Monday, September 8, 2014

Pie in the Sky

At 10,200 feet, the Mosquito Flat Trailhead is the highest trailhead in the Eastern Sierra. The main trail follows Rock Creek upstream through the Little Lakes Valley.  A gentle hike brought us to one beautiful alpine lake after another: Mack Lake, Marsh Lake, Heart Lake, Long Lake, and several others. 

Soft, grassy meadows invite you to linger by the lakes' clear waters, but we hiked quickly, propelled by the thought of pie. Just below the trailhead near Rock Creek Lake is the infamous Pie in the Sky Cafe, which serves breakfast, lunch, and of course, pie. Pies sell out quickly, and hikers are encouraged to come early for the best selection. 

Our short but scenic hike ended just after 11, and we quickly headed down the hill for pie. The menu board boasted at least ten different types of pie, including a few unusual signature pies, such as cheddar pear. We selected slices of strawberry pie and mud pie, and blissful munched away.

Fortified by the two generous slices of pie, Sierra and I decided we were ready for more adventure. We drove to the bottom of the Lower Rock Creek Trail, a popular mountain biking trail. After riding up on the road, we enjoyed winding along the singletrack trail next to the creek. Tall pines shaded our path and aspens rustled in the breeze.  On a recent ride we spotted a pelican swimming on one of several beaver ponds along the creek. We searched the creek, but did not spot either beaver or pelican today. 

We hopped off our bikes at the end of our ride looking forward to our next adventure. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Day 56: Firehole Creek to Old Faithful

Beep beep beep!  Beep beep beep!  For almost two months now, we've slept when we were tired and woken up with the sun. But this morning we planned to visit the Lonestar Geyser, which only erupts every three hours, so we wanted to get there as early as possible. 

Within minutes after we arrived at the geyser, it began rumbling and splashing water. By 6:45 am, torrents of water were shooting up 30 feet, accompanied by a cloud of steam, lasting about five or six minutes, a "minor" eruption for Lonestar. We stayed afterward for hot chocolate and coffee, and Soulshine joined us. At 7:30 the geyser erupted again, shooting torrents of water up to 40 feet, accompanied by a huge cloud of steam. Water and steam continued to shoot out of the geyser for 20 minutes. Then the geyser settled back down, with smaller clouds of steam emerging from it. 

Gray clouds blanketed the sky, and a slow, steady drizzle began just before the second geyser eruption. We hiked on in the rain, reaching Old Faithful with plenty of time to get settled before its next eruption. 

Right on schedule, Old Faithful shot a large jet of water into the sky. The eruption was significantly shorter than the Lonestar Geyser, lasting only a few minutes. Then we were off to the Old Faithful Lodge for ice cream. 

Despite the dreary day, we spent a little more time exploring the area around Old Faithful.  Although we feel the strong pull to keep heading north on the CDT, for us summer is over, duty calls, and it is time to go home.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Day 55: Beaver Creek to Firehole Creek

A cool fog descended in the night. We bundled up slipping our feet into sodden shoes and heading down the trail. 

The trail followed the Heart Lake beach, where the cold, gray lake water disappeared into the fog. A faint sulphur aroma wafted toward us on the cool morning breeze. 

A ranger approached and asked to see our permit near the Heart Lake Patrol Cabin. He radioed the number into headquarters while we took a lengthy, unscheduled break, unable to hike on until he cleared us. Finally he cleared our permit, shifted our campsite reservation to another site farther up the trail, and allowed us to hike on. 

Steam rose from the creek next to the trail. Small, bubbling, cauldron-like pools lined the creek. A scalding hot stream trickled from the pools into the hot tub like Witch Creek. A large pool of emerald green water steamed nearby. 

Day hikers proliferated as we neared the Heart Lake Trailhead. "Are you from Bishop?" a family asked Sierra. The Jellison family, from our hometown of Bishop, were day hiking to Witch Creek and had heard we were on the trail. We also met two more northbound CDT hikers, Birdie (PCT '12) and Tibetan. 

Rain and hail pelted us as we reached Shoshone Lake. We waded into Summit Creek, knowing we were unlikely to get any wetter than we already were.  Soulshine shivered on the far bank, having swum in the creek with his clothes on just before the storm. 

The Shoshone Geyser Basin was the highlight of our day. The basin was dotted with steam vents, bubbling pools, cones, hot streams, geysers, and other geothermal features. Canadian geese strutted along the warm, swampy marsh next to the river. 

Upstream from the basin, hundreds of bright yellow monkey flowers clung to the shifting sand at the bottom of Shoshone Creek. 

Tired after a thirty mile day, we reached Soulshine's assigned camp near the Firehole River only to find squatters already there, food hung, enjoying the nearby hot pools. They darted away when we approached, disappearing into the trees and leaving their food behind. Soulshine arrived. Although the designated bear pole was too low to inspire confidence, we hung our food next to the other hikers' food and hoped for the best.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Day 54: Mink Creek to Beaver Creek

The soft early morning sunlight glistened on wildflowers covered with dew. Still bundled up against the chill of the morning, we waded into Mink Creek and felt the icy water nipping at our toes. 

We caught up with Soulshine (AT '12, PCT '13) a northbound CDT hiker we haven't seen since Leadville, just after the Mink Creek crossing. We shared Yellowstone itineraries and campsite numbers in the hope that sharing sites might provide each other with more flexibility over the next few days. Soulshine would like to hike beyond his assigned site tonight, and sharing our site would allow him to get in a few more miles. Similarly, Sierra and I would like to get closer to Old Faithful Village tomorrow night, and sharing Soulshine's site would allow us to do so. 

No sign marked the entrance of Yellowstone National Park. We found the sign hidden behind the Fox Creek Patrol Cabin, but the cabin was locked. No ranger. 

We followed the Snake River as it wound its way down the valley, wading across it and its tributaries several times. Then we followed Heart River upstream to Heart Lake, crossing the Heart River twice, and countless smaller creeks. Whenever our feet began to warm up or dry, we reached another crossing and waded on in. 

Clouds gathered throughout the day. Thunder rumbled over a nearby ridge. Late in the afternoon the rain came, briefly pelting us with raindrops, but stopping shortly after we put on our raingear. 

We stopped for the night at our assigned campsite near Beaver Creek, complete with two large metal bear lockers, a high food storage pole, and several downed logs Sierra enjoyed climbing on. Beaver Creek snaked through the nearby meadow, making several u-turns along its slow, meandering path. Soulshine joined us. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Day 53: Rocky Meadow to Mink Creek

The Soda Fork of the Snake River was presumably named for the frothy white water raging down the river. We stood on the bank, staring at the deep whitewater rapids at the trail crossing. Just upstream, a high round log spanned the river several feet above the water. Fight through waist deep whitewater rapids or balance precariously on a high log while wearing slick, muddy shoes?  Neither option appealed, but we eventually opted to stay drier, nervously inching our way across the log. 

The North Buffalo Fork of the Snake River also flowed swiftly with whitewater rapids, but the water only reached just above our knees and we crossed easily. 

Mile after mile, charred trees and stumps lined the trail, with a variety of wildflowers beginning the long, slow process of regrowth. Sierra also discovered ripe wild strawberries mixed among the flowers. We gathered as many of the tiny, sweet berries as possible, eating them at once. 

Although the day dawned clear and bright, dark clouds gathered all morning. We ate lunch with towering thunderheads closing in around us, listening to steady rumbling over several nearby ridges. Rain, then hail, began pounding us shortly after lunch. We shuffled along the muddy trail as the rain continued for hours. 

We reached the Parting of the Waters in late afternoon. Here, along the Continental Divide, Two Ocean Creek divides into the Atlantic Creek, which travels 3,488 miles to reach the Atlantic Ocean, and the Pacific Creek, which travels 1,353 miles to reach the Pacific Ocean. 

From the Parting of the Waters, we climbed steeply to a grassy plateau dotted with small lakes.  The Tetons and Mount Moran rose to the west, still dotted with patches of snow. Dark clouds to the north poured sheets of rain. 

On the climb we met Cloud Walker, the second southbound CDT hiker we've met this year. He has already met eight northbound hikers, and I know there are many more behind us. Stride, Smiles, Shutterbug 2, and Smudge should be close behind. Chili and Pepper (PCT '12), who we never saw on this trip, a few days behind. Atlas is five or more days back. And then there are all the hikers who flipped up to Wyoming to hike the Basin and avoid the snow. Last I heard those hikers are still finishing Colorado. 

Although the plateau was beautiful, we did not want to camp in such an exposed area under threat of another storm.  We quickly descended to a lower camp in the trees near Mink Creek. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Day 52: Brooks Lake Campground to Rocky Meadow (Mile 1942)

We started our day with a delicious breakfast at Mom's, a popular Dubois breakfast cafe, hands down the best breakfast on the trail thus far. Having just learned that we would need a permit and campsite reservations to hike through Yellowstone, I called the permit office and was relieved to be able to reserve workable sites, sharing with other CDT hikers one night due to limited availability of sites as we near Old Faithful. Permit number in hand, we returned to the trailhead at Brooks Lake. 

The sun lit the massive cliffs above the lake. We followed the trail through flower-filled meadows on the west side of the lake, then climbed gently to Upper Brooks Lake.  A bald eagle soared over Upper Brooks Lake, then disappeared into the trees beneath the cliffs. 

Towering thunderheads began piling up by lunch, and shortly after we left Cub Creek the skies opened and began to pour. Rain turned to hail as we sheltered in a small grove of pines to cover our packs and put on rain gear. 

Ahead up the trail, Blue Suit, a southbound CDT hiker in a distinctive blue jumpsuit, sheltered underneath another grove of trees. We stopped to talk for awhile. Blue Suit warned us about an upcoming river crossing, the South Buffalo Fork of the Snake River. 

Although an early season CDT hiker, Morrisey, had described the river as unfordable, we had heard that the water had subsided in the intervening days and knew that several other hikers had gotten through. Now Blue Suit eyed Sierra warily while he described cold, deep, fast moving water.

Several wet, rainy miles later, we reached the river. I started across first, my legs quickly becoming numb in the frigid, thigh-deep water. Leaning into the current, I slowly worked my way across the fast moving water, taking Blue Suit's advice to work my way slightly downstream as I moved across to stay out of the deepest water. Once across, I dropped my pack and went back in the river to shadow Sierra, who was already working her way across.  She didn't need my help, and we were soon both safely across. 

We had heard that South Fork Falls is a fantastic side trip, just under a mile and a half round trip. We were not disappointed. Upstream from our crossing the South Fork drops down a steep waterfall, then winds its way through a narrow, deep chasm or carved over time by the torrents of water raging down the river. In places the slot canyon is so narrow hikers have actually jumped across, although missing the bank on the other side of the steep cliff would mean falling over a hundred feet to certain death. Predictably, Sierra wanted to jump to the other side to explore a tiny crack on the other side that appeared to lead down to the floor of the canyon. 

Instead we headed back to the trail and hiked on. Sierra discovered a seemingly abandoned baby pheasant in the grass next to the trail. Thankfully the mother pheasant was nearby.  The baby pushed its way through a forest of grass and reunited with her. 

We passed through a large burn area, fireweed and other wildflowers brightening the otherwise dismal landscape. Finally we found a damp camp in a small meadow next to a cluster of living trees. We found a high branch and hung our food safely out of the reach of the black bears and grizzlies that populate this area. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Day 51: Forest Service Road to Brooks Lake Campground (Dubois)

Large clumps of mud clung to the bottom of our shoes, each one weighing as much as a brick. Lugging our heavy shoes up the sodden trail, we collected a new layer of mud with every step. 

We continued following forest service roads until we reached Highway 287.  No markers indicated where the trail continued on the other side, but with the solar charger we had just enough power to check our position using GPS, following the trail along a winter snowmobiling route. 

My father met us at the Brooks Lake Campground and took us into the small town of Dubois. In addition to the usual town chores we saw the world's largest jackalope and visited the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center. After a delicious pizza at Paya, we shared some ice cream and headed for bed.