It was just one of those nights when I had to get away from camp for a while. The reason isn’t important, and I left without really giving much thought to my situation.
We were camped in the Lamar Valley, in a very remote section of Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming. The Lamar Valley is famous for it’s amazing wildlife viewing. Bison roam freely (yes, they are wild, and VERY dangerous), wolves hunt in packs, and grizzly bears wander about with the kind of attitude that comes from a species that has no doubt that THEY are the boss. Grizzlies are perhaps the most dangerous animal in Yellowstone. People get trampled and gored by bison, wolves generally don’t mess with humans, but grizzlies can mess with humans as much as they want to, or just ignore them. One never knows.
Joe was a seasonal ranger in Yellowstone for the past three years. This year he was first on scene to an incident where a man was gored by a bison. He was gored right through the scrotum, and tossed in the air, and when he landed had broken his collar bone. You can imagine the internal injuries he had as well. Last year, a man was attacked and killed by a grizzly bear. It happens.
So I walked away from camp, in the dark, wearing just a light pair of long underwear, light weight hiking pants, a t-shirt, light-weight sweater, and a light weight down coat. I had on a hat, and a thin pair of gloves, and some light hikers. For tools, I had a headlamp, and some toilet paper. I don’t think I have to tell you that this wasn’t very smart, but I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time. I was aware that I shouldn’t have been hiking alone at all, let alone in the dark when grizzlies are most active. There had also been a report of a coyote that had been stalking people in that area the day before.
Anyhow, I walked along the dirt road that led from the camp ground, and decided I didn’t want to walk on the road, so I cut off into the woods. My little headlamp lit just far enough for me to maybe see a bison rather than walking into one. It was a little cold on the road, but warmer in the woods. It was October after all, and at somewhere between 7,000 and 8,000 feet, temperatures were probably just a little above freezing.
After wondering through the woods a bit, I thought it would be fun to just experience the night time out there, without the comfort of a sleeping bag, or the safety of a vehicle, so I started to look for a place to ‘bed down, and came across a fallen tree. The trunk had forked off into two trucks near the top, and as it lay on the ground, it offered some protection on two sides. I climbed in to the V of the rotten truck, and saw that it could be quite comfortable in there. I laid some loose bark out on the ground and lay down, with my head uphill. At the uphill end there was a dirt mound, and then there were odd branches sticking out here and there that offered me a little protection. I found a branch to use as a weapon, and settled down. The angle was perfect, and the bark was quite comfortable, and the view was spectacular.
As I lay on my back, looking up at the stars, it seemed that every star and planet in the universe were out. I could see the dead branches of another tree nearby high above me reaching out for the stars, and at the tip of every branch and twig, was a star. It was as though the wood fairies had decorated it for their pleasure. An owl hooted.
After a while, the cold started to penetrate through my thin clothing, so I got up and walked around a bit, to see if I could find anything to use as a cover. I tried breaking some of the tall grass off, but it was way to tough to brake, and there was nothing else. so I returned to the tree, and started to tear away the loose bark. I laid back down, and covered the whole of my lower body with huge pieces of pine park, then settled back down. I actually grew warmer, and dozed off into a light sleep.
I dozed, with one ear open. I could hear coyotes not far away, and the stalking coyote came to mind. Then a mouse came to visit, so I whacked the area with my stick, and he vanished again. This happened several times. I felt fairly safe from bison, tucked as I was between the huge trunks, at least they wouldn’t walk right onto me, so I wondered about grizzlies. I figured that my chance of getting hit by a car in the middle of the desert, was probably greater than the chance of a grizzly finding me, so I relaxed, and realized that I wasn’t scared, not even a little bit. Somehow it just felt so right. Slowly, I drifted off too sleep.
Every time I woke to chase the mouse away, I noticed that the branches above were decorated with a new set of constellations, then I would drift off again.
I decided to quit and return to camp when the temperatures really started to plummet, and my toes were turning numb. I considered stuffing the toilet paper in my shoes to see if that would help, but I doubted it really. I decided it was time to go back, in case Joe was getting concerned.
I brushed off, checked for bison best I could, and walked out.
Joe wasn’t worried exactly, but said I’d been gone longer than he expected. I climbed into the vehicle, and snuggled under the soft sleeping bag. I think I might have been able to survive the night out there, but my down bag sure was welcoming after having a bed and blanket made from pine tree bark.
I have no idea what time it was when I returned to camp, or how long I’d been out there. I’d say at least a couple of hours, maybe three, judging by the constellations.
In the morning, I pulled all the grubs and bugs out of my hair, and wasn’t any worse for wear – ha ha – Just kidding about the grubs, there weren’t any at all. ha ha.
I suppose most of you will think I’m a very weird person for doing what I did, but I value my independence and like to test my ability to face unforeseen circumstances occasionally. I think it’s a good thing to put oneself in an awkward predicament on occasion, test ones mettle so to speak. It’s a way of gaining experience, improving survival skills, conquering fear, learning how much we can take, and toughening up a bit. I don’t want to become one of those women who falls to pieces under difficult circumstances. So I keep on doing things that are just beyond my skill level, and comfort zone. I think it keeps me on my toes a bit, and I think it’s a good thing to do. And besides, it’s fun…
Anyhow, that’s all for now,
Until next time…
50-years-old, and still willing to test her mettle (well, a bit), Homeless Gal (ha ha).