YELLOWSTONE – Day Three

WP 08 to WP 13, Mile 12 to 19, 7 miles

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David woke up still sick. When I questioned him about what was happening he said it was stomach/ gut. He hadn’t thrown up but it was largely by force of will. This development put me in a bit of a quandary. I would like to preface that I believe things like this happen despite our best intentions. As a trip partner there is a responsibility to protect and support each other regardless of the situation. So I held Dave in no contempt for not feeling 100%. I just wanted to make sure we recognized and made good decisions in light of these dymanics.

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We still had very sketchy cell phone service and I let our communications guy, RJ Masselink, know what was going on. He would text everyone that cared my message. “We’ll be out of touch for a few days, David is sick, and we may take one of our two possible bail outs”. In these conditions a little unsettling on the receiving end of that message but quite a bit less than radio and phone calls from dire situations in the past. The objective dangers were very low and their potentials rather benign.

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As much as I could tell David was capable of continuing to ski – at some level. Forward movement complied with our plan but each glide step brought us further away from civilization. At this point we were a few miles from phone coverage and 15 miles from our cars. I ask what he wanted to do and he responded to continue forward. He was pretty determined to reach the hot springs – Mr Bubbles.

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I had been thinking that was an uncomfortable name for a hot spring. It was also challenging for me to tell people that was our objective when skiing with another dude. Yeah, the holy grail brings images of kids, flatulation, and a bath tub. It would possibly cover the effects of our freeze dried food and the sulfer smell would guarantee flatulence anonymity. Still the visual was tricky.

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We decided to move from our campsite at WP 08 about 5.5 miles to WP 12, which had a planned emergency bail out option that put us within 15 miles of Old Faithful. But it would skip the farting pond. We moved slowly across the flat, stunningly beautiful meadows. Dave was clearly hurting but I was beginning to believe he was unable to complain nor utter anything close to a whine.

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As we rested at the first bail out option at WP 12 I contemplated our options. Weirdly enough David was not real talkative as he visibly struggled to eat then keep it down. We agreed to move to the next bail out WP 15 at mile 21 but I required probably more explanation than necessary to understand why we didn’t just move toward Old Faithful by the easiest route (I thought). My underlying concern was the possibility of David or I if I caught it, not being able to ski for a day or more. We could still move now but what if that changed?

Easy terrain gently changed to crossing increasingly deep and complex ravines. We were nearing the edge of the giant plateau we had been effortlessly skiing across and eons of erosion was making the going more interesting. When we eventually reached the second and last bail-out WP 15 option I had a new idea.

Ian Adamson, adventure racer extraordinaire, once explained to me how the team routinely rotated gear weight to compensate for team member’s energy and performance levels. I poached this idea and proposed it to David. We had been discussing camping on the plateau at WP 15 then skiing down to the spring and back that night without a pack. Seemed like a lot of work and we would have to ski after soaking. Instead I suggested we ski to the spring and camp there. If he was feeling poorly tomorrow I could put his pack on mine and we could climb onto the next plateau that way. Or I could do two trips up the climb out. I was also really uncomfortable leaving our packs and skiing through very remote areas with little or no gear.

People I have been to the edge with I think would agree I am a very conservative person. I dislike recklessness and try to think things through. Being totally on our own didn’t seem like a good place to ski without our gear, or safety net. I’m not sure this weighed as much to David but a blown out knee 3 miles from our packs would be a much different hypothermia scenario than if we had sleeping and bags and stoves at hand. That same practiced conservatism has kept me off more than one summit in my life, sometimes at the disgust of my partners.

Luckily David bought my idea. We skied to the edge of the plateau and started our steep descent at WP 22. The day’s weather was brilliant. 30 F temps, perfectly quiet, and not a cloud in the sky. The snow pack changed dramatically from sunny to shady aspects. I’m not much of a fan of low cut BC NNN boots. They feel like my camo slippers. Today was no different but I made it down the 25 degree, tree lined slope with only a blow to my sunny disposition. David made it look way too easy.

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For the first time we saw open water in thermal heated streams. Translated that means narrow bands of water 6” deep cut across our planned route. Each side of such unimposing streams had 6-8’ of snow walls going into them – or impossible to cross. OK, not impossible but mood-alteringly difficult to accomplish even without the flu. Luckily the toughest crossings offered us snow bridges of requiring moderate skill to cross and promising only getting wet with failure.

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At the point of the map where 3 rivers met we were supposed to find a bridge (easy to cross with skis!) at WP 24. It was a single log with feet of snow somehow attached to it. The banks of this crossing were melted upstream so David took off his skis and hopped slippery boulders across. I crossed the strangely lukewarm water barefoot as I had seen earlier my conservative attitude was outgunned by David’s excellent sense of balance (not a new concept after skiing down from plateau!) We re-skied on grass in the warm sunlight.

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David broke trail uphill with understandable enthusiasm as I got my junk show back together. We were in a place with a much different feel from the high plateaus, within a mile of the spring. Rivers and steam were everywhere. Terrain was steep and undulating. Skins were needed to navigate toward to spring. His stomach took a toll on his pace sunny disposition. I could see there was no humor in his day, replaced by straight up suffering. I easily passed him and followed the huge steam plume on the horizon.

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We had to cross a few muddy sections of trail and finally I saw the spring. Or I though it was. Even at about 40 F steam was everywhere. So much that I couldn’t make out the lay of the land. Skis off again I crossed the steaming river with my boots on and walked to the steam wearing my pack, carrying my skis in my hands. As I neared the steam, waking on loamy grass I passed small fumerals and springs boiling to the surface. There must have been a surge, or eruption in the spring. It got scary loud and bubbled what looked like feet into the air. Through the steam I realized I was a few feet from a spring or geyser that would boil my skin off in a minute.

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I put my skis back on and skied to the opposite, windward side. With the perceived safety of several feet of snow under me I finally saw the magnificent view of a boiling cauldron, blue and just feet from my perch. Other worldly. David had caught up and was on the snow exploring the 3 pools of boiling water. It was a small deal maybe 20’ across at the hottest section.

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From the geyser a manmade pool emerged through the steam maybe 100’ upstream. It had a bubbling component but also appeared to have a cold stream water pouring into it. We found a convenient place to camp and headed to Mr Bubbles. I was till a little spooked by the scalding geyser so walking to the bathing pond was done with great care. It was kind of Boiling River-esque in that it was hard to find a uniform temperature. Front side hot back side cold… Beat the daylights out of camping in the snow!

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We also benefitted greatly from being able to re-organize our gear on thermally heated gravel bars, me in barefeet! The juxtaposition was not lost on me. It made the whole idea of winter camping palatable.

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Again we were in bed by 7:30 even with a second soak. Making sleeping bag time only ten and a half hours. David was still green around the gills but he was super-heated. He said it had been more than 15 years trying to get to this spring in winter. Tomorrow I was ready to carry David’s pack out the 1500 to 2000’ out of the valley to the next plateau if needed. Of course he didn’t complain but it was also clear he was far from 100%. From the moment we stepped out of the cabin until we skied into Old Faithful we were in it together. We’ll do whatever is needed to get out together.

Map C2b

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2 Responses to YELLOWSTONE – Day Three

  1. Tania says:

    Gotta love that hot water baby!! Sounds like an amazing trip and so glad you are taking good care of each other…

  2. Better reading than Clive Cussler. The suspense is killing me!

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