Day 5 would prove to be the most adventurous day of our trip and a little bit sketchy at times.
It was about 45 F. when we woke up at about 4:00 AM, but the temperature was still dropping. It would bottom out at about 39 F. as we started our first hike of the trip in the dark. We would cross the Continental Divide today and we had 10.82 miles to cover. Our next campsite was 6M7 near the Fox Creek Patrol Cabin. Going from the Thorofare valley over the Continental Divide would be a steady climb of about 1,800 feet so we wanted to get an early start.
We broke camp at about 4:30 AM in pitch black with only dim headlamps and batteries running low. After getting our food bags down we filled our packs and took a few minutes to replace the batteries in our headlamps. I recall the tremendous difference that made. We now lit the forest up as we started our hike out at about 5:30 AM. The Sun wouldn’t come up until about 6:08 AM. We knew we couldn’t cross the river in the dark, but our plan was to be on the shore of the Yellowstone River at first light so that we wouldn’t waste any daylight.
We had on several layers including our rain gear but we were still freezing. We got to the designated river fording spot, but we didn’t like what we saw. The river looked way too deep for our liking at that spot. It was still pretty dark out so we stuck around until we had better light to assess the situation. By about 6:30 AM we knew we didn’t want to cross at that spot. We would spend the next two hours scouting up and downstream for a better crossing location. We couldn’t find any better crossing areas, but I thought it was still too risky so we kept looking. This area is the confluence of Thorofare Creek and the Yellowstone River so we decided to cross Thorofare Creek which would give us access to other parts of the Yellowstone River. Our hope was that we would find a safer way to get across the Yellowstone. We ended up making our first waist high crossing through Thorofare Creek at about 8:45 AM. We stripped down to our underwear to cross so that we would have dry clothes when we got to the other side. Luckily, the temperature had risen to about 47 F. by this time. The water was a lot colder though. I crossed first and then Zachary shuttled both of our packs to me. He then came across. We dried off and put our clothes back on. We then had to find a better way across the Yellowstone River. After another 30 minutes we found an easy way across the Yellowstone River. The water was a little bit above our ankles. We dried off, Zach decided to eat some breakfast while I replaced my blister bandages for the day. We were back on the trail by 10:30 AM. It was a great relief to be across the most challenging water crossing yet. However, we had only gone about half a mile and were now about three hours behind schedule.
This is where we ended up crossing the Yellowstone River.
After crossing the Yellowstone River it wasn’t long before we started our climb out of the Thorofare Valley. Here is a hazy shot looking back into the Thorofare as we were climbing out.
There was a mule deer not too far from the trail that just sat and watched us as we took pictures of it.
We made it to the Continental Divide about 2:30 PM. We had delayed our lunch so that we could eat at the Continental Divide “Restaurant”. We were a little disappointed that there were no signs marking the spot. We had hoped to get some selfies with a sign showing that we were crossing it. However, to mark the occasion, I took a screen shot of my DeLorme inReach Explorer iPhone App showing our location. We topped out at about 9,366 feet. After a lunch of hard salami in a tortilla shell with a candy bar for dessert we got back on our way.
I think the DeLorme inReach Explorer was one of several great purchases that I made for this trip. The inReach Explorer is a GPS that also has two way satellite texting, map tracking via the Internet, weather reports, and an SOS feature for emergencies. I had planned out our daily routes and marked certain points of interest before leaving home. Those were all loaded into the inReach which I also had an iPhone app for. The iPhone app connects to the inReach via Bluetooth which makes map and weather report viewing as well as texting a lot easier. Family and friends enjoyed the ability to track us in real-time via the Internet. The inReach allowed us to stay on track, keep in touch, and have a sense of security in the event something went wrong.
After crossing the Continental Divide the terrain changed a bit. There were areas with large boulders like the picture below.
If we hadn’t been running late we would have taken a break at Mariposa Lake. It is a beautiful small lake on the West side of the Continental Divide. There is a campsite here which is probably a great place to watch wildlife.
After Mariposa Lake and about two miles from the Fox Creek Patrol Cabin we got a huge surprise. Since we were running so far behind we were moving pretty fast down the trail. We had also quit using our bear bells since that reduced our chances of seeing wildlife. In bear country, moving fast with little noise can be a bad combination.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw something move so I stopped. Off to the left of the trail about 15 to 20 yards was the ass end of a black bear digging for some bugs or roots near a downed tree. Zachary was behind me by only a few feet. I yelled “BLACK BEAR” as I reached for my bear spray. The black bear turned a bit just as surprised as us. I locked eyes with the bear for about five seconds as we both wondered what the other was going to do. The bear ended the short stalemate by hopping over the downed tree. The bear was gone, but our hearts were still racing. After another 30 seconds of marveling at what had just happened we decided we should exit the area quickly, but a little more cautiously than we had entered it. Our heads were now on a swivel.
I had imagined that I would have the presence of mind to quickly hit the GoPro video camera record button if we saw anything cool. I was wrong. While the whole encounter only lasted five seconds, I never even considered hitting the record button. I was too busy pulling my bear spray from the holster which to my surprise took a lot longer than I thought. This was one more moment that were meant for just Zach and I.
In hindsight, we were very lucky that we hadn’t surprised a mamma grizzly with cubs. This story would have been much different and probably written by someone else in a bear attack report. Many lessons learned with this encounter.
Below is our approach to the Fox Creek Patrol Cabin. The cabin can bee seen in the tree line at about the center of the picture. As you can tell by my selfie picture, it was a long day and I was pretty beat.
After visiting the patrol cabin we back tracked about 300 yards to our campsite (6M7). We arrived at camp at about 6:30 PM. The cooking area was at the edge of some trees and was in pretty poor shape. The fire ring was about the size of a small pizza and there were no logs to sit on. This campsite was by far the worst one we had camped at. We took some time to build up and extend the fire ring a bit by adding a nice rock wall wind block. We also hauled a couple of large logs to the area for seating. We left it better than we found it.
We set our tents up about 150 yards away in the open field.
The high temperature for the day had hit about 79 F. We had become used to the highs of about 80 F. and the lows of about 40 F. Given that we arrived to camp later than expected, we were a little off routine as we rushed to get everything done before dark. I forgot to check the weather report for our new home. That would prove to be yet another surprise.