Saturday, September 22, 2001

Tomorrow is the big day. Tomorrow we start our five or six day adventure backpacking along the Teton High Route We will get up around 04:30 for our 05:00 shuttle ride to the trailhead and begin our adventure. Of course, the trip has already had a lot of good things take place during the past couple of days and I want to mention some of them here.

I arrived without much trouble Thursday afternoon. Although John and Ron had already come into Jackson Hole they were nowhere to be found. This did not surprise me since they had no reason to wait upon my arrival. I took a taxi to the Anvil motel and settled into my room before beginning to wonder around town during the late afternoon sunshine.

This is a nice town that caters to the tourist trade wholeheartedly. During the summer that means backpackers, day hikers, fisherman, hunters, and so forth. In the winter time I am sure downhill skiers fill this place. I am here at the tail end of the summer season.

The town square is surrounded by shops of all sorts for the tourists and it is laid out in a style that is meant to evoke memories of the old west. The boardwalks, full of slightly loose boards that creek which I think is a great touch though probably not intended, are quite nice. There are several gear shops to satiate even the gear lust of the people on this trip like John O and Ryan. Several restaurants and bars are dotted around the downtown region too.

I strolled around had a burger at Billy Burger (not sure what the fuss is about I think Blimpy burgers are better).

John and Ron showed up around 21:40 after a long day of traveling around and having fun. We talked for a while about various and sundry things though time and again we veered back to a backpackers favorite topic (among many)--gear.

The next morning we all went to breakfast at Bubbas Barbecue before spending the bulk of the morning roaming around town while we killed time before more people were due to arrive. We had a good time people watching. There seem to be an awful lot of really pretty ladies around here. And I think many people around here hail from eastern European places like Russia. At least I think I heard several russian accents and I know we met three russian ladies (exchange students). The morning was spectacular. With the intense sun even though the temperature was probably only in the fifties in the shade it was considerably warmer feeling than that.

We went back to the Anvil to wait for other people to arrive and while we whiled away the time on the deck munching on chips and drinking sodas we enjoyed each others company. But, no one was showing up. noon came and went and still nobody had shown up and they early morning United flight had come in quite some time ago. Also Ryan had not shown up yet and that was surprising. But, things would change. It turned out that the early morning flight people had been in town all this time and we just had not crossed paths. They found us on the deck and things settled out. Jim, Don J, Don L, and Steve got here and we continued to schmooze the day away. Of course, we had to go to more gear shops and when Ryan showed up he told us about one out of town that was having a great sale before they shut down for the season. We piled into cars and drove off. The sale was great and most everyone left with new gear. I got a Cloudveil Snaz jacket for $95 that normally sells for about $260.

After dinner at a steak place that was OK, but not great we drifted back to the motel complex and Jim and I then headed off to the Cowboy bar to consume numerous of Snake River Lager. This is a huge bar that definitely has a cowboy theme to it. But, while we saw many people in cowboy style duds we also saw many others wearing Patagonia and other hiking apparel. We had a great time chatting, drinking, and shooting pool. We actually closed the place down. Another fine day.

Saturday after a leisurely morning of breakfast and some gear testing everyone piled into cars and headed off to Yellowstone National Park. Jim, Glen, and I bypassed the gear store I mentioned before that was still having the sale while everyone else in the other car could not resist their gear lust and went in. We did not see them until dinner time several hours later. We had a grand time at Yellowstone National Park even though it does take 2 hours to get there from Jackson. The drive is glorious.

To reach Yellowstone you drive along roads that take you through Grand Teton National Park. There was relatively little traffic. Mixed in with the cars was the occasional tour bus that would pull off at a look out point, herd its occupants out for a quick look see, and then herd them right back into the bus to drive to the next look out point. For some people that type of travel is enough, but I do not think it would be for me. We drove along the winding road passing over streams, by small mountain lakes, and through forests of aspen (maybe birch) and pine. When we arrived at the parking lot near the Old Faithful Geyser we finally encountered many cars and people. However, the numbers of both were far less than I think any of us expected. It certainly was not quiet but it was not crowded either.

Our timing was impeccable. Old Faithful was just beginning to blow. I must admit I did not stand in awe of it like I am sure I had done twenty or perhaps even 12 years before. It was impressive but not awe inspiring. I was hoping to find some of the other geysers that my memories suggested released plumes that were substantially greater in size. Maybe the crowd of people watching the geyser spout detracted from the scene too, but IÕm not sure.

We strolled along the boardwalk that is provided in this valley of hot bubbling pools, fumaroles, and geysers. I am always amazed at how life managed to find a foothold in hostile environments. The environment in a near boiling, sulfurous, pool of water can't be conducive to life but when you look into the pool and see its many colors you realize that you are seeing life. The life is bacteria and maybe algae but it is life nonetheless. Nature does its best to fill any available niche with things that live and from the hot pools of Yellowstone to the volcanic vents in the ocean bottom nature has done a remarkable job.

Is it any wonder that people did not believe John Colter when he first described Yellowstone. No other white men (or women) had seen anything like the geysers, mud pots, and other geothermal objects. It is easy to see why they called it "ColterÕs Hell."

Of course, there is a vast amount of land that is not covered with fuming, frothing, bubbling vents. We spent a little time walking down the trail to Heart Lake after leaving the geyser basin. This area was struck hard by the wild fires of 1988 and has been growing back ever since. There are many small trees growing where once massive trees stood. Some tall trees still exists completely untouched by the fire while others still present their scarred bark for all to see. I wonder how healthy a tree can be when a substantial portion of its lower trunk is massively burned. I suppose if the roots are intact and the bulk of the leaf system is functioning the tree can survive pretty well as long as conditions remain relatively mild. But, such a tree must be more vulnerable to harsh weather and infestations than a completely healthy one.

While there were many fallen burnt logs it was clear to all of us that the forest was thriving. I imagine even the dead trees are still useful to many creatures. They can provide shelter and perhaps nourishment even at this late date. This forest, plus others in the Greater Yellowstone region, are testimonials to the important role fire plays in nature. A fire can destroy a forest, or seem to, but the forest lives on perhaps more vital than it was before the burn.

After a nice dinner with the whole gang at an acceptable steak house (a notch or so better than a Ponderosa) everyone began to get their gear all packed up. At this point we had the great weigh in. Pack weights spanned a range from 15.5 pounds to 34 pounds. These weights did not include water but included essentially everything else that would be hanging off our bodies. My pack came in at 32 pounds. The only heavier pack was ToddÕs at 34 pounds. WeÕre both carrying a lot of "extra" gear in the form of camera gear and journal keeping stuff. Todd is carrying some 9 pounds of camera gear for his medium format work (IÕm really looking forward to the photos I am sure he will take). My "extra" gear includes the Newton MessagePad 2000 with its keyboard (about 2 pounds) and camera gear (about 4 pounds). My pack weight, the weight of stuff just in the pack, is around 26 pounds. Since Glen had the lightest pack we adopted the "van peski" as our new unit of measure. For this trip one van peski is 15.5 pounds. According to Ryan even the people lugging upwards of 2.2 van peski are carrying packs that are substantially lighter than is common for this region of the country.