Cache Creek, Yellowstone National Park - September 10, 2020

scatman

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On September 10th, I headed into Yellowstone for a four day backpacking trip to Cache Creek with three mates. After setting up a base camp at campsite 3L2, we completed two day hikes: one to Wahb Springs and Death Gulch, and a second to the Opal Creek Drainage, located on the west side of the Lamar River.

The first three days of our trip were spectacular weather wise, but on day four, smoke from fires in California and Oregon moved in, which cut visibility substantially.

On our first day hike, we decided to forego the Cache Creek Trail, and instead hiked directly up the creek bed to Wahb Springs and Death Gulch. Along our way, we ran into three bull Bison that caused us to get our shoes wet in the creek in order to avoid them. :(

Our second day hike took us to Opal Creek where there turned out to be some formidable bushwhacking through the drainage that took us some time to get through. We had hoped to find the old trail up Opal Creek and onto the Mirror Plateau, but alas we ran out of time before having to head back to camp, so I'll have to keep that on my bucket list for a future trip.

It's always a pleasure to be in Yellowstone in September, with temperatures cooling and the elk bugling through the night. We also heard coyotes yipping at night, and on the last day, I got to enjoy watching a Pine Marten watching me, going from tree to tree as I was taking down my tent.

Day 1 - To campsite 3L2

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Plenty of Bison as we near Lamar Valley and our trailhead

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View from the Soda Fork Trailhead in the Lamar Valley

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Mileage sign at the trailhead

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A look up the Soda Butte Creek Drainage

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On the trail

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A common occurrence in Lamar Valley - Bison force us to leave the trail. Or maybe, just maybe, I should just use my Scatman Bison
whisperer skills to lull them into a sense of safety as we then pass through the herd. Hmmm, tough choice. :scatman:

Rollin' rollin' rollin'
Rollin' rollin' rollin'
Rawhide

Move 'em on, head 'em up
Head 'em up, move 'em on
Move 'em on, head 'em up, rawhide
Cut 'em out, ride 'em in
Ride 'em in, cut 'em out
Cut 'em out, ride 'em in, rawhide

07.jpg

Getting a drink from a marshy area to the east of the trail.

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Bison aren't the only inhabitants of the valley

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Arriving at the Cache Creek Trail junction

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Beginning our descent into the Cache Creek Drainage

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Cache Creek and multiple Bison trails

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Elk rack

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A gathering at the bear pole


Day 2 - Day hike to Wahb Springs and Death Gulch

14.jpg

The view up Cache Creek

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More Cache Creek

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One bull Bison, in a group of three. They forced us to cross the creek.

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The furthest upstream bull had to wallow for a bit

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Approaching Wahb Springs

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At Wahb Springs with wet feet. :)

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Wahb Springs from another angle

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Death Gulch - enter at your own risk! :thinking:

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Small cascade on Cache Creek above the springs and gulch

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Elk skull and rack on Cache Creek

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We continued up Cache Creek for another mile or so before returning to camp.


Day 3 - Day hike to Opal Creek

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Cache Creek below the thermal area and a major Bison crossing was not the best water source.

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It took all of my will power not to step in this. :D For all you "first timers" out there this is best to be avoided.

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The confluence of Cache Creek and the Lamar River

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A nice view looking down on the Lamar River

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A buffalo wallow

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The Lamar River

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About to drop down into the Opal Creek Drainage

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Opal Creek

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Another big fella on our off-trail hike


Day 4 - Return to the Soda Fork Trailhead

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The Scatman's tent

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Some of the Lamar Herd further out in the valley this time

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A smoky hike out

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And now back at my vehicle and onto another four day adventure to Heart Lake with @TractorDoc.


The End
 

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Titans

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Nice! You were all pretty lucky to get 3 nice days in before all the wildfire smoke arrived.
 

scatman

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Nice! You were all pretty lucky to get 3 nice days in before all the wildfire smoke arrived.
The first day was stunningly clear. Days two and three, a touch of haze began to appear, but very little. Day four it settled in thick to stay for awhile. The smoke lasted throughout my next four day trip to Heart Lake too.
 

Perry

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Oh so nice! No grizz sightings on this trip? The wildfire smoke is so infuriating.

So I'm pretty much ignorant on the subject of bison. I know they can have an attitude but what do you usually expect from them? Is is a given they will charge if you get too close?
 

scatman

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Oh so nice! No grizz sightings on this trip? The wildfire smoke is so infuriating.

So I'm pretty much ignorant on the subject of bison. I know they can have an attitude but what do you usually expect from them? Is is a given they will charge if you get too close?
No Grizzlies on this trip. That's two trips in a row. :( I must be losing my touch.

As for the bison, you are supposed to stay 25 yards from them. That being said, I have had to make my way through a herd on three separate occasions over the years and it was impossible to keep the 25 yard distance rule - once at the western end of Hayden Valley, once on the Mirror Plateau, and once in Lower Geyser Basin. I have never had a cow show any aggressive signs towards me, they usually just tried to avoid me, or ignored me altogether. And while I have never been charged, I have had bulls raise their tails (means they are aggravated and best to create some distance) on me. They can be particularly short tempered during the rut.

I do have some bison stories to tell. Forgive me if I have told these before - I am getting old you know and forgetfulness is now my strength. :)

First one - My son and I were heading back to the trailhead on the Wapiti Lake Trail and we passed this guy.

Bison_1.jpg


After taking this picture, he stood up and began walking towards us. We had to retreat to the tree line, and with him still heading our way, deeper into the trees. He stopped at the first line of trees and started rubbing his head against one of the trees where we had entered. By the way, this was the biggest bull I had ever encountered.

Second one - I was coming back from Wapiti Lake through Pelican Valley and I was not feeling well. Almost back at the trailhead, i came up this small rise and when I looked up, I saw a bull heading my way on the trail. The area was burned and I was at the end of my energy rope, so I just stepped over the downed log next to the trail and he walked right by me. The only thing separating us was the diameter of the downed log. I could have easily reached out and touched him if I had so desired. I looked into his left eye as he passed.

Bison_2.jpg

I took a shot of him after he passed me by

Bison_3.jpg

And another shot after I stepped back on the trail. Never displayed any aggressive behavior towards me what so ever.

Third one - My family and I were backpacking into Grizzly Lake from the Mount Holmes Trailhead and we ran into this guy, just off the trail

Bison_4.jpg

We passed right by as he continued to graze.

Fourth one - While hiking the Mary Mountain Trail, just before Mary Lake, we ran into a bull resting in a small thermal area. I had my RB67 with me and decided to set up and take his picture. After I got the tripod set up and began focusing the camera, he stood up and began coming towards us. I had to pick up my gear and make a hasty retreat. He proceeded to destroy a small pine tree, right by where I had set the tripod up.

Bison_5.jpg

Probably 30-35 yards from him.

Fifth one - I was doing a day hike with some friends up the old road to Turbid Lake and then north on the old service road to Pelican Bridge in Pelican Valley. As we approached the bridge, there were three bull bison that would not let us reach the bridge. They were all agitated, sticking their tails up in the air. We gave them plenty of room and waited them out at a distance until we could finally reach the bridge.

Bison_6.jpg

Three bulls blocking the route to pelican Bridge

Sixth one - Again with my family, this time at the Clear Lake Trailhead, we were unpacking our gear from the car when two bulls came running by our car fighting one another. We had to make a quick run around some other vehicles in the parking lot. I was actually worried that they might damage my Subaru, but luckily they didn't. My kids were 5 and 7 on this trip, and you should have seen how big their eyes got when the bison passed by. I laugh now, but it was tense for a few seconds there.

Bison_7.jpg

This was one of the fighting bulls (the victor), eyeballing us as we leave the Clear Lake Trailhead heading towards Ribbon Lake.

Seventh One - While staying at the Bridge bay Campground, I had a bull start grazing right next to my tent with me inside. It was in the morning and I could see the shadow of his huge head on the side of my tent. His head was inches from my body. I was a bit scared lying there. But after about one minute, he started to wander away from my tent.

Bison_8.jpg

This big guy was literally grazing right next to my tent :eek:


I have more stories, but I feel like I'm getting long winded.

Without question I have seen more bison in the backcountry than any other animal and they are magnificent creatures and unpredictable. It has been my observation (no scientific proof) that the larger the group one has, the more nervous the bison tend to get as the group approaches. But I've always tried to give them as much room as the situation dictates and just keep heading towards my destination for the day, trying not to bother them, and stay alert to any that raise their tails straight up in the air.
 

Perry

Formerly Cuberant
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Joined
Aug 8, 2016
Messages
1,978
No Grizzlies on this trip. That's two trips in a row. :( I must be losing my touch.

As for the bison, you are supposed to stay 25 yards from them. That being said, I have had to make my way through a herd on three separate occasions over the years and it was impossible to keep the 25 yard distance rule - once at the western end of Hayden Valley, once on the Mirror Plateau, and once in Lower Geyser Basin. I have never had a cow show any aggressive signs towards me, they usually just tried to avoid me, or ignored me altogether. And while I have never been charged, I have had bulls raise their tails (means they are aggravated and best to create some distance) on me. They can be particularly short tempered during the rut.

I do have some bison stories to tell. Forgive me if I have told these before - I am getting old you know and forgetfulness is now my strength. :)

First one - My son and I were heading back to the trailhead on the Wapiti Lake Trail and we passed this guy.

View attachment 92129

After taking this picture, he stood up and began walking towards us. We had to retreat to the tree line, and with him still heading our way, deeper into the trees. He stopped at the first line of trees and started rubbing his head against one of the trees where we had entered. By the way, this was the biggest bull I had ever encountered.

Second one - I was coming back from Wapiti Lake through Pelican Valley and I was not feeling well. Almost back at the trailhead, i came up this small rise and when I looked up, I saw a bull heading my way on the trail. The area was burned and I was at the end of my energy rope, so I just stepped over the downed log next to the trail and he walked right by me. The only thing separating us was the diameter of the downed log. I could have easily reached out and touched him if I had so desired. I looked into his left eye as he passed.

View attachment 92130
I took a shot of him after he passed me by

View attachment 92131
And another shot after I stepped back on the trail. Never displayed any aggressive behavior towards me what so ever.

Third one - My family and I were backpacking into Grizzly Lake from the Mount Holmes Trailhead and we ran into this guy, just off the trail

View attachment 92141
We passed right by as he continued to graze.

Fourth one - While hiking the Mary Mountain Trail, just before Mary Lake, we ran into a bull resting in a small thermal area. I had my RB67 with me and decided to set up and take his picture. After I got the tripod set up and began focusing the camera, he stood up and began coming towards us. I had to pick up my gear and make a hasty retreat. He proceeded to destroy a small pine tree, right by where I had set the tripod up.

View attachment 92142
Probably 30-35 yards from him.

Fifth one - I was doing a day hike with some friends up the old road to Turbid Lake and then north on the old service road to Pelican Bridge in Pelican Valley. As we approached the bridge, there were three bull bison that would not let us reach the bridge. They were all agitated, sticking their tails up in the air. We gave them plenty of room and waited them out at a distance until we could finally reach the bridge.

View attachment 92143
Three bulls blocking the route to pelican Bridge

Sixth one - Again with my family, this time at the Clear Lake Trailhead, we were unpacking our gear from the car when two bulls came running by our car fighting one another. We had to make a quick run around some other vehicles in the parking lot. I was actually worried that they might damage my Subaru, but luckily they didn't. My kids were 5 and 7 on this trip, and you should have seen how big their eyes got when the bison passed by. I laugh now, but it was tense for a few seconds there.

View attachment 92144
This was one of the fighting bulls (the victor), eyeballing us as we leave the Clear Lake Trailhead heading towards Ribbon Lake.

Seventh One - While staying at the Bridge bay Campground, I had a bull start grazing right next to my tent with me inside. It was in the morning and I could see the shadow of his huge head on the side of my tent. His head was inches from my body. I was a bit scared lying there. But after about one minute, he started to wander away from my tent.

View attachment 92145
This big guy was literally grazing right next to my tent :eek:


I have more stories, but I feel like I'm getting long winded.

Without question I have seen more bison in the backcountry than any other animal and they are magnificent creatures and unpredictable. It has been my observation (no scientific proof) that the larger the group one has, the more nervous the bison tend to get as the group approaches. But I've always tried to give them as much room as the situation dictates and just keep heading towards my destination for the day, trying not to bother them, and stay alert to any that raise their tails straight up in the air.
Yikes! Definitely sound unpredictable. So large group... better for grizzly encounters but bad for bison encounters! One cannot win. Sheesh!
 

Yvonne

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Joined
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Cache Creek and Wahb Springs were one of the day hikes that fell through on my list this year because I was running out of time.
I had about 7 days where I couldn't hike because of the air quality. My asthma was already bad so I wouldn't want to make it worse.
Well, it's on my list for next year now.
 

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