After 5 hours and 10 minutes of hiking, up over 3,000 feet in elevation – we actually made it to our field site today, and successfully collected endangered white bark pine tree cores!
We started today off much more positively than our last hike. We’d had several days to adjust to the elevation, we’d been up the hike (most of the way) once before, so we know (most of) what to expect. I used a pack suited for hiking (although it was nearly too big and I felt an awful lot like a turtle). We took more breaks early on to conserve energy. We ate more food. We drank more water. We got up to where we’d lost the trail on Tuesday in the same 3 hours, even with extra breaks. We were owning that hike.
In fact, on the way up, right before the spot where we had trouble on Tuesday, we ran into a man and his two kids (age ~9 and ~13) on their way down. We asked if they’d been up to Holly Lake. “Oh yes!” said the man, “We camped there last night!” He even recognized the description of our lake and assured us that even if we lost the trail, we could just follow their footprints to our lake. As soon as they were out of ear-shot, I turned to Kyleen and said “A &*$%ing nine year old hiked this?!” We were determined to succeed.
We got to the previously problematic spot, and much of the snow that was obscuring the trail on Tuesday was already gone. Even just a couple warm days had produced a significant melt, such that the trail was still patchily visible. We were ecstatic!
Unfortunately, that precious ice melt lasted about 100 yards and we were soon back to schlepping it over mounds of ice. We were actually really fortunate to have the footprints of several groups that had already hiked up to Holly Lake (crazy idiots…) otherwise we would have been as lost as on Tuesday. If you squint really hard at that picture, you can see a narrow trail of footprints trailing up the side of the mountain. That was what we followed. At the point in the picture, we were about 0.4 miles from the lake. We got there an hour later.
It was around this time in the hike that Kyleen says “You know, I’m not really into showing emotion, but when we get there, I may hug you.” I responded “I’m an atheist and I may shout ‘Praise Jesus!'”
In retrospect, the hike was probably a tad too dangerous for our limited experience with back-country hiking. We realized this about the time we got to the white bark pine lake, though, so it was a little too late to be helpful… The stand was smaller than we expected, with fewer pines than we anticipated. So, instead of the 20 cores approved by the GTNP ecologist, we left with 8. I should also note that we were coring in knee- to waist-deep snow and by the time we were done could feel neither our feet nor our hands.
It took us almost four hours to hike out. It would have gone faster, except I took a bit of a spill off the snow (ironically I fell *onto* the trail) and landed on my knee on a rock. Not a serious injury, but it swelled up a bit and was difficult to walk with, which slowed us down the rest of the hike out.
Needless to say, we will likely not be hiking out there again. Instead, we are contacting the Yellowstone biologist about potentially sampling (or at least documenting the presence of) the mid-elevation white bark populations he mentioned earlier this week.
We may also spend tomorrow (which is my birthday) sleeping in, sight-seeing in Idaho, and then grilling and drinking with fellow AMK ranch residents 🙂