Captain’s Log: April 24th, 2013 – Day #3 of the transect

25 Apr

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Team Tortoise did another ten miles today, this time over rolling country staying largely to the high plateaus separating canyons, ultimately climbing to Achenback Spring. The weather on the walk was brutal with temps in the 20s (F) and 30+ mph headwinds, plus snow and occasional freezing rain. Mix the cold and wind with sweat from exertion and wet from precipitation, and hypothermia is just around the corner.

Instead of hypothermia lurking around the bend, Tortoise surprised three bison who quickly marched in single-file up a small butte, racing to the top to warily watch. Farther up, the landscape became both wide and deep, massive grassy hills blending into washes and wallows, the yellows suddenly becoming green. Wildflowers are coming, and likely by next week winter will wither, and spring will erupt all a once. 

The route was relatively easy up to the spring, and at the top of the highest canyon rim, the Little Missouri spooled far below. A golden eagle hovered overhead. The land transitioned from mud to rock making footing easy and secure. The wind blasted the snow away, and the afternoon sun began to quickly dry the grasses underneath. 

In looking at what was supposed to be the afternoon half of the route, there was a half-mile of impassable marsh, newly thawed and cold. Camp 4 would not be reached tonight. It’s a shuttle for us from our basecamp manager. We’ll attempt a different approach tomorrow to Camp 5 and expect to see our first oil pads abutting the wilderness.

The wild spaces today differed greatly from the perfect, ancient solitude achieved yesterday. Today went through cattle country, open land for grazing. There was plenty of evidence from the cattle themselves, although no cows were seen. The ranch lands are both used and are perhaps being reclaimed by nature. It reminded me of my wilderness backpack to the Steens in eastern Oregon: once ranch land, but empty of the living in April. Wilderness, but not wild as we saw on Monday. The air was clean and clear, and the only sound today was wind, a constant roar. There might by 100 miles of wilderness bisected by Nazca-like lines of ranch and oil roads, but after three days on-trail and navigating cross-country, we’ll be hard-pressed to find 100 miles of the truly wild.

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