Yellowstone Backpacking Highlights 2016, Part Two: Of Bears and Snow

What a year for our guided Yellowstone hikes: wildfire, snow, the great bear and much, much more! Really, who is to say what constitutes an actual “highlight”? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and while in these two blogs I focus on wildfire, bears, snow and autumn foliage, perhaps to some of our guests an equally valid highlight might simply be a great view from a high vantage point, or a beautiful sunset. Or perhaps the sighting of a weasel or the primordial calls of sandhill cranes. There is just so much magic out there in the incomparable wilds of the Yellowstone backcountry!

One grizzly gave us a brief but good look in the Hellroaring Creek drainage on our June Northern Yellowstone trek. And on our layover day in the wild Wyoming Absarokas a few miles to the southeast of the park, our entire group of eight watched two grizzlies foraging at treeline all day long on our layover day. The bears were about a mile away, and binoculars were  helpful. But the “best” griz sighting of the season (in terms of the clearest, closest view) was at the last camp of our Central Yellowstone Wild Off-Trail Trek in early September. Camped at a small pond surrounded by grassy wetland and lodgepole pine, shortly after dinner I walked to the edge of the lake to view some ducks, when I spotted a large male grizzly directly across the water. I called over to the two women in the cooking area and we all watched the big bruin circle the lake along its grassy shore, gradually changing direction until he was heading straight toward our camp, still unaware of our presence! At about 70 or 80 yards, that was close enough. “Hey Bear!”, I called out. He stopped immediately, turned his head to see three upright two-legged hominids standing together with aimed pepper sprays, and immediately galloped away, into the adjacent lodgepoles. Adios. That was the last we saw of this big silver-gray griz, but what a sighting it was!

The September Southwest Yellowstone Bechler Waterfall Wonderland trek was another highlight for me, as it produced an early autumn snowstorm and some of the best autumn foliage colors (in the Bechler Canyon) that I’ve ever seen in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem! There is nothing I love more than autumn colors and fall snows in the backcountry.


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