Backpacking and Canoeing Staff

Big Wild Adventures is owned and operated by Howie Wolke and Marilyn Olsen. Contact Us

Howie and MarilynHowie Wolke & Marilyn Olsen
Owners, Guides/Naturalists

Howie Wolke has led well over five-hundred multi-day treks since the mid 1970s. He is probably the most experienced backpacking guide in the Western U.S. He has been the subject of various magazine articles and is also a nationally-known advocate for protecting wilderness. He has written two books on conservation, including Wilderness On the Rocks and the Big Outside (co-authored with Dave Foreman), a historic inventory of America’s remaining wilderness lands. His various articles and essays have appeared in numerous publications. Howie has addressed college and other groups across the country, where he struggles to keep his irreverent sense of humor in check. For a few years Howie designed and taught “The American Wilderness” class at Montana State University-Billings. He has also served two terms as the President of the national conservation group Wilderness Watch. Howie has a particular affinity for wolves and grizzly bears, is an avid hunter, back-country skier, river-runner and bird-watcher, and has a B.S. in Conservation and Wildlife Ecology.

Marilyn Olsen has explored wilderness from the Everglades to Alaska, from Africa to the Arizona desert. She is a registered nurse with expertise in wilderness medicine. She is a former trip leader for the University of Montana’s “Wilderness and Civilization” program, and in that capacity led canoe trips on Montana’s wild and scenic upper Missouri River, as well as various backpack treks in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. A long-time wilderness advocate, Marilyn’s efforts in conservation education for young people are particularly innovative. She also has valuable insights on group dynamics, and her ability to see and explore the often overlooked intimacies of the wilderness environment are unique.

Howie and Marilyn live in southern Montana in the foothills of the Gallatin Range, just north of Yellowstone National Park.

ALL BIG WILD ADVENTURES GUIDES are experienced professionals with Wilderness First Responder training. Howie and Marilyn lead some of our trips, but our other guides are equally capable, and will provide our guests with an equally great experience. Unlike some companies, your guide will not be an inexperienced young person right out of college. Our current guides ages range from 29 to 66.

Dave EllisDave Ellis: Guide/Naturalist

David Ellis was born in Alabama; as a youth he backpacked and paddled extensively in the lush and steamy southern wilds. After earning a History degree from Auburn University, he soon began to train and then work for the National Park Service as a Law Enforcement Park Ranger, eventually ending up in Hawaii. This man of eclectic talents is also a certified wild-land and structural fire-fighter, a Wilderness First Responder, an American Heart Association CPR Instructor, a certified National Outdoor Leadership School Outdoor Education Instructor and a boat captain. After four years of hiking, paddling, law-enforcing and relaxing both in various Western wilds and all over the Hawaiian Islands, David tired of easy tropical living and moved to the Rocky Mountains in order to test his resistance to frostbite. This experiment was a success. David and his wife Kellie and dogs Koa and Onyx are based just two states south of us in Colorado.

Yellowstone Backpacking GuideJesse Ford: Guide/Naturalist

Jesse Ford was raised in Connecticut and now calls Missoula, Montana “home”. Usually, though, he is off exploring wild country. His passion for nature evolved during youthful explorations of woods and estuaries. At Villanova University he earned a degree in Economics and Business, while playing four years of Division 1 lacrosse.  Jesse then headed west to the Montana Rockies, which propelled him on a long series of traveling experiences around the globe. On countless road trips, river trips, and backpack trips across the United States and beyond, he followed poet Robert Frost down the path less traveled. That has made all the difference! Through his travel to wild places, Jesse developed a passion for re-connecting people to wild nature. Continuing along that less-traveled path, over the last decade Jesse has worked extensively as a sea kayak, canoe and backpacking guide from Connecticut to California.

Yellowstone GuideTaylor Pyle: Guide/Naturalist

Taylor Pyle was born and raised in southeast Wyoming, where at an early age he grew to love the mountains. He spent much of his youth scrambling around the Vedawoo Rocks and losing himself in the nearby Snowy Range, though he always ended up “found”. Taylor played college football, and then, in pursuit of an outdoor lifestyle and career, he earned a degree in Outdoor Recreation from Central Wyoming College. Then he moved to northwest Wyoming where he now calls Pinedale “home”. Taylor can often be found exploring the nearby Wind River Range and other alpine areas of the Greater Yellowstone region. During the winter, he is a ski patrol director at the local White Pine Ski Area, and in his time off he relentlessly pursues un-tracked powder. This talented man is also a certified E.M.T., and when not guiding in the northern Rockies, he guides mountaineering trips in Alaska, including to the summit of Denali.

yellowstonehikingMary Byers: Assistant

Born in Baltimore but raised in Sheridan, Wyoming, “Cousin Mary” grew up (sort of), hiking in the Big Horn Mountains. After studying forestry in college and learning how to clear-cut forests, she decided instead to become a textile artist. Though no longer in production, her beautiful wildlife T-shirts are scattered around the West, mainly covering the torsos of aging hippies. Her artistic endeavors were supplemented by working seasonally on a fire lookout tower in southwest Montana, near where she lives in the town of Hamilton with husband Jim Olsen. Mary has worked for many years as an assistant on numerous Big Wild trips, where she enjoys meal preparation, meeting new people, carrying heavy objects, and being in beautiful wild places. She can often be spotted in camp during early mornings, contorting her body into seemingly impossible yoga positions.

Yellowstone Hiking GuideJoshua Ross: Assistant

Joshua Ross lives near Dubois, Wyoming with his beloved wife, two dogs, and a cat named Mr. Mordacious. He is an avid backcountry subsistence hunter who routinely hikes many miles in the surrounding Greater Yellowstone wild-lands. He has lived and worked in many places, including work for the Wyoming Fish and Game Department and as a ranch hand. Josh has also hitchhiked across Turkey and the Republic of Georgia. Born and raised on a marginal farm in the stony forests of the Adirondack Mountains, he learned early the grounding power of wild places. A semi-reformed nomad with a dogged conservationist streak, when not out in the mountains, floating rivers, reading books, poring over maps or cutting firewood, he works with the Natural Resources Defense Council to help prevent and resolve conflicts between humans and carnivores in the West. Long an aspiration of his, he is thrilled to be part of the team at Big Wild Adventures.

Yellowstone Hiking ToursAmigo: Dog/Security Tech

Amigo joined the Big Wild Family in 2005. He is a warm and friendly presence at the Big Wild home/office World Headquarters, and he is an important component in keeping all of us at Big Wild happy and never wanting for a furry friend to pet. Amigo sometimes barks when strangers approach or at wild animals, and his hobbies include hiking and walks, plus attempting to extricate the mountain cottontail from the woodpile, and chasing ground squirrels. Due to his age, he recently had to retire from back-country skiing and he lives with Howie and Marilyn in the Gallatin Range foothills of southern Montana.

Note: Many of our clients ask us if they should tip the backpacking guide & assistant after the trip. That’s up to you; we realize that not everyone can afford the extra expense. However, if you feel that our staff has done a good job and you wish to express that sentiment with a tip, it is appreciated! As a suggestion, 5-10% would be appropriate.

It is no wonder that each year, about half of our clients are
“repeaters” from prior Big Wild trips!

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Ground SquirrelThis fellow is not a member of the Big Wild staff.

Annual Trip Calendar


Capitan Lake - photo from one of our backpacking treks

List prices include our complete gear package and there is a $300 discount if you bring your own (see our Canoeing List, Backpacking List, and/or Questionnaire for details – found here). Also, we offer a $300 discount for the second trip in a calendar year. Scheduled trips are for persons ages 14 and over. Exceptions to the age requirement will be made by us on a case-by-case basis.

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