Early this August we went backpacking for the second year at Heart Lake in Yellowstone. The distance is eight miles from trailhead to lake and another two miles around to our campsite. Some campsites are as much as five miles from the head of the lake. We stayed in the same two campsites last year and had similar perfect weather. Misty and hazy this year, with morning fog. The beaver lodging next door again came for a visit, but I had to wait until the third evening before he was willing to approach.
Loons were newly nesting near the lake, and their calls are the wildest sounds I have ever heard. Otherworldly. A wail which sounds just like a wolf howl; a tremolo sound on the wing. Their wing span is enormous; you can hear them in flight from a distance. Listen to these recordings from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site and tell me what you think.
I call these sites the Ritz Carleton of campgrounds. Fields of flowers so thick and lush you can’t walk through them. A musical stream barreling by your tent heading to the lake from the mountain waterfall high above. Plenty of sun for warmth and abundant trees for shade. A beach close by. And then the water.Grizzlies are active in this area. The National Park Service opens Heart Lake for hiking and backpacking in mid-July every year. Until then, the bears are given free reign. Evidently, this year at least one bear was displeased with the mid-summer human incursion. Soon after backpackers arrived, one bear sat on a tent during the night. When the humans made enough noise and commotion, he ran off to the next site and repeated. No matter that these were the sites we occupied two weeks later. A bear can get just about anywhere in short order. No one was hurt, but the bear did make his point. We helped him be good by taking meticulous care to secure all food several feet off the ground.
During our stay, a Park Service helicopter flew in several times with building supplies for the remote ranger cabin. As it circled, a bald eagle and a pair of sandhill cranes took to the air, duplicating the circle. It was as though the birds felt a kindred spirit had arrived and were eager to share the joy of flight.
I have noticed this with water birds and, of course, the beaver. When you backpack, you have time to get into the water and enjoy a swim. There’s no need to hurry out before dark. When you do this, the swans, geese, loons, beaver come to you. It’s as if they are saying, “You look a bit strange, but you’re one of us now.”
Yellowstone in general, and Heart Lake in particular, takes me to another dimension. Straight to the sweet heart of the universe. I get there a handful of other ways, too – and that’s for another posting.
*The Park Service permits you to stay for only two nights at the same Heart Lake campsite. After that, you have to move.