In order to meet Gary, the trail angel, in time for a ride back to trail, our morning started early. We checked out of our room at the Blue Sky Motel, and began making our way down the street. Gary was able to pick us out of the people heading into the restaurant for breakfast, it was not a difficult task, and we loaded up in his car. There was an amber glow in the air. We had noticed more smoke and a red tinted sky slowly barreling into town as we drove away. As he drove us out of town he pointed out some places we needed to come to visit on our next trip to Lincoln. The conversation did not carry on too long before the fires were brought up. The fires had finally rerouted us, but new information was popping up daily. However, it did not appear that all the rangers knew the most current details. All we knew was that the reroute would take us through an old burn area through Indian Meadows and then past Heart Lake before meeting back up with the official trail.
We parted ways with Gary, who wished us safety and luck. Being out here did not make much of a difference, for the smoky haze still sat heavy on us. The air was hot like midday but it could not have been later than 8:00am. We hiked rolling hills until we dropped down towards Heart Lake where we stopped for lunch.
The water was still and tinted a melancholy silver reflecting the smoke in the sky. Everything was quiet as we sat there snacking on peanut M&Ms and cheese. Garbelly decided to jump in for a quick swim. Upon wading out in the cold water, he broke the silence with his yelps and coos. After he dried off and we packed up, we began back down trail now through dense trees that even the sun was having trouble penetrating.
We climbed down, and then we started climbing up again. Just when we gained elevation, we would lose it. It felt like dusk before we broke out of the trees in a more open climb. It was tough to tell where the ground stopped and the sky began. Everything was the same hue of orange. We were in a burn area again. Rather than shadows the dark contrasts of the land in front of us were from what was left of burnt trees.
We quickly ascended a steep narrow trail until we were dumped out in this bizarre gully on top of the hill. Folded into the elbow of the mountain range we were on, we saw where the original trail cut through, and we hopped back on.
In the callused ground lay the tracks of a grizzly fossilized in the scorched mud. The reality of the strength and size of the animal set in. Now we were in bear country. Critter stepped her foot into the pad and ran her fingers along the imprints from the claws. An immense quietness overcame both of us. We continued on climbing past a water source that was apparently tucked in the sage brush. We had enough water so that we didn’t have to stop. We saw a plastic baggie under a rock with the words calling the attention of a particular hiker and informing them about a water source. We placed the baggie back under the rock and climbing up short switchbacks to the ridge. The sun was beginning to set or so we thought. The smoke had moved in so thick that the sun was nothing but a red saucer in the sky. Enjoying the view from the ridge with the Scapegoat Wilderness surrounding us, we decided to bunk down on a flat spot just out of sight of trail and on a spot just large enough for our tent. We ate dinner shielded from the wind as we looked out at the sunset.
We decided to camp here mainly due to having cell phone service. Our good friend was finishing up his run at a race around Mt. Blanc in France, and we wanted to make sure we could recover updates. However, as we sat there our phones were silence. A type of loneliness set in. No sounds of birds or scurrying of critters comforted us. No sounds of civilization, and no other hikers. Everything was still except for the fire growing on the horizon.
Garbelly & Critter