Yellowstone Backcountry

I was back in Yellowstone in 2012 on a backpacking venture with Nathan and Yellowstone Wolf Tracker, right on the heels of several days in the Sierra Nevada range. An interesting set of "book ends" with the wide open, high altitude calderas of Yellowstone wrapped around me, I have lingering memories of the glacial carved deep ravines, jagged ridges and smoothed domes of the 'range of light', as John Muir has etched in our California psyche. I arrived a day early and spent time in Blacktail Deer Plateau and Lamar Valley.

Day One

We started the night before actually, with a meeting at the Track Education Center to talk logistics and get to know our hiking companions. The following morning we were up early and greeted by the 'Magic Bus' that has whisked me off on many other amazing trips. A short drive winding up from Mammoth Hot Springs took us to the trailhead for Gardners Hole, where we would set up our base of operations for the next several days. We were looking at a short six miles in and it was a very pleasant stroll with autumn scenery all around. The camp sites are controlled in this area and require a reservation but well worth it, as they are good, level sites all equipped with bear poles to keep Yogi and Booboo out of your picnic baskets! We settled in and strolled out into the Gardners Hole meadows for an afternoon hike, taking in the big wide open spaces and dramatic scenery.

Day Two

After an excellent dinner the night before, we awoke to a nutritious breakfast and gathered our gear for a day hike into the Fawn Creek basin. We re-traced our steps to Fawn Lake and headed into the Gallatin Bear Management Area via the Fawn Pass trail. These are designated sections within the park that are controlled to reduce human impacts on bears in high-density grizzly bear habitat. For this particular area, travel is only allowed on-trail, no camping in the valley and a minimum group size of 4. For a map of all of the bear management areas, click here. It was a glorious day and we were immediately greeted by a bear scratch tree with visible claw marks measuring over my head and I remember thinking, "Wow they grow 'em big here!" We continued to meander (staying on trail!) and passed several predator-prey sites, hawk on robin and wolves on elk, finally settling in for a scrumptious lunch on the edge of an meadow starting to turn autumn colors. Returning to camp, we rested up for dinner and took a stroll around as dusk settled and the sounds of the day slowly muted away.

Day Three

Today started on the dreary cold side as we warmed up with breakfast and readied ourselves for another day hike. This time up to the ridge behind our camp to get an eagle eye view of Gardners Hole and to do a touch of spotting, or glassing as some prefer to call it. The panoramic sweep of Gardners Hole southwards gave us a great vantage point. We spotted some wildlife activity down in the valley (bison) and directly across on Quadrant Mountain (bull elk, bull moose) and then continued on to run the ridge in search of more outdoor sites. The weather did move in and out and layering was the key today to stay comfortable. Returning to camp via the Gardners River required a bit of bushwhacking, but was a lot of fun. I am always mesmerized by how water cuts and shapes the land and how we humans need a lot of effort to navigate, while our wildlife counterparts just take it in stride. A little exploring around camp and then a lesson on the proper way to drink English tea was imparted by one of our party. Dinner was great once again and a shout out to both Nathan's for the amazing meals they conjured up, time and time again.

Day Four

Our last day and we headed back to the ridge viewing site as the morning dew and fog/smoke cover gave way to sunny skies and warmer weather. Not a lot of wildlife, but it was good to warm the bones and take in the endless view before heading back to camp for breakfast and breakdown. Our time was up and the hike out ahead of us. As we once again meandered along on the trail, I thought back to the prior days and new sights, being thankful to be able to experience another corner of this great earth and to have shared it with liked-minded souls. Nathan and Yellowstone Wolf Tracker always provide the best-of-experiences in one of the best-of-places to explore the wild side of life.

May our paths and errands meet...