Yellowstone

A Kayaker I saw during our day hike on the Shishone River trail

In June 2010, me and some work buddies decided to go to Yellowstone.  This is the story of our excursion.

For the past few months, me and some work friends had been planning a trip to Yellowstone.  On Wednesday morning, June 16 we all took off for Wyoming.  We took my Saturn station wagon, so I drove, Ian sat in the front with me and Robert and Rob sat in the back.  They later became known as “The Robs”. 

We stopped in Jackson, Wyoming where Ian’s brother lives but his roommate was the only one there, so we left after a while.  The last leg of the journey to the park was only 45 miles but it took a lot longer because of traffic and freakin road construction.  When we finally arrived, most of the camping spaces were taken up.  We were almost ready to give it up and go to Yellowstone Lake to test our luck when we finally found a spot.  We actually set our tents up on two plots!

It was lightly raining when we began setting up and the rain started really coming down when we were searching for firewood. Amazingly, we got a fire going in the rain and finally got warmed up.

That first night was miserable (for me at least)!  I had two sleeping bags at home but unfortunately, I brought the thin one that little girls use for slumber parties!  I froze to the bone that night and must have gotten 2 hours of sleep!  When I woke up in the morning, Ian said that I looked like a blue ghost!  I was breathing vapor out of my mouth and shivering when he found me!

A look at Lewis Lake near where we camped

“How’d you sleep, Dave?” he inquired.

“I…c-c-c-c-an’t…f-f-f-f-eel…my…t-t-t-t-oes!” I sputtered out with a shiver as I shrunk back into the tiny sleeping bag that came up to my chest.

That morning, it actually snowed!  Because of the crappy weather, we decided to drive into Jackson and get a much better sleeping bag for me.  Bad luck must have been following us because the usual 45 minute drive back to Jackson again lasted close to two hours!  After buying my 30 degree flannel lined sleeping bag, we headed back to Yellowstone.  We didn’t leave the campground the entire day.  We just huddled beside the campfire and stayed warm.

That night, I slept much better curled up with my old sleeping bag inside my new one.  I woke up in the morning very refreshed and ready for a new day. That day, we decided to do some sightseeing. Everyone wanted to go see Yellowstone Falls but because Rob forgot his map, we ended up at Old Faithful with all the tourists and Asians.

I had heard about the infamous geyser most of my life and it was awesome seeing it spew forth boiling water from the ground followed by an enormous vapor cloud. The wait lasted forever but it was well worth it. We drove around the park and saw some more geysers and hot springs. We then took a road that we thought was going to lead us to the falls but when we saw a sign that read “Welcome to Big Sky Montana!”, we knew we were screwed.

Old Faithful with a buffalo looking on

I took the first road off the main drag and we ended up at some river. We hung around there for a while to stretch our legs then headed back to the Wyoming side of the park.

That night, a few new campers drove in and set up in campsites around us. While we were chilling by the flames, one of them started talking to us from the road. We found out that he was from Oklahoma and after he and his drunk dad (AKA Beer Belly) came up to spend some quality “man-time” at our hearth, we realized how annoying they were. They talked about everything from oil derricks to craw fishing.

Talking was all they did and they barely left any room for us to put a word in. After they left, Rob decided that he wanted to enjoy that night alone with just the five of us. Then Beer Belly came back.

“Y’all know any good jokes?” he said with a toothless grin.

“Yeah, if you tell any bad ones, we’ll have to shoot ya!” Rob said, then he had to “politely” ask him to leave.

“Hey man!” Rob said from across the fire, “You know, we just got back from Iraq and all and were wanting to enjoy this time with just us, so if you wouldn’t mind…you know…splittin,” then Rob gestured with his thumb across the street.

Beer Belly just stood there with his ice cold Busch in his hand and nodded at the fire.

“You know,” began Rob with a different approach, “We’ve been through a lot over in Iraq and just wanted to have a nice peaceful night by ourselves, so…you know…peace out?”

Beer Belly took another sip of his Busch and nodded again at the fire as if it had just given him a NASCAR update.

“Dude!” Rob said for a third time not too nicely, “You know what I’m saying?” then he pointedly gestured with his head for the guy to get out of our campsite.

Finally Beer Belly got the point, let out a little belch and stumbled back to his campsite across the street.

We all enjoyed our quiet time for about 30 minutes until we heard a voice from the street, “Hey guys. I just heard someone mention Slayer (the band)! Man, I’ve been out here camping for 9 days by myself! I have a beer, you don’t mind if I drink with you guys and chill for a little bit?”

The five of us exchanged glances and shared an unspoken nod of consent.

“Yeah man,” one of us said, “Just one beer,”

So Slayer came and joined us by the blazing hot fire and ended up having two beers (that he magically produced from his jacket) and stayed for the next two hours. Like the Okies before him, he overstayed his welcome after the second beer.

I don’t think any of us said more than five words that night. Slayer just kept on talking and talking and talking and talking. We found out that he liked Slayer, was from Beverly Hills, his wife (who later turned out to be his fiancé) was a lab-rat doctor who worked all the time, he was a disabled Wild Firefighter, he was an ex-con, he was covered in tattoos and he liked Slayer.

Finally after I knew Slayer wouldn’t shut up, I turned in for the night. We were planning on hiking the next day and I wanted to get at least 6 hours of sleep.

One of the grizz prints we spotted during the first few minutes into our hike

The next day, I woke up around 7 and helped Robert get a fire going. Ian’s brother Graham had driven in the previous day and was going to join us on our hike. We picked a 12 mile hike that followed Lewis River to Shishone Lake. Along the way, while sloshing through the marsh, we spotted some pretty large sized bear tracks. They were headed in the other direction (thank God!) but we could tell they were fresh and belonged to a pretty large grizz. Unbeknownst to us, just the previous day, a man had been killed by a grizzly in the mountains bordering the east side of Yellowstone and there were red reflectors in the trees beside the trails warning hikers of a rogue bear in the area!

We made the half-way point at Shishone Lake and sat down to eat some lunch. After a few group photo ops with the lake as a backdrop, we packed up and headed back down the trail. A mile later, we realized we weren’t on the same trail we came in on. Rob then got the brilliant idea to trek through the wilderness back towards Lewis River in order to find the original trail.

It was an easy task at first but soon it grew very tiresome. We had to navigate our way over fallen trees, down small gulches, through knee high foliage, around thorny bushes and up more fallen trees to get to the original path we had taken.

Ian and Graham taking the lead

Yellowstone had recently in the past five years or so experienced a forest fire. There were tons of fallen trees strewn everywhere like giant toothpicks. Other dead and limbless trees were still standing but threatened to fall over with every sway and creak in the wind. There were, however, lots of young saplings that had been planted by the older, long-gone generation of trees. Finally I struggled up the last of the grassy incline and slid my way down a damp slope right onto the trail.

A few miles later, the wind picked up and it began to rain slightly. A few of us longer legged chaps picked up the pace a bit and left the shorter legged fellows with the bear spray. However, we felt bad and waited up for the others to catch up. It was tiring having to slosh back through the marsh (where we saw some more fresher bear prints!) but we finally finished the 12 mile hike of the Lewis River Channel trail and breathed in a sigh of relief that we weren’t eaten by a bear and hadn’t been caught in a downpour of rain.

From left to right: Ian, Rob, Robert, Graham and me holding some driftwood at Shoshone Lake

Everyone was spent, so we dropped “the Robs” (as they became known as) off at the campsite, while me, Ian and Graham headed to the General Store by Old Faithful for some supplies.

Our last night was spent in reflection beside an even bigger fire than we had had yet. Sparks flew to the tops of the towering pines, eye-lashes were singed by the roaring flames, hearts were warmed by laughter and Cognac and we all felt at home in the wilderness of Yellowstone.

We had come up with code names for each other in case anyone came by to interrupt our fun. Remember, we had all come back from Iraq, so they were all military names! I was “Gunny”, Rob was “Steve” (later changed to “Randy”), Ian was “Ice”, Robert was “Mav” and Graham was “Goose”.

The next morning, we packed up the car and drove back towards Jackson. Along the way, we stopped and took some photos of some of the amazing spots looking out towards the Tetons. I’ve lived in Colorado for 11 years and have seen some awesome views of the Rockies. But the Rockies have nothing on the Tetons! Those mountains are so much more amazing than the Rockies in Colorado. Their edges are so jagged and sharp as the jutted out into the clear blue sky. Their feet came right down to the edge of Jackson Lake and their peaks were almost lost in the atmosphere above their 13,000 foot immensity.

After buying lunch and filling up the tank in Jackson, we headed south down 191 and away from 5 days and 4 nights we would never forget. That trip taught each of us something. It was a new experience for some and just another camping trip for others. But we all brought out of Yellowstone some things in common. It gave us a since of belonging, togetherness and brotherhood. All in all, it was a time where we could let loose and be ourselves.

The Yellowstone trip gave me a since of genuine freedom I hadn’t felt in years. It reminded me of when I was a little kid out camping with my family in Yosemite or out with the Royal Rangers on a backwoods survival hike. I had something I could hold onto and reflect back on. I had experienced passion and a new flame began growing inside me. I had met with nature and had returned to tell about it. Sure, we didn’t climb the biggest Teton and rough it in the raging wilderness but it was a great start for me. Yellowstone 2010 was something I could build on and look back to as the first of many excursions into the wild.

A view of the Grand Tetons just before we departed
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