The first couple miles of the hike was uphill and the sun was blaring, which made the going slow for a bit. We had a theme for the first part of the hike: "Vacations", which got everyone telling some good stories. Our packs were significantly lighter and would continue to get lighter as we got closer to the re-ration. It's nice every day to put on a lighter pack, even if it's just a pound or so less :).
An important point that was significantly emphasized today was bear calls, mainly because we went through a section of tall willows and apparently bears love to read, watch television, and occasionally play a game of solitaire while laying in a willow bed. Doing a bear call ensures that the bear can pause his Yogi Bear re-runs while he goes out of his way to avoid you as you pass him. Never interrupt a bear's Yogi Bear indulgences, that's what I always say. ... So, the Absaroka range is grizzly bear territory. Given the fact that they are huge animals and coming into close contact with one is generally an unwelcome idea, we as a group would yell something quickly every 30-60 seconds, such as "Hey Bear!", "Hey-Oh", or some other form of loud noise. This cacophony would become standard practice when hiking, with the same associative qualities as vuvuzelas brought to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. If you're a soccer fan, you know what I'm talking about. If not, do yourself a favor and Youtube a 2010 World Cup highlight. It's funny.
While walking near the end of a meadow, the clouds began to look really menacing. We ducked into a patch of trees as it threatened to rain and lighting any moment. Though after 30 minutes, it never came, and we decided to move forward as it hadn't decided to open the skies yet. We proceeded out of the valley into a burn of fantastic proportions. Apparently there was a big fire in Yellowstone in 1988, so big that it came as far South as our current position in the Absarokas. The scale was tremendous, and we saw charred trunks huddled together in all directions. What amazed me and the rest of the group was that among so much death in the trees, life still abundantly caressed the landscape all around us, especially in the form of fireweed, a beautiful purple flower. It is a species that grows extremely well in burned areas. The Circle of Life. Go figure.
And that's when it started to rain and thunder significantly. We immediately bolted for a few live trees just off the trail and got in "lightning position", or a squatting position under or near a tree while at least 30 feet from other people. We spent the time chatting and counting the time from lightning strike to a thunder boom. 15 seconds means 3 miles, and you aren't supposed to move until you haven't count a thunder boom within 15 seconds of it's lighting strike over a 15 minute span. Well, the rain stopped and after a few minutes, we decided to get back on trail. Within a minute we heard a BOOM! immediately following a lightning strike, so we high-tailed it back to the trees and got in lightning position for the 2nd time. Quite a scary thing to hear when you're in the middle of the wilderness and you've got extremely dark clouds above you. Mother Nature evidently knew we all were Nature Noobs and wanted to make it clear that she was boss, or perhaps she enjoyed watching little people scurry around from above. Who knows?Finally, after a combined 2 hours of waiting because of lightning, we got back on the trail again. By this point, all the groups had caught up to us and we hiked in the downpour on a very muddy but generally flat trail. Only once did we go down a portion of significant decline which was a bit hard to manage, but we did and saw a wolf track pressed deep in the mud in the process. Cool stuff!
At around 5, we saw Enos Lake and based on the maps, we thought there would be a significant trail and that we were almost done! Not quite :). For 2 hours, we pressed through high grass, lots of ups and downs, and a type of terrain infamously known as "Poop Swamp" (it's basically a bog, where you step and sink 8-12 inches into the mud. Reallllly enjoyable). We did get to cross a beaver dam, and even saw some thermal activity when a part of the bog we ingeniously decided not to cross started bubbling. Finally, after a very tough and long day, we made it to camp around 7PM. We all rejoiced at finding a nice, flat, open, and un-boggy place to set up our tents. Kitchen was set up across a small stream, over which we walked by utilizing a big downed tree. The view was incredible from both camp and kitchen, overlooking a pristine lake that acted as a mirror for all of its surroundings.
We wound down the day with a debrief and a wonderful meal. The debrief was great because trying to mix instructor leadership vs. student leadership was hard given all the problems with the weather and the fact that it was only Day 4. The group talked about it and all came to the conclusion that if we could get through days like today, where we hike for 8+ hours and deal with rain and elevation and map trouble and still get to our X, we could do anything. I thoroughly enjoyed being a leader on this day despite the toughness. It was a great opportunity to compare my past leadership experience with leading a group outdoors. It started a good process of thought in my mind. More on that in the days to come.
It was an enlightening day for me in terms of map reading as well. Having lived on the East Coast around DC all my life, you don't go into the forest without a trail (unless you are a little kid and you go to play in the forest, of course. Then a trail means that, hell, adults might find you. And that's just not cool.). Here, we had to abandon the trail multiple times in favor of heading towards a landmark noted on the map, such as Enos Lake itself. Quite a frightening and liberating thought all at the same time. We weren't locked into any trails...it's nice if they are there, but the point is to get to the X by any means (and hopefully, the easiest and most effective means) possible. It's pretty cool to be able to use a map to get to where you want to go, regardless of whether or not anyone has blazed a trail for you or not.
With a hearty and delectable meal of Mac and Cheese firmly in the belly, it was time to sleep. Before getting in the tent, however, I spent some time conversing with Max, Charlie, and Noah while watching the stars. It was good to get to know them a little better.
This night was quite a good one for some starwatching:
1. Saw the Milky Way for the first time on this trip and only the second time in my life
2. Saw a shooting star (and made a wish of course!)
3. Saw a satellite (You can tell it's a satellite cause it looks like a star, but moves quickly across the sky)
Another great day under the belt. Woohoo!
What a day of exertion, emotion, and good thought! Woke up nice and early around 6:45 and took the tent down with the group while observing a beautiful, quite colorful sunrise. To begin the day, I ate half a peanut butter bagel and met up with the ITeam (our term for the Instructor Team) at 8AM to discuss the route for the day and our leadership responsibilities. Tommy and Asante were the other leaders of the day. The route would be 7-8 miles, traveling in a 'U' shaped route that would see us start at Moss Lake, go south for a couple miles, then roughlyNortheast for the rest of the hike. Our X was at the Northeast corner of a place called Enos Lake. As LODs, it was our job to manage breaks, ensure that everyone was alright, encourage map checks, and help lead the group to the X. We also had to make self-sufficient groups for the trip, meaning that every hiking group would have a tent, fly, stove, bear rope, and foot kit should they not make it to the X for any reason. My group consisted of Max, Lily, Zach, Jason, and Jamie. We packed up and left camp at 10:30 AM as the first group.