Crystal Creek Boys

Playing Hill Country Music since 2008.

The Hike: Heart Lake

It all started as most things do, as an idea.  Matt and I had been in Yellowstone National Park for about three weeks at this point and had yet to make an adventure inside the park itself.  In preparation for the arrival of two friends, Nikkye Reanne and Cindy Jacoby, we decided we would do some back country camping as a learning experience for ourselves.  We went down to the Ranger Station to get our permits and reserve a campsite near Heart Lake.  The kind young lady we spoke to informed us that most sites at Heart Lake were already taken except one on the far side just twelve miles down the trail.  In her sweet kind way she said quite simply ” Well it’s only twelve miles, not a bad hike at all…” to which we said, “Oh, well if it’s just twelve miles we should be fine.”  In hind sight, twelve miles is really not that bad at all.  Three hours in and three out, right?  Not when you have an eighty pound pack strapped to your back and the trail is straight up hill both ways.  We hiked about six miles when the lake first came into view and we thought we must be getting close and as we stepped out of a young forest burned in the Great Fires of 1988, we paused just above a geyser basin to peer out across the lake and what a view we had.  We trudged on and came to the lake shore where a Ranger Station was with a map clearly showing us that we were in fact just over half-way to the campsite.  I should say by this point we were pretty tuckered out practically cursing the young Ranger mocking her in a sweet tone, “Well it’s only twelve miles…”  We hiked on.  About one mile down the sandy shore we get back on a more traditional trail with three or four miles to go.  We begin passing campsites, the ones we couldn’t reserve, and start to feel like we’re finally getting close.  We pass the first site, then the second and figure just around the corner will be the trail head to take us to our campsite.  After many corners and no campsite we really start to question the advice of that sweet little Ranger we spoke to because by our calculations we’d passed the twelve mile mark a couple miles back.  We pause for a moment and ask ourselves, ” Could we really have missed our campsite?  No way, the Ranger must be mistaken.”  Finally after the most grueling hike I’ve ever been on, we arrive at the trailhead for our campsite.  We’re getting close.  We head off down the trail and it’s looking like a really nice spot to spend the night.  Two creeks come together before flowing into Heart Lake and our site is right where they come together.  But before we get there we came to a creek crossing, which normally would be no problem but nobody had been to this site since the year before and high water had washed out the trail markers on the far side of the creek.  We scanned the area and found the normal river ford to be way too deep for us to cross but we hiked upstream a ways and found a log jam that got us about half way across the creek.  We then tossed stones into the water until we could cross the creek and rejoin the trail.  It was then we found the most beautiful place we had seen since being on the trail, our campsite.  Although the mosquitoes were out in numbers and large enough to carry you off, we made camp and lifted our bags out of reach of bears.  That night dinner was crackers, tuna salad and a sandwich that Morgan had made us the day before.  It was the most delicious food I’ve ever eaten.  The next morning we awoke and got ready to go fly fishing on the Heart River that flows out of Heart Lake.  It was about a two mile hike to the spot but in no time we were hooking up on fish although not in great numbers but great in size.  A four pound Cutthroat Trout is large and especially on a fly rod.  As quickly as we began to fish we had to wrap it up knowing full well the long hike that awaited us but not before running into a back country Ranger who checked our permits and followed us to our campsite to check if we had properly stored our food and reserved the site.  So we brought him down to the creek crossing and he wondered how we made it across the creek the first time.  We smiled and said we’d be glad to show him and across the log jam we went.  He must have been surprised to see that we had in fact done everything correctly because he explained to us that we weren’t like most Xanterra employees who come to get wasted and abuse the park’s trails and campsites.  He hung around for a bit telling Ranger jokes and stories relentlessly until he apologized explaining that back country Rangers are not used to seeing people and to excuse his onslaught of words.  It was then time to pack

up and hike out.  We set out after lunch past all the campsites, through the geyser basin and up a steep two mile hill to the edge of the forest where we came across two hikers sprinting down the trail in our direction.  They explained that two miles ahead they had been just ten yards from a huge male Grizzly Bear and had almost shot the bear with the pistol they were carrying.  We talked them out of hiking back to the Ranger Station and into hiking out with us altogether because there are no documented cases of bears attacking groups of four or more.  They calmed down and agreed that was the best plan and we set off together down the trail and almost immediately starting seeing bear tracks coming directly toward us.  The bear had been following them for the two miles they had backtracked.  Let me tell you it’s an unnerving feeling to head straight down a trail with bear tracks and fresh scat everywhere you look and we made as much noise as we could to let the bear know we were coming down the trail.  We had four hikers, one pistol, two cans of bear spray and about seven miles to go.  Obviously the hike out took just a fraction of the time as the hike in!  It’s very difficult to describe the feeling we had when we saw the car parked at the foot of the trail, and all the smiles and handshakes turned to agony from the sore muscles we never knew we had.  We could barely walk for the next few days and that is not an exaggeration.  The next day we limped into the Ranger Station to report to the Ranger that we had lived and filled her in on the bear encounter.  When she asked us how it went we simply replied, “Oh not bad for just twelve miles.”

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