Getting in Deep

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Kyle was picking up a petrified stump of wood as I made my second crossing of the stream. My bags were still weighed down with heavy food such as pickles, so I didn’t want to risk crossing the stream with all of my bags at once. The water was cool around my ankles, and the weather was fair.
As I got out of the stream, I also began noticing the petrified wood. It was everywhere. I went from seeing almost no petrified wood in my lifetime, to seeing more of it than I knew existed. Such rare things are almost never found in areas with a lot of backpacker traffic, and I realized that we were in the middle of nowhere. And I was happy about it.

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The rock features were similarly intense. Kyle, being an up and coming geologist, was getting excited. “Those bubbles in the rock are from the rapid cooling in volcanoes.” He was pointing towards the scraggly cliff that we were eating pickles next to.
“Yeah I guess we are really just on top of a volcano.” I said.
I had totally forgotten that we were walking on top of a volcano. Yellowstone is one of the larges super volcanoes in the world. Top that with the fact that Yellowstone is something like 40 years over its deadline for exploding, and the woods get a little more exciting. But the cliff looked nice.
After finishing my pickle I took a swig of pickle juice. Sounds gross right? But I find it is an athletic necessity. Pickle juice is one of the most hydrating liquids there are, because of all sodium. I know this because my friend’s dad is a tennis pro, and buys them by the case. I used to think that was weird. After drinking a few gulps of pickle juice in the shadow of that volcanic cliff, I can personally its hydrating powers.

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It wasn’t much longer after our pickle session that we found Tanner and Kirk. They were setting camp where we would eventually spend our final night. We stopped by for a little chat. This is apparently when the plan went wrong.
I had heard that we were going to meet back at the campsite we were leaving them at unless something went horribly wrong, and they thought that we were going to pretty much meet at the car. After exchanging a little whiskey between ourselves, and letting Tanner look at the map (they had none of their own) we said goodbye and parted ways.
After seeing them we realized how far behind we were. The sun was halfway down the western part of the sky, and we still had over eleven miles to go. It was time to end the pickle breaks, and really get a move on.
Hiking has a sort of meditative finality to it, where a person knows where they need to be, but also cant get there fast. This can be frustrating though when sixteen miles separate a tired traveler and their campsite.
Our meditation would begin here. My pack was cutting into my shoulders, but I knew we had to keep moving. The sun sank lower. We took another break.
“I hear that there are a bunch of moose out here.” Said Kyle. We were now in the Miller Creek valley, and still five miles from our site. I wanted to see a moose.
“Maybe there will be one by our campsite.” I said, and we continued moving.

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We marched slower. It was beginning to become clear that we wouldn’t be able to make our campsite before dark. The words of our ranger were playing in my head, “Yeah if there is anywhere you might run into a bear on a trail, its going to be out here.” And then later in the conversation, “They are more active at night. Try and make it off the trail by late afternoon.”
It was past that time now, and we were looking to get off of our trail.
Our backcountry permit guide told us the M2 campsite in our area had been closed because of fallen trees. It was an ideal place to hide out when we were doing something wrong. We could sleep here without worrying about rangers handing out tickets, so we went further in to explore.
It was perfect. There were dead trees everywhere, which was the reason they closed the site in the first place, and the reason why it was such a good one. Firewood was everywhere, the bear bag was close by, and we were horseshoed in by Miller Creek. It was a great place to drink and fall asleep.

The Animals of Lamar Valley

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We woke up because the tent was getting hot, and it sounded like people were outside. Since our campsite might not have been technically legal, we didn’t want to get caught by the rangers with our rainfly down. We started our day early.
People walked by a little awkwardly as we stashed all of our things, and decided who would take what.

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All I knew was that we did not want the tent any more. At least not all of it. Carrying the tent up the mountain the day before had been painful, and I had begun to resent its presence. We would need just the rain fly to remain relatively comfortable. Particularly because the forecast didn’t call for any rain the rest of the week.
With a rainfly folded neatly beneath the top flap of my backpack, we had almost everything we needed. If we had only brought our spare cooking pot, we would have been set to leave right then. But the one thing Kirk could not share with us was a cooking pot. The kit that Kirk had brought was only good for his backcountry stove, and we were going to be cooking over an open fire, cowboy style. I didn’t want to ruin his pots.

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Luckily for Kyle and I, our blunder the night before was also our saving grace. Instead of ruining one of Kirk’s pots, I would take advantage of our lack of progress, to get my spare pot from the car.
I love walking through Lamar, because it is a lot like walking through central park. The local residents deserve a respectful distance, and have been known to run people down. But the walk is easy, and the scenery is beautiful.
Lamar Valley has also been referred to by more qualified people than myself as being the American Serengeti. As I walked, bison pursued their endless goal of eating all the grass in the valley, and crickets the size of pool balls hopped awkwardly in an attempt to avoid my feet.

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Above, the red tail hawks were beginning their full day of riding thermals. I stood with a group of British tourists, who were marveling at the white spots under their wings. They were bragging about the badger that they had seen running through the bushes, and which had fallen into a hole on seeing them.
It was starting to get hot when I found Kyle. He was sitting with his shirt on his head like a turban, and we were both sweating. “Its hot.” he told me.
“Yeah we should get going. There should be a bunch of spots to jump in the river along the way. It looks so refreshing.”
We shouldered our packs and began following one of the bison trails further into they valley. The bison have done their best to confuse tourists trying to get further into Lamar, by making a patchwork of little trails that look like the footpath throughout the valley. Fortunately for us, we knew where to go because we had a map.

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As we crested a hill, we surprised a group of Antelope that had made their bed in the center of the field. We saw them bounding further into the valley when we crested the hill, as though they were running from the wolves. Kyle noticed the bugs first.
“Dude they’re everywhere!” He said. Around his head was a cloud of what looked like blood thirsty ants with wings.
We were now running like the antelope further up the valley. They had been preying on the antelope who had just left, so now turned their eyes on human blood as a worthy substitute. I told Kyle that there was a literal cloud of them above his head. He told me that my yellow backpack was pretty much black with these little guys. The way they were flying around my head, I had to agree.

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How It All Began: The 60 Mile Trip of Yellowstone

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The hoodoo basin is a 30 mile in, 30 mile out hike, so not many people who visit Yellowstone have ever seen it in person. It only felt natural to make that the goal of our trip after having my cast taken off.
We started at 5 in the afternoon on Sunday, with the aim of going 11 miles to our campsite for that night. I don’t know how fast the ranger who wrote our camping passes traveled at, but it must have been something close to a light jog. It wouldn’t matter how far away it was though, as we went the wrong way.

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I recently read in National Geographic that one of the signs of knowing a person is lost, is when they say the map is wrong. But I was pretty sure that we were an exception for a little while.
Finally, we were standing on top of a mountain in Yellowstone, looking at the trail we were supposed to have taken at the bottom of the valley. It was raining a little bit, and there was a rainbow over the trail we were supposed to be on. We were pouring over the little line that made our trail and realized where we went wrong.
Instead of going right at the first fork, we had gone left, which is by and large my fault. I guess in hindsight, I’m not the best at reading maps.

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The bright side of this situation is that we got to camp out in my favorite spot in Yellowstone. It isn’t officially on a map, but should be. It is where all of the buffalo hang out, next to a river, and under a bunch of trees. We had to camp here in a rainstorm on our first trip to Yellowstone, and everything was still set up. Some wolves had killed a buffalo next to where we were sleeping that night, so I was pretty excited to return here. It is the most wild place in the park.
We drank a bunch of whiskey, watched a meteor shower, and agreed that we were going to separate the next day.

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Goat Post in Honor of Shark Week

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In honor of shark week. I’ve decided to do a post. Using sentences. With just a few syllables. To make mountain goats. Much more extreme.
Thousands of feet. Above the level. Of the sea. These horned omnivores. Roam the rocks. On the cliffs. Of Colorado. Devouring wildflowers. With their children. In a backdrop. Of great scenery.

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People can get close to these creatures. But the experience. Can be. Pretty scary.
Sometimes. They give you really meaningful stares. Or park rangers. Will tell you to back up. In very stern. Voices.

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On Wednesday. July 25th. Tanner Tillung. Nick Baker. And myself. Found mountain goats. On top of Mount Evans. A 14er. That we cheated on. And drove to the top of.
It was a great opportunity. To take pictures. With Mountain Goats. In their wild. And unpredictable. Habitat.

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Tanner Tillung. An experienced. Moderately Extreme Adventurer. Got close. For a great picture. That he will probably show. His parents.
We inquired further. About the incident:
“Tell me how was this day different than any other?”
“Well we had been camping for about a half week, so we were already really tired and didn’t want to climb another 14er. We found out a person can drive up Evans, and we found these mountain goats at the top. I just wish that I had my camera.”

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This is Nick Baker. He dared. To get close enough. With his Samsung. Camera phone. To take pictures. Of the goats. Crossing the road. And I got a picture. Of him. Taking this picture. I asked him further. About the incident.

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“You know, we climb these mountains all the time. I’d never seen mountain goats before, just a bunch of marmots. So I was pretty excited about it. They all have their babies with them, and we got some awesome shots.”
It was a good day. We had a lot of fun. And got ice cream. In Idaho Springs. When we drove down.

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(Those who didn’t get this, I made all of the sentences way too short like they do to make things sound more epic in shark week. They generally keep each sentence down to 4 syllables. Watch shark week and you’ll get it.)

Wrapping it all Up

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Our final night was spent in one of the craggy valleys in northeast Yellowstone. It was intended to be the cream of the crop at the end of the arduous two weeks of solid camping. We had finally acquired a map, and discovered that starting in the other end of the valley shaved a few miles off the round trip.

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As we would soon find out these few miles were lost at the expense of a few thousand feet up and down. Entering from the wrong end of the valley, we found ourselves getting more crop than cream.
Wheezing to the top of the mountain, we could see our meandering valley below. One end of the valley meandered gently uphill, and the other rose over a mountain. It would be all downhill from here, until tomorrow. Then it would be uphill again.

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Walking through the valley is one of my favorite camping memories. There was a gurgling stream with lush bushes, and wildflowers blooming alongside us. The forest that had once dominated the valley had burned down, leaving all of the mountains in clear view.

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When we reached our campsite, we were not alone. A female deer was standing in the center of our campsite, and she was friendly. She showed no intention of leaving. We decided to name her Tabitha. I like to think that she valued our company as much as we valued hers.

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Building a large fire, we enjoyed a relaxing night under the stars. We talked about the idea of every campsite having a designated animal assigned to it. It seemed like a ridiculous idea, until the next morning.
On the way out we told another group about Tabitha. They told us about their porcupine.
During the middle of a night of drinking around a fire, our neighbors had found their campsite animal. A porcupine.
I never knew that these animals could throw their quills, but our neighbors did. They ran around drunk and confused, hoping that they wouldn’t get hit on their way to the safety of their tent. Tabitha on the other hand would give us friendly looks, and much scenically on clover. These campers did not give their late night friend a name.

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Finally out of the woods, we packed up the car to head home. It had been an insane week and a half, leading us up and down the Rockies, and spitting us back out on the volcanic park of Yellowstone.

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