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. Our permit had us doing a 32 mile day and camping at the Heart River Campsite; Yellowstone has a comparatively easy elevation profile but when you hide inside your tent until nine in the morning, 32 is a tall order. We hiked through the Shoshone Geyser Basin, which is objectively less spectacular than the geothermal features around Old Faithful, but coming across the springs and geysers without thousands of people around made for a much more moving experience.
Almost immediately after the basin the trail disappears into, well, boggy 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 laughing out loud and making strange involuntary sounds. You know, woo's and ick's and the likes.
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 pretty under the weather. 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 trailhead and road. 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 perfectly capable and well-equipped, but we knew Toppy was sick. Obviously we weren’t going to make it to Heart River, and we figured camping on a dirt road was better LNT than stealth camping and would 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. That being said, 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.
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, whom I know from the PCT. The rolling valleys and young trees of the Yellowstone area gave way to more dramatic ridgelines 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. Well, 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 just 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 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 of 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.