Thursday, August 24, 2017

Shoshone Lake and a Total Eclipse of the Sun

After 8 months of planning, building and practicing, 16 boys and 9 leaders (notice how I didn't say "adults") gathered at Ducourant/Clayton's house on a Sunday evening.  The idea to have a high adventure at Shoshone Lake had started clear back last fall, but it gathered momentum.  At first it was a canoe trip.  Then the boys each made a kayak for the trip.  Some of them even floated. Then the Priests and Teachers were combined, and permits were applied for.

Then they asked Bishop Gabe for permission.  Although I have been on this trip three prior times (once with the families, once with scouts, and once with Rick VanWagoner and our dads, I was reluctant.  These lakes can be dangerous, mostly because of the combination of very cold water and fast-moving storms.  I have always been intimidated to take other peoples' children into danger.  But it finally came clear to me that we cannot keep children in bubble wrap or china cupboards.  If they are to develop into something more--like the parable of the talents--they have to be invested and not hidden. Besides, it is the trip of a lifetime. So I agreed, and claimed my spot for a fourth trip.

Then I asked the Stake President for permission (distance greater than 150 miles, water activity, bears) and after explaining our training (every boy has swimming, lifesaving and canoeing merit badges) and preparations, he acquiesced: "Just don't get me on the evening news."

So we packed and had pack checks.  We selected dehydrated meals--Mountain House is fantastic!--because the weight and volume limits of a canoe trip are as strict as a backpacking trip.  We had fishing lessons (Gold Jakes, with red spots and no barbs), and CPR training. We bought dry bags, we bought expedition weight thermals, and we bought bucket hats.  I got Dad's old Mitchell 300 reel restrung, and gathered up an expedition first aid kit.

Then it was time to go. 11 plastic canoes and 1 aluminum canoe (thanks, Dad!), six homemade kayaks, and a trailer full of gear on a Sunday evening. Here most of us are:

Wives, mothers and families gathered for the sendoff.

And we were excited to go. Almost all of us. Steve Garlick and Kevin Affleck in the great Affleck bus-mobile-thing.

Stewart Burbidge, who has been to Shoshone once (family backpack trip.)

Preston Affleck, one of our most intrepid outdoorsmen.

Daylan Merritt, one of our seniors.

Larsen Williams, another senior, who spent every night--including some chilly ones--in a hammock.

We rolled to Hoback Junction, just outside of Jackson.  Did you know that the word "hoback" means "squash" in Korean? I'm sure it is not a Korean name, though... We got there at midnight and were rolling again at 7am into Teton National Park, and then on into Yellowstone by the South Entrance.  There, we got our watercraft checked for invasive species (second of three checks), got our backcountry permits, got our fishing licenses, and a 20-minute training video not for the faint of heart.  We learned of bear hazards, water hazards, weather hazards, and leave-no-trace principles.

We got out tcampsites at Lewis Lake campground (almost too late when we arrived at 11 am) and set up and then dashed down the road to see some of the sights.

Here I am at the Shoshone Lake overlook, sporting my second bucket hat (first one got kicked out of the car somewhere on the road the night before.)  This hat, too, was destined to sleep with the fishes, but not until the very last day.  The red chums are a tacit acknowledgement that I might go into the drink and I'm not very good without my glasses.  The gaitor around my neck is an incredibly brilliant idea: it can be pulled up over my mouth nose and ears on sunny days when the sunscreen got left in the bear bag back at camp...  That storm in the background dumped a bunch of water on us in the late afternoon, which taught us which tents needed to be swapped out with the spare industrial strength tents we brought.  So that was good.

While we were setting up camp, we met Jamie Everill Utley and her family.  They had set up a camp, only to discover that it was already occupied and by the time they moved, there were no more sites.  We invited them to squat in our site for a few days so we would have one when we came back off the lake at the end of the week.  Worked out pretty good.

Tuesday dawned calm and cool.  This is the type of lake we wanted to travel on.

We got the canoes out, along with a frightening amount of gear and food, and literally took over the camp marina for an hour.

It was chaos for a while, but everyone got into canoes with all of their gear.  Two of the boys decided they wanted to trek in the kayaks. The other kayaks got folded up and put in the bottoms of canoes. 

So we prayed and launched. Although it was a bit later than we wanted, the water stayed calm for the Lewis Lake crossing. Several of the canoes had to learn about steering, and some paddled two miles for each mile we traveled. All paddlers got better as the week progressed.

The two intrepid kayakers discovered that there is a big difference in puttering around at East Canyon and propelling their craft several miles.  They were both spent before we got to the river, and ended up in canoes.

We paddled as far as we could up the Lewis Lake inlet (maybe a mile) before the current and the shallow riverbed made us get out and walk. So we stopped and had lunch and got ready to pull.  Here's Daylan.  Always smiling. He slept in a hammock most nights, too.

Dallin is one of our younger expedition members.

Kyle helmed that flawed canoe he is sitting in (it is his own) and managed the GPS and the ten-pack of diet Mountain Dew.

Danny is our TQ activity leader--formerly known as Varsity Coach.  He brought all of our permit information on his phone, which ran out of batteries before we arrived at the lake.

And we pulled.  The water was MUCH less cold than I remembered from 40 years ago.  Then, I remember having to get out of the river frequently because the cold water hurt.  In mid-August, the water was tolerable and almost pleasant when the hot sun came out. This was a critical indication that going into the water would be aggravating, but maybe not tragic. The most aggravating thing about our haulage was pushing our legs against the current.  Felt some different muscles that night...

We got to our camp, which turned out not to really be our camp, but we didn't know it because of the phone batteries, until the rightful owners showed up later to claim it.  In Danny's defense, the Park changed our reservation a couple of times, including once just the previous week.  Abby and Josh were gracious and offered to trade us camps, which was a bonus for them.

Then we went fishing.  I was surprised at how easily the old patterns and rhythms returned.  I remembered how to troll in a canoe.  I remembered the feel of a fish hitting the lure.  I remembered guiding the canoe by focusing on a distant point.  And we caught fish.  Danny's 22-inch brown was probably the largest fish we caught.  And the tastiest.

I caught my share: 4-5 lake trout in the 16-18-inch range.  Not as hard fighters, but still as good.

We got off the lake just in time to get lashed by a furious rain/hail/wind/lightning storm.  All of our tents held and no one was injured.  It was the last precip we saw all week, though we had a couple of windy days. And when it stops raining, the sky is spectacular.

The next morning we had frost on the tents and ice in the canoes.

We had to move camp every night.  Not sure if that was what we requested or what the Park made us do.  So we packed up a dew-wet camp, got on the water early so it was calm, got to the next camp and set back up to dry.  We got pretty good at quick and efficient moves. Here is our flotilla crossing the narrows to another camp.

On the second day, we had planned to go to the Shoshone geyser basin (pronounced "geezer" by the British couple we heard in the Park later...) but the wind was contrary and the chop was high. So we decided to hike. 7-8 miles round trip.  How hard could it be?  Turns out the real trail was quite far inland from that camp, so we bushwhacked over 50 years of deadfall and underbrush. For about an hour.

We finally found the real trail, but by then the time was far spent. We held a council and some headed back to camp, while the others upped the pace and headed on.  They did find and play at the basin, and then they RAN an hour back to camp. Needless to say, I was in the non-running contingent.

They got back, we had dinner, and then everyone gathered on the warm obsidian gravel beach.  No bugs on this trip. We had two boys in the group that will be going on missions in the next 2-3 weeks, so we ended up telling missionary stories and answering questions.  Really a memorable experience.

We camped some more...

(this was the view from one of the latrines)

...and fished some more. And ate more fish.  Here, Steve Garlick shows us how to fillet our fish.

The fillets cooked up nicely and added a lot to our starvation rations of dehydrated food.

On the last morning we were treated to a spectacular sunrise, clear skies and a calm Shoshone Lake.

We packed and fished our way back to the inlet.

By the time we floated down the river and got to Lewis, though, the morning wind was stiff in our faces, and we had an 18-inch chop going.  It might have been smart for us to wait a bit and see if the wind settled.  But we launched. Though we were all stronger paddlers than just a few days ago, it was a battle.  Paddling as hard as I could, I pulled something in a ribcage that makes my eyes water whenever I sneeze.  But my aggravating vs. tragic theory was tested when the flawed canoe Kyle was driving started taking on water from the whitecaps. About 50 yards offshore, while we all watched helplessly, his canoe did the Titanic thing, nose in the air, and capsized. It was a little bit unsettling.

I did not get a picture for some reason.

The water was not deadly cold, and both occupants were content to swim the canoe into the shore to empty, dry out and reconfigure.  All of the bags floated and got rescued.  Only a fishing rod was lost. Most of the flotilla continued across the lake, while we parked on the shore and dried out.  

While we were drying we wandered up the shore and found a mini-hot springs.

After another half an hour, the wind shifted, the lake calmed, we reloaded the canoes so Kyle could paddle the warped one by himself, and completed the crossing. We got to camp, unloaded, set up again and then hustled out to see some more Jellystone sights. Hot springs...



...and wildlife.  There is a huge bull elk in this picture with a rack spanning at least 6 feet wide.

When we got back to camp, Terisa and Laura Affleck had arrived, and were negotiating with a ranger.  We had left our camp a bit too soon and hadn't policed up the trash or put away all of our food.  We had too many people in the two campsites we had and the gear trailer was parked illegally.  They  figured out how to get us another site, picked up the trash, promised we would move the truck, and swore we would be quiet at 10pm.  The previous night we were there, a crabapple in the next camp chewed us out at 10:03 about quiet time, and then bent the ranger's ear the next day.  But Terisa and Laura got us off the hook.  No tickets, and the ranger got a couple of fresh doughnuts. (Terisa had earlier negotiated a warning ticket instead of a speeding ticket, so she was already warmed up.)

Terisa was there to pick me up to go over to Island Park in Idaho in preparation to watch the eclipse. On the way we touristed a bit..

We stayed at Russ and Susan' Sorenson's family cabin right by Mack's Inn. We played in Henry's Fork...

...saw some more wildlife...

...went to a performance at Mack's Inn Playhouse, went to church, and sighted in the telescopes to be used in the eclipse.

I had bought a shower at the Old Faithful Inn ($4.20 including a towel!) on Friday, but it took me a couple of days to get the aluminum off my palms. Terisa had her challenges with hair.
On Sunday we had a picnic in the park and touristed some more.  Lower Falls here...

...and Upper Falls here.

On eclipse Monday, we got on the road at o-dark-thirty and arrived in Rexburg at 7.  We picked a nice west-facing hilltop near the temple and set up two telescopes (with filters, of course) and solar binocs, solar sunglasses and eclipse viewers.  The crowds built and everyone wanted to look through the scopes, which we naturally encouraged.  It was cool to watch the progress of the eclipse in a telescope.  And we could see the sunspots really clearly.

I only took this one picture of the sun through the eyepiece of Russ's 125mm Meade.

When we got to totality, the people all around us really got worked up; when the darkness engulfed us, we got out the binocs and looked at the corona (my favorite!)  and watched the red Bailey's Beads move around the circumference of the moon.  I was unaccountably relieved when the second diamond ring showed up--the sun came back after all! I cheered when the lights went back on, which they did really quickly.  Made me want to study the sun more.  In a larger scope.  In the daytime and not when it is dark and cold and tired.

We joined the traffic problem, but not the Idaho Falls/Pocatello/Tremonton one.  We went through Driggs, Victor, past Palisades (one and a half hours with the cars stopped) and then home through Star Valley and Evanston at freeway speeds. 7-ish hours to do a 5-hour trip. At least it was pretty.

So now, with kids going back to school, and Labor Day coming, it feels like summer is winding down.  But we certainly packed our share of fun stuff into it, without any major injuries. And that is a satisfying feeling.

Love, Grandpa Gabe and Mother Terisa