Yellowstone's Thorofare and the Teton Wilderness 08/09/2023 - 08/18/2023 --Part One / Day One

TractorDoc

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If Yellowstone and the GYE were a magnet you might mistake me for a chunk of metal. When I'm asked what my favorite away-from-home destination is the answer is always the same: Yellowstone! I find myself drawn back to the region each year to experience the scenery, wildlife, thermal features, and anything else the environment chooses to throw at me. Each visit is different and special in its own way -- the area is so large that there is always something new to see and experience. Returning to the park yearly also brings a feeling of familiarity with it too. . . almost like a return home of sorts.

A couple years ago @scatman let me tag along with him on a backcountry trip to Heart Lake. Or did Hugh tag along with me? :thinking: Either way we were able to tolerate each other enough to continue the now yearly tradition of spending some time at a few Yellowstone campsites in the late summer/early fall. We've hiked to backcountry lakes, distant thermal features, crossed endless downfall, followed abandoned stagecoach routes, made numerous creek crossings, scouted promising game trails, and even hopped over a bog or two. There was also a starlit night time soak in Mr. Bubbles -- @wsp_scott accompanied us on that one. Really good stuff. Our outings typically lasted three or four nights in the backcountry.

I do not know exactly when -- probably sometime in 2022 -- Hugh declared that he wanted to return to the Thorofare. Of course I'd read about Yellowstone's Thorofare, studied it on the map, and even watched a video or two about it. . . but I never considered myself worthy enough to actually go there. That was the sort of place that "real" backpackers who knew what they were doing venture into, not someone like me. The most remote place in the lower 48 did pique my curiosity. But there was more. Hugh had plans of making this his last long trip. Ten days/nine nights down not only the Thorofare, but the journey would extend into the Teton Wilderness and involve a lengthy car shuttle. After some consideration I did convince myself to join Hugh on this adventure. We would be accompanied by @wsp_scott (he joined Hugh and I down Bechler Canyon a couple years ago) and @Bob -- whom I had never met but very much wanted to based on his BCP posts and backcountry celebrity status. :)

Starting in January 2023 I started my training program of taking various hikes around home and beyond with a weighted pack. I double, triple, and quadruple checked my gear multiple times. I planned my meals, packed/unpacked my pack, and meticulously weighed each item I intended to bring to separate wants from essentials. By late June I felt I had prepared as best I knew how. Would it be enough? Was I capable of the journey Hugh had in store for us? Here is my version of how things unfolded. . . you can judge for yourself!

Scott and I met at the airport and shared a rental car for the drive down to the park. It has been a tradition of mine to take my picture at the YNP sign on 191. I told Scott he had to participate. Note that he is practicing the @scatman smile technique. :scatman:

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Scott and I were originally tasked with picking Hugh up at Brooks Lake for the car shuttle. This would result in a long driving/travel day for us but luckily Bob and his wife picked up Hugh instead. Thank You Bob! :thumbsup: This allowed Scott and I to enjoy a leisurely lunch at Bozeman's Biankinis before arriving in West Yellowstone. We planned to meet Hugh, Bob, and Mrs. Bob for dinner at the Buffalo Bar -- we arrived early and settled in for a beer or two at the Slippery Otter while we waited. The tie-dyed t-shirts in W. Yellowstone were tempting, but sadly I could not find one in my size. :lol:

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The Buffalo Bar had a lot of good options. . . but I was still digesting my lunch. I opted for a smaller shrimp appetizer, Scott nibbled on a salad, and Hugh went crazy with the Hog Trough Nachos while Bob and Mrs. Bob went the burger route.

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We overnighted at the Lake Lodge Cabins in the park. It had rained during our drive thru Hayden Valley but cleared up enough for us to take a stroll down to Yellowstone Lake. We were even treated to a hint of a rainbow.

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I walked down to the lake again the next morning around 5AM. When the sun popped up I was surprised to see a group of elk were hanging out with me.

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After my morning walk I returned to the cabin. Then Hugh, Scott and I stopped by the Lake Hotel to partake in the breakfast buffet there.

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That about sums up the pre-hike details. Time to move on to the main event.

I give Hugh credit as the mastermind when it comes to the origins of this trip. He put an enjoyable itinerary together that stood well on its own. Of course, I was still willing to suggest some of what I will call "adjustments" to his plan. The first adjustment occurred on day one, before we ever set foot on the trail. Hugh is a dire-hard, pure as the wind driven snow backpacker. He is not one to embrace luxuries on (or off!) the trail. . . unless you count the occasional Chocolonely Bar or his knee brace that keeps him mobile. When I suggested a boat ride (vs. hiking only) on day one I expected him to be skeptical, but tried to convince him that this boat ride would extend our time in the hard-to-reach backcountry. I reasoned that I could hike south from Nine Mile Trailhead any time I wanted but would not be able to return to the depths of the Thorofare without significant effort. The boat would take us down to campsite 5E6 on Yellowstone Lake, effectively saving us a day's worth of hiking. I'll admit that I was a bit surprised when Hugh agreed to adjustment number one. :)

Our boat shuttle left the Bridge Bay Marina at 9:30AM. Bob met us in the parking lot and John from Mississippi (the Captain) took our picture aboard the Otter, a fine craft that looked more than capable of hauling this group of scalawags.

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This was my first time experiencing Yellowstone Lake. . . from the middle.

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John pushed us off the boat near campsite 5E6 -- Columbine Creek. He took another group photo for us while morale was still good.

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Watching as our last connection to civilization floats away.

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Scott and Bob discussed important things while Hugh and I checked out @Rockskipper 's kin at the 5E6 campsite.

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Finally hitting the trail. The goal of Day 1 was to hike 8.5 miles from the beach at 5E6 down to our campsite for the night at 5E1.

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Early on we had to cross Columbine Creek and Hugh demonstrated his balancing skills.

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The trail was wet and muddy from rains the prior week. Horse feet are not kind to a wet trail; on the plus side fresh tracks from other critters were readily visible. Seeing bear and wolf tracks in the Thorofare/Teton Wilderness is a lot like seeing bison in YNP. You tend to get excited about the first couple you see. . . but after a while you realize they are everywhere and stop taking so many pictures of them. :)

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The trail led us thru a lot of wooded areas on day one. Some areas held the scars of a recent burn leaving behind stands of vertical tree skeletons. Fireweed covered the ground in the burned areas and beyond. I do not think I was expecting the wildflower explosion that we were treated to on this and future days.

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Breaking out of the trees thru the occasional meadow.

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Bob mastering the art of log napping. This could have been something he picked up in one of Scatman's backcountry yoga classes.

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As a general rule we would stop every two hours for a sunscreen application break. This was always a good time to munch on a snack, check our progress, and rest our legs.

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A coworker had freeze dried several batches of ice cream for me and I gave several pouches to anyone that wanted them. I think Hugh was straining to lift the heavy ice cream (5.5 ounces) from his pack in this picture, but it sure looks like he is smiling to me. Perhaps the pain of carrying extra weight makes him happy. :)

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A quick sample of some wildflowers and pollinators seen along the trail.

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Flowers lined the trail in just about every meadow we crossed.

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Even though we were hiking near the Southeast Arm trees obscured our view of Yellowstone Lake most of the way. This changed as we continued South, and the forest would open up to provide a nice view of the lake and Yellowstone River delta.

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Looking ahead to some of the terrain we would be approaching in coming days.

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A little @scatman for scale.

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The view was always changing as we moved down the trail.

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Yellowstone Lake, River Delta, and the beginnings of the Thorofare.

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Same view, first picture with the wide-angle GoPro and second with the cell phone.

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Looking forward towards the Thorofare then back towards Yellowstone Lake.

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We enjoyed the view while it lasted. Shortly after passing the river delta the Thorofare Trail takes a turn to the East, and we found ourselves back in the trees. Luckily our campsite was not too far ahead. We arrived at site 5E1 in the early afternoon and set up camp. This was a nice change; I have been acclimated to setting up camp at dusk on past adventures with the Scatman.

I liked campsite 5E1. I know Hugh did not care for it; I cannot recall how Scott and Bob felt about it. The tent and food area sit on a flat atop a steep hill overlooking Beaverdam creek. The worst part about the site was getting water -- you had to descend the steep hill, fill up at the creek, then climb back up.

View down the Thorofare from camp.

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Hugh descending the steep hill to get water.

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Home away from home for night number one.

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Just hanging out. Scott and Bob are probably still talking about something important. Morale is very good on this afternoon. . . unless you need to get water.

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Seeing where tomorrow might take us. So far, my first impressions of @Bob met all of my expectations. His positive attitude, good sense of humor, and knowledge of all things backcountry fit the vibe of our group well. @wsp_scott and I picked up right where we left off several years ago in that we like each other. At least I think we do. He may just put up with me and is a very good actor. :lol: Hugh was in classic @scatman mode. Steady, stoic, and one with his surroundings. It was good to be with such nice people.

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The sunset was nice. Looking over Beaverdam Creek towards Yellowstone Lake, then down the Thorofare.

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I had fully intended to have "Part One" of this trip report cover at least the first three days of the trip. Looking back at all the pictures I've posted I'll cut it short to simply cover day one. Instead of a quick summary I intend to fully immerse you, the reader, with images to make it feel like you were there with us. At least for the good parts anyway. :)

I was feeling good after day one. I handled the weight of my pack well and my legs felt strong. It seemed my preparation was paying off thus far, but we were walking on mostly flat ground. That would change in the days to come. I was hoping as my food weight dropped (started at 18lbs. including Ursack) the spring in my step would increase, or at least be able to handle a little bushwacking/rock scrambling.

I had brought my cell phone with me -- not because I was expecting to make calls or to primarily take pictures, but to use the GAIA GPS app and track our journey. The app also came in handy as a map/trail guide in some areas; in Hugh's trip report you'll see me looking at the phone in a number of pictures for that reason. To keep the phone charged I brought along a Goal Zero Sherpa 100PD power bank. It added a hefty 1.4lbs to my pack but between my phone, the GoPro camera, and sneaking a charge into Bob's phone before he left us the entire charging capacity was used up at trips end.

Here is a snapshot from Day One:

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Day two and beyond will be in the works. I will try to combine multiple days into a single post. . . but no promises!
 

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Good start. @Bob and I solved all of the world's problems on the first day. But, when I woke up in the morning I couldn't remember any of the solutions :)

And yes, I like you or at least I'm willing to do it all over again :)
 
Now loved this trip report with all the photos! Thanks for posting. It has been a few years now since been back in here and miss it tremendously. Best to You!
 
Brilliant! I like your idea of breaking it down to a daily report, and day one did not disappoint. I figured if I survived day one, I'd survive the rest of the trip.

@Rockskipper 's friends on day one were the highlight for me. Imagine running into a sting of mules right off the bat. :thumbsup:

How in the hell did I make it across that log without falling into Columbine Creek? Obviously, miracles do happen. :)

I like the picture of the bear tracks, and I never get tired of seeing them.

That ice cream just about broke me. Not only am I straining in your picture, but upon closer inspection, it looks like the knee brace is about to snap. I'm still not sure why I agreed to take it. The ice cream was good though, and a nice break from the other snacks that I had brought for the trip.

I think @Bob needs to write a book.

I always find the Yellowstone River Delta to be a beautiful sight. I'm not sure I'll ever get back to see it again, but in my opinion it is worth the price of admission. I like your GoPro wide angle shot.

I almost decided to die of thirst before heading down that hill to Beaverdam Creek to get water. :D Ridiculous campsite placement! The Park Service should know better. Maybe Scatman needs to have a conversation with someone of authority on the art of selecting a campsite? @Rockskipper put me in touch with your contacts.

So how did you like your one man tent? Did you notice the peanut butter spread on the backside of it? :)

That's another good shot with Scott looking at the map, and me and Bob looking at you.

Looking forward to day number two. Actually, I'm looing forward to day ten so I can see if I survived this whole ordeal. :D
 
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@Bob is indeed one heckuva companion. His knowledge of all things backcountry in the western US is amazing.

Glad you gave @scatman a good sendoff to his long trip pasture!

Fantastic pictures and stories. Looking forward to the rest!
 
@Bob and I solved all of the world's problems on the first day. But, when I woke up in the morning I couldn't remember any of the solutions :)
Excellent! I'm not sure if the world's problems and my problems cross over, but when you remember let me know and we can find out. :thumbsup:

Now loved this trip report with all the photos! Thanks for posting. It has been a few years now since been back in here and miss it tremendously. Best to You!
Thanks @Kmatjhwy ! More photos to come, I promise.

Brilliant! I like your idea of breaking it down to a daily report, and day one did not disappoint. I figured if I survived day one, I'd survive the rest of the trip.
Breaking it down to a daily was more of a necessity than an idea. . . it can be difficult to keep people's attention after 50 pictures or so. :)
And of course you were going to survive. The backcountry only makes you stronger.

I always find the Yellowstone River Delta to be a beautiful sight. I'm not sure I'll ever get back to see it again, but in my opinion it is worth the price of admission. I like your GoPro wide angle shot.
The delta was definitely a day one highlight. I had considered bringing a 16mm wide angle lens to capture wide landscape images, but it did not make the cut after weigh in. The gopro was my fall back and it takes some interesting pictures.

I almost decided to die of thirst before heading down that hill to Beaverdam Creek to get water.
It was a good warmup for Mojo Pass. ;)

So how did you like your one man tent? Did you notice the peanut butter spread on the backside of it?
The one man tent was cozy, but ended up being all I needed. Thanks for saving me that extra pound! I never noticed any peanut butter. Either that rain shower the first morning washed it all off or all the ground squirrels licked it clean before I could detect it. OR you put in on your tent by mistake. :lol:

For some reason I read this as log knapping. you know, like in making points and such. It sounded like an interesting hobby.
Bob is probably a master of that too. Nine days was not enough to discover all of his talents.

Fantastic pictures and stories. Looking forward to the rest!
Thanks! I'll try to get the next installment posted soon. Never enough hours in the day!
 
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