Friday, September 14, 2012

Dunanda Falls

Thirty-plus years in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming, and I'd never gone backpacking in the  Bechler Meadows region of Yellowstone National Park. About twenty years ago I went dayhiking there to do some fishing. That trip didn't work out very well; after a two hour drive from home and a two hour hike in to where I wanted to fish, I found that I had left my fly reel back in the truck. Oops... Back in the parking lot, I met a former park employee who had just spent a couple of nights near Dunanda Falls and couldn't stop crowing about the best fishing he'd ever had, not to mention the hot springs that fed some wonderful soaking pools at the base of the falls. Um, not exactly what I needed to hear right then, but I did file Dunanda Falls away for future reference.
The southwest corner of the park is home to some very flat areas (hence the Meadows), and also some lovely rivers, waterfalls and hot springs. The meadows are very boggy, often knee-deep in water through much of the summer; the Bechler region is very much a fall trip after the meadows have dried out and the brutal hordes of mosquitoes have met a frosty death. The classic Bechler backpacking trip is to spend four or five days on the 30 miles between Old Faithful and the Bechler Ranger Station at the southwest corner of the park. 
We had a good weather forecast and a few days of uncommitted time; Jill suggested backpacking into the Bechler. She had never been there, so it would be essentially new territory for both of us. We planned a two-night trip, enough to get a taste of the place. The morning we planned to leave, we woke up to the sound of a thunderstorm and steady rain. We decided against hiking in that weather, and scaled back to an overnight trip leaving the next day.
At the ranger station, we were fortunate to find our first choice of campsites was still available -- Boundary Creek site 9A2, about 6.5 miles from the trailhead, and 1.5 miles from Dunanda Falls. We took the shorter of two routes: the Boundary Creek trail rather than the Bechler Meadows trail. This route is a half-mile shorter, at the expense of two additional stream crossings. Both crossings (Bartlett Slough and Boundary Creek) were easy knee-deep crossings in water that wasn't as cold as I had expected.
After a third stream crossing (this one unavoidable), we reached our campsite, set up camp, lightened our packs, and hiked on to Dunanda Falls. The maintained trail stays high, above the top of the falls. There is a very steep trail down to the base of the falls, it would be dangerous when wet and muddy. The falls are indeed very scenic. We found a couple of hot pools on the edge of the creek, and one of them was just about perfect for a soak. We had the place to ourselves, and stayed there until it was a race against sunset to hike back to camp and prepare dinner.
After a chilly night (29 degrees inside the tent at 8am), we cooked breakfast and waited for the sun to bake the frost off of our tent. We decided to hike out via the slightly longer route through Bechler Meadows, mostly to see more new territory but also to skip two of the stream crossings. Bechler Meadows is a surprising expanse of flat terrain, quite a contrast to the elevation changes we're accustomed to when hiking in the Tetons.
 The Bechler Meadows trail has a suspension bridge across Boundary Creek.
I didn't take fishing gear on this trip; I was lazy and didn't want to carry the extra weight, and also didn't think I'd have enough time to really do it justice. But I do want to go back equipped with a fly rod and more time...

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