SUBMITTED MAY 2018
Well OK, it was only actually 9,800 miles door to door, but unless someone from South Africa has gone searching I think I can still claim the unenvied title of Furthest-Travelled Failed Searcher.
For me this craziness started after reading a news story in March 2018. It was a day that I couldn’t be bothered doing any work, so I found myself digging around the blogs and forums and I was quickly hooked.
Within a couple of days I had the basis of my solve sorted out, then it was refined and strengthened over the next couple of weeks to what you will read today. The solve builds on the work of others to narrow down the WWWH starting point, but I’m presenting a couple of (possibly) new ideas on some lines of the poem, particularly the blaze, so hopefully you may both enjoy the story and get something useful out of it.
In its simplest interpretation this solve doesn’t rely on any information you can’t find on a good map, but a small amount of googling and a bit of geographical knowledge help firm things up. Unlike many solves people come up with, I had this one down to a fairly specific area months before I put boots on the ground. This was by necessity – I’m a New Zealander living in Perth, Western Australia, so if I was going to invest (haha!) a few thousand dollars into getting to the Rockies I couldn’t afford to be going on a hunch.
But I’d just sold my trusty old pickup so I had some play money lying around, and I have a very understanding wife! In early May I found myself setting off for the 39 hour journey to Bozeman Montana. There I rendezvoused with one of my brothers who lives in Phoenix and couldn’t say no to this sort of adventure.
So armed with a healthy dose of jet lag and a can of bear spray, this is our chase…
Begin it where warm waters halt,
And take it in the canyon down
Not too far, but too far to walk
Put in below the home of Brown
This simply follows the popular solve starting where the warm Gardiner River meets the cold Yellowstone River at Gardiner Montana, then following the Yellowstone River down to the Slip and Slide Boat Ramp near the end of Joe Brown creek.
From there it’s no place for the meek
This boat ramp is used by rafters and kayakers to access the white-water rapids in Yankee Jim Canyon – definitely no place for the meek.
A less obvious interpretation is that this canyon was a stumbling block for Joseph Meek in his early exploration of the area (though this obviously requires knowledge beyond the scope that Forrest Fenn says is necessary).
The end is ever drawing nigh
This refers to the bottom of Sphinx Creek, the first feature we come to down-stream, and there’s a few ways of looking at it:
The flowing creek is continuously ending as it reaches the river.
The word “drawing” could be used because the bottom of Sphinx Creek is in a draw (also known as a re-entrant outside of the USA), which is a steep-sided gully.
Also, it’s on the left, and numerous people have asserted that nigh is an archaic word for left, though I haven’t found any solid references for this.
There’ll be no paddle up your creek
Just heavy loads and water high
Sphinx Creek is merely a trickle, even when we visited during the melt in May, so you won’t need a paddle.
The second line defines the bottom and top of the creek as we go up it.
Heavy loads describes the bottom of the creek which crosses the Old Yellowstone Trail and where the railway line used to go.
The top of the creek is a perched lake (high water) called Yankee Jim Lake.
So we head up the creek all the way to the lake.
Fresh bear tracks of different sizes were dotted all the way up Sphinx Creek – a bit worrying for us as we’d never had to deal with bears before!
If you’ve been wise and found the blaze. Look quickly down…
OK, here’s where it gets interesting.
Notice the past tense on this sentence – in my opinion you have to have already been wise and found the blaze before you get there. In this case that’s because you can’t actually see it from the lake at the top of the creek.
So to find the blaze, you need to know where to look.
Have you noticed the red magnetic declination lines on the map provided in Where Warm Waters Halt? I find them odd because they’re a bit ugly, and many versions of the map have removed them for aesthetic reasons. But what are they for? It’s not normal to have these lines on a simple schematic map like this. Magnetic declination is used when you’re using a compass bearing – the lines tell you what the correction is between true north and magnetic north is at a particular spot. The presence of the magnetic declination lines is telling me that you need to use some sort of compass reading, or at least a general bearing to some remote feature in your solve.
So what is the blaze?
If you look on a map about 6.5 miles / 11 kilometres to the south west of Yankee Jim Lake, you find Shooting Star Mountain.
Shooting stars blaze across the sky, and you have to look quickly to see them.
Forrest has mentioned that it would be possible to remove it the blaze, but not feasible. I know from experience in the mining industry that removing the top of a mountain is definitely possible, but you have to have a good reason to do so to make it feasible.
But you can’t see Shooting Star Mountain from the top of Sphinx Creek, it’s hidden by the ridge on the other side of the valley. Luckily there are high points all around Yankee Jim Lake, but for this solve, you need to be “wise” and move clockwise around the lake.
A drone photo of Yankee Jim Lake, looking roughly north west, with the high point where you can see the blaze on the left
As you reach the highest point on the south-west side, Shooting Star Mountain just peeks into view above the ridge.
Another drone photo, with the high point in the foreground and Shooting Star Mountain peeking just above the ridge, slightly left of centre of the photo
I was 99% sure I’d be able to see Shooting Star Mountain from this high point as I’d used the 3D view in Google Earth and a viewshed analysis in QGIS to verify this beforehand. Still, it was a massive relief when we reached the top and Shooting Star Mountain just came into view!
Look quickly down your quest to cease
When you’re at the top of the hill and the blaze has come into view, then look down and you see a series of rock faces below you.
But tarry scant with marvel gaze
Just take the chest and go in peace
And this is where this solve joins the long list of failures!
It was a beautiful spot, with sweeping views of the valley dotted with lakes and meadows framed by distant mountains.
The view from the solve location – a fitting spot for a final resting place
We searched all along the rock faces, covering everything up to 200 feet away from the peak (in reference to the 200 feet that Forrest says searchers have been within). There were plenty of perfect little hiding places, but alas, no chest.
One of the many chest-sized nooks in the rock faces
The original solve was a bust, but I knew that I had to get closure and I had to exhaust all options before we left Montana. So, on the second day of our trip we searched all of the rock faces between the top of the creek and high point from the first solve, thinking I may have misinterpreted how to use the blaze reference.
My brother left to go back to work the next morning, but I spent that third day searching the main peak of Sphinx Mountain, and all of the rock faces on the south west side facing the blaze. Again, I found many amazing spots with beautiful views over Yankee Jim Lake, and lots of potential hiding places, but no chest.
The view over Yankee Jim Lake during the third day of searching
Our (approximate) search coverage around Yankee Jim Lake
So I go in peace, having spent an awesome couple of days hiking in Montana with my brother. We found some amazing spots, plenty of fresh bear tracks, and walked away with a couple of deer antlers as trophies.
Our trophies adorning the rental car
It’s a common cliché in The Chase circles, but this experience gave us moments to treasure, even though we walked away empty-handed.
So as my final act of closure in this chase, I’m putting this failed solve out to the world so that you might hopefully glean some insight that helps you in your chase.
You can see my solution on a Google map by clicking HERE.
I’ll be lurking on Dal’s website, Reddit and THOR under the username RockLicker61 if you want to discuss this solve. Or drop me an email at the same username @gmail.com if you want to get in touch directly.
Stay safe out there, the bears are always watching you!