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Later, when we stopped for lunch by the creek, a few of our number decided to turn back, having lost patience at not reaching Grinnell Meadows. One firm hiking club rule is that no one who turns back does so alone, but the consensus was fine with Kevin, as a group planned to return.
After further discussion, it was soon apparent that everybody but Kevin and I were turning back, and after lunch we bid our companions goodbye. Out of earshot I ribbed him: “Well, Captain Pain, you don’t have to worry about those guys ever hiking with you again.”
It wasn’t long — maybe a half mile through the pines as the trail hugged the creek — before we came out of the trees and into Grinnell Meadows. There hadn’t been much more of an elevation gain from our lunch spot, so the grumblers had almost got there anyway. Kevin and I had a good laugh about this.
We were immediately in awe of the place, and that’s saying something, because both of us have lived in the Northern Rockies for years. Grinnell Meadows is the sort of location that the 19th-century fur trade era mountain men called a “Park” (as in North, Middle, and South Park in the Colorado Rockies) or a “Hole” (as in Jackson Hole and Pierre’s Hole, both in the Yellowstone region). A place of ease and plenty: well watered, with abundant grass for horses, and wild game for the cookpot. A mountain man’s summertime paradise.
It WAS HARD FOR US to estimate the size of Grinnell Meadows (100-200 acres?); it was just plain big, hundreds of yards by hundreds of yards. And it was a three-sided box, the sides being the towering mountains, stony and gashed with the remnants of the previous winter’s snow. The waving grassland was spotted with clumps of trees, both hardwood and soft: cottonwood, willow, chalky white aspen, and pointy lodgepole pine. Grinnell Creek, here near its headwaters, threads the meadow with two separate channels that were easily forded across shiny, wet gravel bars.
August means the windblown grass was brown and the early summer wildflowers were gone, but Kevin and I still spent a couple of hours exploring the meadow and the timber lining its edges. We didn’t see any elk (the middle of the day is a poor time to view wildlife), but small piles of brown “scat” were present here and there, the pellet droppings rather large, the size of acorns, as compared to deer scat, which is smaller. We also didn’t see any moose, though the habitat was perfect for one or two to be hanging around. No sign of grizzlies either, though they’re known to frequent the meadows earlier in the summer.
Afternoon thunderhead shadows drifted across the peaks and the meadows. There was always that sultry breeze, and the gurgling of the creek. Kevin and I continued to joke about out friends who gave up before the great payoff. No pain, no gain.
We sat on a smooth old gray cottonwood log by the creek, and I could imagine Jim Bridger himself sitting with us as his horse grazed contentedly nearby; his Hawken rifle leaning on the log next to him. Old Gabe smoked his pipe and watched the breeze-drifted clouds shadow the mountains. “I’ve always thought it as fair a place as any,” he said.
And I swore to myself that I would hike with Kevin Lehman again.
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