CDT 2021: Day 116, Atlantic Creek to Mountain Creek Campsite

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?

Clouds over Teton Wilderness

When Top O' and I stopped at the end of the day yesterday, we were about three miles from Yellowstone National Park's boundary and only eight miles from the campsite we reserved in the park for tonight.

We realized a couple of days ago a mistake we made while reserving our campsites would mean we would arrive at today's campsite much sooner than we wanted.

Still, this wasn't a big enough problem to spend time worrying about it. We've both hiked thousands of miles and understand there's no point in dwelling on a simple error like this. We know it will get solved eventually. Just give it time.

DateSaturday, August 7, 2021
WeatherCloudy with thunderstorms in the morning and evening; temperatures from low-40s to low-60s
Trail ConditionsMuddy, mostly flat
Today's Miles13.8
Trip Miles1675.3

Put another way, we have learned to stay open to possibilities. The trail has a habit of guiding us to the best solution. Maybe we will become glad the problem exists because it offers an unforeseen opportunity. Or maybe it will simply solve itself.

Oddly enough, both of those circumstances happened today.

Dark clouds in Teton Wilderness

The only planning we did today was to sleep in a little longer than usual because of our extra time. Even that didn't go as expected. We still ended up starting nearly an hour earlier than yesterday.

We watched from our campsite as a bald eagle swooped over the valley and landed on a dead tree. When it stayed perched there a long time, we realized it was surveying the territory for food. That might be a long wait for the eagle and us, so we finished packing and left.

Top O' left our campsite a few minutes before I did. Just before I began walking north, I heard odd noises coming from the direction of Atlantic Creek. They echoed across the valley, sounding like someone was opening and closing a creaky old door.

The sounds were coming from sandhill cranes. These part-time residents of the Yellowstone area are the largest birds that live here. Despite standing about 4 feet tall and having a wingspan of 6.5 feet, it's not unusual to hear their distinctive calls without seeing them. They often stand on the ground instead of flying.

Sandhill cranes prefer open areas, like grasslands, meadows, and shallow marshes, so it's no wonder they were here in this valley.

Logs used to define the trail

The valley was a wide marsh. The trail through it had been shored up in several places with logs to keep the pathway dry. That worked against us after last night's storm. The logs prevented rainwater from draining. I sometimes had to walk on the logs because the trail was filled with deep puddles.

As I scanned the sky in the direction I was heading, it didn't look promising for improved weather. Dark clouds and rain were directly ahead, just a mile or two away.

Hawks Rest Mountain

Hawks Rest Mountain stood to my right. The sky here was less ominous, but I wasn't heading that way.

I didn’t walk far before deciding there was no way the storm would miss me. I stopped to put on my rain gear, and rain started falling less than three minutes later.

Bridge under construction

The rain was steady and cold. It was still falling when I reached a footbridge that crossed the Upper Yellowstone River. Signs were posted there to warn the bridge was closed and under construction.

The new bridge was needed to replace one constructed here 62 years ago. Preparations for the construction began last year, and work was expected to continue into the fall this year.

A special exception permit was issued to complete the work because helicopters were needed to haul material here. The bridge was inside Teton Wilderness, which would normally prohibit motorized equipment from being used.

I looked at the river to see if it were possible to ford it. The water was a little swift but that wasn't the only problem. I couldn't tell how deep it was. It might have been shallow. There was no way to judge the depth from the shore.

With the miserable weather conditions, I saw no reason to risk wading across and decided to cross the bridge instead. It was finished enough for that to be done safely. I just needed to climb up to it. The approaches on both ends were missing.

Getting onto the bridge was harder than I expected. The bridge's decking was eight or nine feet off the ground. Some concrete blocks and other construction debris had been piled against it, so I was able to climb that to get closer. I still needed to hoist myself up a good three feet or so.

This was where the hard part came, thanks to the rain and the 30 pounds on my back. With some difficulty and a failed first try, I pulled myself up after taking a lunging leap at the bridge. I wouldn't have gained any style points for the move, but it worked.

The trail passed a ranger cabin after the bridge before curving around Bridger Lake. The U.S. Army constructed an outpost here in the 1890s when soldiers were in charge of keeping out poachers, timber thieves, and other vandals. The U.S. Forest Service has maintained a cabin at this location since the 1920s.

A former forest ranger named G. Val Simpson tells the story of work he and another ranger did to rebuild the cabin in 1950. After hauling supplies on pack horses, they spent most of the summer working on the roof and refurbishing the interior. When they returned in 1951 to resume their work, they discovered that a grizzly bear had gotten inside and trashed the place.

A spot less than a mile from here on the other side of Bridger Lake is said to be the most remote location in the lower 48 states. In other words, that is the farthest point in the contiguous U.S. you can be from any road.

Thorofare Creek

I caught up to Top O' when I reached a clump of trees on the other side of the lake. He was trying to get out of the heavy rain. I mentioned I crossed the river on the footbridge, and he admitted he did the same thing.

We entered the national park at 9:30 a.m. There was no footbridge at Thorofare Creek, which flowed a short distance past the boundary. The water wasn't deep and wasn't as cold as I expected. I was soaking wet anyway, so it didn't matter.

Rain falling in the distance

The creek may not have been cold but the wind that blew with the rain was as we crossed a large meadow. The weather made the walk miserable, and the risk of hypothermia wasn't out of the question. The only thing keeping me warm was walking as fast as I could.

Top O' and I began to think it would be wise to stop at our reserved campsite. This would allow us to set up our tents and get into dry clothes. It seemed we had stumbled into a fortunate situation instead of a problem. The short miles to our campsite that we initially regretted could maybe be the best thing to happen to us today.

Clearing sky

Then something unexpected happened as we approached the trail leading to our chosen campsite. The rain lightened to only a sprinkle, and the wind died down. Suddenly, our urgent need to get out of the bad weather was erased.

Top O' holds elk antlers

Our mood quickly improved. By the time we found some elk antlers lying in the middle of the meadow, we were joking with each other.

"Nice rack you got there," I said to Top O' after he lifted the antlers to his head.

We decided to look for a lunch spot instead of stopping at the reserved campsite. A clump of trees on a slope a short distance away looked like our best option. Soon after we stopped and began to pull food from our packs, the rain stopped. Rays from the sun almost poked through the clouds.

Tall grass

The rest of the day was much better than the morning. We didn't even mind when we had to walk through tall and overgrown grass still wet from the rain.

When we met two SOBO thru-hikers, Spicy and Rerun, we had a pleasant chat and shared information about the trail ahead. They told us they enjoyed the Big Sky/Super Butte Alternate, which they would soon complete.

Muddy trail

The trail was muddy, especially in wooded sections where there wasn't much grass. We switched between woods and meadows for the rest of the day.

A grizzly bear's footprint in mud

Top O' was only a few yards ahead of me when I saw him stop and point down at the muddy ground. He found footprints left by a bear — a large bear. They looked fresh and must have been made after the rain stopped.

The mud was saturated in water, which made most of the prints difficult to identify. We didn't know at first if they were made by a black bear or a grizzly.

A grizzly bear's footprint in mud

Then we noticed one with clearly defined points made by claws. This is a distinguishing feature of bear pawprints. The front paws of a grizzly have a gently curved set of claws, extending two to four inches from their toes. These are ideal for digging roots for feeding. A black bear's claws are shorter and more curved, making them more suited for climbing trees.

This footprint made us certain it was from a grizzly. Of course, now we wondered how long ago it was made. It was obviously recent.

We didn't stick around to see if the bear was nearby.

Crossing mountain creek

Around mid-afternoon, we made a turn from the Thorofare Trail, which we had been following since we entered the park. We now needed to follow the Eagle Pass Mountain Creek Trail, which went upstream along Mountain Creek.

When we crossed the creek, we had already gone four miles farther than we thought we would today, and the time was just approaching 3:30 p.m.

Top O' spreads his gear out to dry

The weather had improved so much by now that when we found an open section of rocks along the creek, we decided to spread out our wet gear and try to dry it. The sun never appeared, but the clouds were light enough to warm the air and remove some dampness from our tents and other items.

Rain approaches

The weather stayed that way for about 30 minutes before dark clouds returned.

We were stuffing our gear back into our packs when we noticed the clouds weren't just getting darker. It looked like another storm was forming.

Though we had gone past the campsite where our permit said we could stay, we wanted to be otherwise law-abiding and camp at another designated site. Camping anywhere else in the park was illegal. The next site ahead was called Mountain Creek, and with the storm building behind us, we hoped to get there soon.

Storm clouds

By 5 p.m., there was little doubt another storm was bearing down on us.

No one else was camping at Mountain Creek Campsite when we arrived there. We were relieved to find there was plenty of room for us.

Tents in Mountain Creek Campsite

We wasted no time setting up our tents and then threw bear-hang ropes over a tree. We cooked dinner next to a dead tree in the center of the nearby meadow, more than 100 yards from the campsite. If bears were in the area, we didn't want food smells to attract them to our tents.

Rain gets closer

Thunder began to rumble, and a few flashes of lightning appeared in the sky while we ate dinner. We hurriedly finished, then hustled over to our bear ropes to hang our food bags.

Somehow, we managed to be in our tents 15 minutes before the rain started falling. It continued for several hours.

You might wish to argue we were lawbreakers today. It's true we ignored the barriers and warning signs at a closed footbridge, and we camped where we didn't have a permit. On the other hand, your honor, we did the best we could under the circumstances to stay safe.

If punishment is to be meted out, I will accept it. But seriously, don't you think the day was rough enough for us already?

Bad boys, whatcha want?
Watcha want, whatcha gonna do?
When sheriff John Brown come for you
Tell me whatcha wanna do, whatcha gonna do?
Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?
Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?
Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?
Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.