So Old Faithful Village was a mess that I was ready to leave in my rear-view. The four of us camped just four miles south and woke up to serious frost. Rain flies, tent poles, water, socks all stiff with cold. Our permitted spot for the night was at the Heart River Campsite, 32 miles away. Yellowstone has a comparatively easy elevation profile but when you hide inside your tent until nine in the morning, 32 is a tall order. The trail took us into the Shoshone Geyser Basin, which is certainly less striking than the area around Old Faithful, but lacks the thousands of people who could at any moment knock you off the boardwalk into a thermal spring while taking a selfie (almost happened twice), as well as car ignitions, revs, honks and emissions, etc etc etc. I liked it better, okay?
I hadn't filmed anything the previous day, in part to get free of the crowd, in part to get to food more quickly. I wanted to reach the buffet in time. I did, but it was $35 and not much Bard-friendly food. Anyway, I was determined to do better today, so I was filming Minute Man Geyser, when Smokey walked up, groaned, and said, "Now all I want is fucking eggs. Suck it, sulfur." The life of a thru-hiker, friends.
We passed two backpackers around my age, really big packs, covered in bear bells, looking stoked. I high-fived 'em.
Almost immediately afterward the trail disappears into, well, boggy marshy mush. The tread is submerged for a good mile, so I chose to walk it barefoot. The sensation of the soft marsh bottom beneath my feet and the drastic changes in temperature every few yards, thanks to the thermals, had me cracking up and making involuntary sounds
Totally out of my control.
Regular tread resumes right around the shores of Shoshone Lake, where Anchor, Smokey and I piled out and pack-exploded to dry out all our frosted gear. We were more or less using Top Shelf’s absence as an excuse to sit around, but after an hour or so we realized we needed to get moving. Just as I packed up, Toppy rolled in looking drained. She’d been having a rough morning; being sick is bad enough in the front country when you have modern comforts at your fingertips.
Around 5:30, only 19 of our 32 scheduled miles down, we reached a trail head, big road and vault toilet. After a few Toppy-less hours of hiking, we were a bit concerned. Now, we’re all only responsible for ourselves out here, and are all capable, well-equipped, and risk-conscious, but we also look out for our friends, and Toppy was sick. Obviously we weren’t going to make it to Heart River without hiking til 9:30 at best, more likely far later, and we figured camping on a dirt road was better LNT than stealth camping and could be easily explained to a ranger, so we called it a day.
Smokey and I didn’t see Toppy again ‘til Dubois; Anchor waited around the next morning until she showed up (but, as he’d tell you, equally out of desire to stay in his sleeping bag). The valley going down to Heart Lake was beautiful, but overall the Yellowstone section of the CDT was pretty underwhelming. I would love to come back to see more of the park itself some day, because most of what I saw was small trees naturally reseeded by the 1988 fire. Which is really cool, especially after learning the history of that fire, which was unprecedented in the history of the NPS, but... I have to say it's not that visually stimulating after a while. I saw hardly any wildlife, barely any birds even. It was way colder than I expected, which is a silly thing to complain about, but I'm not about to pretend it didn't affect my mood.
Within the first few miles beyond the Yellowstone border, the scenery improved dramatically, the temperature rose, and Smokey and I saw a bull moose trotting across a meadow. Go figure. It's almost as if the ecosystem beyond the park border has just as much value as the ecosystem within it, or that there's not actually any difference. Hmm. (Not to diminish the protection the park affords or anything, which has has been valuable in its fulfillment of a tragically necessary role.) (Just saying).
The last day of the section was full of run-ins and changing scenery; we came across D=rt (pronounced ‘dirt’) and Dora, whom I hadn’t seen since Glacier, as well as M80, Trooper and their dog, Willow, who hiked the PCT the year I did. Trooper had been battling with giardia. I heard a few other NoBos, including another '14er, Goosebumps, had come down with the beaver fever. Please please don't let me get the giardz.
The rolling valleys and young trees of the Yellowstone area gave way to more dramatic ridge lines and real mountains on the horizon: the Winds were coming up soon and I could feel it.
The trail about twenty miles north of Togwotee Pass is a hugely popular horse-packing route; Smokey and I ran into two mule trains and one cowboy informed us: “We seen a wolf just now down valley.”
I kept my eyes peeled, having never seen a wolf before, but the lone lupus must have run off after seeing this crew with their many cattle dogs. Apparently there’s an unmarked junction somewhere, at which point the CDT banks out in a southeasterly direction. We missed it. Fortunately the horse superhighway also leads to the highway, and actually shaves off a few miles. Generally I’m not looking to cut miles for the sake of saving time, but I needed to get to the post office before it closed the next afternoon, so I was on board. Despite the short cut we had to hike until about eleven that night to make it thirty-five miles, and the easy tread made for some top-notch star gazing.
The next morning, at the highway, an older man heading toward Jackson offered Smokey and me a lift into Dubois. He was a character. I’ll leave it at that. He dropped us off at the St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in town, the congregation and leadership of which are kind enough to host hikers and cycle tourists for free.