I stumbled upon the poem from The Thrill of The Chase, and all-things-Forrest-Fenn, when the British press covered the story a couple of years ago. I’ve always been fond of puzzles and riddles so naturally I found Forrest’s poem irresistible. I have very much enjoyed my introduction to Yellowstone, to Wyoming and Montana, and to the colorful history of this unique, beautiful corner of the US. Like many others I have studied the poem and formulated a solution. And, like many others, it is not feasible for me to travel to Yellowstone to conduct a boots-on-the-ground exploration, so a walkthrough of my rationale will have to suffice, and hopefully it will be of use. Should anyone use this solution and actually find the treasure, I trust they will give credit where credit is due.
I’ll be honest: I have not read TTOTC. However, from reading the many blogs and resources online, I think the wider context of the hunt – and perhaps the most salient clue to be taken from the book – is that Forrest has a long and intimate knowledge of Yellowstone, especially the Western reaches, and the creeks and waterways therein that might be discovered by the avid and adventurous fly fisherperson. I have also learned the following from various additional statements that Forrest has made:
- The poem should be followed from clue to clue to clue, in the proper order, to reach the treasure. https://www.chasechat.com/showthread.php?tid=3340
- Clues can be solved by linking them to specific map locations. http://mysteriouswritings.proboards.com/thread/1468/forrest-fenn-friday-geographic-location
- The poem was constructed and fine-tuned over a long period of time. https://www.reddit.com/r/FindingFennsGold/comments/a8bwfh/who_wrote_the_poem/
- Searchers have started from the correct WWWH without necessarily having identified it as such. https://dalneitzel.com/2015/11/02/forrest-gets-mail-9/
- Searchers have solved the first 2 clues and then passed by the next 7. https://dalneitzel.com/cheat-sheet/
- The location of the treasure is some distance from any manmade trail. https://illinoisghost.wordpress.com/fenn-quotes/
- The treasure is not underwater, hidden in a dangerous location, or under a manmade structure. https://allthatsinteresting.com/forrest-fenn-treasure
I believe the 1st stanza basically sets the scene – Forrest’s secret place is somewhere he was able to visit openly, alone, in his 80’s, carrying 40lbs over 2 trips in a single afternoon (https://www.fftreasure.com/uncategorized/not-under-water-done-two-trips/). The 2nd Stanza is where the real clues begin – let’s get to it!
‘Where warm waters halt’ is, I believe, where the Gardner River flows into the Yellowstone River at Gardiner. There are a great many potential WWWH’s in and around Yellowstone, but Forrest does not capitalize ‘warm’ here which suggests it’s not Warm Spring Meadow, Warm Springs Creek, or similar (and we’ll come back to Forrest’s use of capitalization later). There are too many hot springs scattered throughout Yellowstone for Forrest to be unnecessarily vague, so I believe he must be – surreptitiously – offering us something we can work with. I believe that ‘warm’ is the key word here. It’s a strange and specific term for Forrest to use: not cool, tepid or hot, not scalding or boiling, just ‘warm’. We can guess from Forrest’s accounts of childhood that our WWWH could be, or could be linked to, a hot spring he used to know as a boy. It turns out that in the 1800’s the Gardner River was known as Warm Spring Creek due to the hot springs at Boiling River (Historical Origin of Waterways Names in Yellowstone). Forrest is, I believe, using the word ‘warm’ to specify this particular waterway, and the WWWH it points to, without being either too vague or too obvious. Where does the Gardner River halt? It halts where it meets and mixes with the cold water of the Yellowstone River. The interesting thing is that if you’ve adopted Boiling River (a hot spring) as your WWWH, instead of the Gardner River, it doesn’t really matter – following the next 2 clues takes you ultimately to the same checkpoint.
‘Take it in the canyon down’ means, I believe, follow the Yellowstone River downriver (rather than following the Gardner Canyon south). The Yellowstone River is not specifically named as a canyon at Gardiner, but I think it can apply in general terms and subsequent clues make a lot more sense with respect to the Yellowstone River.
‘The home of Brown’ is, I believe, the home of ‘Uncle’ Joe Brown – Joe Brown Creek. This appears to be confirmed by ‘Put in’ which, at face value, is a straight reference to the boat ramp located here. There are a great many potential HOBs (HsOB?) if we only consider brown the colour, but here we see an overt capitalization. I don’t feel that Forrest, as a wordsmith, would want to sow unnecessary confusion by deliberately misusing standard grammar. If it’s capitalised, I believe Forrest is signifying a person’s name, pure and simple. Forrest did have names for all the local fish, but it appears that they were on first-name terms (https://dalneitzel.com/2018/05/04/not_in_yellowstone/). And since WWWH is Gardiner in this solution, it’s not feasible for the correct Brown to be Ranger Brown or Grafton Tyler Brown.
‘No place for the meek’ is, I believe, Slip & Slide Creek, the mouth of which is located below (South) of the mouth of Joe Brown Creek. Its name speaks for itself. Now, I admit I was *sorely* tempted at this juncture to err towards Tom Miner Creek / Rock Creek, and an area that appears to satisfy the subsequent clues to a greater or lesser extent, but I think Forrest’s lack of capitalization for ‘meek’ precludes this interpretation. Extending the logic from the previous clue, I think Forrest would have used ‘Meek’ if he wanted us to head to Tom Miner Basin per the legend of Joseph Meek. Instead my solution continues on the north side of the river, south of Joe Brown Creek. . .‘The end is ever drawing nigh’ refers, I believe, to Sliding Mountain West, located just beyond the end (source) of Slip & Slide Creek. I’ve read a lot of speculation about whether ‘nigh’ means left, and I believe it could, but there’s actually a bigger clue here. We know that Forrest plays golf, and once dreamed of being a professional golfer (https://mysteriouswritings.com/six-questions-with-forrest-fenn-and-the-thrill-of-the-chase-treasure-hunt-double-charmed/). He knows that the controlled versions of a Hook shot (which drifts left) and a Slice shot (which veers right) are called Draw and Fade. This clue tells us, I believe, that the end of the correct creek is a location that is ever drifting left or, to use different language, sliding west. In a wordplay triple-whammy, we also know that a ‘draw’ is the name given to a small stream flowing in a steep channel, and also means to bring forth water (eg; drawing a bath), both of which suggest that we’re following a real water-bearing creek and not a road or forest trail. . .
‘There’ll be no paddle up your creek’ is not just a play on the well-known saying ‘Up (the) creek without a paddle’. It reiterates, I believe, something hinted at in the previous clues – we should be definitely following an actual waterway. There are many creeks in Yellowstone that have a similarly-named creek road running alongside, but I think Forrest knows we’ll need to be ‘in there’ by now – on foot, and getting our walking boots muddy. I believe that ‘no paddle’ simply refers to walking, but perhaps also implies that the correct creek is dry in part.
‘Heavy loads and water high’ is yet another clue that could point to several notable locations in this part of Yellowstone. Heavy loads could refer to rocks, electricity, or the old railroad. ‘Water high’ could refer to elevated creeks or lakes, or be an allusion to Hell. From point-of-view of where we are in the poem and on the map (ascending Slip & Slide Creek) I believe this clue serves to frame and underline where we are and where we’re headed – towards the source of the creek. I believe that ‘Heavy loads’ refers to Big Pine Creek over the ridge to the north, and ‘water high’ refers to the cluster of lakes near High Mountain to the south. I believe we’re being guided in, like a plane coming to land – the poem lays out where we’re coming from, where we’re heading, and what stands either side as way markers. I also believe, however, that we’re not meant to go right to end of the creek. . .
‘If you’ve been wise and found the blaze’ is, to my mind, the most difficult clue in the whole poem. As Forrest has noted, a ‘blaze’ could be just about anything (https://www.chasechat.com/archive/index.php?thread-5596.html). Of course, it could just be a simple mark on a tree, as is traditional, but I suspect that’s too mundane for a wordsmith like Forrest. I believed for a long time that the blaze was a shape to be traced on a map by following the locations described by the clues, and that the final shape (maybe an ‘X’ or an arrow) would point to the actual location of the chest. I could never get this approach to work, however, because the clues and locations are sequential, not scattergun. Forrest has hinted that we should ‘make all the lines cross in the right spot’ (https://www.reddit.com/r/FindingFennsGold/comments/amuhe4/anyone_drawing_lines_on_a_map/), but I believe this can be taken to mean that it’s simply a case of intersecting the lines he’s describing in the right places: the line from Gardiner to the Joe Brown Put-In; the subsequent line from the mouth of Slip & Slide Creek up towards Sliding Mountain West. In this sense, I believe he really means ‘spots’, plural. This would suggest that the crossing lines aren’t an ‘X’ marking the spot, but simply where one section of the path joins up with the next.
So, what IS the blaze? Forrest hinted early on that identifying the blaze is meaningless without having already solved the preceding clues (https://dalneitzel.com/cheat-sheet/). This is an important clue. If someone was out hiking and stumbled randomly upon an incongruous sign, they might be tempted to root around underneath and subsequently find the treasure. But Forrest doesn’t want that – it would render the preceding clues redundant – and he’s discounted the chance of anyone finding the treasure by accident (https://dalneitzel.com/cheat-sheet/). Consequently I believe that the blaze can’t simply be a sign out in the wilderness. Instead, I think the blaze shows us when to look, as we move up the correct creek. And how do we identify the blaze? Forrest tells us, I believe. He says we will already have been wise (past tense) and found it. Wise, of course, means clever. But we wouldn’t be in the correct creek already if we weren’t clever. The word ‘-wise’ (like the similar ‘-wards’) also means to move in a direction, usually with respect to a circle: clockwise or anti-clockwise. I believe Forrest is instructing us to turn. But which way? I don’t think it matters. Forrest just wants us to turn around, which will enable us to find the blaze. At this point I believe the blaze can only be a reference to the name of Shooting Star Mountain, which at 9665 feet would be visible in the southwest once you’ve reached the correct elevation up Slip & Slide Creek.
‘Look quickly down, your quest to cease’ tells us, I believe, that the chest is on, or set into, the ground at that spot – a point up Slip & Slide Creek where the peak of Shooting Star Mountain first comes into view behind you. It’s not an exact science, which is why I believe Forrest has always maintained that a boots-on-the-ground search is necessary for the treasure to be found (https://www.reddit.com/r/FindingFennsGold/comments/bh9qsp/thinking_out_loud/). The clues in the poem will put you to within a few meters of the treasure, but it’s up to you to scour the ground at your feet to find the chest itself. The middle reaches of Slip & Slide Creek are no more than 3km from Route 89, which makes them accessible on foot from a vehicle parked near the Yankee Jim Picnic Area below. A round trip would take about 2 hours, which would have allowed ample time for Forrest to make the journey twice in one afternoon.
Additional: Forrest has given a few cryptic quotes about the end of the search being somehow connected to the beginning, including a reference to a poem by TS Eliot (“moved with confidence” – The Hint of Riches – Forrest Fenn’s Treasure Hunt). I believe that this is a nod to the other link between Shooting Star Mountain and Slip & Slide Creek: as far as I can tell, before a recent land exchange (https://billingsgazette.com/outdoors/land-exchange-opens-gardiner-basin-ranch-to-public/article_929ae536-bec4-58d3-983f-f9d9ed1f24db.html) the lower slope of Slip & Slide Creek was owned by the Shooting Star Ranch, which is located in the Cinnabar Basin between Shooting Star Mountain and the river. In short, the right spot up Slip & Slide Creek is denoted by visibility of the mountain which lends its name to the ranch which recently owned the lower stretch of that same creek. Full circle. Not to mention that half of western Yellowstone would be visible from the higher portions of Slip & Slide Creek, giving searchers a fresh perspective on the road already travelled.
I can’t help but feel that the last 2 stanzas are essentially an extended outro, with ‘brave’, ‘in the wood’, and ‘cold’ underlining the need for searchers to go out in the field. ‘So hear me all and listed good’ could be a reference to the natural amphitheater formed by the curved ridge that surrounds Slip & Slide Creek (incorporating the peaks of Red Mountain, Sliding Mountain West, and High Mountain) but that feels a little too tenuous to me. It’s more likely, I believe, that this is a nod to the famous letter written by Native American leader Chief Joseph (http://fennclues.com/hear-me-all-and-listen-good.html), along with ‘I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak’. Forrest planned his hunt and wrote the poem when, like the Chief, he believed his days were truly numbered.
Well, there it is. I can’t shake the conviction that my solution gets at least a few clues correct, but then I guess most people who have worked out a solution feel the same way. If not, then it’s been both fun and informative, for which I thank Forrest most sincerely. Best wishes!