AUG 15

Our adventure began in Salt Lake City where the plan was to fly to Utah, drive through Idaho, park in Wyoming, and hike through Montana. The Gallatin Skyline Trail is a 40 mile thru-hike starting near Mammoth that takes you along some of the most scenic parts of Yellowstone before spitting you out on the western boundary of the park. And since it requires a shuttle or the need to hitchhike, it offers plenty of solitude along the way.

After a six hour drive, we had some daylight to check out the park for a few minutes before realizing we didn't have a campsite for the night. We ended up finding a spot at the Rainbow Point campgrounds just north of West Yellowstone. We sacked out early in anticipation of the big hike in the morning.

Day One

After acquiring our backcountry permit in West Yellowstone and watching a mandatory video, we headed to the Glen Creek parking lot just south of Mammoth. We decided the previous night that instead of wasting the entire second day summiting Electric Peak, we would just squeeze it in on day one. This would allow us to use that day to explore other parts of Yellowstone. Unfortunately, traffic and construction slowed us down and we didn't hit the trail until 11 am.

The hike to the campsite was fairly flat and easy so we made pretty decent time. It started off with wide open fields filled with sage and a ton of wildflowers. Later, it would wind through thick forests of lodgepole pines before opening up once again to scenic meadows. The only difficulty we encountered was the creek right before the campsite. There wasn't a way to cross without getting your boots wet and instead of taking them off, I filled them up with water.

Immediately after crossing the creek, we veered right and found the camp site. It was next to the creek with a huge elk skull and antlers sitting next to the site. We set up the tent and just as we were putting the rainfly on, a light rain started. This put a bit of a damper on our plans but we decided the rain was light enough we would still attempt to summit Electric Peak. The only downside is Dale failed to bring a rain coat.

As we headed towards the peak, we learned to appreciate the canopy offered by the pine trees. When we got into the open meadows, we could tell the rain was starting to fall harder. This prompted us to sprint across the meadows to get to the protection of the pines. As we got closer to Electric Peak, the rain persisted. At some point, we decided that we made enough progress and we were soaked enough that it was time to return to camp. Disappointedly, we headed back.

When we got back, we started looking for dry wood for a fire. The canopy did a fairly decent job of keeping some areas pretty dry and we were able to secure a limited supply of wood that would burn. The rain also let up and the skies cleared allowing us to enjoy the rest of the evening. We got the fire going and propped our wet gear along side the fire to dry a little. As we ate dinner and dried out, I noticed that Dale's socks were melting. Then I noticed his shoes were also melting. After quickly alerting him, we assessed the damage to the shoes and realized the laces were ruined. Since we didn't have any spare laces, we would use the next best thing: twine.

Day Two

The next morning, Dale started working on relacing his boots. The twine was frayed and difficult to push through the holes. I suggested using some tape to cap the ends of the twine and that made the process much easier. After finishing the boots and happy with how they were holding up, we packed up camp and started towards Sportsman Lake.

The second day presented us with landscape very similar to the first day. We had tons of meadows and lots of pine trees. A new element however was fastened to a tree that read "Bear Management Area". One of the things we desperately wanted to see was a grizzly bear so we were happy to see the sign. We also loved that we were seeing an increasing number of bear prints in the muddy parts of the trail. At one point, we heard large cracking noises that we had heard before when we spotted a bear in Yosemite tearing apart a tree looking for grubs. *CRACK* and then a few seconds later, another *CRACK*. We stood on the trail staring in the direction of the noise, but all we could see was a dense patch of trees. No way either of us was going in to find the bear. *CRACK* We stood there for 10 minutes hoping that the bear might come trotting out. It never did so eventually we moved on.

The trail finally started gaining elevation and opened up to some nice views looking into the valley on the western side of Electric Peak. We also encountered some areas of unburned, dead pine trees that were still upright. What we really wanted to see was an abundance of wildlife, but aside from a few birds, we didn't see any. We did however get to have dark rain clouds hanging over head and swarms of mosquitoes making sure we never took too long of a break.

When we arrived at Sportsman Lake, it was sill fairly early. We made our way across the meadow, read the sign that had been edited by some hikers (thanks!) and found the campsite perched slightly above the lake. After setting up camp, finding some firewood, and hanging our food bags, we decided to do a little exploring. We hiked around the lake using the animal trail and then up a steep slope to look down upon the lake. After exhausting ourselves, we wandered back to camp. Throughout the afternoon, we would encounter scattered showers which prompted us to try and protect our dry wood waiting to be burned.

The rain finally ceased and we lit the fire. While enjoying the warmth, Dale noticed something in the field behind me. I glanced up and saw something that looked like a dog prancing in the meadow. I immediately grabbed my telephoto lens and snapped it onto my camera. I slowly creeped over to a fallen log to allow me to prop up the camera and started snapping photos. Sure enough, it was what I hoped it would be: a lone grey wolf. It appeared that he was hunting small animals along one of the streams. After taking a few pictures, he took notice of me. After staring in my direction for a few moments, he decided it was time to move along. As quickly as he appeared, he was gone. What wasn't gone was our giddiness that we had just seen a wolf.

Day Three

Day three was supposed to be another short hike (seven miles) to High Lake. We were already one day ahead of schedule and I knew that we would run into the possibility of getting to a campsite and it being occupied. What we decided we would do is instead skip camping at High Lake and shoot for Shelf Lake, which would make it a 15 mile hike (much more to our liking). So we set off and experienced more of the same that we encountered the previous two days. It was very scenic but not much variety. We had meadows and pine trees and birds and mosquitoes. The elevation change was fairly gradual and not too difficult. We arrived to High Lake around 2pm and took the opportunity to relax and refill our water.

While relaxing, another hiker strolled up and asked if we were camping there. We said no which provided him with a bit of relief since that was where he was supposed to be camping. We had actually seen this hiker two days prior (and was one of only five people we saw the entire trip). We relaxed for a bit longer then decided to push on.

The trek to Shelf Lake was a little more difficult than what we had done so far. Perhaps it was because we already hiked seven miles, or perhaps the terrain really was more difficult. The trail doesn't have much in the way of switch backs and when you climb elevation, it's usually straight up. We still managed to enjoy the hike. The clouds lingered over our head the same as the previous three days and we encountered more of the same for scenery. As the sun started to approach the horizon, it appeared we were still several miles from the campsite. We came across one lake that we though pinpointed where we were only to later realize that wasn't the lake we hoped it was.

We continued on and around 8pm, we arrived at Shelf Lake which was a beautiful green lake surrounded by wildflowers. Luckily, there were no backpackers already at the site so we set up camp and, after a grueling day, quickly retired. We had 13 miles to hike out and we wanted to get an early start.

Day Four

By 9am, we were packed up and on the trail. While it seemed this was supposed to be a fairly easy day, it proved to be much more taxing. We encountered more large hills with no switchbacks and several areas where there is no trail, only cairns or boundary markers indicating the route. We finally were getting to the ridge line and were rewarded with amazing views looking both north and south. We were also encountering some small patches of snow that we could easily walk around. After several miles of hiking, we finally found ourselves on the top of Bighorn Sheep Peak.

While standing on the peak, the winds were very noticeable. It felt as if they were blowing 50 miles and hour and it was literally difficult to stand up. We would have enjoyed the peak for longer but we didn't want to be blown off. We started looking for the trail but couldn't seem to find it. We could see off in the distance where it resumed but where it came from was more of a mystery. After using the process of elimination, we finally determined the trail was on the south side of the peak and required scrambling down to it. How horses perform this trick, I have no idea. Once on the trail, it was petty narrow and the consequences of slipping were more than apparent. It brought back memories of Angel's Landing in Zion or, to a lesser extent, Half Dome in Yosemite. It was an exhilarating stretch that changed our view of the overall hike. Up until now, it had been a fairly sleepy hike with lots of meadows, but now it was starting to show it's teeth.

We finally made it past the treacherous part and found ourselves in a large, rounded open meadow covered in wildflowers. As we stopped to take in the scenery, I noticed a herd of big horn sheep about a hundred yards away. I once again switched to the telephoto lens and snapped a few photos before the sheep disappeared over the ridge line. While we didn't see much wildlife, between the wolf and sheep, I felt like lugging a huge three pound lens around had justified itself.

We continued along the ridge line with the trail undulating up and down along the peaks. After about four peaks, we finally reached Daly pass, which meant it would be all downhill from here. The trail passed through more open fields that had a nice slant helping us to reach the trail head. We also came across another deer that stood still long enough to once again change lenses. A little after 5pm, we found ourselves at the trail head and our hike over. Almost anyway... since we still had to hitch hike to get back to the car. We assumed being in a national park, we could easily find a ride. That might have been a bad assumption as we didn't make it back until the following morning. We ended up having to find a secluded spot on the side of the road to spend the night. Finally, at 10am, we found ourselves back at our car and promsing that we wouldn't depend on hitch hiking ever again.

Overall, this was a wonderful trip although we were disappointed by the lack of wildlife. Once we visited the rest of the park, we had the opportunity to see lots of elk, bison, bald eagles, another wolf and a bear (although from a great distance). If I were to do this over, I'd probably look to make a loop out of it starting from the west side, heading to shelf lake and return via a different trail (there's ton of ways you could make it a loop). I would definitely like to return though to backpack a different area of the park.

Type: Out-and-back
Dogs: Nope
Trailhead: Google

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