A MudFest - Undine Falls Trail
- Don't even get me started!!!
- A potentially re-torn ACL AND Bison poop smeared all over me. Lovely...
Yesterday's Coronavirus case count in the US: 18,170, with 241 deaths.
We woke up to a rare, warm, sunny day.
The campground was peaceful, though a bit more crowded since it's a Friday. This means there are probably no more than 15 sites occupied, but we're betting the weekend will be a lot more crowded. No!!!!
We didn't want to drive anywhere today, so we decided to walk to a snowshoe trail that started about half mile down the highway from the campground. I saw the sign yesterday, and it was one of the good snowshoe treks John from the clinic mentioned: Undine Falls.
Even though the trail was (one way) 4.3 miles / 6.9 kms to the Falls (which there was no way we could do that distance in our snowshoes, even if we wanted to), we still went knowing we would just turn back at some point.
1der looked on the map and noticed we could chop off a mile if we accessed a different trail entry point much closer to the campground. That trailhead was obscurely located somewhere inside the residential living area for park employees, which was across the highway from the campground.
We carried our snowshoes and reluctantly walked into the "Park Employees Only" area. We weren't sure we were allowed in there, but we decided to take a chance.
Unfortunately, our map did not clearly lay out where this other trailhead was located, and when we looked at the terrain behind the houses, it was clear we were on a bluff and the trail itself was way down below across the river.
We decided to head over to the normal trailhead. As we were nearing the residential area's entry point, we crossed paths with a man.
"Hello!," I said. "Is it okay for us to be in this area, and can you please kindly tell us where is the trailhead near here for Undine Falls?"
Imagine our great surprise when he said, "Sure you can be here, I'll even take you to the trailhead!"
What a stroke of luck for us. Turns out we were so fortunate to meet up with Kevin Dooley, the senior backcountry ranger for all of Yellowstone National Park. He's been working there for 25 years, and his knowledge about the park is enormous.
He walked us down a long road, and we chatted the entire 10-minute walk.
We learned where the kids of park employees go to school. We passed the old school that is now used as rec center because there are too few kids to keep it in use. Park employee kids now go to school in Gardiner, the town just outside the park's northern entrance.
Kevin also talked about how much the culture has changed for these kids. Hint: Amazon Prime has fostered instant gratification and eliminated the prior mountain-living culture of patience and need versus gotta have it, and I want it now.
I think about how magical it would be to grow up in Yellowstone National Park and how all its wonder and wildlife would be our endless source of entertainment. Sadly, most kids today seem to prefer a much coveted video game / social media / massive amounts of screen time. I've seen it in many places where the kids would rather stay in the car playing video games instead of getting on the trail. So sad, but I digress.1
We wanted to know Kevin's story about how he came to be a ranger, and how he end up in Yellowstone. It's always wonderful to hear how people have pivotal moments in their youth that inspire them to pursue a career. Kevin is no exception, and it's his love and passion for Yellowstone that keeps him here.
We ended up at the "Boneyard" (more below on this), and we parted ways with his last piece of advice: the bears are out, so be prepared. Thank you Kevin Dooley!
Indeed Kevin lead us to an official trailhead, though it definitely didn't look like one. Again, more later on why this trailhead was so obscure. Had he not lead us here, there is no way we would have thought we were in the right place.
Upon entering the trail, there was an immediate steep descent that lead us down and across the river. It was really slippery with mud and snow, and it was made ten times worse because it was basically a mine field of giant bison poops. Ugh.
I was really nervous navigating the descent. This was the first time I was on a slippery, steep trail since my ACL surgery, and I didn't have my knee brace on. If I slipped and fell, it would be a scene from a really bad movie.2
It took more than 30 minutes to go a very short distance. Thank goodness 1der was carrying my snowshoes and we had our ski poles, but it was even more difficult because we were wearing our snow boots and not hiking boots. And remember, my snow boots are not grippy.
We finally reached the suspension bridge that would take us across the river so we could intersect with the main trailhead. 1der was correct: we cut out about a mile coming this way.
From the middle of the bridge, here's the view to the right:
And here's the view to the left:
Once we got across, we spent a bunch of time looking for the trail. No such luck.
We found a few narrow trails, but they clearly were game trails that lead to the river. Oh, and did I mentioned there were a bunch of bison in the distance glued to our every move?
After walking a bit, we found the real trail. A muddy, gushy, slippery trail with bison and elk poop all along the way. This official trail had been trampled with big bison prints imprinted in the wet mud, which made it even harder to navigate.
We slowly made our way up the trail, constantly moving to the side to find some snow versus sinking / slipping in the mud and hearing goosh, squish, shluuup, faaaawop, etc. How many onomatopoeias can you come up with for walking in the mud and navigating bison and elk poop?
The views along the way were beautiful.
After nearly two hours, we stopped at some fallen trees and had a snack. Remember those snowshoes? The ones we strapped to our backpacks that are not made for carrying anything heavy? Yeah, we brought them for nothing... Of course I had to thank 1der for schelpping my snowshoes the entire time until we had the snack.
Something (or should I say someone - me!) possessed us to keep going. But then it got worse. Really bad, as if it weren't already bad enough. I was having fun because, hey, it was an adventure! But 1der was done.
We turned around and made our way back. Search, avoid, step, goosh, repeat.
We saw a small herd of bison in the distance. We watched them for quite awhile as they grazed while moving downstream.
I wanted to finish the hike at the "real" trailhead down the road from the campground and not where we started. Thus, after crossing the bridge, we made a right instead of going to the left where we came down. Unlike the beginning, the trail to the right was nice; mostly flat, with dry and hardened ground. We were happy.
But a short while later, just as we rounded the corner, something in the distance caught my eye. Oh crap!!! Two giant bison and their juvenile had their butts parked literally right across the trail. Darn it!
There was no way around them the trail as it was narrow were they were. We watched them for a few minutes, and they were not moving. We looked to our left and saw way above some fencing that looked like an overlook from the highway. We decided to risk our lives 😆 and climb up the very steep, snow covered hill versus risking our lives getting taken out by Momma bison. But who knew where we would end up?
So up we went (it was dicey, no joke).
Imagine my GREAT disappointment when we crested the hill and I looked up. We were back at the far end of the...
We walked our way past the rusted shipping containers, discarded machinery, old cars, etc. and back onto the road. It was getting really cold and windy, and it was late.
We got back to Beastie, had dinner and got ready for bed.
In spite of what we encountered, we had a great day (at least I did!) Hopefully it makes for a great story we can laugh at in the years to come.
We close our eyes with sadness, knowing tomorrow will bring more bad news with the dark COVID cloud.
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