Snake River Lollipop Loop - Yellowstone National Park - August 8, 2021

scatman

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Last week, I completed a six day, approximately 44 mile backpacking trip through the south central portion of Yellowstone National Park. This trip included my wife and daughter, along with @Artemus, and my friend Quin, who joined us on our second day of the trip.

The route was a lollipop loop that began and ended at the South Boundary Trailhead, located just north of the South Entrance Ranger Station. We did the loop in a clockwise direction, and stayed at our second campsite for two nights in order to do a day hike north, up to the southern shore of Heart Lake.

The first two days were quite comfortable with temps in the high sixties and low seventies, but on day three and beyond it began to warm up, and our last three days were a bit on the hot side. Also, might mention that the first day was smoky, days two through five were clear before smoke settled in again on our way out on the last day.

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Overview map of our lollipop loop


Day 1 - South Boundary Trailhead to Campsite 8C6

We had stayed at the Grant Village Campground the night before, and after driving south to the trailhead, we managed to hit the trail a little after eleven in the morning.

First up on this trail is a ford of the Snake River, which was pretty straight forward for everyone, being only calf to mid-calf deep and not too swift at the crossing.

After the crossing, we made our way through some meadows to some hot springs that were located on the east side of the trail. We made a short detour to check them out before heading into the forest where we would spend a good portion of the day before breaking out to the Snake River once again near the Snake River Hot Springs and campsite 8C1. Along the way, we enjoyed currants, raspberries, and some huckleberries.

About two hours in, we stopped to eat lunch, and while finishing up, a solo backpacker passed by and told us that he'd just seen a grizzly about ten to fifteen minutes up the trail and it had stood up to get a better look at him. Of course, we never saw the bear once we were back on the trail. :(

When we reached the Snake River Hot Springs, I told Art that where the creek that flows out of the springs enters the river you can sit and soak. So Art went to check this out as we continued on past campsite 8C1 and on towards our second ford of the Snake just before our campsite for the night.

Arriving at the river, we ran into a group that was headed for 8C1 for the night, and they told us that they had seen two grizzlies and one black bear today coming from Heart Lake. And of course once again, we didn't see any of the bears. :(

We forded the river again; reached our campsite; Art caught back up to us; and we set up our tents and settled in to eat dinner.

Just as we were finishing our meals, we heard a shout from back across the river, and soon a gentleman showed up at our site, asking if we had this site for the night. After we told him "Yes, we do." He asked to see our permit. I showed him the official permit emailed to me from the backcountry office. We then asked to see his permit. He then stated that it was on his wife's cellphone and she didn't have cell coverage in the backcountry, and that he was with her and his son, and his sister-in-law who was three months pregnant, but they were still on the other side of the Snake, because they didn't want to ford the river again. He said that his wife told him they were in our campsite for the night.

"Hmm," I thought to myself. If you really thought that this was your campsite, then why didn't your whole group come across the river to start setting up camp? It made no sense to me.

I might add at this point that the gentleman was carrying a sidearm, and kept fidgeting with the pistol as he spoke to us. Art eventually asked him to stop fondling his gun because it was beginning to make him feel uncomfortable. I then asked if his group had run into any wildlife on their hike in, and he said that they had just run into a sow with three cubs before he forded the river. He said that he shouted at the bear which made them take off. So that was the shouts that we had heard previously. And once again, we never saw the bears. :( He then wandered back across the river to join his family and they headed back the way they had come.

We came to believe they were trying to poach a site for the night and really didn't have an official permit.

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Information board at the trailhead

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The ladies fording the Snake

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The hot springs just before we entered the forest

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I passed along this footbridge when they were building it back in 2012. I stopped and watched them for a bit before continuing on

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Plenty of berries along this stretch of the trail

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Breaking out of the trees near the Snake River Hot Springs

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The Snake River near campsite 8C1

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Fording for the second time today. Our campsite for the night is located in the group of trees to the left.

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The Taj Mahal :)

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A dinner guest while we were eating


Day 2 - Campsite 8C6 to Campsite 8B2 near Basin Creek Lake

Day two was an easy day, at less than five miles to our next campsite and the temperature remained pleasant.

We started off by climbing up above the Snake River right out of camp, and then continuing on up the Red Creek Drainage. Eventually, we ran into a large, gorgeous meadow where we took some time to enjoy the views and watch a goshawk hunt for prey.

On our way to the meadow, we ran into a group of three heading south that saw a grizzly on Red Creek just ahead of us, but alas, no such luck for us. :(

After taking in the meadow, we reached Basin Creek Lake and just beyond our campsite. Since we reached camp fairly early in the day, Art and I did a hike up onto the ridge to see if we could get a glance of Mount Sheridan, which is located on the west side of Heart Lake.

At around eight in the evening, Quin showed up to join our merry band of scallywags, and you'll never guess what he saw on the way in. That's right a grizzly bear - just above our previous night's campsite! No bear sighting for the rest of us though. :(

I thought that 8B2 was a much better campsite than our previous night's 8C6.

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Getting set up to put my knee brace on for day number two

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Climbing up above the Snake

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The Snake River

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The confluence of Red Creek with the Snake River

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Forest hiking during the first part of the day up the Red Creek Drainage

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Red Creek

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Time for a drink
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Breaking out into the large meadow

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A frog in a tributary of Red Creek

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Meadow view

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More meadow - looking north

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@Artemus, taking it all in - watching the goshawks hunt

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Arriving at Basin Creek Lake

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Signpost for campsite 8B2

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This guy hung out by our tent

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View from our day hike after reaching campsite 8B2 in the afternoon - Chicken Ridge in the distance. Also, a look down onto the
meadows where we would be day hiking up to Heart Lake on Day 3


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A glimpse of Mount Sheridan

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More views to the northeast from the ridge towards Channel Mountain

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Back at Basin Creek Lake - about twenty ducks are calling the lake home


Day 3 - Day Hike from Campsite 8B2 to Heart Lake

Day three found us staying at the same campsite which afforded us a nice hike up to Heart Lake and back at around 9.5 miles roundtrip.

On our way up to the lake, we realized that the Park Service had moved the official trail further to the east, up into the dog's hair pine and out of the lowlands. On our way back to camp, we would remedy this and take the original trail. :thumbsup::thumbsup:

Along the way, Mount Sheridan would dominate our view, and we stopped at Sheridan Lake for some lunch, and once we reached Heart Lake, we took a prolonged break at the lake to enjoying a beautiful afternoon, though by this time it was beginning to get warmer.

Art, Sheila and Katie all enjoyed getting into the water at the lake, and all emerged with leaches! I also pointed out to Art the game trail that follows the southern shore of the lake to the Heart River.

On our way back to camp, the guys decided to take the old trail through the lowland along Basin Creek. This turned out to be a fun jaunt through some marsh, allowing us to pass by a couple of beaver dams, and sniff our the old campsite that used to be used before the NPS moved it.

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Day hike overview map to Heart Lake. The official trail green, while the old trail purple.

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On our way to Heart Lake and Mount Sheridan

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Consultation along the trail

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Where we first realized the old trail was not the official trail anymore. The downed marker says "Main Trail." This caused us some
confusion at first.


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Lily pad filled pond

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A look up at Mount Sheridan

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Coming up on the northern end of the old trail - where it intersects with the current trail

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Sheridan Lake - our lunch stop

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Southwest corner of Heart Lake

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Heart Lake

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Heading back to camp through old growth

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The old trail. Trail Crew!

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Beaver dam along the old trail

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Following Basin Creek on the old trail

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Trail Crew! @chandlerwest :)

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Old trail trail marker with a bullet hole in it

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Right this way - into the willows we go

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@Artemus at the old campsite 8B1 location. Notice the downed bear pole behind him.

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The southern intersection of the old trail with the current one

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Our water source for campsite 8B2 The trickle that filled this pool would dry up as the day warmed up


Day 4 - Campsite 8B2 to Campsite 8C4 on the Snake River

Day four turned out to be a hoot. First, we had to cover some of the same ground that we had on the previous day in order to get to the Basin Creek Cutoff Trail. Again, a section of this trail had been moved up into the new growth, so of course we took the old route instead. :) Second, when we stopped for lunch at campsite 8B4, we soon were joined by a llama train! Turns out, this was a guided trip and they were going to stay at 8B4 for the night. Of course, I had to pet some of the llamas while we were there. How cool is that. Also, campsite 8B4 has one of the best views of any campsite in the Park, but shh...... don't tell Art that I told you that. It can just be our little secret. :)

Mount Sheridan once again dominated the landscape on this day, and Basin Creek would have to be forded many times on our way to 8C4.

After our llama surprise, the afternoon really heated up for us on our way to 8C4. When we arrived at camp, everyone headed to the river to enjoy the cool water.

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Back north again today

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Can you make out the old cutoff trail?

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Mount Sheridan, from the old cutoff trail

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On the old cutoff trail

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Basin Creek below

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Bear scat of the trail

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Dual bear poles at campsite 8B3

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Chicken Ridge to the northeast

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The llama train is rolling into town!

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Scatman heaven! :D

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A llama whisperer too? :)

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Another crossing of Basin Creek

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Shoulder high grass at the beginning of this meadow. It was really heating up at this point.

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Willows!

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Back on the Snake again, near the confluence with Basin Creek seen below

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Bear pole and food bag at 8C4

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Giving the feet a rest.

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Alpenglow on Mount Hancock along Big Game Ridge

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Dusk on the Snake River and Mount Sheridan

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Dusk at campsite 8C4


Day 5 - Campsite 8C4 to Campsite 8C2 on the Snake River

On day five, we had almost an immediate ford of the Snake River as we used the Harebell Cutoff Trail in order to reach the Harebell Patrol Cabin, located near the southern boundary of the Park. The Harebell Cutoff turned out to be the biggest hill climb of the trip, and I slipped into mosey mode as I mad my way up the trail.

When we reached the patrol cabin, we stopped for a lengthy break. The cabin itself was not being occupied at the moment, and we noticed several grizzly bear claw marks all around the structure, even a muddy paw print on the back wall.

From the patrol cabin, after one small hill, it was essentially down hill all the way to the crossing of Coulter Creek. And after the fording of Coulter, a flat meadows hike to our last campsite 8C2.

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Looking north along the Snake River

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Fording again

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Heading up the Harebell Cutoff Trail

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Harebell Patrol Cabin

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Paw print?

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Group shot at the cabin

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Patrol cabin outhouse

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Looking back at Mount Hancock and Big Game Ridge

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View to the west

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Harebell Creek below

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Coulter Creek - good grizzly country

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Confluence of Coulter Creek and the Snake River

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Arriving at campsite 8C2

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Campsite 8C2

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Bear boxes instead of a bear pole(s) at 8C2

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Sunset at 8C2


Day 6 - Campsite 8C2 to the South Boundary Trailhead

We were up early for today's hike out. It would be our longest day and we wanted to beat the heat and get as many miles out of the way before it turned hot. Quin left extra early in order to get back to the trailhead and drive back to Salt Lake, before heading on to Great Basin National Park the following day.

Heading out, we saw our first bear tracks on the trail, and we also ran into a family of grouse. Also, it was nice to see some small aspens taking hold along the South Boundary Trail. When I was through here about thirty years ago there were no aspen to speak of.

As we approached campsite 8C1 again, we ran into a family of marmots that showed off for us.

We made good time on our way out, and after our final ford of the Snake, we reached the trailhead in the early afternoon.

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Heading out from campsite 8C2

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Bear print on the South Boundary Trail

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Grouse along the trail

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A patch of Goldenrod along the trail

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Back on the Snake

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Marmots put on a show

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Soaking up some sun

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Thistles on our way out

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Creek from the Snake River Hot Springs

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There is a Pika in this shot.

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The final ford

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Last hill to the trailhead.


Great trip! The last three days were a little warmer than I like, but I drank plenty of water to stay hydrated.

This was not a big animal type of trip though. We did see four deer, including one along the old Heart Lake Trail. We saw many sandhill cranes, ducks, geese, and birds or prey, which include six bald eagles. Small animals included chipmunks, squirrels, marmots, pikas, mice, and a long tailed weasel. I was disappointed that we didn't see a bear at some point along our route, but sometimes that is just the way it goes.

As for our campsites, I thought only our first night's site, 8C6, was subpar with really no view to speak of other than one hill and some trees.


The End.
 

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I think this is the first time I spotted the Pika in one of your Pika pictures. Looks like a great trip. We are headed up to Yellowstone in a week. We will just be doing day hikes and camping at Canyon Village, but looking forward to it.
 
Well, there went my afternoon. Looking at your report and poring over maps on Caltopo. Sounds like a great trip. And wow—you sure (almost) saw a lot of bears! I hope to get out to some of those trails next year.
 
Great report! Did the leeches pull off easily, or are old movies right about needing to use a lighter to burn them off?
It's probably better to run into a sow with cubs than a sketchy dude fondling his open carry--at least you can't get mad at the sow if things go sideways. Since when are signs in Yellowstone shot up like it's backroads in Texas??
 
Excellent Report Hugh!

Were the leeches in Heart Lake or Sheridan Lake? I've read about them being in the latter. Glad we did not get acquainted with them last year.

Who knew you got along so well with Alpacas. I bet they did not even try to spit on you!
 
Seeing the photo captioned "coming up on the northern end of the old trail", I felt that That was how you disguised a trail that you didn't want people to follow any more. Now..........I could be completely misinterpreting that photo as I have self proclaimed limits to my abilities at reading trail crew signs.
 
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Love the report - that's a fantastic area. A couple years ago we had the same experience w/ the dual trails coming south from Heart Lake - I'd have to look at my *.gpx track to know for sure, but I think we ended up mostly to the east on the new(?) trail.

And 8C2 is one of my favorite campsites in the park.

You've also given me some small hope that we'll have a couple smoke-free (or at least lesser smoke) days next week - but as they say: "it's the hope that kills you", so we'll see.
 
I think this is the first time I spotted the Pika in one of your Pika pictures. Looks like a great trip. We are headed up to Yellowstone in a week. We will just be doing day hikes and camping at Canyon Village, but looking forward to it.

Have a great trip! What day hikes are you contemplating while in the Park?
 
Well, there went my afternoon. Looking at your report and poring over maps on Caltopo. Sounds like a great trip. And wow—you sure (almost) saw a lot of bears! I hope to get out to some of those trails next year.

Wishing you the best on getting out there next year. I think that it is a nice part of the Park that doesn't receive a lot of hype.
 
Great report! Did the leeches pull off easily, or are old movies right about needing to use a lighter to burn them off?
It's probably better to run into a sow with cubs than a sketchy dude fondling his open carry--at least you can't get mad at the sow if things go sideways. Since when are signs in Yellowstone shot up like it's backroads in Texas??

The ladies had tiny little leeches on them, while Art had a bigger one. They just pulled them off, though I'm not sure if that is the correct practice.

Yeah, I think I'd rather deal with the sow, and I'm not sure why anyone would shoot a trail marker.
 
Excellent Report Hugh!

Were the leeches in Heart Lake or Sheridan Lake? I've read about them being in the latter. Glad we did not get acquainted with them last year.

Who knew you got along so well with Alpacas. I bet they did not even try to spit on you!

The leeches were in Heart Lake. Maybe they just hang around the south end of the lake? :)

The llamas did not spit on me, though if I were a llama, I would spit on me. :D I thought alpacas were smaller?
 
Wasn’t that a marten in one of your pictures? And as for the alpacas llamas or whatever they are, Dooley just contacted me asking if I’d come pick him up and bring him over to Colorado. I said sure, though I didn’t understand why, but now I know. It appears he may be a bit jealous. I borrowed a trailer to go get him, but the problem is, I don’t know where he is.

And Jackson lake in the Tetons has lots of leeches too.
 
Seeing the photo captioned "coming up on the northern end of the old trail", I felt that That was how you disguised a trail that you didn't want people to follow any more. Now..........I could be completely misinterpreting that photo as I have self proclaimed limits to my abilities at reading trail crew signs.

You're right about that, but it doesn't mean that you can't follow it. You're allowed to day hike anywhere in the Park unless a restriction applies - ex. bear management areas, etc.. I've found the old trails tend to be a bit more scenic than when they construct a new trail up in the new growth lodgepole.

I prefer a mile or so of this
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as to this. :)
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Love the report - that's a fantastic area. A couple years ago we had the same experience w/ the dual trails coming south from Heart Lake - I'd have to look at my *.gpx track to know for sure, but I think we ended up mostly to the east on the new(?) trail.

And 8C2 is one of my favorite campsites in the park.

You've also given me some small hope that we'll have a couple smoke-free (or at least lesser smoke) days next week - but as they say: "it's the hope that kills you", so we'll see.

The trail to the east is the one used now for sure. If you had a map, or an app that has the old trail on it, it would probably cause you to pause for a moment to decide what to do. Advice: Always take the old trail. ;)

8C2 is a nice site, I'd definitely stay there again. Originally, we were going to head down into the Teton Wilderness along Coulter or Wolverine Creeks, but when I called for the official permit, site 8C2 had opened up which knocked a couple of miles off of our last day. Originally I had requested site 8C1 for our first night, and our last night stay, but I didn't get either.
 
Wasn’t that a marten in one of your pictures? And as for the alpacas llamas or whatever they are, Dooley just contacted me asking if I’d come pick him up and bring him over to Colorado. I said sure, though I didn’t understand why, but now I know. It appears he may be a bit jealous. I borrowed a trailer to go get him, but the problem is, I don’t know where he is.

And Jackson lake in the Tetons has lots of leeches too.

Alright, clearly I need a lesson on my alpaca vs llama identification. You are the second person to identify them as alpacas. @TractorDoc was the first, but we both know he has eaten too many circus peanuts to trust his identification. :lol: Why are these alpacas?

Dooley is currently undercover, looking for old trails in the big Jelly for me. Sleuthing is one of his specialties you know.

Are you sure you can handle Dooley? He is a strange bird, I mean mule. He doesn't take well to strangers you know. I'm guessing you two may have kindred spirits though, so that might help.

Oh, I forgot to add that it was a long tailed weasel.
 
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I don’t know the difference between alpacas and llamas either. But I do know a mule when I see one, and I saw Dooley out on the grassy lake road south of Jellystone, so are you sure he’s really doing his job? He looked pretty happy munching on the longstem grasses in a meadow out there. We may be kindred spirits, but I’ve never been much of one for grass.
 
Very nice trip Hugh! You should know yur not going to most of those Grizzly's out there unless I'm with you! ;)
You said a while back that I had a good memory... but if you remember there not being aspens along the south boundary trail 30 years ago, I'd say you've definitely been taking yur ginseng regularly!
Glad y'all had a good safe trip!
Cheers!
 
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