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Backpacking in YSNP

post #1 of 2
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We entered the Park on September 9 through the east entrance. It was cold and there had been a good dusting of snow on the high peaks. According to a sign in Cody, the temperature was 43 degrees. As we were driving to Norris, we saw a grizzly feeding off to the side of the road, just west of Sylvan Pass. He could have cared less that at least 40 people were observing him. As it turned out, this was the only grizzly sighting we had.

It got very cold that first night. A Park Ranger told me that the official low was 18 degrees but that it got down to 15 degrees at Norris. During our stay at Norris, we head bison, elk, and wolves from the Swan Lake Pack nightly.

It warmed up nicely on Monday and we did the normal tourist activities. We also obtained our backcountry use permit at the Canyon Backcountry Office. On Tuesday we took in more sights and got everything prepared for the beginning of the backpacking part of our trip.

Our trip began at the 5K3 Pelican Valley Trailhead on Wednesday, September 12. The trail had been closed due to the presence of a bison carcass but the scavengers had taken care of it by our departure date. Our destination was campsite 3T3 Mist Creek Pass. This campsite is 11 ½ miles from the trailhead. The NPS service does not allow entrance to Pelican Valley until 9:00 a.m. and does not allow camping until 3T3 due to bear activity.

The trail winds through the broad and relatively flat Pelican valley for the first 7 miles until it reaches the Pelican Patrol Cabin. We saw numerous bison but no other wildlife. We saw a few day hikers go as far as the patrol cabin. These were the last people we saw until we encountered a few day hikers near the Lamar River Trailhead (3K1) on the last day of our hike. After the patrol cabin, the trail begins a Class 3 ascent to Mist Creek Pass. We proceeded through burned forest without seeing any wildlife other than bison.

3T3 is located in the broad Mist Creek meadow. The cooking area has an expansive view of the meadow and is located only a few feet from a good water source. That area has extensive, flat ground for tents at a safe distance from the cooking area. During the night we heard a few elk bugling but nothing else. There was heavy frost at 3:30 a.m. but it had warmed and melted by 6:00 a.m. as a heavy blanket of fog had moved in. We could not see across the meadow until 10:00 a.m. The only wildlife we saw was more bison and a coyote.

On Thursday, our destination was 3U3 Little Saddle Creek campsite. It is located 8 miles from 3T3. After leaving 3T3, the trail goes through mostly burned forest as it heads for the confluence of Cold Creek and the Lamar River. The trail has the normal ups and downs but nothing significant as far as difficulty. It is well marked and easy to follow. The only wildlife we saw of note was a bald eagle flying high above Mist Creek. The depth of the ford of the Lamar River was ankle deep. We had expected at least knee deep water and we were quit surprised it was so low. It did get a little deeper and much wider further downstream. This river is on the west side of the divide so the downstream part of the river was encountered as we hiked north and west.

3U3 was not a super campsite. It is close to water and has adequate flat tent areas a good distance from the cooking area. Bear sign was heavy in this area, including prints of adults and cubs, and abundant scat. We also saw cat tracks in the mud near the river. However, we had an uneventful night. We awoke the next morning to find a bison grazing amongst our tents. I gave him my best imitation of a wolf howl but he failed to acknowledge that I was alive. He slowly moved on as we cooked breakfast and packed for our departure.

On Friday, our destination was 3L7 Middle Lamar. This site is only 5 miles from 3U3, making this our easy day. The trail follows the Lamar River and goes through areas of burned forest. We did not encounter any wildlife during our short hike to 3L7. This campsite is very nice. The cooking area is located close to the Lamar. However, the tent sites that had been chosen by previous campers were much too close to the cooking area for my taste. We camped in the huge meadow away from the cooking area. I was uneasy about this campsite due to the abundance of bear sign, prints and scat. Late afternoon we had a thunderstorm with heavy rain and high wind. Afterwards, we enjoyed a large campfire until about 10:00 p.m. It got very cold that night and we all had thick ice on our tents the following morning. Even though there was fresh bear sign, we did not have any encounters during the night.

On Saturday, our destination was the Lamar River Trailhead 3K1, which is 10 miles from 3L7. This was our best day for wildlife viewing. Near the end of the day, as the Lamar and its valley head west and the trail heads north, we saw a huge heard of Bison about a mile up the valley. Much closer to us was four wolves. Three of them were pups and one was an adult. It was obviously a training day because the adult was putting the pups through their paces as they played what appeared to be mock hunting games. The bison were not concerned by the presence of the wolves; however, a small heard of deer and a single pronghorn took off as soon as the wolves appeared.

All in all it was a great hike even though we didn’t see the wildlife we had hoped to. We found a notice posted at the Lamar River Trailhead that 3L7 was closed due to heavy bear activity. The NPS closed the site after we had hit the trail and we had no way of knowing that they had done so. We also learned that 2 hunters had been mauled by grizzly bears, one was hunting black bear and the other was hunting elk. It is always interesting when the hunter becomes the hunted. The age of the group averaged 50.8 years young.
post #2 of 2
very niiicceeee. sounds fun.
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