Absarokas Fun Route - 12 Days of High Adventure

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LarryBoy

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In August of 2017, I had the opportunity to take the trip of a lifetime - a week and a half in Wyoming's fantastic Absaroka Range. I started at Togwotee Pass and hiked north, ending in Cooke City MT.

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Note - this is a more "technical" writeup of my trip, with maps, route considerations, and philosophy. For a more storylike/grandparent-friendly account of my trip, including the day-to-day adventures, many more photos, and a mostly unremarkable story of my bear encounter, please see my blog: http://prettyeasytoremember.blogspot.com/2017/11/in-which-grizzly-shares-my-lunch.html

The problem with pioneering a route in the backcountry is that you're not quite sure if it's going to work. Prior to my trip, I did extensive research, talking with people on BCP, among other places, to try and get some route beta. I'm grateful to each of them for their help in this process, as the trip would not have been possible without them. Still, adjustments in the field are necessary. I deviated from my route in two main places:
  • I bailed at Deer Creek Pass due to a hungry grizzly and ineffective OpSaks. This reduced my total route length by about 45 miles, and forced me to miss some terrain that I was really looking forward to.
  • I bailed off the main Absarokas Crest south of Republic Pass due to terrain that was just a little too sketchy to try solo.
Click here to view on CalTopo

Onto the highlights!

Section 1: Buffalo Plateau

The route started off with a bang - an amazing ridgewalk across a high plateau. Beautiful views were everywhere. I took in the solar eclipse from the top of a remote ridge. Can't be beat! Although entirely off-trail, the terrain was mostly easy, with the occasional short-but-steep climb. I met three dudes in their sixties on this section, who had been hiking the Absarokas for years. They offered helpful tips. If I'm half as cool as they are in my sixties, it'll be an accomplishment.

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Section 2: Younts Peak Area

I followed occasional trails through this area, over Marston Pass and the saddle between Younts and Thorofare Peaks. Some trails aren't marked on the maps but definitely exist on the ground. I followed a beautiful side drainage with an entrenched stream, crossed a remote pass, and dropped steeply down a narrow gorge, off-trail, toward the Thorofare.

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Section 3: The Thorofare and Woody Pass

This section was entirely on-trail. I hate to be a downer on an area that everyone likes so much, but I didn't find the Thorofare particularly interesting. It was nice, sure, but very hot/dry/partially burnt and didn't measure up to the fantastic scenery in sections 1-2.

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Section 4: Deer Creek Pass

This is where I deviated significantly from my route. A bear got at my food bags overnight in upper Butte Creek, and while he was unsuccesful in obtaining tasty treats (Ursacks are everything they're claimed to be!), he was successful in puncturing my OpSaks and slobbering all over my food, rendering it unedible. The plan was to continue north, off-trail, along the spine of the range. Instead, I bailed down a side trail, did first-aid on a horse, and caught a ride to Cody to get food. For all the mostly-uninteresting details, check out le blog.

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Section 5: Grinnell Creek

I skipped the northern half of the southern section, as I wouldn't have time to complete the whole route, given my misadventures with the bear. Instead, I resumed my trek north at Grinnell Creek. While there was a trail on the map, it really faded north of an old outfitter camp, forcing a long, mostly horrible bushwhack. Cresting a pass into Silvertip Basin, I encountered a giant burn area.

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Section 6: Silvertip and Sunlight Basins

This section was entirely on-trail, which was nice as my Achilles was a-killin' me. More wonderful views abounded in the section, a nice change from the Grinnell Creek section, which was nothing special. I headed up Sunlight Creek and toward the YNP boundary

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Section 7: Cruising the Crest

I followed the main crest of the Absarokas north, my left foot in the National Park, and my right foot in the National Forest. The walking was mostly benign until I got within ~10 miles of Republic Pass. There was one sketchy spot that I probably could've done safely, but it exceeded the risk tolerance I have on solo hikes. You're welcome, Mom.

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Section 8: Burn Areas and Bushwhack

This entire area of the park burned in '88, and if you're below treeline, you're gonna have a bad time. As a result of my bail, I endured a horrendous bushwhack down an unnamed side canyon (with lots of petrified wood!). Once I reached Cache Creek, I cruised along a nicely-maintained trail through more burn areas toward Republic Pass. I crested Republic Pass, now out of the burn area, and returned to my car, parked in Cooke City

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Considerations:
  • You're gonna have to hitchhike to do this route. No way around it. I got five hitches from Cooke City to Togwotee Pass and it took me about 6 hours on a weekend in August. Not too bad.
  • Weather window is fairly small. Before about mid-August, you'll encounter potentially showstopping snow; after Labor Day, you're rolling the dice weather-wise.
  • No permits needed - but you probably want to get one anyway. My intended route allowed me to camp outside the Park boundary each night, however I had to bail off the ridge and ended up sleeping in the park. I'd recommend getting the permit, just in case.
  • Don't resupply in Cody. I stood on the side of the road for three hours trying to get a ride before someone gave me a pity-hitch back to the trail. Instead, contact on of your friendly neighborhood dude ranches that line Hwy 20 and ask them to hold a package for you.
  • Despite everything that went wrong, this is a great little route. I'd like to see someone complete it as planned or as recommended. The Absarokas are a little under-the-radar compared to the Winds, the Tetons, etc, but they're just as wonderful.
Thanks:

Thanks to everyone who participated in this thread. Your advice was invaluable in putting together an ambitious route in a palce I've never been. In particular, a hundred thousand thanks to @Kmatjhwy for her excellent, first-hand, unparalled advice. Next time I'm in Jackson, dinner's one me!

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Jackson

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@Jackson, am I forgiven now? :thumbsup:
100% yes. That was awesome. I read through your blog post as well. Awesome that you did all that solo.

I cannot believe you still didn't see a bear, even after that one wrecked your food. Next year will be your year, hopefully. Haha. If it's any consolation, I have yet to encounter one on the trail. My only wild sightings have been from the road.

Anyway, awesome route and write-up!
 

LarryBoy

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100% yes. That was awesome. I read through your blog post as well. Awesome that you did all that solo.

I cannot believe you still didn't see a bear, even after that one wrecked your food. Next year will be your year, hopefully. Haha. If it's any consolation, I have yet to encounter one on the trail. My only wild sightings have been from the road.

Anyway, awesome route and write-up!
Lord willing, next year is the CDT NOBO. If I don't see a bear over the course of five months, I guess there's really just no hope for me.
 

Absarokanaut

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The Absaroka sux, stay away.

Thanks for sharing man. Since I don't do [horse] packtrips anymore I'm not geting much beyond Kissinger Lakes, Ausin Peak, Jules Bowl, Pinnacles, Castle Rock, etc. anymore but I'm goood with that.

Hike on.
 

Wanderlust073

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Just curious (not wanting to open the ursack can of worms) - did you use that little aluminum sleeve inside your bags?
Also your blog writeup is excellent, you should post it here lol.
 

LarryBoy

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Just curious (not wanting to open the ursack can of worms) - did you use that little aluminum sleeve inside your bags?
Also your blog writeup is excellent, you should post it here lol.
I did not. Perhaps it would have helped. I was counting on the opsaks to make the food invisible to bears, smell-wise. Never making that mistake again!
 

Kmatjhwy

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LarryBoy, Great Trip report! Now am soooo happy you did the hike and you saw some amazing country. Good for you! Now too bad that a bear got into your food. But still you did not see one bear. Interesting! As for myself, I always bring about a pair of binoculars and am always scanning everything near and far. Now loved your photos and loved your blog. Now some of those places you visited brought back sweet memories to me. Good for you for doing the trip. Now wasn't the eclipse Awesome! Good also for yourself with going by your lonesome. Personally have always gone by myself and love it this way. There are not many of us that do trips like this by our lonesome selves.

Here it is now the end of November and we have all winter to get thru for next summer's hiking and wanderings. So you are heading to the CDT North Country next summer? Dues this mean Glacier NP and the Bob Marshall Country? If so then you will enjoy for it is good country also.
As for myself went back to Alaska for the fifth summer in a row. Then on the Washington Coast for a tiny bit. Afterwards back in Jackson for the eclipse. Then this fall with two and a half months in the Southwest. Now back in Jackson enjoying Life.

Again a good trip report and blog. Thanks for posting. Wishing You the Best!
 

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Jackson

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I did not. Perhaps it would have helped. I was counting on the opsaks to make the food invisible to bears, smell-wise. Never making that mistake again!
That's really interesting that they didn't work like they're purported to. I've heard they work well for rodents and stuff, but bears must just have a far stronger sense of smell.

Edit: Confirmed. I looked it up and their sense of smell is 7x stronger than a bloodhound's. Wow.
 

LarryBoy

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That's really interesting that they didn't work like they're purported to. I've heard they work well for rodents and stuff, but bears must just have a far stronger sense of smell.

Edit: Confirmed. I looked it up and their sense of smell is 7x stronger than a bloodhound's. Wow.
It wasn't even that. I, with a human nose, could smell my food, so everything around me for a mile could too. Just really disappointed with their performance. Honestly I think the best solution in the Absarokas is bearbagging. Griz aren't as smart or habituated to humans as black bears in less remote areas and there are plenty of suitable trees in the range.

I know it's not how they're designed to work, but if I were going to do the trip again, I'd just hang the Ursacks, just to foil any bear that was clever enough to defeat the hang.
 

LarryBoy

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LarryBoy, Great Trip report! Now am soooo happy you did the hike and you saw some amazing country. Good for you! Now too bad that a bear got into your food. But still you did not see one bear. Interesting! As for myself, I always bring about a pair of binoculars and am always scanning everything near and far. Now loved your photos and loved your blog. Now some of those places you visited brought back sweet memories to me. Good for you for doing the trip. Now wasn't the eclipse Awesome! Good also for yourself with going by your lonesome. Personally have always gone by myself and love it this way. There are not many of us that do trips like this by our lonesome selves.

Here it is now the end of November and we have all winter to get thru for next summer's hiking and wanderings. So you are heading to the CDT North Country next summer? Dues this mean Glacier NP and the Bob Marshall Country? If so then you will enjoy for it is good country also.
As for myself went back to Alaska for the fifth summer in a row. Then on the Washington Coast for a tiny bit. Afterwards back in Jackson for the eclipse. Then this fall with two and a half months in the Southwest. Now back in Jackson enjoying Life.

Again a good trip report and blog. Thanks for posting. Wishing You the Best!
Sounds like you're in line for about ten TR's! :lol: What a great year! I'm really looking forward to the Montana section of the CDT. Hopefully it's not an early winter...
 

wsp_scott

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Awesome photos, I'll read the blog this weekend while hopefully my kids entertain themselves for a bit.

How were the bugs this time of year? I'm trying to figure out a late summer trip out west with a friend from MT and this area looks pretty good.

p.s. love the last photo
 

LarryBoy

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Awesome photos, I'll read the blog this weekend while hopefully my kids entertain themselves for a bit.

How were the bugs this time of year? I'm trying to figure out a late summer trip out west with a friend from MT and this area looks pretty good.

p.s. love the last photo
Thanks! No bugs to speak of. Even in a borderline record snow year, the bugs were basically gone, especially in the alpine areas. I started August 18.
 

slc_dan

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Man, the high alpine up there looks pretty great. The long views make me curious why it's not a more popular range for Hikers. Thanks for taking the time to write it up and share.
 

danger02ward

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I enjoyed the storylike/grandparent friendly version on your blog along with the excellent pictures!
 

Perry

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Very inspiring! I would love to do a solo trip like this. BTW is “schwackpacking” a real word? Haha! I do know exactly what you mean though.


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