Trying to Packraft in Wyoming
After my trip with Morgan in the Bob Marshall I was feeling somewhat invisible so I decided to try packrafting in the “Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.” I won’t say exactly where I went just that rafting there was perfectly legal (its not in the actual Park).
I have come to love off trail hiking above treeline. So my plan was to follow a ridge above treeline for two days then packraft up to the border of Yellowstone and take out there. Boating in Yellowstone Park is illegal in most places which is a bummer. From there I’d hike back on trails to my starting point.
The scenery was great hiking out. I’d done some of this route but the last half was new to me. The crux would be box canyon I’d have to navigate down in order to reach the river.
Since the planned route was rather challenging I tried to move fast to make as much time as I could while the weather above timberline was good. However you can only go so fast when you are slogging up a step slope on loose soil.
There was an unusual amount of snow above treeline. It didn’t look too bad but close up it was a major hindrance. Steep snow and cliffs of crumbling rock often forced be to walk back and forth looking for a safe path through a gully.
Once I made it up onto the ridge line things got a lot easier as far as hiking went. Navigating was a breeze and the hiking was pretty easy as well.
I remember last year this snowfield had melted into a lake. With the sun beginning to set I hurried to get off the ridge to a pass where I could find a bear bagging tree and get lower in case of a midnight thunder storm.
Getting down required a bit of a detour around a very steep snowfield. Again it wasn’t there in 2013.
My campsite was scenic but for some reason I didn’t sleep well. I think it was a combination of a noisy creek and a lumpy sleeping spot that my short sleeping pad didn’t even out.
I was up early ready for a big day of hiking. My plan was to cover between 15-20 off trail miles and get to the headwaters of the river I wanted to float. Tomorrow would be a short hike and then a long float.
The scree fields and snow turned out to be a lot more work then I’d expected. They weren’t bad, its just that you can’t hike 2 miles an hour balancing on loose rocks or sinking up too your things in soft snow.
After lunch up high I dropped down to a small pass. I did some thinking at that point. I clearly wasn’t making ideal progress. I concluded I could still finish. I might be a bit hungry or hike a bit late the last day but I could do it and still be enjoying myself.
Pushing into new territory I headed back into the high country and spooked a herd of Elk bulls.
Getting up on the ridge where I wanted to be took about twice as long I’d calculated it would. By now I was operating in thru-hiker mode and setting goals for where I wanted to be by a certain time. If this was going to work I needed to be more efficient.
After a bit more hiking I pulled out the map and took an honest look at where I was, where I should have been, and where I could reasonably expect to be by evening. I concluded that
1. I was not hiking as fast as expected and this was unlikely to change.
2. The way forward promised to be both steeper and higher elevation. So if anything I was going to be slowing down.
I was now looking at an extra day needed to reach the river. By paddling hard and hiking really fast on the trail back there was a chance I could still make it on time.
Then I noticed another fact. The south side of the pass I was aiming for had plenty of snow. Chance where the more shaded (and steeper) north side would have more snow. There was really only one way down the north side that I was aware of, everything around it was a cliff. There was a very real chance that there would not be a safe way down to the headwaters (at least not without an extra day).
In the end I just decided that trying to force the trip to work on the time table I had just wasn’t going to be much fun. I wanted too enjoy this area, not rush through it and possibly spend a day or two hiking on an empty stomach. So I decided to bail out while I was enjoying the trip rather then wait for it to fall apart. I could always come back later.
I dropped into a valley and followed an established trail on the way out.
I crashed for the night in a small camping spot then finished the hike the next morning.
Normally I hate to quit a trip because I feel like I’m missing an opportunity. This time thought I had plenty of time for other things. I just felt like there was no point in finishing a poorly planned trip when I could just as easily quit and do something better.