Something about being in Yellowstone is making us very mad. Accessibility to nature is needed and desired to permit the masses to connect with wonders. But utter accessibility also means cars, roads, giftshops crammed with tchotchkes, and a wilderness experience designed primarily to keep everyone safely in line. In line to see the hot springs. In line on the popular 3 mile loop trails, in line buying hot dogs and ice cream. And within lined parking lot campsites that can host upwards of 600+ people. We sorrow at the disneyfication of the park that makes the natural world seem unnatural. Less wild.
Simultaneously the park is remarkably inaccessible as soon as you step off the pavement. Even for weathered hikers like us. The back country rangers here seem green, unable to tell us first hand knowledge of our route or sites.
Also no one will give us a hitch to our trail head. Tourists rarely feel comfortable, or their cars are filled. And there isn’t any public transportation in Yellowstone. How’s that for access?
It’s confusing because as much as I critique all of this, I am a part of it. I participate in the patriarchy. The raping of resources for processed food and manufactured goods. The consumption of synthetic fibers and plastic bottles and fleece and the stuffed animal bison I want to purchase for $9.99.
Despite being vegan (which research suggests saves 600-1100 gallons of water a day compared to a meat eater.) Despite giving up my apartment and house and living for 5 months a year outside, limiting my ability to purchase and consume excess. Despite rarely buying clothes or electronics. Despite finding ways to live more simply on less than 15 grand a year. I can’t escape my participation in the US hierarchical capitalist patriarchy. Mainstream media, wifi, social media, technology, packaged food and buereaucratic permitting systems pull me back into that life as often as I attempt to escape it. Despite my dislike of the system there are so many ways I accidentally and unthinkingly accept it. And isn’t acceptance the same as support?
So today is a major disappointment. We escape the bad wifi and relative lack of tasty town food around 2:30pm which should get us to our permitted campsite (in 10 or so miles) around 7pm. Perfect. One mile in I sit down while we treat water. It’s blazing in the heat of the day. I look at the map and add the mileage markers… We still have 18 miles to go. WHAT?!
We feel seriously bummed. We have no idea how the ranger so thoroughly misunderstood us. Not only is 19 miles NOT a rest day, but in this heat with full packs there’s no way can we arrive to camp before 10pm. Unacceptable.
We decide to bail out. We walk 5 trail miles to a junction with the road and a beautiful creek with a roadside rest area. After swimming discretely in front of picnicking tourists – whose mouths hang wide as they openly stare – we try to get a hitch to a trail head 9 miles east. From there we can walk Just 3 more miles to get to our permitted site. Technically replacing trail miles with a ride is “yellow blazing” and frowned upon by purists. But technically we’re not on the CDT anyway, haters. My hike. My rules.
We hitch for an hour and tho a stream of cars pass us no one even slows down. Discouraged we return to the comfort of the picnic area and attempt to eat our way out of the crisis. The plan works. We strike up a conversation with an adventurous couple from PA (WE ❤ PA!!!) and they offer us a ride!!! Saved! As they finish their picnic I look at our itinerary and attempt to calculate our mileage for tomorrow. Except I can’t because we don’t have the complete map. Thankfully our new friends do and we photo the 20 mile section we need.
Sadly none of the maps list where the camp site is for tomorrow. We’ll just have to hope that it’s at 20-23 miles where it’s supposed to be.
Day of the Bison!! Also the day we begin to suspect the ranger is messing with us. Our route today is 3 miles more than we requested but also climbs over 5000 feet elevation. And has a long dry stretch. All things we wish we had known.
No matter. We fall in love with Speciman ridge. The day is full of views, bison and prong horned antelope dancing across the fields.
By late afternoon we descend off the ridge into the Lower Lamar valley. We ford the creek than eat dinner near a beautiful lone bison who followed us across the creek in a lumbering gentle giant fashion. They are magnificent animals.
Our campsite isn’t at mile 20-23 like we expect. By mile 25 it’s dark and we have no idea how close but we might be several miles off still. We give up guiltily stealth camp near an occupied camp.
Today is a day off! Well kind of. We expect an easy 8-mile walk based On the itinerary. But of course, again, we should do our own math because we end up walking over 14 to get to our campsite. WHY CANT I JUST HAVE A REGULAR DAY OFF?
We wake at 4:45 to rain and decide to pack up and walk on before light so as not to be found stealth camping. 1.5 miles later we come across our designated site and peacefully have breakfast. Then start the official hike to our next campsite. On the way Groucho trips and bends a toenail back, I meet an extremely friendly, bug-eating bird that follows me trying to land on my umbrella AND we meet 4 friendly STOGs (swaying towers of gear) from Pennsylvania here to play catch and release with the fish.
Regardless we arrive at camp by 2pm, rinse our clothes and selves in the river, make first dinner, eat first dessert, take a nap, eat again, make a fire and roast vegan marshmallows courtesy of our friend Bug, and go to sleep early. It’s really cool to have time to relax on trail rather than waiting for town to chill out.
We sleep in because it is so cold at cold creek. There is frost in the grass.
And we begin the day with two river fords right in a row. My feet are painfully cold before 8:30 am. Then a rather nice and super easy 16 miles to the road. Along the pelican creek we meet a couple from Netherlands and a parade of 16 animals, 4 tourists from Arkansas, and their chef, wrangler and guide.
Sean- A young fellow from PA – gives us a hitch and a beer! our first booze in 34 days. Our rule for clarity, efficiency and budget is no booze unless it is offered spontaneously as a gift.
Bridge Bay offers a ranger station, enormous campground, marina and modest camp store. All services seem staffed by retirees who have bought RVs and are touring the country. It’s pretty nice here but not gonna make it my forever home.
Today’s scenery reminds me of the Sierra. Super tall granite rock faces and lakes and ALOT of climbing. Almost 6000 feet ascent.
The day is pleasant though we have an unrealistic goal of making it to town for a free music show. Once we start climbing, and after some early morning bush whacking, we give up and take long food breaks to help the miles along.
At a bridge before our last big climb of the day I reveal my secret to Groucho. I want to be having fun but I feel super bummed. I don’t know if this is a phase or what but I don’t care about being a thru hiker. Always pushing to the next town or trying to do 25-30 miles or whatever… It’s feeling like a job.
Am I done thru hiking?
I cry and Groucho waxes extremely supportive. Helping me the last few hours of the day with jokes and encouragement. Tho I’m still very whiny. My PERIOD is coming in soon … I just know it.
At 7pm “we still haven’t seen any humans”, remarks Groucho. Cursing us, because at the lake in one mile we see at least 15… More than any other wilderness location our trip. We breeze past the crowd and camp by a charming alpine creek amidst wildflowers.
20 hiked +4 on a bus
We finish the climb around dawn and a prairie dog type animal chirps at us over breakfast at the pass.
We make it into Big Sky by noon for resupply. It’s boasts a suburban-feeling town center with an excellent outfitter, and a good grocery store where we can eat and do wifi at picnic tables in the shade outside.
We relax until 4:00 when we take the free hourly bus to the trailhead. And then we set off on the next 8 miles of mosquito-ridden trail before sleep. Tomorrow we enter Yellowstone!!
Today the tread on my shoes fails. Either that or my PMS bloat has disrupted my inner ear balance. I fall no fewer than 4 times, always skidding out, landing on my back with one leg splayed in front and the other leg bent to back. It is not comfortable and nor does it hurt… Unlike my uterus which feels like it is turning itself inside out. I must be dehydrated. I have never experienced this intensity of cramps on trail. I feel like throwing up and pooping and crawling into a cat hole and dying. I request 4 breaks between 10-11am. Most of them to cry. I think the endorphins help a little. I also take a prescription strength dose of Naproxin. This doesn’t work so I take a little more.
Sometime around 1pm my problems ease and we approach the boundary of Yellowstone on the sky rim trail. We are blown away by the sights on this 8 mile ridge walk along the NW boundary of the park.
Around 4pm we descend and good thing because we encounter another afternoon thunder shower but are safely in the trees. Then around 7pm a burn area and sun thru rain and the coolest rainbow. I am exhausted by my morning ordeal but we see a herd of wild elk and I feel hyped to be in this beautiful place.
Night falls and we hike hard to make it to our ranger-permitted campsite. We get there by 10pm – our first night hike of the CDT.
It’s eeire. There is no one here (we can tell by lack of bear bags on the pole) but this campsite is supposed to support 12 humans and as many horses and the ranger made it sound like the park was pretty packed. Where is everyone?
We get up at first light and immediately start a rigorous ascent toward electric pass. It is very difficult after yesterday’s 30+ miles and I listen to music to help me along. The first time I’ve employed music on the CDT. A couple miles in we officially cross into Wyoming!!! one state done! At the pass we see a small Elk posse on the ridge across the valley also climb 1000 feet. They are better at it.
In a few miles we begin eagerly anticipating Mammoth Hot Springs. Our next resupply town. On our Map it looks like they have town food, a grocery, a ranger station and camp ground.
As we get close we smell sulphuric fumes. At first I think it’s Groucho’s butt but then we see hot bubbling crevices in the powdery rocks and we realize this smell is the springs! The structures that evolve from these springs become more architectural, strange, smelly, artful and outrageous as we approach civilization. Finally, in town is a monumental hot spring structure with hundreds of tourists climbing up wooden ramps in polite and milling lines, in the heat of day, to get close to the natural wonder. It’s weirdly like Disneyland. Welcome to America!
We split up and I go to the campground to secure a spot at their site reserved for backpackers and cyclists -a “hike&bike”. Groucho goes to the ranger station to plan our itinerary thru Yellowstone. He success in locking down 3 sites for us. One in 10 miles, then 22 miles, then 8 miles and then a 17 out to the next ranger station/hike&bike. This is perfect because we want some easier “rest” days.
At dusk a knowledgable ranger gives an excellent talk about the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone and the soap opera story of wolf “21”. We are hyped because our itinerary will take us thru some of the territories she mentions.
Finally… A Real Zero
*28 nights since we last slept inside in a bed. (Helena).
*28 days since our last day off (Helena).
*21 days since real shower and laundry (Ennis).
*19 days since a real town with amenities like grocery and wifi (big sky).
*16 days since access to the crappiest town food and wifi on the planet (Mammoth Hot Springs – Yellowstone).
*13 days since a store where we could buy overpriced shrimp ramen and throw away the seasoning packet (a tourist resupply store in Fishing Village – Yellowstone)
*9 days since we picked up our last resupply box filled with only 7 days of food (Brooks Lake Lodge)
*9 days since I could last text message my BFF and use a landline to call my mom (Brooks Lake Lodge)
We’ve walked 600 miles since we last took a day off and it’s definitely time for a town day.
Our destination: Landers, Wyoming. A place for town food, showers, laundry, ice baths, hot tubs, blog and YouTube updates, email, text, chores, and at least 1 (okay… maybe 2) days without hiking or carrying a backpack.
More soon. ❤
18 miles plus 6 hitch miles
We wake and continue walking on the railroad tracks. A beautiful morning and the approaching I90 corridor reminds us it’s a town day!
By 7:40 am we have crossed under I90 passing the ruins of pipestone hot springs. We climb thru the barbed wire to photo the buildings and stick out toes in the 118 degree water.
Then back to the road with epic industrialized agricultural views of robotic irrigation systems for a mysterious green crop with purple flowers. Alfalfa? July sun in the valley makes us squint, glisten and flush. I drop my sunglasses in a rushing creek.
At 9:30 we reach an “improved” road 3 miles from Whitehall. Traffic increases as the road shoulder decreases. Eventually we tire of near death experiences and hitch the remaining few miles into Town.
Here the grocery has decent resupply – except no hiker bars. WHAT. the cafe “Legends” lets us use wifi and the convenience store offers a good hiker snacks, plus the biggest ammo selection I have ever seen. They also sell Disney Princess themed Fishing rods. Maybe next time.
Around 3:30pm we jump the gun and hit the paved road walk too soon. It’s a HOT BOY. We hitch 2 miles ahead to the river crossing with Shane and Caroline… Delightfully kind and curious humans towing a horse trailer. They’ve been up in the mountains documenting a cattle carcass killed by Grizzlies for a rancher’s insurance claim.
At the river we swim and cool off before a grueling walk on dusty country roads populated by many melancholy horses. Then we walk. and sweat.
At 5pm we find the river again and dip with all our clothes on. I see little minnows nibbling and exfoliating my feet. People pay for this privilege in the big city! We dip our bottles in the water and it tastes soapy and grassy. Probably polluted by cattle and farm land. Blech.
we begin to ascend into the foothills of the Tobacco Roots. The sun shines sideways as dusk comes and walking grows way more pleasant. At dark we climb a hill. Cattle low on the adjacent hill and coyotes yip in the valley below as we sleep under the stars.
The day goes on and on and on with concerns mostly of water. And elevation gain. Also walking down the wrong trail. Twice.
Last night, the nice shirtless rancher on the ATV told us water would be tough on the “back side of the mountain.” So our commitment today is to drink at almost every source and carry an untouchable emergency half liter of water each.
several climbs, and long breaks, and water fill ups Later – I am hot, tired, too full, and peeing every 20 minutes.
After the steepest climb of the day we choose a slightly longer descent route charmed by the blue dot on the map supposed to be a lake! Alas it is now a marshy, grassy wetland. Not a lake.
Dejected in the late afternoon sweat of a trail, we descend. I check the Gaia app and realize we missed a turn a half mile back. This area will hereforeto be called “disappointment plateau.”
We begin a long ascent to an unnamed pass. Cows wander these fields polluting the creek at every turn. Groucho wonders why we bother digging cat holes when cows are allowed to crap everywhere at will.
At camp, a dozen cows watch as I Mary poppins all my fluffy gear out of my tiny bag. I’m not sure if they are impressed but they have a lot to say about it.
27 miles walk
4 miles hitch on route (a paved road)
6 miles hitch off trail to resupply
We wake with a few miles left of ascent. The last section dives straight thru an old mining site with privys and cabins and cables and equipment decaying around every turn. It’s quite beautiful in its own way but a reminder of how many of these trails were built in the first place – as Americans stripped the land and Left Trace.
I find Groucho at the top, and we have a snack at his newly named “poop joke” pass.
The next section is all easy descent. And we meet day hikers who offer us a ride to Ennis when they are done in a few hours. We decide to hike on but hope they pass us on their way back in the hot part of the afternoon.
Then immediately we start a steep climb. And it’s on a bumpy ATV road. And we realize there’s no way those guys are coming this way in their SUVs. They must be exiting another route. Our promise of an easy ride goes up in smoke.
Okay. Only 14 miles left. Feels like forever. Sweating and huffing up the climb and finally reach a small flat spot where we take a mapped shortcut to the lake. After 20 minutes of climbing up, with Groucho trail blazing ahead, I realize we are on a loop trail which – after we climb 1000 feet – will take us back to where we started this climb an hour ago.
And Groucho is out of shouting range. At this point I begin a private hysteric fit. Which Groucho soon witnesses on his own descent down having realized our mistake too. We are both furious and it’s – as they say – not good.
Rather than lose the elevation we just climbed, we bush whack across the mountain for a half hour, thru pines and then scratchy sage brush.
Then it’s all sunny road walk for 3 hours
Awesome day right!?
Then we start to try to hitch because dirt road turns to paved but there is little traffic. Then the wind picks up and a thunderstorm threatens on the ridge and Finally finally at 4/30pm someone swoops us and drives us to the oasis of Ennis!!
Review of Ennis: charming historic downtown. decent grocery. Camping at RV park “camper corner” is affordable – $15 single or $22 for two in one tent. includes shower, wifi. Super clean facility and cheap laundry. The library offers Bathrooms, free wifi and cheap thrillers for $1. Lots of Restaurants. Outfitter mostly caters to hunting/fishing folks.
We need a little rest and take the morning off in Ennis. Well actually we walk 1.5 miles round trip to the post office along the highway. Then we take the morning off and snack, write postcards, etc.
By 2pm we finish our hummus at a picnic table by the grocery. A Lady leaving store says “you boys having fun?” I am wearing a baseball hat, plaid shirt and men’s watch. But don’t know if it’s my attire or my pack or my willingness to smell like I do that strikes her as boyish.
Back to our route and we immediately encounter Ennis lake’s private property problem. Besides the indignity of a broiling 3 mile road walk, we encounter no fewer than 20 private property signs, mostly situated by the only swimming spots. We finally find a public beach but of course there is no shade, it’s weirdly shallow there and the water is sort of stagnant and gross. We jump in, but leave feeling disappointed. A mile further we befriend locals who show us the good swimming spot a short jump from the low bridge. This restores faith in humanity for one hour, until we see the warning for swimmers itch posted at the trail head.
I feel relieved to leave civilization and capitalism and feudalism and Cercaria behind as we trek up into the wild. Indeed one of the first things we see is a pronghorn antelope. These buddies are the US’s fastest land mammals and evolved alongside a North American cheetah that is now extinct.
A few hours later we crest to a high plateau and see bear prints in the dusty trail. a minute later we spy the owner ambling up the adjacent hillside. we camp here and hang our food high just as lighting fires up in the dusky sky. I fall asleep -cozy and dry – to the sound of thunder and rain beating on our tarp.