Walk on the Wild Side 

A family of Brits faces beauty and the beasts along the Sky Rim Trail

Page 3 of 3

The storm swept past us without incident, leaving nowhere to hide from the sun. Trail dust caked our legs. A layer of it sanded my teeth. My shirt clung to my body; the straps from the pack pulled. We kept walking, draining our water bottles to the last warm swallows. Whitebarks gave way to fir and spruce. Chitchat on the trail quieted; everyone found a different mind space to handle the discomfort.

click to enlarge HOWIE WOLKE

Then the trail dipped into a forested draw. I crossed from hot, dry air into the fertile smell of moisture, moss and ferns. I felt a cool breeze coming off the creek. I could almost taste the iciness, bubbling from a spring up the hill: sweet, pure Rocky Mountain water. It's so clean here I rarely treat it, a decision many clients make as well.

I shrugged off my pack and plunged my face in the creek, the cold burning in my nose. I sucked it down like a moose, then pulled my head out and blinked the water out of my eyes. My British cohorts, a bit more civilized than their guide, looked at me flatly, filled their bottles, and sipped.

click to enlarge HOWIE WOLKE

"How long 'til camp?" the daughter, Emma, asked.

We were only a quarter-mile away, but I gave her my standard answer.

"Depends on how many grizzlies we run into. Someone could snap their ankle. We could get pinned down by a lightning storm. A tree could fall and crush someone... "

They rolled their eyes. It was probably the 10th time I'd rattled off the list. But I wanted them to focus on the journey. I wanted them to feel self-reliance and wonderment, to experience the unpredictability, something they'd traveled halfway around the globe to feel. We were on our own. We were in the wilderness.

We made it to camp without a mishap. Our tents skirted a large meadow and we watched a herd of elk dine on a lush hillside nearby.

Fat blooms of flowers greeted us, one of the best blooms in meory. Fat clouds of mosquitoes also said hello, happy for a blood meal after the aperitif of the wildflowers. I was glad I'd packed my head net. I tied a bandana around my neck and covered the rest of my body in clothing.

"They don't show a horsefly buzzing past your face in the pictures of Yellowstone," Jane exclaimed at one point.

We hiked to Daly Creek for our next overnight, and woke on our sixth morning to fresh grizzly scat on the edge of camp. The day hike back up to the Sky Rim Trail was like enjoying the company of an old friend. Once again, the threat of a storm in the west drove us downhill to the wildflowers and mosquitoes.

The final morning we packed up. As we walked across the upper meadow of Daly Creek we spooked a small band of elk, antlers in velvet. We continued on until one of the clients spotted something large and brown—a grizzly?—in the nearby trees. I squinted. We tensed. It was a cow moose.

Relief washed over the group. Jane had been petrified of seeing a bear all week.

"This has been just an amazing trip," she said, flushed.

"Oh, c'mon Jane, let's find a bear," Paul said, teasing her.

"I could stay here for another week," Robin chimed in.

But we were just visitors here. A bald eagle watched overhead as we finished the hike out.


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