Day 2, Yellowstone: Bechler River Traverse

Day 2, Monday, August 4, 2014

No sunrise.

Dreary, gray and certain to rain.

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Having slept fairly well, I was not up until after 6 a.m. The only one of our troupe, Donna, from New York state, was always the early riser and waited for the rest of us to roll out. Chris and Nate got water boiling and hot drinks were self-served while they proceeded to fix breakfast. Our breakfast could consist of bacon or sausage, powdered eggs, potatoes, oatmeal, breakfast pudding, pancakes and even breakfast burrito. It was always nutritious and filling.

Knowing it was going to rain, we quickly completed our morning meal, picked up our backpacks and headed back to the tents to dismantle and pack them in our packs, along with our shared provisions and personal belongings. The bulkier, heavier items, sleeping pad, bags and tent were first stuffed into the bottom of the packs, with the food items near the center and topped with the things we would need during the day’s hike. By about 9 a.m. we were off on the Day 2 trek to Three Rivers Camp, the confluence of  rivers forming the Bechler River.

This day started with a 650 foot elevation gain to a high meadow, the highest point in the trek (although, after time, the climbs upward ALL seemed to be the highest, and toughest hikes).

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 The rain made no attempt to avoid us. Not long after starting, the rains fell, sometimes steady, often a continuous drizzle and seldom a downright downpour. The trails became minnie streams at times, small water pools and a muddy, slippery, treacherous path. At the meadow, we rested under a small stand of trees, ate snacks, and attended to blistered or sore feet with moleskin, bandages and tape. I was one of those requiring some attention to hot spots on my feet. Both Nate and Chris had done this doctoring duty before departing camp and continued to do the same throughout the hike as needed, typically before leaving camp and at rest stops. Trying to find a dry spot in such an open area met with only a “somewhat drier” space. But we all bore with the inclement conditions and dampness, rested a bit, then hoisted on our packs and set off on the trail though the meadow, which was becoming a soggy marsh, wet grasses further wetting our pant leggings and shoes, soft spots in the soil beneath sucking in and over our boots. 

Trudging on, it was nearly impossible to capture much of the scenery with the rain drenching us and obscuring what otherwise would have been some picturesque landscapes. An exception to taking pictures was Donna, who often walked and snapped shots on the go.  Stumbling and falling while doing so was sure to happen although I did not witness it. Her waterproof camera is sure to contain many photos as we were on the march. With several stream crossings, sometimes jumping and at others, over logs, the day wore on.

As this second day proceeded, my upper thighs began to feel the strain, causing me noticeable discomfort and feeling of weakness in my legs. This day had me doubting my ability to complete the whole traverse. But, steadily, and determinedly, I stuck with the pack, much of the time toward the rear so that the more agile hikers were not slowed down. It became a goal to just reach the next camp and rest. This next camp promised a nice respite from our hard hike with a short walk to “Mr. Bubbles” a series of hot springs into which we were all longing to lounge and luxuriate in warm and soothing waters. Legs feeling strained and tired, ascending inclines, breathing heavily with my loaded backpack, my unsteadiness held at bay with use of my two trekking poles, the spirit in me kept me on track, Would I make it or simply sit down in the mud and let the others proceed without me?  I kept going, wishing for camp to be just over the next crest. Lunch was prepared and served under a tarp along the trail.

Passing through more forests and along the Bechler River, finally, we reached the Three Rivers campsite. The thought of  dropping my backpack was so welcoming, but that was not to be. For before us was the Bechler River with our main camp upon the other shore. A lone, flat planed log served as the bridge to that haven of rest. At this crossing, the river was a torrent over a series of rapids, the narrow span looking as if an intimidating and slippery encounter. Danger could ensue without notice.

By choice, being at the end of the group, I watched as the others, fully outfitted with backpacks, carefully inched across the soaked and slippery log. Chris having crossed first, offered encouragement and a helping hand as people successfully passed over the river. Now, my turn, with Nate on the starting side of the log, I carefully, cautionsly approached down a few feet, over an uneven rocky mass ready to tackle this challenge. 

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Suddenly, without warning, I was off my feet and sliding.

Unknowingly, the wet rocks combined with my wet boots caused my feet to slip from under me. 

With my right hand trekking pole having no surface to catch and break my fall, the pole and right hand were immediately under me as I fell to the right, the backpack adding impetus to the downward slide. And there, only 4 feet from the river’s edge, the toes of my right boot just entering the river, I just as abruptly came to a halt. Not only did the crossed pole beneath me help avoid a disaster, but my backpack, too, caught on the rock surface, quickly and securely preventing a nearly certain, disastrous fate.

As suddenly as this befell me, Nate was at my side, steadying me, asking if I were OK and calmly, repeatedly asking me to unbuckle my pack hip and shoulder straps. Thankful that my guardian angels were on standby, and that I was to remain on dry land (relatively speaking under the wet conditions), my mind was preferring to handle this situation on it’s own. A few seconds of my unreasonableness, and I heard and understood what Nate was asking of me. Removing my pack was a sure way to assure my safety, preventing me from falling once again with a pack that I would not be able to remove if I then lost my balance again, fell and managed to have the river take me with it for a very unpleasant ride. 

Under's Nate and Chris’ watchful eyes, and regaining most of my composure I stepped up to the log and very, very carefully edged across to my waiting comrades. Nate carried my pack over to the other side. I’m not sure that the others could see just how close I had come to being completely in the river, but know that my luck was holding me from harm. Other than a small scratch on my little finger and a scrape on my arm, I was unscathed.

Once on the other shore, we then learned that our tent site was on the very side from which I had fallen. Not a very happy thought for me at that point. But with items removed, I did manage to recross with the lighter pack and set up the tent. Still shaken, I was slow to assemble my tent that night. Knowing that we all were planning to regroup and hike to “Mr. Bubbles” for a hot soak, I so looked forward to that for relaxation and soothing warmth on my body.

Grateful that the rain ended for a time, we followed Chris to the hot spa and entered into the pool of comfort. In the middle was a bubbling area from which some of the hot, underground waters emerged, while another small brook of steaming water also fed into our spa. Being on the river, those cooling waters also mixed with the hot spring waters, creating a reasonably comforting soak. With drafts of cold water sometimes swirling around our submerged torsos, the experience was exhilarating and refreshing. As we sat around the roiling central hot water vent, we noticed the slight quaking of the ground beneath us. While we joked about the possible eruption of the volcano beneath Yellowstone, a less dreadful explanation was that the effect of the boiling waters below the vent in the pool was causing the vibration we felt.

My thighs, feeling especially tight after our hiking felt much better in the hot waters, but did not totally relieve them. Still, I felt like a new man after the soak and was energized to some extent as opposed to how I felt upon entering this camp. 

It was raining again during dinner, as we huddled under a tarp stretched between the trees. Again, no fire was allowed in this camp, but would have proven unsuccessful due to everything being drenched. What little daylight prevailed as it continued to rain, I crossed over to the other side (to my tent), and found sleep soon to follow. Though warm in my sleeping bag, through the night, my sleep was disturbed by increasing aching in my thighs. The resulting stiffness had me wondering, would I be able to even walk the next day? Would the next day be less stressful? Would I slow down the rest of the group? What do I have to help relieve my aches and pains? Our guides, being our caretakers, not only bandaged and cared for blisters and sore feet, but had a dispensary of common pain medications to ease the hikers discomforts. That was to be my plan, to ask for a med that would assure my continued participation for the duration of the hike.

Rain, rain go away, please send us a sunny day.

Treacherous crossing of Bechler River, Debbie standing on slippery rocks where I tumbled.

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Derek next to a bear scratched tree


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