Day 53 – Leaving Heart Lake and Yellowstone

There is still hail on the ground when we wake up and we’re not surprised to see the little thermometer clipped to my pack registering in the mid-40s. However, we can see the sun up over lake, already starting to burn off the morning fog. It looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day for our hike out to the car.

We pack up, grateful to Big Agnes, the maker of our tent, since it held up so well to the punishing weather.

The trail is a little muddy but nothing like La Cloche so we’re making good time, enjoying the beauty of the valley. It’s uphill for the first three miles or so, past the thermals and out of the valley to the divide. It feels like more uphill than I remembered coming down on the way in, but that’s pretty typical. The day is clearing up nicely and the sun is at our backs.

We pass at least a half dozen groups of people coming from the opposite direction and congratulate ourselves for having unknowingly chosen a couple of days of the week when there were few other people about. At one point, we pass a couple about our age sitting on a log, sipping water. We say hello and they ask how far it is to Heart Lake? We left two hours ago, but we have heavy packs and we had to go uphill. I ask if they’re overnighting and they reply that they’re day hiking.

“Long hike,” I say.

“Yes,” says the man. “We’re re-thinking it.”

I look at their cotton sweaters and small bottle of water, nearly empty. I’m hoping they have more water in their packs because they’re only 4 miles into a 15-mile day.

“If you go about half an hour more, you’ll hit a really big, neat thermal,” I say. “You could just go there, see something neat, and call it a day.”

I have no idea what they decided on; we never saw them again.

The hike is a little boring because we’ve seen it all before and we’re pretty much counting the minutes until we’re back at the car. Later Walt refers to this as our “death march” to the car because I am keeping a pretty fast pace.

I start to think about our hiking gear, what we carry compared to what other people carry and what we rely on the most. I learned early from a hiking buddy that Zip-loc bags are a hiker’s best friend. For instance we generally keep all of our food in stuff sacks but it’s easier to find what you’re looking for if food is separated within Zip-loc bags. I put breakfasts in one bag, snacks in another, electrolyte mixes in another, etc. I also use my Zip-locs for trash. Every morning, I place a sandwich-size bag in the large cargo pocket of my hiking pants. Any trash we accumulate through the day, such as protein bar wrappers, goes into that bag. At the end of the day, that baggie goes in a gallon-size bag along with the dinner trash. Zip-locs are also good for anything you want to keep dry. I had my gloves in a bag in the outer back pocket of my backpack so that they were accessible without me having to take off and open up my pack but also dry if it rained.

I also always pack a 30-gallon trash bag that I place in front of the tent, under the fly’s vestibule. We usually place our boots and packs in the vestibule overnight and this not only helps keep those items dry, it gives us a dry place to kneel to get in and out of the tent. It also cuts down on the amount of debris that gets into the tent. I’ve used the same bag for this whole trip.

So, as usual, I am read for the trail to end a good 30 minutes before we find the parking lot and our car. But we make it out in good time. The day is sunny and it’s 60 miles to Jackson, where we will have dinner, do laundry, wander the town before settling down for sleep that is undisturbed by hail or rain or cold.

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