August 12, 2014 is a day that will stick in my head as the day "everything went perfect".
Some background, I arrive in Yellowstone on May 9 and was leaving on August 14. I was a aprt of a group known as Geyser Geysers, people who monitor and obeserve geyser activity. There are two geysers in particular who are very rare, very big, and just flat out amazing: Fan and Mortar Geysers, only 80 yards from the famous Morning Glory Pool. They have 14 vents, and produce a wall of water up to 180ft wide and 120ft tall for about ten minutes. And they all come in simultaneously and get to full power in seconds. You are about 30ft away.
This summer I saw Fan and Mortar 3 times after it came out of dormancy in late June. It erupted three times in daylight and I saw all three, mostly through my own obsession. At one point I sat there for fourteen hours. It was erupting every 3 to 10days. The first one was in early July. I saw it withh all the other present Sputs (the name for a small geyser, which was given to geyser gazers under 21, myself included). It erupted on an overcast day, with the wind blowing the steam at us. So.... no photos. Which disappointing me. Same for the next one I saw, two days later.
So I began a quest to not only see F&M but see it in good conditions and photograph it. The next seven or so eruptions happened overnight, I saw none of them even though I went down multiple times at 2am because it looked good.
The last week I was working, I had the last four days off. That was the 3day to 8 day mark for F&M. I began a vigil. With the exception of eating and sleeping, I spent most of the next two days watching F&M.
The build up of an eruption involves the start of a cycle which occurs every hour. Some of Fan and Mortar's vents turn off and and on in a cycle that is unigue from the others (mainly splashing in Main Vent). If it is going to erupt, two vents (High and Gold) begin sustained jetting to about 10ft anywhere from 15s to 20m before the major eruption. A cycle with events like these is called an "event" cycle.
The day of the eruption, we saw a single event cycle in the morning, after seeing none for two days. It looked great, until it was time for High and Gold to come on. They barely even splashed. I jokingly told a friend: the next event cycle will be at 1800 with an eruption around 1900.
So fast forward to 1800, and we see splashing in Main. The splashing continues over the next forty minutes, keeping High and Gold off and letting them build up steam (pun intended). I am calling over the phone multiple people to come down, we are at the 5.5day mark and this cycle is looking good enough to get down here. I am sending out texts: "If you arent moving yet, move now." The rest of the Sputs (5 of us) arrive. My friend Will is calling over the radio system to the rest of the gazers and the visitor center, "At Fan and Mortar, High and Gold are coming on."
Mara, Micah, and Demteri decide not to look at high and Gold until about ten minutes in (which is when they would go into lock if it erupts). So they turn around. I watch High and Gold climb higher and higher over the next few minutes. My texts go from: "Move quickly." to "MOVE QUICKLY!"
I turned to Micah and said, "Guys they look good. " "Nope cant turn around yet."
"Guys they look REALLY good." and finally, "GUYS THEY LOOKING REALLY %^&$ING GOOD! TURN AROUND!" My final text was: "RUN".
High and Gold go into lock at 1855. The sun comes out and backlights everything, the wind shifts and blows the steam away: it is too good to be true.
But it is true: and at 1856 Fan and Moratr go into a full major eruption with the cheers, screams, crys, and dances and gazers and lucky tourists (yours truly included). For fifteen minutes, Fan and Mortar have the largest eruption in over thirty years, send water and rocks 205ft sideways and over 150ft up. Fourteen vents in full eruption. Mortar at one point had pressure waves in its column (steam escaping faster than the speed of sound creating a violent buffeting that can be felt more than heard). All of this backlit by the setting sun, two days before I left, and with all my friends to share it with. I get a lump in my throat thinking of it.
...enjoy the photos:
Mortar Geyser (foreground) and Fan Geyser (background) with Will Boekel (another Sput). At this point, Mortar is doing about 50ft and Fan's Main vent is arching over the boardwalk (note the fuzzy white on the trail behind Will, thats water SPLASHING off the boardwalk!)
Fan and Mortar in full major eruption: just a maelstrom of water!