Yellowstone Winterlike Llamalot:

Llama-packing Ferris Fork & Bechler Meadow:

in Yellowstone National Park


September 25-28, 1999
by Rob Jones 
(Text and Photos © copyright by Rob Jones and George Cole)
(Click on the THUMBNAILS to see larger images)
(Thanks to George Cole for devining this trip and sending photos!)

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Below Dananda Falls
Below Dananda Falls, Photo by George
Ferris Fk HS
Bruce & Rob, in Ferris Fk HS; Photo by George
Cicero & Snow say "what stream crossing?" Photo by Rob
Topo map of the Bechler area
Topo map of the Bechler area; (1160x825, loads slowly)

Sites to visit:

Greater Yellowstone Coalition:

Alliance for the Wild Rockies:

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Day 1:Timberland to Dunanda, or, Lodgepole Chopsticks: (About 10 miles.) Bruce yelled "Ho!" as he watched the big Lodgepole hit the dirt, spraying needles and poofing dust as it fell across the trail. We (George, Bruce and I) all noted, with heightened senses, the clacking of Lodgepole Pines in the gale, clacking against and across each other like giant chopsticks. George's llamas (Alfie, Snowball, and Ciscero) largely ignored the activity. The sky is a murky gray, reminiscent of those from the grand Yellowstone fires of 1988. The prowling storms did not jump us as we crossed the tawny grass meadows and forded Boundary Creek with frozen, numb feet, then an equally icy slough.

The GPS said it was 5.9 miles from the trailhead to camp 9A2, where we quickly set up camp in a meadow, beyond the falling reach of the waving Lodgepoles, and hiked the mile and a half to Dunanda Falls, where we struggled upstream in a lava rock-studded gorge to a hotsprings. Lounging in the warm waters, we watched the final sunlight play across the canyon, knowing full well we would be hiking back in the dark, but hoping for an early arrival of the full moon. We talked about "Dunanda Falls, step by step, inch by inch, slowly we turned....." paraphrased from a very old Three Stooges episode.

The harvest moon did greet us as we approached camp. The temperature was plunging, and a hastily built and lovely fire helped ward off the sub 20 degree low. As the temperature continued its downward drift, we would bake one side, turn to sit on our sitting logs, then bake the other side.... Elk chortled and bugled somewhere in the meadow before the the next day's sun arrived, their eerie and wistful whistling haunted my pre-dawn dreams.
Below Dananda Falls
Below Dananda Falls
(Click the image for a full-size view; Photo by George)

Day 2: Bechler Slushy: (11 miles.) Commentary: The snow started again as I strapped on ice-cold sandals for yet another (!!!) crossing of the frigid Bechler River. I was soon crotch deep in this wintry flow despite walking on tip-toes, and my parts cringed because they had not yet fully recovered from the previous two fords. We all whined a bit as our feet went numb. During the last ford, I stumbled, getting wet and sloshing some water into my boots, which I was carrying in my free hand. Continuing on, we would ford the Bechler one more time to get to camp 9B9, near the patrol cabin, which is about a mile South of the Three-Rivers Junction.

The day: Today, we hiked through broad, delightful meadows, accompanied by a view of the Tetons. Hiking up the canyon of the Bechler, we passed Ouzel, Colonnade, and Iris Falls, which was ringed by ice left over from last night's freezing mist. Basalt cliffs, amber ferns, red raspberries, old and wrinkled huckleberries, were features along the trail. We grazed a bit on the last of the thimbleberries, raspberries, and a few desiccated huckleberries. A layer of frost formed on the VE-24 tent shortly after sunset in the small meadow.

Day 3: Ferris Five Fords: (11 miles, visit Ferris Fork HS, camp at 9B3.) Commentary: The rock I'm sitting on vibrates and thumps. Behind me, there’s a gushing, throaty sound in the tiny grotto, while out in the Ferris pool a thunderous rumble can be felt through the soles of our feet, emanating from the bubbling vortex. It's the highly-ranked Ferris Fork hot springs, a 9.4 (out of 10!) on George's HS pages. A grapple storm bounces snow-pellets off our heads, and a hungry Ouzel attempts to perch on George's head as we bob like Halloween apples in the caldron of the luxurious Ferris Fork HS.

The day: We got up to thick frozen dew and frozen water bottles. And the bottles were inside the tent. In this no-fire, low-impact camp, we were happy to see the sunlight creeping toward us as we breakfasted on pancakes and syrup thawed in bubbling tea water. With two backpacking stoves blasting at full throttle, we were almost able to keep up with the demand for early morning hot water. Leaving the frost laden llamas lounging in the white-dusted meadow, we strapped on sandals, their straps frozen stiff, and forded the Bechler River near the patrol cabin for the first of three times today. Then, we hiked to Three-Rivers Junction, past old and present thermal features. Here, the Bechler is dramatically born by the joining of the Ferris, Phillips, and Gregg Forks. At the Old Faithful Junction, we deduced that we were at the half way point of the 30 mile stroll from Old Faithful to Bechler Ranger Station. Shortly thereafter, we dropped off the forested ridge and into a sulfury, steam-shrouded pocket bounded by a black sand and polished rock-cobbled Ferris Fork with a multi-colored cone containing an azure pool, bubbling like a witches' caldron. "Ahh," each of us sighed as we entered the glorious Ferris Fork HS, where hot and frigid water mixes in a slowly swirling jacuzzi described at the start of today's entry.

After the grapple storm stopped and our skin was sufficiently prune-like, we tramped back to and across the Bechler ford for lunch and to pack up. Then, we hiked a return route back down along the Bechler, past falls and cascades, to the edge of a large meadow segment at camp 9B3. George noted that there are about 42 falls in Yellowstone, and fully half of them are in this corner of the park. It was a long day, after we endured two more fords of the Bechler and hiked about 11 miles. I had my 2 layers of capilene and a pile jacket and hat on almost all day. The only time I felt fully defrosted was when we lounged in the HS. Fires are permitted at this camp, and we greatly enjoyed one. Even with the fire, hat, pile and down jackets, etc. were required. I slept with my contacts and other delicate stuff to prevent them from freezing.

Day 4: Egg McGeorge: (about 6 miles.) Commentary: The coyotes yipped, somewhere at the edge of the expansive meadow. Looking across the open span, I eventually located the pair, frozen in stance, apparently listening for mice or voles. Then, one pounced with an arching grace, but I could not see the result. I assume that a rodent became the Coyote's breakfast. Thus began the crispy morning of Day 4 of the Bechler Meadow hike and llamafest.

The day: Water in the bottles was frozen, sandals were layered with ice, and the tawny grasses of the meadow were frosted white as the first grays of morning replaced the colorless light of the harvest moon. I was up first and started a fire, then the stove, preparing for the Hayduke (of Ed Abbey origins) ritual mantra of "chemicals, chemicals, I need chemicals!" We enjoyed the warmth of the fire and wondrous egg McGeorge (toasted muffins layered with eggs (rehydrated dehydrated), cheese and TVP sausage). We packed wet tents and headed out the direct route to the Bechler ranger station. As Bruce, and I tiptoed across the condemned swinging bridge crossing the Bechler, George prepared to ford the river because we could not figure out how to get the llamas to tip-toe across the swinging cables. Alfie did not wait for George to get ready, and all three llamas forded on their own. Later, they all refused to cross Boundary Creek. After a brief llama rodeo, everything was satisfactorily worked out.
Cicero & Snow say "what stream crossing?
(Click the image for a full-size view; Photo by Rob)

After stowing our gear in the vehicle at the TH, and getting the llamas ready to ride in the trailer, we visited Cave Falls before driving back to Ashton and then Idaho Falls. Great thanks to George for organizing this event, and for George's three lugging llamas, Alfie, Snowball, and Ciscero.

The next day, I visited with Wade at Timberline in IF about the Backpacker Challenge, which I had entered, and later won the grand prize, a Lowe fanny-pack. (I had hiked 420 miles, visited 34 peaks, and 54 lakes.) Now, that's the kind of "work" that I love....
Topo map of the Bechler area
Topo map of the Bechler area
(Click the image for a full-size view (1160x825, loads slowly)

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Cicero & Snow say "bye for now."
(Click the image for a full-size view; Photo by Rob)

Take good care, Rob