Rain continued to fall most of the night and well into the morning. It wasn't as heavy as it was earlier yesterday evening, but was the steadiest downpour since we left Colorado.
Lava Mountain Lodge's kitchen didn’t open until 8 a.m., so we were able to sleep in. When we arrived for breakfast, we were again joined by Peanut, Blue Collar, and his wife.
|Date||Tuesday, August 3, 2021|
|Weather||Mostly cloudy with temperatures from the mid-40s to low-70s|
|Trail Conditions||Muddy footpath, rolling hills, and a long descent|
Before we returned to the trail, we needed to reserve campsites in Yellowstone National Park. This should have been an easy process, and in nearly every other national park I've camped in, it has been. For instance, on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2017, I only needed a seven-day permit for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and I didn't need to reserve specific sites. The reservation procedures were different for the same park when I thru-hiked the Benton MacKaye Trail in 2020, but they were still easy to complete. I was able to reserve sites online.
Most of the national parks on the Pacific Crest Trail had regulations that weren't too burdensome for thru-hikers. The only exception to this was North Cascades National Park, where reservations had to be made in person.
It seemed like the procedures for obtaining a backcountry camping permit for Yellowstone were straightforward. We could do it over the phone. That wasn't as difficult as North Cascades but less convenient than the Smokies.
It's not legal to camp anywhere but in a designated site or a frontcountry campground in Yellowstone. There are 293 backcountry campsites, and though that sounds like a lot, the park is extremely popular for backpacking.
We knew we might not be able to get every site we wanted. We were also prepared for the possibility of hiking different routes through the park or hiking longer or shorter distances between sites than we preferred.
What we didn't expect was an ordeal that would take more than four hours before finally securing our reservations.
I called the backcountry office soon after we entered Lava Mountain Lodge's restaurant for breakfast, and had to leave a message for a return call. Then we sat and waited until 10 a.m. before finally getting called back.
My conversation with the backcountry ranger took a long time. He was patient and helpful, but with so many options it was difficult to sort out the best plan. We had some sites in mind before calling, but some weren't available. We were unfamiliar with the park's trails, and the maps we were using showed two different names. One map used a place name, such as "Three Mile Bend," while the other used a three-letter code for the same site, like "6Y6."
The phone connection dropped a couple of times during the call, which added to the frustration.
When I thought we finally had a list of sites set, the ranger said I now needed to talk to another ranger to make the reservation. I couldn't believe I just spent all that time with a ranger and he couldn't take my credit card information to reserve the sites.
He transferred me to the other ranger, but I was redirected to voicemail and had to wait again for another callback. When I finally was connected with the next ranger, he told me some of the sites we chose were now booked. I somehow remained calm with hardly any cursing or sobbing.
We finally wrapped up our plans and were ready to leave Lava Mountain Lodge at 1 p.m. We figured we could hitchhike, but just in case there was another option, I found the restaurant's cook and asked him if he knew anyone who could drive us. He pointed his finger in the direction behind me.
Turning around, I saw Blue Collar and his wife had just returned. They offered to drive Top O' and me to the trailhead. After so much hassle, it was nice to have something go easy for us.
Hobo Toe was at the trailhead when we were dropped off. He had completed his resupply trip to DuBois and was about to start hiking north.
We had to cross the highway to resume walking, but it wasn't busy. If we had been here less than two months ago, we might have seen a traffic jam. Just four miles up the road was Togwotee Pass. That's where a mother grizzly bear and her cubs decided to take up residence.
They caused a local sensation, with drivers slowing down to gawk at the bears. The grizzly family became so popular, locals named the mother Felicia. Wildlife officials were alarmed by the bears' popularity. They feared they would become too accustomed to being around humans.
It took two weeks of scare tactics by officers from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Grizzly Bear Recovery Program, like firing bean bags and flash bangs, before the bears were finally convinced to leave.
After we crossed the highway, we had 2.9 miles to go before reaching Brooks Lake Mountain Lodge. The trail started with a climb through a long, grassy meadow. We had a steady climb of nearly 700 feet in 1.5 miles.
Before coming to the end of the climb, I turned around to look south toward the highway. I could see the sky was becoming smoky again despite all the rain we received last night and this morning. There also appeared to be an isolated rain shower in the distance.
The climb topped out at a 4WD road that had been carved into the slope of Sublette Peak. The road was covered in a thick layer of mud. The rain that fell last night turned it into a quagmire.
I did my best to stay out of the mud by walking along the side of the road. I also didn't want to get too close to the edge because the mountain dropped steeply down from there.
Not far down the road, I came upon a sight that was at first a little alarming. A couple driving a Jeep was stuck in the mud and they acted like they had no idea what they were doing. They didn't seem concerned about their predicament when I approached and talked to them. They laughed about it, so I wished them well and kept walking.
I didn't have to go far before leaving the mud. The road became solid gravel after it rounded a corner.
A panoramic view opened to reveal all of the Pinnacle Buttes. The mountains looked like the crumbling walls of a castle built centuries ago.
I could see Brooks Lake Lodge about 15 minutes later. Although I'm sure it was a nice place to stay, this first view was a little underwhelming. It looked more rustic than I expected, like a working ranch instead of the luxurious, all-inclusive resort that it was.
The rates for staying at Brooks Lake Lodge aren't based on the room, as they are at most hotels and lodges. The cost here is set per person, with rates being as high as $1000 per adult per night.
Now you know why we chose to stay at Lava Mountain Lodge last night and not walk an extra 2.9 miles to get here.
We had no trouble retrieving our resupply boxes when we arrived. The staff was friendly and we tried to be respectful. We didn't hang out in the lobby or anywhere else where guests congregate. We found a porch at the side of the lodge and organized our food there.
My wife had sent me a new pair of shoes and five days of food. I also asked her to include my Ursack, which is a bear-resistant food bag. Bear canisters aren't required where we're going, but it seemed like a little extra protection was a good idea in grizzly country because I wasn't going to be sleeping with my food.
Although an Ursack is not bear-proof like a canister, it weighs 30.5 ounces less. I'm willing to add a little extra risk to save that much weight.
While we were unboxing and repackaging our food, we became something of a tourist attraction ourselves. A family saw us repacking our food and came over to talk to us. They asked several questions about the trail and our experiences.
We didn't start walking again until nearly 4 p.m. The trail went around Brooks Lake, and we reconnected there with the official CDT route.
Our first reserved campsite in Yellowstone was less than 50 miles ahead, and we were scheduled to be there in four days. As I thought about that, it didn't feel right. Did we make a mistake somehow with our reservation?
That didn't seem possible. We agonized over the schedule and talked it over with two different rangers. It had to be right.
The trail meandered through a flat valley. Above us to our left were the weathered rocks of Sublette Peak, and north of it was a vertical ridge of granite. The Continental Divide followed the top of the ridge.
Sublette Peak was named to honor William “Bill” Lewis Sublette, an enterprising mountain man and fur trader who helped to establish the Oregon Trail.
As we rounded the lake, two people sprinted past us on horses. It seemed they were either racing or were in a hurry to get somewhere. Whatever they were doing, it was like a scene from a cowboy movie.
The trail was a little muddy and rough as it began a slight climb away from the lake. This was a route used on trail rides from Brooks Lake Lodge, which was why it wasn't solid like most trails have been in Wyoming.
We were now walking in a region known as Greater Yellowstone, and the landscape had notable differences from where we had just left. The mountains are part of the Absaroka Range, which stretches about 165 miles long and 75 miles wide, extending north from here into Montana. The divide cuts across the lower southwest corner of the range.
The mountains in this part of the range are mostly broken and weathered remnants of ancient volcanoes. The name "Absaroka" is taken from the Crow Indians, who used that word to name themselves. It's translated to mean "sparrowhawk people."
For the first 3.5 miles past Brooks Lake, the trail followed a gradual up-and-down route through a valley that was bounded by rugged mountains of exposed rock. The footpath was often split into two or more lanes. The multiple paths were caused by trail riders.
Most of the trail through the valley remained muddy. I noticed some large pawprints in one of the wettest stretches. They were too large to be from a dog or coyote, so they had to have been left by a wolf.
When we arrived at Upper Brooks Lake, we ran into Hollywood. I remembered when we first met him four days ago that I didn't figure I would see him again, but here he was. We walked together for the next 30 minutes or so.
Hollywood chose to continue walking when Top O' and I stopped for dinner at 6:15 p.m. We were keeping up our practice of stopping a mile or two before we planned to set up camp.
The trail entered Teton Wilderness at Bear Cub Pass, which was just north of Upper Brooks Lake. This wilderness area is the second-largest in Wyoming, and we will stay within its boundaries until we reach Yellowstone.
We left the meadow at Bear Cub Pass and began a descent through a forest. Evidence of a forest fire could be seen here. There were a lot of fireweed flowers. Although many of the trees were green, some had blackened trunks.
The next 1.7 miles descended to Cub Creek, with a drop of 740 feet.
The trail became extremely muddy on the way down into the canyon. Last night's heavy rain contributed to this muck, but it wasn't the only reason for being wet. Horses trampling on the trail loosened the soil with their hooves, causing poor drainage and promoting erosion.
No camping spots could be found on the slope of the drop into the canyon. The time was past 7:30 p.m. when we approached the bottom and we still hadn't found suitably flat ground.
Cub Creek was wide and shallow. There weren't enough rocks to hop across, so we took off our shoes. It was too late in the day to get them wet because they wouldn't sufficiently dry overnight.
Our daylight was fading as we started the climb up the other side of the canyon. This is where we discovered why the couple on horses raced past us when we left Brooks Lake. They had been heading to a viewpoint to watch the sunset. Now they passed us again on their way back to the lodge.
Just when it was beginning to look like we needed to pull out our headlamps to help us see in the dark, we found a spot big enough for two tents. It was on a small ledge part of the way up the canyon wall.
We had just enough daylight left to see while hanging our food, and we did that first before setting up our tents.
This had been a successful day, despite the frustrations of the morning. Hiking barely more than nine miles made it a nero day. We were able to pick up our resupply boxes and secure our camping reservations for Yellowstone.
I just wished I could figure out what was bothering me about that plan.
Oh, oh, telephone line, give me some time
I'm living in twilight
Oh, oh, telephone line, give me some time
I'm living in twilight