Date- August 7, 2019
Location- side of trail
Elevation- 7,848 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 30.8 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 938.4 miles
Pain level- zero
Spirits/Morale- Feeling good
Wildlife encounters- mule deer, frogs
Days without shower- 3
Days without laundry- 3
Hunger/craving- tater tots
I love it when I reach my mileage goals despite impediments!
It was a little after 8 am when I began hiking this morning. Right away I knew I felt much better than yesterday. After 3.5 miles I was out of Yellowstone and into the Bridger Teton National Forest. This area is teeming with just about as many Grizzlies as Yellowstone, but I didn’t see any today. Although I did see their poo everywhere – again.
By dark last night, NINE other thru-hikers showed up at the campsite. The Yellowstone back-country permit office had put all of us at the same campsite on this day. Of course any of us could have simply hiked another 3 miles out of the park and camped where we wanted, but this location was very convenient and some of us had come from pretty far back.
Jetpack got a 5:30 am start along with a couple others, while the rest had all started before or by 7 am. I just don’t understand how all these people get up so early. I’m still chalking it up to them sleeping on the ground, and me in a hammock. I have no incentive to get up in the morning – it only causes misery.
So naturally, I was the tenth and last person to leave camp this morning and determined to see how many people I could catch. I went tearing through the valleys, splashing through rivers, and charging up the steep Two Ocean Plateau.
By the top of Two Ocean Plateau I’d made it 12 miles by 1 pm and had caught up with 3 of the hikers. I took a 45 minute lunch break with a spectacular view of the very dramatic Teton Mountain Range…which also provided my eyeball’s a lunch to feast upon. Those three hikers got ahead of me again during that time.
During the long descent from Two Ocean I passed the three again and then caught four more at the bottom taking a break next to a stream. I kept on… and in less than 1 mile later, I caught two more. That was everyone but Jetpack and Quiet Man, who had actually camped somewhere ahead of us last night.
After another blistering 6 miles through more valley and graded climbs, I caught Jetpack and Quiet Man taking a break at about 4:30 pm. This was approximately the 21 mile mark of the day. I stopped to break with them for a half hour and Jetpack told me she was only going to shoot for around 27 miles today because the heat got to her this afternoon. I believe this was the mileage that 6 of the other hikers were aiming for as well. Quiet Man just wanted to go as far as he could before dark.
I don’t care much for moving goal posts closer, especially without a good reason. When I get it in my head that I’m doing a certain number of miles and put myself on pace to reach them… I don’t like to cut it short. This is just me and my OCD. From what I gathered, the heat and humidity today had gotten to just about everybody I talked to. Overall, I do pretty good in the heat up to a point, but it was never more than low 80s today. It actually felt quite pleasant with all things considered, and I didn’t really sweat too bad either. I was having a good day and wanted to get all my miles. So I let Jetpack know I was going to do the 30 and would see her in the town of Duboise a little later tomorrow.
By the time I left the break spot with slightly less than ten miles to go, it was 5 pm and two of the other hikers (a couple) named Leap Frog and Shark Bait had passed by again, about 15 mins prior.
I had a long flat stretch through two valleys, a couple good river fords, and a 600 ft climb ahead of me. With 5 miles left, it began to thunder, rain, and hail heavily. It held out all day, but now in the eleventh hour the weather was going to show its ass. I swear, I can’t do a 30 mile day out here without a thunderstorm having something to say about it.
When the maelstrom began, I was only a mile out from where everyone else wanted to stop. I’d already passed the other two hikers again at a river crossing. Now I was seriously considering moving the goal posts for myself, so I wouldn’t have to walk an extra 4 miles in rain.
I reached the other’s desired camp spot at 7 pm in the rain. It was in a valley next to a river. If I didn’t know anything else about this spot, I knew it was going to get super freezing tonight and condensation would be a headache in the morning. I was surprised that so many people could come to a consensus on such a terribly located campsite. There was no way I wanted to stay there, but there was also no way I wanted to go another 4 miles in this now freezing wet weather.
Leap Frog and Shark Bait showed up about 5 mins after I’d reached the spot and was still mulling it over. They mulled it over too and seemed to be about to stay until I said, “Screw it – there’s only 4 more miles, and it will be a lot warmer 600 feet up the mountainside. It’ll still be light out when I get there.” This seemed to make up their minds as well, so the three of us pushed on through the mud and rain.
There was supposedly a small Forest Service cabin in the area 4 miles ahead, so it became the bullseye we were aiming for. After much more rain, much slipping and sliding, and much more wet feet and cold clothes; we arrived at the tiny cabin on the edge of a meadow perched on a small valley shelf around 8:30pm.
At first I was going to cowboy camp on the small front porch, sheltered by a slight overhang. However, no sooner did I start eating my dinner, mice were coming out of the deck boards and jumping on my pack that was leaning against the padlocked door. The mice themselves don’t bother me, it’s them eating holes in my gear that bothers me. So the porch was out of the question and I hung my hammock in some nearby trees.
It’s now almost 11 pm as I wrap up this journal, and I must say… this is actually an early night’s finish for me. I can hear elk bugling softly on the valley shelf nearby. It’s the first time I’ve heard them on this hike, but I still haven’t seen any. I’d seen over a hundred by this point in 2017. I could listen to them all day… and most of the night. But not all of it.
The newly reintroduced wolves have made a huge impression on the game animals. The wolves are proliferating out here, and they’ve done a serious number on the elk, moose, and a lot of livestock as well. As a consequence of being constantly dogged by the wolves, the elk don’t make themselves easily seen or found anymore. Where they once used to populate the valleys, meadows, and open hillsides throughout the mornings and evenings – they now keep deep in the forest most of the time. They’re too smart to put themselves within view of the wolves for miles around. They’ve survived too many of the wolve’s killing sprees to make the same mistakes again and again – to the human hunter’s huge dismay. They’re much harder to find and stalk now, thanks to the wolves.
One thing the wolves do that people won’t hear about (because it’s covered up and buried in the news) is kill for fun. They’ll run through a herd of elk and kill more than a half dozen (many babies) and not eat them. They can’t help it – they just get overwhelmed with all the moving targets and go into a sort of blood-lust. Thankfully, these uneaten kills feed the bears, mountain lions, wolverines, and many other scavenger/predators – so they’re not wasted.
These killing sprees are a product of an overabundance of game. The prey animals here have only had to deal with singular bears and mountain lions hunting them for the better part of a hundred years since wolves were eradicated from these parts. Now, granted they reintroduced a different, larger wolf (by 40 or 50 pounds) than what used to be here; these new wolves are bringing the game animal levels back down to healthy populations. Even though it was a “human hunter’s” paradise before, disease would often spread through herds killing hundreds of animals slowly and painfully while potentially spreading the diseases to the mountain goats and bighorn sheep too.
Well, now the wolves are thinning herds down to healthier numbers. There’s less disease, but there are also less animals. Those fewer animals are making themselves a lot harder to find – as it naturally should be. For the hunters, it’s no longer like shooting fish in a barrel. Many of them don’t like that – undoubtedly they like the wolves even less for it. It’s an intriguing new dynamic that has emerged.
So, I leave you with this information to chew on. Wolves can and do kill for fun (surplus killing). They waste their own kills, but the kills themselves never go to waste out here. These killing sprees will most likely lessen as numbers of game dwindle to healthier levels and the wolve’s cups don’t “runneth over” so much. To some, this reintroduction of wolves seems like a disaster (and for some people it may be), but I believe nature is slowly bringing itself back into balance in these parts.
I’ll leave you with a story as well. Not far outside the Bitterroots in Montana (within the past year), a pack of about six wolves killed 138 rams on a farm in one night. They didn’t eat a single one; just killed them and kept moving. They sent a helicopter to track them early the next morning and caught up to them already almost 40 miles away… before putting the entire pack down from the air. It’s a testament to how lethal the wolves are, as well as how much distance they can cover in a short time. They’re here. They’re expanding very quickly. They’re covering a lot of ground, and they’re not going anywhere except everywhere. In another decade or two, this whole country will have wolves again – in my opinion.
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