Category Archives: Yellowstone

Canoeing Lewis and Shoshone Lakes

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Frost crystals crack across the surface of our canoe, dry bags, anything that has touched water. I stomp my feet and squeeze my fingers into fists, looking east for the sun. In front of me, thick clouds are a blanket on glassy Shoshone Lake. A subtle sunrise pink  guards the horizon before it is kissed by the early sun.

All is quiet, and then we hear the sound of an alpine autumn: an elk bugle- high and clean and unmistakable- cuts through the low fog and clouds. Then another. And at least one more.

By the time we get on the water at 8:19 a.m. on the second day of a 4-day trip, it seems our goal for the trip  has already been met: be in the wild and distract ourselves fully from our long list of Peace Corps preparations.

There’s no better place for wild lands and distractions than Yellowstone’s backcountry. It’s a place that’s easy to return to, almost addicting. It never disappoints, and there’s always something new to be found there. After getting more than 300 miles of Yellowstone’s trails under my hiking boots, it was time to try something new on this summer’s trip to the park.

Alex and I hatched the plan in late Spring: buy a cheap canoe, practice all summer/learn how the heck to boat, circumnavigate the massive Lake Yellowstone, sell the canoe and leave for Mozambique.

An exciting but perhaps overly ambitious plan morphed into something more do-able as we learned more about ourselves inside a boat and more about the 5-foot whitecaps that sometimes churn up on the waters of Lake Yellowstone.

Shoshone Lake was the perfect pick for our first multi-night canoe camping trip. To help ourselves out we planned low mileage days so we could do all of our paddling in the calm morning water ,we practiced packing our canoe on a couple overnight trips on Lake Granby, and we devised a food system that allowed us quick and easy breakfasts and lunches for our paddling hours.

So, on day 4, we stopped for lunch at the mouth of the Lewis Channel with only 3 miles left ahead. We swam, we ate, but mostly we stopped here to flex our muscles-now 31 paddled miles stronger- for a picture next to the sign that reads ‘Closed To Power Boating Beyond This Point.’

Paddle Power!

Video credit to Alex Romanyshyn

Boating Information/Logistics:

Our first step to planning this trip was printing of the boating regulations and lake maps with campsites. After calling the backcountry office to get an idea of mileage between sites, we filled out this backcountry reservation form and paid $25 to reserve the sites for our trip.

When we got to Yellowstone, we set up camp at the Lewis Lake campground (where the boat launch is) and visited the Grant Village backcountry office to obtain our camping permit (a reservation is NOT a permit) at $3 per person per night, boat permit at $5 per week, buy a fishing license, and get an Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) check on our boat. The AIS process was a little confusing in Wyoming. We received ‘clearance’ for our boat at the Wyoming/Colorado border and were given a piece of paper confirming this. We then had to present this paper at the Teton entrance station on the way through to Yellowstone. Then, we had to get a special AIS inspection at the Grant Village Backcountry Office in Yellowstone and received an AIS sticker for our boat.As a sidenote, when we boated in the Tetons after Yellowstone, we had to present the original AIS paper from the border and give all sorts of personal information to get a Wyoming AIS sticker mailed to us.

Anywho, once we were all set up with permits, we were ready to pack and go. We came into Yellowstone a day early to allow time for all the running around and getting permits organized. I wouldn’t recommend trying to do this the day of your trip, as there is nowhere to get the permits that is all that close to the boat launch.

Once we got on the water, our mileage and sites were as follows, for a total of 34 miles:

Day 1: Lewis Lake Boat Launch to site 8Q7, 8.47 miles. This site was shaded in both evening and morning, which made it a bit chilly. It is backed by a beautiful meadow and Moose Creek. The bear pole and tent site were right on the beach, making unloading and reloading very easy.

Day 2: 8Q7 to 8T3, 4.74 miles. This site was tucked into a nook of shoreline, and it took some hard looking to spot the orange marker that signifies each site. The site itself was on top of a small hill, which made unloading and reloading harder, but offered awesome views of the lake and steam rising out of the nearby Shoshone Geyser Basin.

Day 2 side trip: 8T3 to Shoshone Geyser Basin, 4.45 miles roundtrip. Because our mileage between sites was so short on Day 2, we arrived at camp early and decided to take a side trip to the Geyser Basin even though we would be passing it on Day 3 on the way to our next campsite. From the water, you can see a large orange marker signifying the boat pull-out for the geyser basin. The trail starts right from the beach and winds up a mellow hill, taking hikers past a variety of geysers and thermal features. Our maps showed that this was a loop trail, but we did not find this to be true. At the top of the Geyser Basin, the trail petered off a bit. The most defined trail led us a ways away from the basin until we determined that we had gotten onto the South Shoshone Trail. Having never found the loop option, we did this as an ‘out and back’ that was about 2 miles long.

Day 3: 8T3 to 8R1, 5.29 miles. Originally, we planned to stay at 8R1 for two nights to have a layover day, and then go to o8Q6, which would have made this a 6 day trip. However, because the mileage was so short, we arrived at 8R1 at about 10a.m., so no longer felt like we needed a layover day or the extra day at 8Q6, just a short 3 miles away. Here we decided that this would be the final night! 8R1 has a great beach for lounging, fishing and relaxing, and this is exactly what we did all day on Day 3. This site is on the far side of The Narrows, the only spot that NPS recommends crossing Shoshone. This made it easy to get up and go the next day, paddling the most potentially dangerous portion of the trip first thing in the morning. The site itself was similar to 8T3 in that the bear pole and tent site were up a hill from the beach. Again we were awarded great views of a large portion of the lake from this site, and enjoyed our third and final night of cooking and eating on a beautiful beach 🙂

Day 4: 8R1 to Lewis Lake Boat Launch, 10.67 miles. With blue skies and sunshine, we had plenty of time for snack breaks, pictures, fishing, swimming, and dragging the boat down the Lewis Channel!

Food tips:

It’s not unusual for me to become fairly obsessive about food, enough so that Alex has deemed me the Food Liaison for our trips 🙂 Wanting to avoid day after day of oatmeal and Ramen, I set to work contemplating our menu for this trip weeks in advance.

I portioned out and packed everything for each breakfast and dinner into a gallon Ziploc for each day, including even instant coffee and other ‘extras’ so we wouldn’t have to dig through multiple bags for every meal. For lunches, I packed us each our own smaller Ziploc with snacks that ‘packed a punch.’ Then I packed this all in a dry bag, putting the last day’s meals on the bottom and stacking up to Day 1 from there. On top I included a bag of extra snacks. Each night we took out the next day’s breakfast and lunch to avoid opening one more dry bag in the morning. This system was AWESOME! It was so nice to not dig through tons of bags to get what we needed for each day and to only hang one dry bag of food on our bear pole.

Breakfasts:

Pita breakfast pizzas with almond butter (individually packaged), banana chips, craisins, pumpkin seeds, and toasted coconut.

Oatmeal with trail mix

Couscous with dried, chopped mango, coconut, almonds, cinnamon, and honey. ( We ate this after the trip ended, since we cut the trip short by two days…but it was scrumptious 🙂 )

***Alex had the brilliant idea of filling our big Thermos with boiling water each night after dinner and using this for breakfast and coffee the next morning. This system worked great and saved us time messing with the stove in the morning.

Lunch/Snack bags included some combination of:

Individually packaged almond butter or peanut butter, beef jerky, non-refrigerated cheese-like laughing cow (we found something similar at Cost Plus World Market), individual summer sausages (also from Cost Plus), Triscuits, fruit leathers, Clif bar or another granola bar, trail mix, salty snack mix, snack olives (woot woot Cost Plus).

All I can say is that I couldn’t wait to get hungry mid-morning every day so I could choose a snack from my snack bag. I loved this system as well and would definitely use this for backpacking or long day hikes too.

Dinners:

Chicken Fajitas: This was our Day 1 dinner, so we were able to pack fresh chopped bell peppers with pouch chicken and spices.

Thanksgiving Dinner: A gem of a backcountry dinner, first discovered by Alex when students cooked it on this year’s high school Leadership Trip in the school district where we worked! Cook instant mash potatoes and stuffing together, add pouch chicken, and top with craisins and pumpkin or sunflower seeds. You could even get crazy with gravy if you so desire.

Pesto pasta with chicken and sun-dried tomatoes: Again, eaten after the canoe trip ended, but a great backcountry meal nonetheless. Combine pasta with a pesto sauce packet and pouch chicken, and add a little color with sun-dried tomatoes, which don’t require refrigeration until opened.

In addition to these meals, we had originally planned soup with rice every other day of the trip. I bought the Campbell’s Go soups because they are bagged instead of canned and pack wonderfully.

Finally, don’t forget beer, whiskey, and chocolate!

With full bellies and sore shoulders, we left Shoshone as we had wanted: happily distracted and energized by the wilds.

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Tuesday Talk: Shoshone snapshot

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Boxes are packed, the house is moved out of, last paycheck in the bank, and Peace Corps plane tickets arranged! 

We are a bit homeless and a bit jobless. We are starting to say our slow goodbyes to America.

So a week ago we strapped the canoe to the top of the Subaru (how Colorado is that?!) and headed to a place we love and consider quintessentially American: Yellowstone National Park.

Here, we can say ‘see you later’ to the wilds, the public lands that are one of our favorite parts of the good ole USA!

We had to jump for joy at the end of our four days on Shoshone Lake 🙂

  
More to follow! 

3 Night Out and Back: Southeast Arm of Lake Yellowstone on the Thorofare Trail

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P1070757Night 1: 6.5 miles to campsite 5E8, Park Point

Pulling up at the nine mile post trailhead, we quickly realized that this might the least shady trailhead in the park. There was not a spot of shade as we set out packing our packs for this four day trip. We were sweating within minutes and our food was softening and melting away! Nonetheless, after about two hours we were packed, fed, and ready to venture down the Thorofare.

Sidenote: The Thorofare through-hike is the Holy Grail of Yellowstone National Park; It takes hikers 68.5 miles through the park, one-way, and reaches, at one point, the most remote spot in the lower 48. Whoa. This trail is pretty awesome. It’s been on the to-do list for quite a few years, but limiting factors in hiking this beast are always 1) time, because it takes a week or more, and 2) having 2 cars so you can leave one at the beginning and one at the end. So, we did not set out to hike the entire Thorofare on this trip- I swear we’ll do it someday- but we were lucky enough to get a permit for three nights in this beautiful (that’s a given in Yellowstone) area of the park!

The trailhead is on the east entrance road to the park, and it’s an area I haven’t spent much time in so I was excited to get out there, into Yellowstone’s quiet nether regions. We started out hiking in burnt forest, dusty and exposed. Within about half a mile of the trailhead we saw bear tracks (dun dun dun!!), but I will just ruin the suspense now by saying that besides a little scat, we saw no other signs of bear activity along this trail. Overall, this was a flat, easy 6.5 miles that took us in and out of burnt forest, over fallen logs, across a couple small streams, beside a meadow with mountain views, until we reached the spur trail for 5E8. This can be a bit confusing, as there is one ‘unofficial’ spur that you will reach before the ‘official,’ marked spur trail. We took the ‘unofficial’ route and walked along the lakeshore for about the 200 yards before reaching the site.

If I was holding onto any loyalties about any other site in this park, they were all gone once I saw 5E8. It’s definitely my favorite campsite in the park. There is an awesome fire pit with benches, as well as good tent sites. But what really did it for me was that this site is right on the shore of Lake Yellowstone; it’s just a few steps from the fire pit to the lake side. There’s nothing like a dip in freezing waters to wash away the dust and renew your energy after a day of hiking! And, to me, nothing says freedom more than getting in a high mountain lake. Ahhh yes. So, after some swimming we discovered the Yellowstone hot stone massage, where you lay your lake-numbed body on the warm pebble beach and let the warmth sooooaaakk into your weary but revitalized muscles. It’s as good as any spa treatment, I promise. After swimming and sunning came cooking on the beach and watching the vibrant sunset over the water. Our topic of discussion: the big-ness of Yellowstone and how you could easily spend your whole life here and not see it all.

Day 2: 8.2 miles to 5E3, Brimstone Point

Overall, the hike to this campsite was much more scenic than the first day. We started out hiking through thick forest before ascending a hill. We hiked along the side of this hill for quite a while, exposed in the hot sun but enjoying far-reaching views of the lake below us. Along the hillside we went in and out of meadows and forest. The ground cover was thick and lush, growing over the trail in some areas. The meadows were blooming with wildflowers: red, yellow, white, and purple. With the scenery of this day came elevation change; this part of the trail goes up and down a lot more. We had a few small stream crossings this day as well, but only one that required bare feet or a piggy back ride.

The second day, for me, is always the hardest. I don’t know why this is but it always seems to be. I was more tired and more sore. I could feel the bruises on my hips from my backpack. I could feel the start of pesky hot spots and blisters. It was starting to feel like a backpacking trip! Of course, a dip in the lake at the end of the day washed all these little ailments away. And an afternoon siesta propelled my body further into vacation mode. This site, too, is right on the lakeshore but didn’t seem quite as pristine to me as 5E8. The fire pit is in an open space with clear views of the lake, but it was a little harder to find a good tent site. Still, we got spoiled on this trip with our lakeside sites! The third day of our trip we hiked back to 5E8 and the fourth day we hiked out, for a grand total of 28.4 miles.

And the best part of this whole trip? Getting to show my fiance Alex the big,

Alex hanging our food on the bear pole.

Alex hanging our food on the bear pole.

open, quiet, beautiful, wild, free backcountry of Yellowstone. There’s no better place to vacation than Yellowstone’s backcountry.

 

Hot Springs and Kayaking Around the Tetons

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Like Yellowstone, the Tetons can be crazy crowded and while visiting some of the must-see spots (Snake River Overlook, Jenny Lake) is, well, a must-do, we found some spots on the water that tend to be a bit quieter.

Kelly Warm Springs, north of Jackson, Wyoming.

Kelly Warm Springs, north of Jackson, Wyoming.

Kelly Warm Springs: First of all, I appreciate the naming of this swimming hole as a warm spring instead of a hot spring because this is truthful. It’s not hot, but it’s warm enough to be comfortable on a summer day when the sun’s out. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon and there were a couple families there with kids, but there was plenty of space to spread out on the grass next to the springs. There is one larger swimming hole that gradually narrows into the stream. Along with views of the Tetons, the smell of sulfur greeted us and we followed it upstream to see if we could find a hotter spot. We slipped over rocks and got stuck in the muck, stopping at times to look down on the goldfish and what we thought were cichlids. How these types of fish got into the warm springs…we don’t know. Failing to find a hotter area we returned to the main swimming hole where it was deep enough to float around. And when we’d had enough water time we laid down on the bank to soak up the sun.

To get here: Follow highway 191 north out of Jackson. Turn right at Gros Ventre Junction, following signs toward the town of Kelly. Continue north through the town of Kelly and follow signs for the warm springs, which will be a right turn.

Kayaking on Jackson Lake:  The first time we thought to rent a kayak on Jackson

Kayaking on Jackson Lake in the Tetons.

Kayaking on Jackson Lake in the Tetons.

Lake was 5 years ago, when I had blisters so bad from hiking that I couldn’t even bear the thought of putting shoes on my misshapen feet. Kayaking proved to be a worthy alternative to hiking in the Tetons, especially when we were able to observe a Bald Eagle at close range, so we decided to go on an evening kayak excursion this time around too. It’s $19 an hour to rent a tandem kayak on Jackson Lake and we ended up being out for about an hour and a half at the end of the day. Although you won’t be alone on the lake, you’ll have plenty of space to yourself as you paddle around the islands, enjoying uninterrupted views of the Tetons. If you have the time it’s always fun to pull your boat up on one of the rocky shores and spend a couple minutes exploring on land. We also figure that a quick kayak trip is a good way to keep the body balanced if you plan to do a lot of hiking in Yellowstone and the Tetons.

To get here: Take Highway 191 north out of Jackson until you reach Moran Junction. Turn left, following signs for Grand Teton National Park entrance. Continue to follow Highway 191 to the Colter Bay area. Rent your kayak at the Colter Bay Marina.

The small, natural hot springs pool below Granite Falls, south of Jackson, Wyoming.

The small, natural hot springs pool below Granite Falls, south of Jackson, Wyoming.

Granite Hot Springs/ Granite Falls: A little bit south out of the hustle bustle of Jackson, the Tetons, and Yellowstone Granite Hot Springs is the dead end of a dirt road that heads right into the Medicine Bow range. Ahhhh, sounds glorious already doesn’t it? We took the road to the hot springs to take a look and found that for a low rate ($6 I believe) you are granted access to a small, hot swimming pool. Having heard from Alex’s cousin that there is a hot spot in the river below the paid-entry pool, we set out to explore this option further. We didn’t find anything directly below the pool so went back down the road to Granite Falls (it has a sign and a small parking lot). We took one of the trails down toward the falls and saw two people soaking in a little nook on the far side of the river. Hmmmmmm….. After some debate about whether to pay $15 and stay in the nearby campground or pay $0 and stay in a national forest campsite down the road we …headed down the road. We ended up finding a free national forest spot nearby, set up camp, ate dinner, and organized the car. Then, first thing in the morning we packed up and headed up to the waterfall to get in that nook. We crossed the icy waters and stuck our numb feet- followed by the rest of our bodies- into a small, built-up pool just big enough for two. We were tucked in along the rock wall below the waterfall, with a hot springs waterfall flowing gently down into our little private pool. Oh, how I love Wyoming! We enjoyed quiet solitude here for about an hour and a half before dragging ourselves out of that little piece of heaven and heading down the road back to Colorado.

To get here:  Take Highway 191 south out of Jackson. Stay on Highway 191 at Hoback Junction. Follow signs to Granite Hot Springs. If you get to Bondurant, you’ve gone too far south.

There’s No Place Like Stone

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**Video credit to Alex Romanyshyn

Usually, I am a person who would rather go somewhere new than revisit somewhere I’ve already been. It’s hard for me to understand why I should go back instead of exploring something different. Why would I hike the same trail twice or visit the same city over and over? My usual mentality: there’s so much out there to see; there’s no time for revisits.

But then I start to think about the concept of familiar and unfamiliar vs. old and new. Going back to somewhere familiar? Now that’s different. Yellowstone is probably one of the most familiar places of all to me. After I worked there for the summer after high school I told myself I would make a little time to come back every year. I spent one more summer there and have visited every year since, except for one. It’s one of few places I feel compelled to go back to over and over.

First, there is about a thousand miles of trail in the park so most times that I go back I am able to discover something new in this familiar place. The second reason I keep going back, I realized this year, is that this place is familiar in feeling and emotion. To revisit Yellowstone in a geographical and physical sense is to revisit somewhere emotionally familiar. Have you ever forgotten a thought and tried to retrace your steps through the house back to where you first had the thought? And once you reach that place in the house you remember what you were thinking. Is my crazy brain the only that works like this? For me, physical places cause my brain to recall certain thoughts or emotions that were felt strongly in that place previously. Yellowstone is a physical place where I experienced a lot of personal and emotional growth-we’ll save that story for another day- so I suppose it makes sense that in most revisits to the park I have been overwhelmed with emotions and memories. And I usually shed a few tears and wallow in the painful nostalgia and strange feeling of being just another tourist in a place I’ve called home.

This year though, it had been two years away from the park instead of the usual one year. This year it was kind of like visiting an old friend. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Emotions aside, I just wanted some Yellowstone time. And I didn’t even cry on this visit J Mostly what I felt was gratitude for this place that is a part of me, that is so much bigger than me , and that is permanent; Gratitude for a place and a feeling I can always revisit.