The Open Maze of Lamar Valley


Back in Yellowstone, we made our way to Lamar Valley to camp near a sea of bison that would hopefully be chased by wolves. Lamar Valley has herds of over 500 bison, and one of the last surviving wild packs of wolves in the United States. Since this species of wolves eat bison, Lamar Valley is one of the best places to see a wolf hunt a bison in the world. I was excited.
On a previous trip I had witnessed a bison stampede up and down the ridge at the end of the valley, and I was hoping to repeat the experience from a closer and more photogenic distance. My friends however did not know that this was a possibility, and I figured it would be best for them not to let their imaginations get the best of themselves. Bison are enough to worry about as it is, much less a stampede with wolves getting involved. We would be in one of the best places to see an American stampede, but first we needed to find our campsite.


I stood with my long time friends Anthony Clemente, and Kyle Mangione in front of the stream crossing that represented the divide between the road of Yellowstone, and the wild backcountry of Lamar Valley. We wondered whether we should lock our arms in the Disney movie style the mandatory ranger backcountry video had shown us before beginning our hike. But decided that we didn’t know enough fitting songs for such an occasion, and that I didn’t trust that a less fortunate member of the group wouldn’t pull me down on a misstep.
Calling it a stream crossing though is a bit of an understatement right from the beginning. The water was very clear and looked deceptively shallower than it actually was. As we kept walking, the water rose above our knees first, then dangerously approached the upper thigh before engulfing our hips in the middle. If you have ever taken gym basketball, you will recognize that the triple threat stance was required to keep from being uprooted and tossed down river.
I now realized why the actors in the backcountry movie kept their shoes on during the crossing. I hate hiking in wet shoes, so my shoes were in my hands, while the freezing cold water worked my feet over the different rocks in the stream below. But I would find out that this was just the beginning of our difficulties.


Safely on the other side, we got lost. Twice. It was now raining. My broken and casted arm was wrapped in a trash bag high over my head, and the wind was blowing hard in our faces.
We didn’t have a formal map, but my friend had thoughtfully taken a picture of the deliberately obscure map posted at the head of the trail. Instead of making it to the small triangle they hid behind the name of our camping site, we made it on the other fork of the trail where the map seemed to want to lead us. If this sounds confusing to you, imagine standing in the pouring rain with a broken arm, trying to figure it out on a screen smaller than a Polaroid picture. The hike was not going as planned, though very little actual planning had been done.


This is not to say we didn’t enjoy the time we spent getting there. The trail led us through an emerald green field dotted with wildflowers of every color. On either side of us were rolling green hills, and the steam of a hot spring could be seen rising behind the evergreen trees. If it weren’t raining we would have been thoroughly enjoying ourselves.
We also found out that the trail we were walking on might not be the right one. The park’s trail had been made into a web by the many bison trails that ran all over the valley. It took us a while to discover this, but the only way to be sure of where we needed to go was by following a trail of fluorescent sticks that led us towards our site by the river.
In the end, we never found our site but had to make our own. But that is a story for the next post.


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