Overcrowding! Biblical traffic jams! Cats and dogs living together!
The eclipse was supposed bring it all out. From record sales to the crazies, we were gonna get it all.
We got nothing.
No, really…I walked over to a trailhead the morning of the eclipse and saw no cars. Not just a few cars, but none. Zero. Zilch. Nada. The store did its lowest level of business in a decade. Apparently everybody did listen to all the warnings from the Park Service to stay away.
That being said, I still did my long-ass hike to get away from it all…then I did something very, very dumb.
Oh, the first part of the hike went well. And let me tell you, being on top of a mountain to watch the eclipse was seriously cool. The light started to fade, and to turn to that particular shade of orange-red that you really only get at dusk (which looked truly odd with the short, noon-time shadows!).
Then it got strange.
The more the sun disappeared behind the moon, the more quiet it got. I don’t mean a normal hush. No, by the time of totality (well, 98% for me) it was totally and completely silent.
Animals…birds…even the damned insects, they all went quiet. That was, honestly, the eeriest part. With this much life and activity around Yellowstone, it is never silent here. But it was yesterday, and it stayed that way for all three minutes of the totality.
That is what surprised me. That is what awed me.
Of course, none of that was the stupid part. I saved the stupid part for after the eclipse.
So, there I am sitting on top of a mountain. I had a perfectly good trail to go back down. Did I use that trail? No, sir. Not me. I’m the damned explorer. I’m the bear-whisperer. I go where I want, trail or no trail.
I decided to scramble down the opposite side of the mountain, and head to a lake I know a few miles away. I would just pick up another trail there, and head back home. Easy peasy.
It sucked. No, really – it sucked donkey balls. I almost died (err, well, almost got severely injured, anyway) more than once on that particular little jaunt.
Where the mountain wasn’t trying to kill me, the bears were. Now, keep in mind, I do a lot of off-trail hiking. More than is good for me, in all honesty. But, in my defense, I am very good at it, and I very much enjoy it.
And, yes, I always carry bear spray with me. In all the miles of backcountry stuff I’ve done, I’ve never had to so much as pull that can of supercharged pepper spray out of my pocket. Yesterday, halfway down that mountain and walking through a meadow, I had the fuckin’ thing in my hand, ready to fire…and ready to GTFO as soon as I did use it.
Thank God I didn’t run into the (very large) grizzly who owned the tracks, scat and beds I saw, because he would not have been happy to see me walking through the very heart of his territory…and I almost certainly would not be typing this right now.
Yes, it was indeed one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done.
With the nights in the thirties, and the days starting to cool, it is beginning to feel like fall not just to us humans, but also to the animals. The elk are ready to start bugling for their rut, and the bears are starting to really get after the food in preparation for hibernation in a couple of months.
I think my off-trail days are over for the year. There’s over a thousand miles of trails in Yellowstone, maybe I should check out a few of them, instead.
I will miss that backcountry stuff, though.