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1 d ay 1 Of Wilds and Men A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature. — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1847 The Thorofare is a sprawling wilderness, a place of remarkable wildness and beauty. Wilderness explorers have long been drawn to experience those attributes, just as we are today, August 22, 2014. Three friends and I are embarking on a journey through the Thorofare; each of them has explored this area with me before, though we have never done a trip like this together. United by our individual passion for this area and our collective desire to help one of us overcome a new disability and get into the wild once more, we will spend the next week exploring the northern fringes of the Thorofare. Two boats and our paddles will be our mode of transportation, and the waters of Yellowstone Lake our aquatic path through the wilderness. Yesterday we packed our meals and gear and loaded the boats onto our cars for the two-hour drive to the Bridge Bay Marina. As we made that drive this morning, we saw the forecast of a 70 percent chance of rain become reality, although the shower did not last long. Clouds still fill the sky, and we know the chance of rain will stay with us for the whole first half of the trip. Rain or shine, though, we are thrilled to be the Thorofare’s most recent explorers, paddling our way down the wildest part of Yellowstone Lake, its Southeast Arm. We will only approach the most remote point by about fifteen miles, but we will nonetheless paddle well away from civilization, into the Thorofare. 2 DAY 1 e At 1:00 p.m., the shuttle boat departs the marina with our boats on top and us inside. We ride the boat about fifteen miles across the main body of the lake to the tip of the Promontory, the peninsula separating the lake’s South and Southeast Arms. The overcast skies are not accompanied by much wind and rough water, so we make good time and land on a small rocky beach an hour later. The beach is soon covered by our boats and gear, and we watch the shuttle back out of the cove, turn around, and take off back to the marina. It is the last motorized vehicle—and the last person, but for two other small parties of canoeists—we will see or hear for the next three days. The dry run loading our boats (a canoe and a kayak) that we did yesterday pays off today as we quickly uncover the beach. About 3:00 p.m. we push off from the shore, the sky remaining gray but dry and the temperature cool enough for jackets and long pants. We quickly round the tip of the Promontory and turn south, into the Southeast Arm (figure 1.1). A wilderness panorama opens up to us: the broad waters of the lake’s largest arm, bounded by the Absaroka Mountain Range (the peaks partially obscured by clouds) across the arm to our left and the northern flanks of the Two Ocean Plateau rising above the arm’s southern end, directly ahead of us (figure 1.2). Bridging the view between them is the Trident, a high plateau whose western face is dissected into three ridges, each terminating in thousand-foot cliffs above the Yellowstone River (whose mouth we will pass a few days hence). The southernmost of the Trident’s spears is just a hop, skip, 1.1. Rounding the tip of the Promontory, 2014. In so doing, we entered the Southeast Arm of Yellowstone Lake, its wildest reach. Photo by Eric Compas. Used with permission. OF WILDS AND MEN 3 and a jump from the most remote point. While that point is out of view to us today, the northernmost of the Trident’s ridges is easy to pick out because it holds on to a bank of snow several hundred feet long, several feet deep, and visible from miles away. This year, that snowfield will not melt out; in other warmer and drier summers it will, though not usually till August. Our view is only a peek into the massive wild area embracing the Thorofare. Follow the route of the trapper’s thoroughfare up the broad valley of the Yellowstone (figure 1.3) and then up Atlantic Creek and one is in the Snake River’s headwaters in the Teton Wilderness. It is a gentle...


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