BOWEN COLUMN: A chronicle of Day 5 of our second annual Yellowstone excursion

Published 9:30 am Thursday, September 29, 2022

There’s nothing like pulling up the tent pegs, loosening the ropes, and preparing to set off home. I couldn’t help but use that metaphor at the little church in Amarillo the following Sunday when we talked on Paul’s great message in Philippians. Paul had said that he was ready to ‘depart’ to be with Christ, a word that was used in the Greek for loosening those tent pegs for the ending – or the beginning, depending how you want to look at it — of a journey. The apostle was ready to do that; and I think our days and nights in Yellowstone have taught me to appreciate the anticipation of such a journey in the spiritual sense.

Todd and I set off early on that Thursday, by 8:15 a.m. We knew we had nine miles to go; so, we got an early start, ready to close out our second annual Yellowstone adventure. The first half of a mile took us along Heart Lake until we came turned north at the Ranger’s Cabin to start the trek up the mountain. We have pictures of us at that cabin because it is the place where we met our ranger Ethan last year when we were preparing to make our last weary climb on that sixth day after being lost in the wilderness for far too long. A flood of memories came back as we passed that cabin, this time under better conditions.

From that old cabin, the trail starts to go uphill immediately. It is mainly a normal dirt trail for a while, probably for a mile or even two. Then the trail becomes more mountainous, and you have to climb over rocks and through some rough terrain. It is one of the best stress tests you will ever need, I can tell you.

It is a beautiful hike, but, obviously, a challenge. At every turn, you can look down at the Heart Lake still and beautiful below with the lovely terrain all around, and you can look up to the Sheridan Mountains hovering over you out in the distance. Of course, when you look straight ahead you see a trail that will require quite a bit more resolution in your heart for you to prevail. You understand.

Gazing at a long, steep trail ahead on this day was better than at any other time, for we knew we had come to the last day. The end, mercifully, was finally in sight, and that thought alone, put an extra pep in our step. I remind you, there was not a ‘rested’ step taken in those 35 miles. Each step, for five hard days, was a tired step, with a heavy backpack pressing down all along the way. But you press ahead because there is no ‘Exit’ sign, and there is no other choice.

The highlight of that day was near the top of the climb when we met a couple of hikers from Denver. Todd was behind me when I ran up on them as they took a break to have lunch before heading down the mountain. Todd went on by and rested on a rock while I talked to them.  It was a father-daughter — Phil Krook and his daughter Kim. They asked if we would sell them some bug spray. I said, “Sure,” and took off my backpack and found them almost a full bottle.

“It’ll cost you,” I told them. “When you get home from your hike, you’ll have to read my story of gettin’ lost in Yellowstone with Todd last year on my website – ‘Frontporchgospel.com’. It’s funny, but I must have told a dozen people about the website on our trip; and since we only met about two people a day, I guess that includes just about everybody.

To make the meeting even more ironic, I learned that Phil is the brother of Larry Krook, who is a member of the church of Christ in Westminister, Colorado outside Denver. We attended that church last year the Sunday after we came out of treacherous wilderness last year. After we all came home, I was glad Kim contacted us to let us know they made it out safely, too. They both have great spirits, as all passer-byers do that you meet in such a place, and their good spirits may have encouraged me to be even more jabbery than usual. Those who know me probably doubt that.

We left our friends with a little prayer on our lips because I know how hard it is to make it up the mountain. Kim wrote later and said the mosquito spray came in handy, but I already knew it would. I told them on the mountain that they were really going to appreciate me in a day or two. I’m sure they used most of that bottle trying to fight off those pesky mountain dragons. They were lucky, too. They had stopped on the mountain for their ‘last meal,’ a Subway sandwich. I could’ve charged them half of a sandwich for the spray. Instead, I just made them listen to an abbreviated version of our ‘Lost in Yellowstone’ trip from last July.

We still had a good four miles out to the Trailhead after we left Phil and Kim. That last bit was slanted downhill, however, since we enjoyed the upward climb on the Sunday evening when we started the hike. 

At one point, my legs must have seen the light of day; because I took off for about two miles and hiked faster than I had at any point in the five days. In fact, Todd, who led most of the trip, got a good ways behind me. Eventually, he caught up and, again, we would finish the hike together.

It was around 5 p.m. that Todd and I walked out of the wilderness to the trailhead, with thankful hearts, and we walked those final weary miles side by side.

I hope one day we get to loosen those tent pegs again and make that final walk out of that wilderness, just as before.