Tales from the Trail: Yellowstone to the Yukon, Summer 1998

The following story first appeared in Jim’s newsletter, Wild Wind.

The little jeep road is getting harder and harder to follow. It’s shrunk from a busy dirt road, to a quiet lane, to a little traveled track, and now is fading to a pack trail. This is progress as far as I’m concerned. I hadn’t wanted to walk the road along the Upper Old Man River, but a series of clearcuts and a maze of logging roads had forced me into the lower elevations for a day and a half. Now, I’m getting back to some wildness.

The sun has been shining, but now a raft of dark clouds float in as I climb higher back toward the Continental Divide. As sprinkles begin to fall, I reach the intersection with Canada’s Great Divide Trail. This is a short section of established pathway which I will follow for the next few days. I don’t know it at the time, but I’ll have those days all to myself. I turn north feeling a surge of joy to be back on a genuine foot trail.

The red blazes lead in short order to a tiny lake blasted by wind. I huddle in a clump of spruce trees until the rain passes, and then set up camp sheltered from the wind by the sturdy trees. The place feels wild. Walking around the little lake I watch the sun beaming through the storm clouds to light up the peaks above me. Each time I gaze out at the surrounding mountains they look different. A golden aura lights their rugged faces in waves of glory.

The next day the trail leads me in and out of a series of small subalpine basins right at the foot of the Divide. The Tamarack trees look wiry and tough. A herd of bighorn rams scrambles up a cliff above me. The fresh grizz tracks encourage me to walk with all senses primed. I round a series of knobs and am blasted by a joyous wind. In a few miles clearcuts appear below me, much too close to this part of the Continental Divide. It makes me realize how thin this Y2Y corridor is in places. And also how easily parts of it can be cut off.

That night I sleep near an abandoned logging road near Lost Creek. In the morning I begin to climb again, higher and higher. The forest thins out as I reach a broad ridge. The day is too nice to keep to the trail. I head up the wide open Cataract Plateau; a vast plain of grassland, carpeted with wildflowers hanging high in the Alberta sky. The wind is howling. I drop my pack behind a clump of krumholtz. Without the pack I’m like a feather blowing with the bowed heads of the flowers. I’m a falcon soaring across the spacious plateau. I’m a speck of gold in this vast treasure of an Earth.

The Cataract Plateau, with its open acres, biting wind, and dancing wildflowers, dwarfs me. I welcome that smallness. It humbles me, but expands my world view and fills my heart. The high I grasp in those hours on the plateau will carry me through some darker, harder times ahead. I know it will.

“Way down inside of me, that’s where I hold,
It’s the peace of the wild things and I let them unfold,
  When times are getting rough
  and the clouds are draggin’ low,
It’s there when I need it, that’s where I go.”

                                                            ……from “Wilderness Walks Within” by Walkin’ Jim Stoltz

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