Trip Report: Yellowstone Backpack
By Ben Wake
| Of all the adjectives to describe Michael Budig’s treks in Yellowstone over the last 40 years, “miraculous” might not come to mind, but it was certainly the case on this trip. Less than a week before we were to set foot on the trail, Michael discovered that the two most sought after and hardest to reserve campsites in the entire Yellowstone back country were available! At this late date getting one of those spots would have been mere wishful thinking, but to snag both campsites in the week we would be there was truly miraculous. This meant that three out of the six campsites would include the opportunity to marinate in hot springs, such as Mr. Bubbles and Dunanda Falls. We also learned at the last minute that fire restriction had been lifted on all but two of our campsites, and each campsite had a pit toilet and bear poles. This was turning out to be a trip of a lifetime and it truly exceeded our expectations. With the exception of one cloudy day, we had warm weather, no rain or snow and Fall colors at the peak of their glory. For seven days and 50 miles we were immersed in a palette of electric reds, yellows and oranges with crystal clear rivers and streams punctuated by a bright blue sky.
Day 1: There was an initial camp on Thursday night, Sept 23 at the Colter Bay CG in the northern part of Teton National Park. The group consisted of Michael & Diane Budig, Larry Hall, Larry Alserda, Greg Clark, Constance Modrow and Ben Wake (this would be Ben’s first hike/backpack with the WMC). We left the campground around 8:00 AM and drove north to the Grassy Lake Road. After a bumpy and dusty ½ hour drive we arrived at the Grassy Lake TH and left our gear and the girls and continued another 4 miles to the Fish/Loon Lake TH. The deep pools on the one-lane road nearly swallowed Greg’s Honda CRV so we had to park about a mile short of the actual trailhead. We left 3 vehicles and headed back to the Grassy Lake trailhead. By noon we were finally on our way. After wading across the Falls River and an easy 6-mile trek to campsite 9U4, we set up camp and walked 1.8 miles to a spectacular view of Union Falls.
Day 2 Sat Sept 25 – Frost on our tents in the morning. Hiking by 9:00 AM, the day consisted of more river crossings along a beautiful 8.4-mile trek through massive meadows of wheat-colored grass. Due to beaver activity, the trail had been diverted. Unfortunately, the same pesky beaver decided that the new trail would be a perfect place for another new beaver water park which entirely flooded the trail, making it one of the more difficult water crossing on the trip. Campsite 9B1 on Boundary Creek was beautiful with a gorgeous sunset.
Day 3 Sun Sept 26 – Boundary Creek is a deep, meandering stream that is fortunately spanned by a narrow suspended bridge. After 4 miles of flat hiking, we plunged into the Bechler River Gorge. The Autumn colors were amazing! We stopped for lunch at Colonnade Falls which was soon followed by Iris Falls. This was the most beautiful part of the trip. After 6 miles of uphill hiking, we mercifully came to our campsite 9D1, the most coveted campsite in all the Yellowstone backcountry. Another ¾ miles found us enjoying a fantastic soak in “Mr. Bubbles”, the premier backcountry hot spring in the park. We also had a one-person “hot tub” next to our camp on the far side of the river. Tough day – but totally worth it!
Day 4 Mon Sept 27 – Today would only be a short 5-mile downhill hike so we slept in. Michael, Diane and Larry Alserda went back for one more dip in Mr. Bubbles. Constance and Ben took turns soaking in the hot tub. After lunch we backtracked 5 miles to campsite 9B5 nestled in a kaleidoscope of colors at Colonnade Falls.
Day 5 Tues Sept 28 – Woke up to an overcast sky. We had heard from the park rangers that there was a chance of snow or rain. There was a cool south wind warning us of impending weather on our 7.3-mile hike to campsite 9A3. Walking another 1/4 mile upriver, we scrunched into a wonderful little hot spring at the base of magnificent Dunanda Falls. The clouds cleared before evening. Note: the pit toilet at this campsite was perched on the top of a hill that offered a great view of the Tetons.
Day 6 Wed Sept 28 – Another beautiful sunny day! Today would be an easy 10-mile hike and several river crossings, including the growing beaver dam, to campsite 9U1 at Mountain Ash Creek. This would be our last night together. Ben shared some cowboy poetry as we stayed up later than usual around a big fire.
Day 7 Thu Sept 30 – Woke up to a hard frost and a crisp sunny day. On the trail by 9:00 with an immediate crossing of Ash Creek. Some of our water shoes were frozen solid and there was ice in places on the stream. The 4.5-mile hike out would include three river crossings that morning. Greg Clark set a blistering pace and we made it to our vehicles in record time. By early afternoon we were slurping down burgers at Dornans, taking some final group pics and then heading our separate ways home.