We started our backcountry trip at the Nine Mile Trailhead on the Northeast side of Yellowstone Lake at about 9:00 AM on Thursday, July 28, 2016. We saw two deer about 30 minutes into our hike and three male hikers coming the opposite direction about a few hours down the trail. We exchanged greetings as we passed, but didn’t stop to talk.
We hiked a little more than 8.6 miles on day one and arrived at our campsite at about 4:50 PM, almost eight hours after starting our journey. The weather was beautiful all day with a high temperature of about 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
The terrain was relatively flat. Actually, it was a lot flatter than many of our training trips in Missouri. A large portion of the day was spent in “ghost forests”. Ghost forests are areas that have been burnt by forest fires. Many of the tree trunks are left standing, but dead. Many other dead tree trunks have fallen, some across the trail.
While the trees had not recovered, large swaths of the forest floor was covered with all kinds and colors of wild flowers.
Being new to hikes like this, we wasted a lot of time when crossing creeks. If we couldn’t jump from rock to rock or walk across fallen trees, we stopped to take our hiking boots off, put on sandals, and roll our pants legs up before crossing. After about four days of that, we eventually just started walking across and letting our shoes and socks dry as we walked.
We weren’t very far down the trail before we started seeing signs of wildlife. The first picture of scat is probably from a fox, coyote, or maybe even a lynx or some other big cat. It had decomposed down to just the fur of their meal. The next scat picture is likely from a Black Bear.
Our first campsite (5E6) was in Columbine Meadows. Since it was only a days hike into the backcountry the site had an outhouse. The flies inside were terrible. These sites get more use since they are easy to hike into, stay the night, and then hike back out again. We would only see two other out houses. One at the Thorofare Ranger Cabin and another at our last campsite along Heart Lake.
When camping in bear country it is very important to set up tents at least 100 to 150 yards up wind from the camp cooking area. We hung our food every night. However, bears have a sense of smell that is seven times more sensitive than blood hounds so they smell the food regardless. The last thing you want is to have the smell of your food blowing through your tent area and bringing bears through the area looking for food. Sounds easy enough, but on our first night, and many after, we found that the campsites weren’t really set up for us to get our tents the proper distance and/or direction from the cooking area.
When checking for an area to put our tents at the end of day one we walked the proper distance and in the correct direction. At first it looked like it would be a great place to pitch our tents. However, after looking around a bit we noticed, bear scat, large clumps of hair, dirt pits that looked like they might be bear day beds, and scratches on the nearby trees. Needless to say, we thought it best to not set up in that area. We ended up going in another direction the proper distance away, but somewhat downwind from the cook area. It still seemed like the lower risk area.
Our campsite was right on the shore of Yellowstone Lake at an elevation of 7,770 ft. The sound of the water hitting the shore was very peaceful. The view was spectacular, especially the sunset which was at about 9:20 PM. The mosquitoes came out fierce at sunset, but we had treated our clothes with permethrin so they didn’t really bother us. We were in our tents by about 10:15 PM. I recall falling asleep to the sound of the Yellowstone Lake waters hitting the shore.