6-18-2019: Jason was due to land at DIA mid morning June 18th 2019. We were starting the hiking season early this year. A spring trip was finalized to the Thorofare region of the Teton Wilderness in Wyoming. We had discussed doing a trip in this area for years, mainly to check out the fishery, but also to see how “remote” this area really was. Jason would spend the day in Downtown Denver getting his high intake of carbs and fat at Mexico City Restaurant and Lounge (best fried tacos anywhere), while waiting for me to get off work. We then would start the journey up to the Midvale/Pavilion area to spend the night at his dad’s outpost in Wyoming.
We reached Midvale a bit before midnight and had a couple nightcaps with Jason’s dad and then Jason headed off to sleep in the Sheepcamp (the “guest” bedroom) and I slept in the back of the pickup truck. It is very quite in this part of Wyoming at night and I slept very sound. I was awoken early the next morning by the sound of lambs making a ruckus as they were being fed their grain. Today, My uncle would take Jason and I to the Trailhead outside of Cody.
6-19-2019: We drove through Shoshone, then saw the whitewater in Wind River Canyon, and saw with some anxiety, the amount of snow in the high country of the Absaroka’s as we flew through Meeteetse and Cody. We had been watching the weather for the last couple of months to see if this trip was even doable from this side. Our plan was to hike in at the Ishawooa Creek trailhead, go over into the Silvertip drainage by another short pass to Open Creek, and then down into the Bridger Lake area. From here we would travel up the Yellowstone to the base of Younts Peak, Scramble up to the Divide and follow it out at Brooks Lake.
We drove the South fork road and got to the Ishawooa Creek trailhead a little before noon. Our plan this day was to hike as far as we could go (ideally 16 miles to the pass) and camp. We started unloading our gear and I pulled my Gregory z55 out and proceeded to blow out the back pocket and bust a cinch strap. I would later notice about day 4 that the hip belt buckle was broke but still functioning. This was disappointing as this pack has not been used much in the past, and I had already done some repairs on it prior to this trip. We took a few pictures, strapped on the bear spray and headed out. As you can imagine, there was nobody at the trailhead, and probably for good reason as we would find out in a short while.
Jason and I really went through our gear this past winter and got it dialed down to the essentials and ultimately cut POUNDS off our normal hiking weight (in years past, 45-50+ pound packs were the norm at the beginning of a trip). I had my pack dialed in at 33-34 pounds for 9 to 10 days and that included all the weight of the tent, fuel and stove, items that can normally be shared. The only shared weight we had was the Packraft. Jason carried the raft (2.5Lbs) and I carried the light weight paddles (1.5Lbs). Jason had all the camera gear for the hordes of wildlife we expected to see. I thought this was pretty amazing considering we had a few “abnormal” backpacking items with us, such as the packraft, microspikes, and bear spray.
We started hiking on the dry, dusty, treeless trail for the first mile or two. Once we entered the aspens, we encountered some springs and muddy trail in spots. The most surprising site was that of our first fresh grizzly tracks. Less than an hour into our hike, we had encountered fresh grizzly prints and some scat. We started talking and making noise as we would do over the course of the trip to hopefully alert any wildlife we were passing through.
We could hear the creek as we got closer, and in our trip planning, Ishawooa Creek was not deemed an obstacle or crux of the trip in any way. We assumed Thorofare Creek would be the hardest obstacle to overcome and possibly snow conditions in the Pass Creek drainage. Well, not too far into the trip we had to cross Ishawooa Creek. We went to the trail creek crossing and ruled that out. Ishawooa Creek was running high and dirty. The creek meanders like a snake through here and is choked with much deadfall, and not many straight riffle sections. It was impossible to see how deep it was. It was fairly high gradient. All of these factors led up to us spending 3 hours trying to cross. The first attempt was a failed crossing in the packraft (which we had decided to throw in only 2 weeks prior in anticipation of crossing Thorofare Creek) by Jason. We decided to hike up offtrail in the wooded, narrowing canyon (we would do a bit of travel this trip that probably was not the “safest” in grizzly country) to see if we could find some riffles or a straightaway to cross. Less than a mile up the creek, we found a likely spot to cross.
A tree had fallen across the creek as it swept by a bank. It looked possible to easily cross from a distance. As we got closer and inspected it further, it was a tangle of trees, and would still leave you with a jump over to solid ground. Further complicating this mess, was the thought of slipping off and getting caught in these strainers. This option was quickly ruled out. This mess of trees did back up the water behind it though, creating some slower water coming out and a decent straightaway that looked floatable. This was the longest straight portion of the river we had seen so far. Decent launch area (actually from an island braid of the river) and iffy, but doable landing area. The concern here was, that if you did not make the landing area (there was a very small window to land), you would have to bail and get to shore as the fast water went down into a bend with some deadfall. Researching this area, I had my bear spray fall off my pack as I took it off scouting around. It fell in the river and Jason was the closest but could not grab it. I ran down a ways and was able to retrieve it. It was looking to be a tough day in general.
The plan was devised and we went for it. I had packed a “SealBuddy” PFD for this trip and it was to be my pillow at night too (after cutting my real ultralight pillow for the multipurpose PFD). The plan was simple. Jason would go first, load his pack in the front of the boat (we used his camera straps to secure to the boat) and push off and paddle as fast as you could to get to the landing area. The water was very fast so you were going to have to get after it and cross the main current quickly. We had a sliver of slack water to push off into before being taken downstream in the main current. Upon reaching the other side, we would throw a 50ft cord (we used our bear line) to the other side, secure the boat, paddles, and PFD and pull to to the other side as we only had one packraft.
Jason was the first to go. He flew down river and landed in some relatively slack water above our scouted take out. He grabbed onto a branch to try and slow down and get out. The current was deceptively strong and eventually he could not get out and was swept down towards our scouted take out. He hit the takeout but was immediately thrown into the fast, main current on that edge of the river. He bailed and fought his way to shore and pulled the raft with him. Needless to say, he was completely soaked.
I was next. Jason tied everything down and I pulled the boat over to me. The boat hit the fast current and flipped and next thing I see is the “SealBuddy” floating down the creek. There goes my pillow for the trip! I proceeded to wrap my Thermarest pad around me and put on my rain jacket. Makeshift PFD but better than nothing. I did not mess around and got ready and pushed off. I hit the scouted takeout on the mark, then proceeded to get in the main current as Jason did. I heard Jason yell “bail” but I think I already had bailed. Half in and half out of the water, the current was very strong to get a footing. I pulled myself out while dragging the raft and my pack to shore.
We had accomplished to get to the other side, and now we were committed to getting to Hawks Rest, as we did not want to cross Ishawooa Creek again. It took us 3 hours of scouting, hiking, and floating to get across Ishawooa Creek. We had miles to make up and it was getting late. We were both pretty wet from “bailing” in the creek. We started hiking to warm up and make some progress. We kept seeing a lot of bear sign as we progressed up the canyon. The roar of Ishawooa Creek got louder as it was being narrowed in its stream bed. A massive waterfall was seen from the trail as we ascended up the canyon walls. We started going up and as dark was falling, it was hard to find a decent camp site. We finally found a spot that would do, although it was too close to the trail, but we new that nobody was anywhere back here (it is also prudent to camp a ways from the trail in grizzly country, as they frequently use the trails also). We found a decent bear hang, campsite was actually decent and spent the first night nowhere near where we expected to be on this first day.
6-20-2019: The next morning we had breakfast on a fantastic overlook of the Ishawooa Creek gorge and the surrounding Absaroka’s. This was some rugged looking country. The trail from camp wound up higher and higher ever so slightly. There were some precarious drops into the gorge below from the trail. There was plenty of rotten rock and fresh avalanche slides through this section (and plenty of fresh grizzly sign. We would see more grizzly sign in the Washakie Wilderness than any other area on this trip except possibly the Yellowstone Meadows in the Thorofare) . We headed on up the trail and planned on making the pass today, but as we got higher, we saw more snow and decided to save the pass for the next day. This is the only campsite on the whole trip that we did not stop on the trail and eat, then hike another few miles to camp. We ate maybe a half mile from our camp on the creek. By now, Ishawooa Creek was cross-able, but still moving.
6-21-2019: It snowed overnight! Welcome to the first day of summer in the Wyoming backcountry. It was just enough snow to dust the ground and make everything white. We had big plans today. We were going to try and make up some time and get over Ishawooa Pass and Silvertip Pass today and hopefully down the Silvertip drainage a ways towards Open Creek. We expected decent snow on the Washakie side, and where hoping it abated soon on the Teton side. We had a couple of miles to go until we crossed Ishawooa Creek (now a small mountain stream, very easily crossed) and would start our ascent towards Ishawooa Pass. We crossed, fueled up and looked into the trees. There was no bare ground to be seen. The “trail” (only resemblance of a trail was the virtual one on our GPS) was gone! The snow was hard though and we put on our microspikes and headed up (Little did we know, we would be hiking with the microspikes for the next 10+ miles today, as the snow never left). The slope was fairly steep in spots and we checked the GPS periodically so that we stayed close to the trail. We eventually neared the top and it leveled out some, and there was some windswept snow free areas we could see, and even small portions of the actual trail. We eventually headed towards the saddle and hit the pass. We had a hard time locating the sign for the pass (I had seen pictures of a sign on the internet, so assumed it was there somewhere) and eventually Jason found a corner barely sticking out of the snow! Mission accomplished.
We re-fueled on top and took a few pictures. It looked like the dead of winter from our vantage point. Since the upper crossing of Ishawooa Creek earlier that morning, we had not seen any sign of the trail except some wind blown areas on the Absaroka side of the pass and the virtual sings from the GPS. It was all walking on snow. Looking down the Pass Creek drainage, we could not see any relief from the snow in site. We started down the slopes to meet up with the massive Pass Creek meadows and eventually cross Pass Creek. We eventually made it to a very tall sign marking the Silvertip Trail. It was up from here, and the snow squalls we had been encountering all morning, seemed to be intensifying. It was here we had to triangulate our location using the old map and compass, as a technical error in our GPS app put us at a much different position (about a mile and a half off!). It was a good lesson to not just rely on the latest technology, but be able to use some tried and true navigational tools to verify your whereabouts.
From the junction of the Pass Creek trail and the Silvertip Creek Trail, it was all uphill. I keep saying trail, but our only idea that a trail existed anywhere for miles around was that one sign sticking out of the snow. This did make for a feeling of being very isolated. We were now about 20 miles from the nearest trailhead (Ishawooa Creek) and over 40 miles from the nearest trailhead in the Teton Wilderness or Yellowstone National Park. The first mile heading up was relatively easy, but then became steeper and Jason was busting through the snow at a little greater rate than me (maybe 3 times to my 1). We finally pulled out of the trees and hit the open slopes above (open from trees, not snow!). From here, we had to stop a few times and use the GPS and even triangulated again, as the pass was not straight forward without a trail. We finally ended up cresting the top after crossing some steeper snow slopes. The view from the pass was beautiful looking into the Silvertip Creek drainage. The slope getting down was much steeper than anticipated from looking at the map, and was of course completely snow covered. The one bright spot from our vantage point was that we could see the snow line down the valley towards Open Creek, something we could not see from Ishawooa Pass.
It was a long, steep, slog down to Silvertip Creek through the trees. We finally hit the Silvertip Creek meadows and decided to cook dinner. By this time it was getting to be later (6’ish, 7’ish if I remember right) and we still had a ways to go to get out of the snow. After eating alongside Silvertip Creek, we proceeded down the meadows through intermittent snow squalls and fading light. The snow was receding fast as we moved down the meadow a few miles and eventually came to more marshy meadows and bogs than snow. We finally could make out the trail, even though it was a miniature creek, and follow it down and made some faster time and eventually located a decent camping spot. We were not out of the snow 100% yet as many deep drifts were around, but there was plenty of relatively dry ground to pitch the tent for the night.
6-22-2019: We woke up to a beautiful sunrise and contemplated our next step. Should we put the microSpikes on or were we going to get out of the snow soon enough as we lost elevation? We decided to leave the microSpikes in our packs and head out. We had maybe another mile of intermittent snow and drifts and it was looking more like spring every step we took. We were on the trail now and headed towards Open Creek and eventually Thorofare Creek. The hiking was easy as we lost elevation slowly, and we were able to make some good time. We had a short section (maybe a mile or two) of an offtrail shortcut to Open Creek where we would cross at the confluence of Silvertip Creek and Open Creek. Anxiety was a little high, as we did not know what Open Creek would look like this far down in the drainage. Pass Creek and Silvertip Creek up high were easily negotiated. Silvertip Creek by now was looking to be a more difficult, cold , crossing as it had gained a lot of water as it headed towards Open Creek. We were still seeing some fairly fresh Grizzly sign and jumped a porcupine near the confluence.
We fueled up prior to crossing Open Creek. Open Creek was very easily negotiated, but was moving swiftly and very cold. Silvertip Creek looked to have about twice the volume of water that Open Creek had. Once they merged here, the two flowed to Thorofare Creek under the Open Creek name. We continued on down, slowly losing elevation. We eventually entered a massive meadow and towards Open Creek saw a very unsightly horse camp site. If we had more time, we would have dismantled this unsightly mess. The only good about the campsite, at least it is used year after year in the same spot, preventing new scars on the land every hunting season. We did encounter a much smaller outfitting camp in the Absaroka’s along upper Ishawooa Creek, complete with bear container.
We pushed on, spooked a cow elk (the only big game animal that we saw the whole trip), scared up some mating Sandhill Cranes (who were starting to be our noisy, familiar friends as we got closer to the Yellowstone), and just kept walking in this wide expanse of wilderness. The feeling of being remote was not the most pronounced back here (even though we were very remote, especially considering the conditions) but the vastness of the meadows and mountains was tremendous. It was big wilderness and a lot of it. We just kept walking and walking and walking……and walking. The hiking was some of the easiest (minus the snow and river crossings) I have ever done in any mountain area. With a light load, and legs in decent shape, you could cruise through this area relatively easy.
We pressed on and eventually came to the confluence of Thorofare Creek and Open Creek. We finally saw what we deemed in the planning stages of our trip as the crux. To our relief, It did not look anywhere near as daunting as our Ishawooa Creek crossing, 4 days earlier. We still had a few miles to go and then search out a campsite for the night. We eventually walked up on our freshest elk kill of the trip on the trail, bear spray was immediately pulled out and we hoofed it out of there as fast as we could without running. After about another mile, we took a side trail that ended in a massive swamp, and we had to backtrack or swim to get back on the main trail (so much for the shortcut). We proceeded up the Thorofare trail going north towards Yellowstone (The park boundary was only a little over a mile away from here) and found a knob overlooking Thorofare Creek, Hawks Rest directly to our west and the Trident to the northeast in Yellowstone. There were an abundance of good bear hang trees all around in this country, we got the tent set up and relaxed. This was our best campsite of the whole trip. The views were amazing.
6-23-2019: We woke up early this morning to hike the short distance to the Wyoming Game and Fish cabin on the park boundary. It was a short, easy hike on a flat plateau to the cabin. It was all boarded up and you could tell it was well taken care. It was a bout a quarter of a mile past the cabin to the park boundary, so we decided to check it out and take some pics. We were anxious to get back and and take down camp, as we did not know what we had in store for us at Thorofare Creek.
We got camp stuffed in our packs and headed the short distance to the Thorofare crossing. We approached the official trail crossing and on our side it was easily 6 feet deep and flowing fast. The depth of the water surprised us a little. We bushwhacked upstream about a half mile and found what looked to be a perfect spot to launch the packraft and had a good landing on the other side about an 1/8th of a mile downstream. We had measured on Google Earth the width of Thorofare creek in most spots was just 100 feet across. The bear ropes we carried were each 50 feet, so we would tie these together to throw a line across the river for the second man to get the boat after the first crossing.
Jason took the first run. There was one midstream obstacle to maneuver around, a log with a tree limb sticking out. This was not a strainer hazard, but was enough you had to worry if you hit it, the boat might get damaged. The flow on Thorofare creek was moving decent but nowhere near the velocity of Ishawooa Creek. Thorofare creek also had some long runs and most places gave you plenty of time to maneuver before you would get in trouble. Thorofare creek was cross-able on foot, but you would swim the last bit to shore in every spot we saw. It was just a bit too deep and flowing a bit too fast. The packraft made a very nice option in fording it. I pushed Jason off and he glided downstream, got into the main current, and easily paddled out of it before gliding into the far shore with the fast current and beached the raft. He would bring the raft upstream, I waded out as far as I could and he threw me the bear cord and I pulled the raft back over and proceeded to do just as he did. All this before the rain came in! We were now on the “right” side of Thorofare Creek and knew we could easily get out via the Turpin Meadow trailhead if that is what we had to do.
We ate lunch, and headed off to Bridger Lake, where we “lost” the trail and pushed through some of the thickest new growth I think I have ever seen. This was another example of what not to do in grizzly country. Once we broke free of the new growth, we popped out onto a high use trail skirting the lake. we first went east, but turned around to go back towards the Yellowstone to look for a place to set up camp. Bridger Lake was not at all what I expected. I was expecting a pristine mountain lake with crystal clear water. It looked like a very large seep pond to me, with discolored water and in many places heavily used campsites. It was not the ideal mountain lake in my eyes.
We followed the trail skirting Bridger Lake and eventually caught our first glimpse of the Upper Yellowstone and it’s meadows. As we crossed what looked like the outlet of Bridger Lake into the Yellowstone, 2 horses and riders appeared coming out of the trees further along the trail heading towards us. This was the first people we had seen in 5 days. Turns out they were Wyoming Game and Fish. They were staying at the forest service cabin (Hawks Rest Cabin) with permission as they were unable to cross Thorofare Creek to gain access to their cabin we had just been to earlier in the day. We talked a bit, inquired on camping options ahead and departed. They invited us to visit them at Hawks Rest but in our couple of visits to the cabin, they were not there.
We pushed on through the swamp getting soaked (we had wet shoes from day one of the trip anyway, so this was nothing new) and walked into a very large outfitter camp. This was a little tidier and not as obtrusive as the camp on Open Creek. There was a bear box also. There was fresh bear scat everywhere. We decided this would be a good place to cook and we would move on down river, towards the park, to camp. We could store our food bags in the box and not have to worry about hanging our food too. The weather was off and on cool, rainy, then sunny. We hung out and re-fueled and explored the immediate area. We had planned by now to hang out in the Thorofare for the rest of our time fishing and exploring as we had ruled out the possibility of doing our CDT high route with the amount of snow in the high country. It delayed us this much getting in, we couldn’t get delayed that much getting out, as we had to meet our ride home.
We hiked north towards Yellowstone and found a decent camp in the trees off the trail. It was a much smaller outfitter camp, but did not have bear scat everywhere. We could see the Yellowstone from our camp. We decided in the morning, we would hike to the park boundary and fish our way back to camp.
6-24-2019: We woke up and headed north up to a massive meadow on the Yellowstone. We saw a structure in the middle of the meadow that we walked towards and soon found it was a pretty elaborate sign indicating the Yellowstone boundary and the Teton Wilderness boundary. We snapped a few picks and headed off down the the invisible boundary line towards the Yellowstone. The Yellowstone river in the park is officially closed to fishing until mid July and any off-trail travel was prohibited at the time due to the Grizzly bears. We soon found a small, old stone marker indicating the south boundary of Yellowstone near the river. Some more pics were taken and we proceeded the short distance to the Yellowstone.
The Yellowstone is a very placid river flowing from Hawks Rest to the Yellowstone Park boundary and beyond. The river was bank to bank full of water (I see pictures later in the year and it looks a quarter of the size or less than we encountered). It honestly looked more like an irrigation ditch than the longest undammed river in the lower 48. It was very scenic though with the meadows and mountains all around. Again, this was big, wide open country. We started fishing at the park boundary and worked our way south towards our campsite. The water was clear, cold and moving deceptively faster than at first glance. At the boundary there was a very deep run with structure on the bottom that looked to be the perfect place for some Yellowstone Cutts. We tried all sorts of nymphs, drys, and even some buggers in the deeper channels. No luck. We did not even see any fish until just before camp. Most of the river was featureless on the bottom and did not look “fishy” on closer inspection. The riffles were far and few between the long docile stretches of flat water. Where we did end up finding fish, were in these riffles and just after them. We found that the majority of them were still in the spawning stages and we left them alone (the Cutts have a hard enough time with the Lake Trout invasion from the 80’s or possible 90’s).
We were able to fish for a few in the deep holes after the riffles and hooked a few. These were surprisingly large fish up to 20+ inches, obviously they had made the journey from Yellowstone lake some 17 miles away. Overall the fishing was very slow. We decided to head up to the Yellowstone bridge and fish down to camp the second half of the day. We had not been to the Hawks Rest cabin or the bridge since we got to the Thorofare. We walked around the cabin and took some pictures, the Wyoming Game and Fish personnel were not around and the cabin was locked up tight. The cabin is located at the base of Hawks Rest and opens up to a beautiful fenced corral and a wonderful view of the Yellowstone and Two Ocean Plateau in the distance.
There was a large outfitted party down from the cabin closer to the river. This was only the second group of people we had seen this trip. We started fishing just downstream of the bridge where the river was very deep (the crossing at the bridge was actually “shallow” and even at high flows would have been an easy crossing minus the bridge). We fished some nymphs deep, and finally some buggers and surprisingly, nothing. This looked to be some of the more “fishy” water we had seen all day. We worked our way down towards camp and bypassed most of the long flat stretches and looked for the riffles. We spooked a couple of fish, but did not see any more than that. We decided to call it a day as it was getting to be early evening by now.
While at the bridge fishing, we saw a big horse packing group come in and head on down the trail towards Bridger Lake. I told Jason that they were probably headed to our “kitchen” to camp. Sure enough, as we were walking through on our way to camp, they were setting up their tents and already had the horses and asses hobbled. We came into their camp to retrieve our food sacks from the bear box and chatted with them a little. They were a ranching family from around the Turpin Meadow area. They were to come in earlier, but the rain and snow that we had delayed them. So much for our bear box, we where going to have to find a tree to hang our food again.
6-25-2019: We had decided to fish Thorofare Creek today. Thorofare Creek looks like your typical freestone river and has more types of water to fish than the Yellowstone, at least in the Teton Wilderness. We had also decided to pack the raft and go over to the Thorofare Ranger Cabin in the park (in hind-site, we should have visited it 2 days prior when we were at the WGF cabin. It is an easy 1.5 mile walk from there) and check it out. Since we were moving our camp today, we loaded our packs and headed out. We decided to head north towards the park boundary with plans of following the boundary line down to Thorofare Creek, where we would put in and cross (all this to avoid the swamp by Bridger Lake…..again in hind site getting wet feet would have been much faster getting to Thorofare Creek). Plans change, so we headed up the trail in the park (we were aware that you cannot float rivers in the park) and shortly hit the official Thorofare Creek crossing. It was not crossable on foot, so we had to backtrack out of the park to where we could float. This is where we followed the creek back up to the wilderness boundary (1 or 2 miles?) to put in. We found a perfect straightaway with a perfect landing on the other side. We made a short time of it the best we could (blowing up the raft and situating everything is very time consuming though) and crossed. We hid the boat in the trees and put plenty of rocks on it so it would not blow away and tied it to an evergreen. We put our packs on and headed cross country towards the trail that would take us to the Thorofare Ranger station. It was another easy jaunt and before long we were in a maze of park signs pointing out campgrounds, trails, and mileages of each. We found the sign we were looking for: Thorofare Ranger station.
We walked up to the cabin and it was locked up tight. There were 3 horses in the corral and two of them had big cow bells on them. We assumed this cabin would not be manned this time of year so we were a little surprised. We ate lunch on the porch, signed the book (where the last entry was from 2018….We were the first visitors for 2019?) and walked around and took some pictures. As we were getting ready to leave we heard a chainsaw in the distance. We wanted to see the inside but figured they would be working for awhile so we loaded up and started heading out. We had walked maybe 200 yards from the cabin when the 2 rangers came walking up the trail. We definitely caught them by surprise. They inquired how we had gotten back in there, as they said coming in from Nine Mile Trailhead (the park trailhead, 32 miles away), was impassable by foot due to a couple of the creek crossings. They said they had just gotten in and was a tough go on the horses. They had evaluated, as we had, that Thorofare Creek was impassable on foot or with stock also. We told them about Ishawooa Creek and Pass and coming in from Cody. They did not seem too familiar with the country south of the park that we had traversed in the Washakie and Teton Wildernesses. We did mention it was very busy just across the river at Hawks Rest with three big outfitter camps and the WGF staying at Hawks Rest. This kind of surprised them also.
They set about opening up the cabin and asked if we would like to look around inside. The inside was divided into two rooms, a dining area with a massive cast iron stove (I later read, packed in pieces by mules and horses), some cabinets and even a trap door to a cellar for food storage. In the back was the living quarters with bunks for sleeping and a small wood burning stove for heat. A big solar panel on the roof hooked up to a huge battery in the living quarters that supplied all the electricity for the cabin and to recharge all their equipment (radios, etc). This was the first year for either ranger at the Thorofare cabin. One of the rangers had gone through a NOLS course in the Winds and was familiar with some of the country that Jason and I know so well. The other ranger had been a front country ranger and applied for a backcountry position and was stationed here. I would have thought a backcountry position would be difficult to obtain, but with the combination of wanting to be in the backcountry, you also had to be trained in law enforcement (they were packing heat AND bear spray) and have a good knowledge of horsemanship.
We had a short but pleasant visit. I envied these guys for getting to stay in this area for the whole summer in relatively plush accommodations. I mentioned once people were able to get back there (how did we get back there?), I bet they would be busy entertaining guests all summer long. They said that they do not encounter many backpackers throughout the season, mainly horse packers. I guess the Yellowstone side of the Thorofare is horse country also.
We headed back to the packraft about 2 miles away mid to late afternoon. We crossed the Thorofare and were going to hike south towards the trail and find a campsite for the night. We came across another carcass bushwhacking through the deadfall towards the trail. We immediately evacuated the area as fast as we could with bear spray drawn. We decided to eat dinner on the banks of Thorofare Creek and then hike another mile or two to set up camp.
We did not want to hike all the way to Hawks Rest, as there were too many people around. We did not want to stumble through the trees to Bridger Lake, so we opted for staying on the little plateau north of Hawks Rest for the night. This area was heavily burned (1988 fires?) at one time and most of the big old trees had already fallen to the ground. The new tree growth was very thick, but most trees were 8 to 10 feet high at the most. This was the only time we had a hard time finding a decent bear hang the whole trip. We eventually found a suitable tree, and hung our food and toiletries for the night.
6-26-2019: We had decided to head out a day early (as we would find out, actually 2 days early) as we needed to get in touch with Jason’s dad to let him know we would be at a different trailhead than previously planned. We had been informed that there was spotty cell service near the trailhead, at you first views of the Tetons (this information was gathered from the Wyoming Game and Fish couple that we had met when we first entered the Yellowstone Meadows). We were concerned that if we did not get any cell service, we would have to hike out to the highway, and go either east or west and try and find cell service.
We broke camp and headed towards the Yellowstone bridge. We detoured to the Hawks Rest cabin to see if the Wyoming Game and Fish couple were around, but the cabin again was locked up tight. We headed out and hit the first crossing of Atlantic Creek. We saw 3 or 4 Cutthroat Trout in spawning mode near the crossing (they looked to be the typical size we had seen the whole trip, around 20 inches) as we peeled our socks off and took our insoles out to try and keep our feet relatively dry. After crossing (a very easy crossing), we proceeded to put everything back in order and noticed we were surrounded by mud and lots of horse crap. The horse crap would be a continuous site and smell for the next 26 miles out.
We crossed paths with some of the members that had a big horse camp up the hill from Atlantic Creek. They looked to all be on a guided fly fishing excursion. We then continued to pull out of the upper Yellowstone Meadows and say goodbye to the Thorofare proper. We had another crossing of Atlantic Creek soon after we got into the trees (this looked like it could be a trickier crossing during heavier snowmelt) and other than one other crossing near Two Ocean Creek, we could keep our feet dry. We saw some bald eagles, more horsepackers and a few camps near Two Ocean Creek area. We were busting out the miles by now. We took the wrong trail that would have taken us directly to Two Ocean Creek were it splits into Atlantic Creek and Pacific Creek, so we had to backtrack a bit and added another 1.5 miles to our daily total. We just kept walking and enjoying the beautiful openness of the country we were traveling through. The area had many scars from the ’88 fires and even some more recent ones, but the vastness of the country was amazing. The trails in spots were torn up greatly by pack stock and made for some difficult travel at time, as every small source of water on the trail was turned to a bog by the pack stock. The meadows had at times 10 parallel trails in them scarring the land from pack stock use. It was disappointing to see this, but the country was still magnificent and beautiful. Heading down towards the trail confluence to one of the forks of the Buffalo Fork River, looking back east were some pretty awesome mountain views, rugged, burnt, and wild. Storm clouds and lightning lit up the snowy peaks as we kept heading down. The hiking was very easy along the trail and we were chewing up some miles. We had already gone past the point we thought we might camp for the night and reached the Buffalo Fork. Here we decided we were only about 8 miles from the trailhead and still had lots of daylight left (it was early evening if I recall, around 6:00pm or so). We kept hiking, and eventually got to our view of the Tetons. We did get very spotty service and not enough to text or make a phone call. We still had a couple miles at least to go until the trailhead.
We busted out the last few miles and hit the Turpin Meadows trailhead as the sun was setting behind the Tetons in the distance. We hiked over to the lodge to see if we could get cell service or possibly use their phone. The people at Turpin Meadow lodge were the nicest, most accommodating people we have met. They offered the use of their phone to contact Jason’s dad to set up a rendezvous to pick us up the next day (we would later get enough service after breakfast the next morning to contact Jason’s dad and verify). We then proceeded back to the campsite to camp for the night (luckily had a few dollars to pay, but were still a dollar short), eat our last stove cooked meal and rest.
We woke up the next morning and went to the Lodge for breakfast and heard that there had been a grizzly going through the camp the past couple of nights. I think the whole trip, this might have been our closest encounter that we knew of with a Grizzly! My uncle (Jason’s dad) had received our voice mail and was already on his way from the Riverton area to pick us up. He arrived, we drove to Dubois where we stopped to get some package liquor for lunch and had a beer at the Rustic Pine Tavern. We stopped in Midvale and had lunch with my uncle and then proceeded on to Casper where we would spend the next couple of days, Jason at his mom’s place and me at my parent’s place, hanging out before the drive back to Denver.
This was a great trip, I had always wanted to see this country and do a little fishing. We were a little ambitious on our trip planning this time of year (we knew this going into it though). Coming in the Washakie side did seem wild and remote (partly because we knew we were the ONLY ones back there this time of year), but after crossing the Thorofare river, the feeling of “remoteness” faded quickly. The fishing was not stellar (just a timing issue, It looked as if the spawning was mostly over and most of the fish we could find were actively spawning), the country was. This may be the “most remote” spot in the lower 48 but it is a pretty busy back in there (we only saw horse pack parties, no other backpackers. The Yellowstone rangers stated that over the summer, they see few backpackers and lots of horse parties). One word I would have to say about this country, BIG. There is a lot of open country back there. The hiking is super easy (well………let me say that again, during the normal hiking season, after the passes melt out from under the 4 to 6 feet of snow that accumulates over the winter and the rivers go down after runoff), and you can bust out a LOT of miles in a short amount of time. I would eventually like to come back and do our CDT high route that we were unable to do due to the early spring conditions or even do a Yellowstone portion (Nine Mile to South Boundary) to see some thermal features and gasp…..maybe even a Grizzly (from far away though) since we did not see one this trip (plenty of fresh sign, but I guess we did everything right to not have an encounter).