles of this hike sealed the demise of the so-termed "easy, flat 8-9 mile hike". Instantly after leaving the meadow, we began to climb. And climb. And did I mention, climb? We hiked a gross elevation gain of 1300 feet on the day, with most of it coming in this final half of the hike. By the end, it was simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, convincing my tired muscles a thousand times over that simply one more step was necessary. Two and a half hours of steady uphill climbing with one 15 minute break is about all my legs care to partake of in one day.
Thankfully, upon reaching the end of this climb, we were greeted with one of the most spectacular views of the entire trip. Through most of the climb, the trail was enclosed by dense forest on either side, This forest opened up like a funnel into a mountain valley a mile long by a 1/3 mile wide. A rushing river snaked its way through the middle, while mountains 1500 feet higher than the valley imposingly presided over the majestic view and its temporary inhabitants. The joy was evident on all the face of every single person in my group, no doubt including mine, as our bear calls prompted a return call from the first group which had already arrived at the campsite. We had finally arrived after 9 hours on the trail! There is very little better in the wilderness world than the feeling of dropping packs at camp, knowing that the work for the day is done and that a scrumptious meal awaits. Because of the long hike, the first hiking group decided to set up kitchen and get water boiling for hot drinks for everybody, which was extremely awesome. A little hot cocoa in the belly after a long day is truly wonderful.
Getting full was tough on this day, because we got a camp so late and expended so much energy over the course of the hike. Dinner consisted of a ramen packet which I devoured with glee, then some yogurt raisins and a small bowl of Perkys, water, powdered milk, and brown sugar. I felt satiated, but the calorie intake for the day certainly did not meet the calorie expenditure. It happens.
Right after dinner, I made my way to the tent with extreme haste. The desire for sleep permeated every bone and muscle in my body, each needing rejuvenation after the long, tough hike. I knew that I should have probably taken my contacts out after keeping them in for 4 days (you're supposed to take them out every day), but I was so tired and it was such a pain to get them back in that ambivalence reigned over smarts. A small price to pay for an extra 10 minutes of sleep :)
After a long, energy-sapping day behind me and another one on the horizon, sleep provided it's standard joyous, reviving respite from the daily physical expenditure. I awoke early before the rest of my group to cook breakfast. The choices were limited and I was compelled to cook oatmeal, or as I like to call it, Oatmush. Even with a yacht-load of brown sugar on top, the slimy stuff and I simply don't get along. But no matter, at least it was filling (we each ate a 1/4 pound), which is really the most imperative part of any wilderness breakfast :).