The purpose of this article is to document a huge coincidence which we were a part of on this hike, so it is by no means a complete description of the hike.
On 9/05/16 Shelley and I woke from our 8,500' camp on day 2 of our 4-day hike on the Bechler River Trail in southwest Yellowstone. Winds were strong, temperatures were cold, and there was a mixture of rain and snow falling. Based on the crappy weather we decided to forego breakfast for a few hours and hike to lower ground, where hopefully the weather would be more dining friendly. We packed the majority of our supplies while still inside our tent, hopped out to quickly pack our tent and the remainder of our gear in miserable weather, and got the hell out of there.
We hiked for several hours in near whiteout conditions, including a trek across a meadow with stretches of 8-10" deep water which we didn't even attempt to find a way around. At one point a short while later I completely lost my bearings, thinking we were headed east (back towards our campsite) when in reality we were headed southwest (correct). We had to have complete faith in our GPS readings which provided the only reassurance that we were headed in the right direction. Such disorientation had never happened to me before. We didn't even think about pausing when we passed campsite 9D4, our reserved campsite for the night.
The weather finally started to improve after several hours and 1000'+ feet of elevation loss. Arriving at campsite 9B8 the sun suddenly appeared in full force. With a deer grazing nearby, a small waterfall behind the camp, nice flat tent spots, and the appearance of the sun, Shelley dubbed the site “Shangri La”. Admittedly it was a nice site, but I suspect that part of the reason Shelley was so infatuated with it was because of the crappy weather we’d been hiking in all day. With the site unoccupied, Shelley was all for making it our camp, but since it was only 3:00 in the afternoon I was in favor of logging a few more miles before calling it a night.
We took a very short stroll down the trail and studied the first of our three fords of the Bechler River which we would have to make on this hike. Although fairly long it didn’t look terribly deep, so I used this fact to make my case that we should continue hiking a bit more and get one of the three fords out of the way. We were still quite wet from the precipitation earlier in the day so it only made sense to put a ford behind us.
We walked back to Shangri La and Shelley debated with herself for a few minutes, then decided it would be best to continue with our hike a little longer. The ford was not too bad, although I thought it turned out to be surprisingly deep and swift for so far up the river; it made me dread the thought of the two fords which still awaited us downstream.
After the ford we continued one more mile down the trail to campsite 9B7. Since the site was unoccupied, and Shelley and I would never think of continuing and being forced to make an illegal campsite (ahem), we called it a day and began setting up our camp. While setting up camp two hikers appeared heading up the trail, and we grimaced at the prospect that this might be their site (Yellowstone backcountry campsites are made on an advance reservation basis). We breathed a sigh of relief as they passed the junction without a pause and continued up the trail.
A few minutes later two more hikers appeared, but this time we were not so fortunate and we braced ourselves for the coming meeting. We already knew that if the campers wanted us gone we would pack up and leave, but the two gentlemen immediately welcomed us to use their site, and selected a tent spot some distance from ours. The two hikers were Scott from Portland and Dwight from Fort Worth.
We got to know each other a little over dinner and shared a few stories of our adventures. We mentioned that we had climbed Colter Peak during our hike through the Thoroughfare region of the park a number of years ago, and Scott and Dwight told us of their aborted attempt of the same peak.
I awoke the next morning to cold temperatures but clear skies. By the time I put on all my damp clothing and emerged from our tent it was nearly 6:40 am, a massive sleep-in for me, but what else can you do on a cold dark morning but savor the warmth of your sleeping bag? With the help of some fuel from our stove tank I was able to get a small campfire going. When we had started the hike several days before campfires were banned due to wildfire hazard, but with the precipitationof the last 24 hours surely this ban had been lifted by now? Frankly I didn’t care - I was cold and still wet from the previous day.
After heating our morning coffee and breakfast I boiled a pot of water for Scott and Dwight, partial payment for allowing us to poach their campsite. They had still not emerged from their tent, but we figured they would be rising shortly.
After they had joined us at the campfire and had their breakfast, we swapped a few more stories. Our hike of Colter Peak came up again, and Shelley mentioned that I had lost my GPS on that hike. Scott asked when this hike took place, and I told him it was August of 2008. It turned out that Scott had found my GPS about 3 weeks later when they had attempted to climb Colter Peak. One has to pause for a minute and contemplate the size of Yellowstone, along with the fact that we were hiking off-trail 17+ miles from the nearest road, to realize how unlikely this was. Eight years down the road, to run into the hikers who made this extremely lucky find just boggles my mind.
I’d actually posted a photo of Colter Peak on facebook.com, which mentioned my lost GPS in the caption.