Wildland Trekking’s Yellowstone program is starting up this week in the northern, lower part of the Park. In May and June we run our Spring Trekking Adventure, a traverse of the Yellowstone River as it flows through the pristine depths of the Black Canyon. This trip kicks off what is a magnificent 5-month season of hiking and backpacking throughout Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding wilderness areas.
There’s something magical about backpacking in Yellowstone, something truly special. Its combination of vast wilderness, expansive meadows, geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, pristine lakes, rushing rivers, rocky outcroppings, alpine peaks, and amazing wildlife make for an extremely unique backpacking experience.
Most visitors to the famous park experience the tip of the iceberg with these things. From the roads and boardwalks one can see some truly amazing things like Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls, and a variety of wildlife.
When one ventures off the boardwalks and into the backcountry of Yellowstone, though, new features and experiences begin to emerge. As the highway sounds fade, and one drifts between open meadows and thick forests, a quiet alertness merges into the experience like a cloud of sand swirling through water. The anxieties of civilization evaporate as one’s senses open up to this new world and they begin to notice colorful wildflowers, the murmur of a distant river, or the sound of birds.
As one ventures deeper and deeper into the backcountry, these experiences both intensify and become the new normal. Every meadow offers the possibility of seeing a grizzly bear or pack of wolves; every forest is a possible home to grouse or fox; every river holds the promise of a swimming otter or pelican hunting trout. (My brother and I once sat on a bluff above a backcountry creek and watched 4 pelicans float downstream, spearing and swallowing fish, then fly back up and float down again, over and over for hours.)
One might pass a geyser, hot spring or other thermal feature, where steam drifts up and dissipates from a mysterious hole in the earth. To think this national park Eden sits atop a megavolcano that one day will explode and erase all life for hundreds of miles in every direction. The reality of this thought seems like an urban myth that can’t be true – how can this beautiful, flourishing place with so much life be a ticking time bomb that will eventually explode and be gone? It doesn’t seem right. But at least it’s here now, and the experience is invigorating.
Eventually one reaches their campsite for the night. There are no sounds other than the wind in the trees, bugling elk (in the fall), and singing birds. A quiet evening next to a campfire, and a peaceful night of sleep put the period at the end of a heck of a great first day.
Whether the trip is 3 days or 7 days, this experience continues day in and day out, and the deep wilderness experience becomes the new normal. This place gets in your blood, becomes part of you. When one returns home, the memories of Yellowstone inspire new adventures, new goals. And dreams of returning to the Wyoming megavolcano wilderness of Yellowstone never goes away.