Forty days of hiking later, and the inaugural hike of the Greater Yellowstone Traverse (GYT) is complete! On the morning of June 27th, myself and eight other hiking friends left from the Woodbine Falls Trailhead into the Beartooth-Absaroka Wilderness to begin the GYT. What commenced was three days of the most intense bushwacking I have ever done. With no sign of a trail to be found we thrashed, rock-hopped, and stumbled our way up an unnamed pass that we weren’t even sure was doable.
In those first three days the tone was set for one wild adventure. We knew right out of the gate that this would be the hardest hike any of us had done. With this fresh on our minds, it was nice to move south into Yellowstone National Park where better trails and stellar wildlife beckoned. The first few days in the park were spectacular and eventful. Cheesebeard (Josh Tippett) was charged by a bison in Lamar Valley. We heard him screaming and everyone rushed over to ensure his safety. Thankfully the bison moved off after Pebbles (Trevor Arwood) asserted his dominance by screaming at the bison. I was lucky enough to see a grizzly bear in Pelican Valley the next day, and the encounter went much better than the one with the bison. After a relaxing day off at Canyon Village, we ventured toward Old Faithful and the stellar thermal features in the park. We got up at 4 a.m. on Old Faithful day so that we could enjoy the geysers before any tourists got there. Being alone in the silence watching geysers bubble from the ground as the sun rises before you is a special feeling. My favorite thermal feature of the park is called Mister Bubbles, a wonderful hot spring which is fed by hot and cold streams to create the perfect temperature for soaking. Luckily this spot is also miles into the backcountry, and we had the whole place to ourselves. The last bit of Yellowstone is called the Bechler Area and was filled with gorgeous 40+ foot waterfalls. The biggest downside of the whole Yellowstone section were the relentless mosquitos, sometimes so bad you could kill 10 with one slap.
Grand Teton National Park now lay ahead of us, and I was very excited to see these iconic mountains for the first time. The northern end of the park was very lightly traveled, but by this point we were quite used to walking with little-to-no trail. The wildflowers in this section were especially good–endless fields of flowers filled my nose with the perfect aroma that is blooming mountain flowers. In fact, the wildflowers on this entire trail were a spectacular treat that I was not particularly expecting. As we headed into the more popular parts of the park crowds filled the trails to more popular destinations. I walked up on a mother and baby moose alone, and within a minute I was surrounded by 20 hikers all taking photos and videos of the moose. This was an interesting reality to face after spending the last five days completely alone in the backcountry.
After a few days off in Jackson Hole, hanging with friends and eating tons of food from the local Albertsons, we headed into the Gros Ventre Wilderness. Our hiking crew was cut down to just four people, as many of our hiking friends hadn’t committed to completing the whole hike. We charged on for the next few days through a mountain landscape like I had never seen before. Peaks jutted out from a huge plateau that seemed like it could have gone on forever. This range was especially remote and we only saw one other person actually hiking in the backcountry.
Finally, the Wind River Range–our final hurdle of the trip–lured us on in the distance. We planned to hike the High Route, which is considered one of the best backpacking trips in the world. Right out of the gate it certainly did not disappoint. Knapsack Col is the first pass for southbound hikers. This pass is one of most beautiful places on the whole Continental Divide Trail, and I was stoked to be back to climb it again. Thankfully, the second time around felt much easier, and I couldn’t wait to send a huge glissade off the other side. The High Route also took us to new and unexplored places like Bonneville Basin, where the mountains resemble a scene right out of Lord of the Rings. We also saw someone base jumping off the top of a mountain, which would have been the most exciting thing all day if it hadn’t snowed on us on July 27th when we were atop our big pass for the day. We jokingly started singing Christmas carols as a few flakes fell from the sky. With the mosquitos finally at bay I was happy to be cowboy camping again. Using the Hitchens UL 20, I was reminded how much warmer a traditional mummy bag is compared to an ultralight quilt. My friends who all had quilts would complain of huge wind gusts and cold nights as I slept warmly and soundly with a bag the same weight as theirs. The Wind River Range is a special place, as the remote and enchanted beauty that lay in those mountains is the reason I hike. It’s the kind of mountain travel that will constantly keep you on high alert and fighting for almost every mile. But no matter how hard it gets, you are reminded of why you are out there by simply looking up and taking in the nature around you.
As we descended into the Great Divide Basin this hike came to an interesting close. The mountains around us slowly turned into smaller hills and we spent little time above treeline. Elk and their signs were abundant as they enjoyed the cooler temperatures of the forests in summer. Sagebrush started to appear along with interesting rock formations jutting out of the ground as we dropped below 9,000ft for the first time in two weeks. Finally, on August 2nd, we arrived at Louis Lake, the official southern terminus of the Greater Yellowstone Traverse.
The ability to complete this adventure took the culmination of all my hiking experience. From dealing with tough navigation to traversing endless boulder fields where no trail was to be found, I truly had to pull strength and knowledge from past experiences to make it through. On a typical thru hike, one will know for the most part what to expect in regards to passable terrain. This hike was very different in that respect–as twice we had to turn around because the route we drew on the map was too technical to pull off. These kinds of trials have changed my mindset completely from before this hike. I now believe I am ready to continue hiking less-established routes, not only to challenge myself in new ways, but to encourage wider use of less popular hiking routes.
Eddie “Oilcan” Boyd is a 20-year old Triple Crowner and Co-Creator of The Greater Yellowstone Traverse (GYT). Read is pre-trip blog HERE.