Yellowstone Thorofare (8/11/14 to 8/17/14)


Nov 2, 2014
This is way overdue but some recent exchanges with hiking friends inspired me to finally sit down and write about this trip last August.

Prior to my Thorofare trip I spent a week with @scatman, @Joey and company exploring the Pitchstone and Bechler regions. It was another phenomenal @Scatmen led trip which you can read about on his trip report. I decided to follow it up with my first adventure into the Thorofare with my son and his friend Colin. It is becoming an annual camping trip to Yellowstone for the three of us. During the @scatman trip we ran into two super friendly rangers near Union Falls. One of the rangers had worked the Thorofare for years and drew me a map of how to get up Eagle Peak which was one of our (overly lofty) goals for the Thorofare trip. I also asked him why they carry both tasers and pistols to which he responded with all sorts of crazy stories about intoxicated wranglers, their dogs and assaults. Pretty weird I thought. I’ve seen you-tube videos of people with pistols holstered on their hips in the backcountry and I’ve always wondered if they read Lewis and Clark stories about Grizzlies not being easily deterred by bullets.

I had hoped to see wildlife on our Thorofare trip but we only saw birds, a deer and rabbit. We walked over lots of scat and cool paw prints but the highlight was certainly the views. The vistas were simply spectacular so I was very pleased overall!

Day 0 – Wrap up previous Trip and join up with my son

I left the @scatman and company camp in the second wave with Lord Business, Matt and Brian. @Joey had left camp earlier to give a ride to some folks and @scatman and his son lingered to relax and left in the 3rd wave. The climb over Mountain Ash was harder and hotter than I was expecting so I didn’t get great pictures.


The final river crossing was fun and then we reached my car shortly thereafter. Matt and Brian walked on to their car at the Beula Lake trailhead. I managed to get my low profile car up the hill from below the spillway which was something I worried about a little all week. I would have liked to have joined the group for their post trip lunch at Flagg Ranch but I was supposed to meet my son Jamey and his friend Colin, at Old Faithful by noon. They made their first drive from Seattle to Yellowstone without me in the car! I stopped at Flagg Ranch just long enough to remember how much I preferred being in the woods over being around a bunch of tourists. I then headed up to Old Faithful and found the boys. We got our camping permits and then headed over to Fishing Bridge for showers and then Bridge Bay for the night.

Day 1 – Boat ride and hike to 6B1

We had to get up early to catch a boat ride across the lake. Taking a boat across the lake feels a little like cheating but with limited vacation days it was a reasonable way to shorten the trip to the Thorofare. When I arrived at the dock there was a couple, Ann and Mike, hoping to share the boat with us. I was excited to save the money. I was surprised to hear that Xanterra regularly runs into people that don’t want to share the boat ride. I thought all backcountry folk would embrace a money saving opportunity! The boat ride was very cool so I was very happy we chose to do it. The Xanterra folks at the marina who run the boat shuttle are the nicest Xanterra people in the park, and I’m guessing it’s because they don’t have to deal with the “washed” masses :).

After the trip I tried to contact Ann and Mike via email but I either got their email address wrong or they didn’t respond. They live in Jackson working for the school district so they get to thoroughly enjoy the area in the summer. They commented that my only spending two weeks in the area every year didn’t seem sufficient :)

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The boat dropped us off at 5E6 and we had to spend some time getting our backpacks sorted out. The picture shows the Johnny (the captain), Ann and Mike with 5E6 in the distance. It had been such a rush to get packed that we didn’t actually have everything settled in our packs. We had about 10 miles to 6B1. The views were amazing and I was really enjoying my first trip into the Thorofare! The trail conditions were unfortunately muddy. We had battled constant rain the previous week and it seems this week was going to be a six hour cycle of soak followed by almost enough sun to dry things off. We stopped for lunch at a nice overlook and took in the scenery.
After a nice lunch we suited back up and continued on with our trip.
I had hoped to find an old monument marker along the eastern extreme of the lake but when I got there I couldn’t figure out where it might be from the old maps. We were already pretty tired so didn’t want to linger on a losing battle (I probably would have tried longer had I been with @scatman or @Joey). Jamey and Colin were still acclimating to the conditions (it can be shock for us sea level Seattle people) and I was tired from the previous week. We arrived at 6B1 with plenty of daylight but exhausted. We rested, ate and then set up our tents. Storm clouds were brewing and my son was hoping for a big thunderstorm. Like me, he grew up in the Midwest and we both miss thunderstorms (we don’t get them in Seattle). The storm just seem to brew but never arrived. We heard some shouting in the distance and my son is not one to be quiet so he replied. Eventually two hikers showed up at our campsite and asked to borrow our water filter. They were part of a larger group from Minnesota and had gone on ahead after tiring of their slower partners taking too long. Clever of their slower partners to have the water filter! We chatted a bit while they refilled and then they continued down the path. It was getting dark by then so their slower partners were going to be hiking in the dark – fun for them! The three of us went to bed disappointed there was no thunder.

Day 2 – Up the hill to 6D7

We had another 10 mile day ahead of us and it was little more uphill than Day 1. We ran into the full Minnesota group at 6C1 and it everyone seemed to be in good spirits. We started having problems with our new water filter which was a little disconcerting. We slept too late and now were hiking uphill in the sun in the heat of the day. We started to overheat at the same time our brand new water filter was getting harder to pump. Fortunately Colin is an ROTC ox, Jamey is in great shape (but not a big fan of the heat) and I’m not a terrible hiker. I think it’s probably the last time we felt hot on the trip and the day I decided that it was probably a mistake to try a new brand of water filter. Fortunately clever Colin figured out how to clean the pump so we had brief periods of it working better but nothing like my previous pump which I was really missing. During the last 3 miles, the clouds kept building and it was clear we were in a race to get to our campsite and set up the tents before the afternoon thunderstorms soaked us. We finally reached 6D7 just as it started to rain and in our panic we couldn’t find the bear pole and fire pit so we gave up our search, set up our tents and I jumped into the boy’s tent and we waited out heavy rain while working on crossword puzzles together. The rain stopped about 45 minutes later and we popped out of our tents for dinner and quickly found the bear pole about 15 feet away. It’s funny how easy they are to find when not in a panic.

Day 3 – “Rest” day

Our plan for day 3 had been to rest but we couldn’t resist climbing part of the way up Table Mountain. We could see a meadow-ish slope which we decided to explore. Oddly it was much steeper on the slope than we estimated it would be from our tents. Colin pretty much climbed straight up, Jamey zig zagged and I zigged, sat, zagged, sat and spent a lot of time “examining” some cool rocks.


There were rockier stretches than this picture shows that contained some very cool rocks. Needless to say the boys made it higher up the hill than I did. We made it back down the hill and spent the afternoon relaxing. We had planned to go up Eagle Peak the next day so we needed the rest. I was feeling pretty isolated as the boys slept so I did crosswords down by the trail hoping to see other humans. I even pulled out my cell phone in a futile attempt to make contact with my wife. It was pretty silly and an utter failure. It was a bit of a low moment but I was re-energized when Jamey emerged from his tent for dinner. I appreciate our trips into the woods together.

Day 4 – Rain, guns and a dog

In the middle of the night it started to rain very hard and it persisted all night. We had planned on leaving for the peak at 5AM but the rain was hard until about 9AM so we decided to sleep in and gave up the idea of summiting the peak. Instead we would settle for reaching Eagle Pass. A few miles into the hike we ran into some grumpy rangers doing trail maintenance. They didn’t seem to be appreciating their surroundings which surprised us a bit and they certainly had no interest in chatting with us. This was a big change from the rangers we met at Union Falls. We pressed on and eventually reached the pass where we had lunch. We knew Mike and Ann had planned on crossing the pass the day before so we pondered how their trip was going. This picture is of the wilderness area outside the park.

Here is a picture of my son and I at the entrance to the park. I have a picture of the boys but it’s a little too goofy to share. We didn’t understand the purpose of the shovel.

After lunch we headed down the pass and about a mile down we were greeted on the trail by a dog. This was a first for me – seeing a dog in the backcountry. Shortly thereafter a wrangler come up behind the dog. She looked even grumpier than the rangers. I commented to her that “you don’t see a lot of dogs in the backcountry” (my passive aggressive of way of letting her know I knew she was breaking the rules). She assured me the dog was a “stray they were rescuing.” It was interesting, however, how attached the dog seem to be to one of the other wranglers. After irritating her I realized the other 4 wranglers all had rifles and I wondered to myself how wise it was to make comments to people with weapons when you are 19 miles from civilization. We pressed on and then a few miles later we ran into the rangers again and I asked them if they had seen the dog and the response was simply “yes”. Clearly the grumpy rangers didn’t want to discuss it. I assume they have a “don’t ask” policy when outgunned but they don’t have any problem stopping unarmed hikers to check for permits and “micro trash” in their fire pits. We were pretty soaked from the grass and muddy trail by the time we got back to camp. We barely managed to eat and get into our tents before the rain came back.

Day 5 – Down the hill and through the muck and damp to 6D2

We only had to hike about 8 miles to reach 6D2. We were soaked about a mile into the trip from the wet grass at which point I decided to invest in rain paints after getting tired of the grass getting me wet when the weather was otherwise sunny. The “Mountain Creek Triangle” was a muddy, damp morale sapper. We never could find a sign for 6D2 but our permit did mention it was close to 6D3 so I guess it just isn’t marked. We did find the bear pole and fire pit but the grass was tall and wet and finding a good place for our tents was difficult. This is the only campsite I’ve used in the park that I refuse to use again. It was fun being right off the river but it was just too damp. We had planned to day hike down to the Thorofare cabin but we had to wait out another rainstorm in our tents which cost us more time. Once the rain subsided we headed out but it just kept raining. We found a couple of trees to hang out under but we were getting cold and soaked and the trail was exhausting because it was so muddy. We eventually turned back after reaching 6Y5. I’ll return some day and complete the trip to the Thorofare cabin! The views remained spectacular despite the rain.

Day 6 – The journey back begins

Our plan for Day 6 was to hike back to 6B4 which according to the ranger I met at Union Falls was a great campsite so I was looking forward to checking it out. The first couple miles were mud, and mud and wet, but it eventually cleared up. 6B4 is 0.3 miles off the main trail so it feels delightfully secluded. I was hot so I took my glasses off and proceeded to drop them along the spur to 6B4. It took about 20 minutes but I did find them. We reached 6B4 with time to rest before dinner. I napped and then gathered a lot of firewood while the boys slept longer. As we ate dinner we seemed to be in the middle of a squirrel and chipmunk turf war. We discouraged them by employing projectiles but they were equally as determined to get our scraps as they were to attack each other (chipmunk on chipmunk, squirrel on squirrel and chipmunk on squirrel) – it was exhausting just watching them. We had planned on leaving at 4AM the next day but the spur to 6B4 goes through willows and I was concerned about bears in the dark so we decided to leave at daybreak. We had to catch a noon boat back at 5E6 but we knew they would be dropping off people at 9AM and were hoping to get a jump on our return trip to Seattle. To celebrate our last night in the woods we had an epic fire. The fire pit there is bulbous – it seems people are taking rocks from the nearby creek to make it bigger. We also saw evidence of cut wood so I’m pretty sure our fire was not as epic as some previous groups.

Day 7 – Back to civilization and long drive to Seattle

We got up early the final day and departed when we felt there was enough daylight to travel safely. Colin and Jamey planned to make it back to 5E6 as quickly as possible to catch the 9AM boat and head back to Seattle without me if I couldn’t keep up. Colin woke up the entire forest with his wake up call to the “animals of the forest!” which still cracks me up today. I could hear the boys shouting the first couple miles before they got too far ahead of me. We made a good pace but I was pretty sure it wasn’t good enough to catch the boat at 9AM. We plugged ahead and about a mile short of the 5E6 I ran into a mom, dad and daughter that said the boys had missed the boat by 15 minutes. I reached 5E6 about an hour after the boys. I left my equipment and headed north until my cell phone would work. I managed to text my wife (after several failed attempts to call) who made every attempt to get the marina to pick us up early but they had a full schedule so we waited somewhat impatiently until 12:30. If you aren’t at 5E6 on time they leave you behind because the afternoon storms get pretty strong on the lake. We were very excited to see the boat approach. Colin and I decided to ride the bow of the boat the entire way back despite how bumpy it was. It was very bumpy and wet but our manhood was a stake so we gutted it out much to the amusement of the boat driver Johnny. Jamey was smarter and enjoyed the comfort of the inside of the boat. We got back to Bridge Bay around 1PM and still had 14 hours of driving to get back to Seattle. My son had to work the next day so it wasn’t great planning on my part. We got back to Seattle around 3AM. I woke up around 6AM and I was pretty down about having to re-enter the real world. “Down” is an understatement. Calling it an understatement is an understatement.

I certainly look forward to exploring the Thorofare again someday in the future. My list of things to see in Yellowstone is only getting longer so it may be some time but the feeling of isolation was a big thrill:

Reflecting on two weeks in the Woods

I learned a few things spending two weeks in the woods. I like people but they annoy me in large quantities. I was shocked how accustomed I became to living in a tent and in the woods. It felt very strange reintegrating into society with all its “amenities” such as bathrooms, beds and buildings. It even felt odd sleeping in my bed without having to worry about bears and weather. I am very grateful for my job but part of me would rather live in the woods than in a city. I love my children and I hope they forgive their father for all the crazy trips to Yellowstone. I love my wife and I certainly missed her those two weeks in the woods.

I went back to Yellowstone in October to close the park down because I needed one last fix before the long dreary winter in Seattle (which lasts until early July). When does the park open in April?

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Great report @Keith! The Thorofare is a magical place - truly wild back in there. I'm a bit surprised that you didn't see more wildlife. Maybe you should have headed out through the willows at 4:00 am. ;)

The next time you go back to the Thorofare, I'll hike up Eagle Peak with you.
Nice report, one year we did a circumference of Yellowstone LK, from E entrance road TH to Heart Lake TH. Went up Mtn Ash to the last campsite, sure is nuked from 88 up there. Didn't have time for eagle peak. Trip planned for heading out and ending at Brookes Lake...maybe this year, haven't decided.
Yeah Buddy!!! Glad you finally put this together.

Yellowstone will definitely kill a water filter real fast.

LOL about them "rescuing a dog".

FYI, Backcountry site 6C2 is probably the best site between Yellowstone Lake and the actual Thorofare meadows.

You had a pretty good streak of tent nights there.

Let me know about February.
The next time you go back to the Thorofare, I'll hike up Eagle Peak with you.
LOL, your backpacking schedule is booked until like 2020. Your going to have to start using sick days. :)
I really just need to retire and get on to important things.

@Joey -- we are still on for February but we will be arriving about 18 hours later than expected because my brother-in-law had another performance scheduled. I'll send you a proposed plan later this week.

@scatman -- @Joey wants to circumnavigate the park (I think?) so Eagle Peak would be along the way :)
circumnavigating the park sounds like the right way to do it
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