Great Western Loop: Day 84 - 86: Grant Village to Big Sky
Day 84: Old Faithful (29miles)
I left Grant Villages Campground after a quick to-go breakfast at the nearby restaurant and walked towards Old Faithful. The morning was rather uneventful and I tried to push hard, to have enough time to explore the Geysers in the heart of the Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately, getting a backcountry permit for Fairy Meadows Campground wasn't successful and so I would have to hike another 6miles after visiting the thermal hotspots, to the Campground I now was officially assigned to. (Dispersed camping is not allowed in national parks)
Old Faithful Village was extremely crowded when I arrived and this would cause a major problem. Due to the amount of people, limited staff and Covid-restrictions, I wasn't able to resupply here before the General Store closed.
(Old Faithful erupts up to 17times a day and is very predictable, thousands gather to see the eruption)
With only 1 day of food remaining in my pack, I spent a few hours walking the boardwalk and waiting for Old Faithful and Grand Geyser to erupt. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't great for taking pictures.
With a thunderstorm looming and another 6miles to hike, I left for a nice overlook and my campsite.
Day 85: Broken rules (15miles + 30miles hitched)
I got up early on day 85. With almost no food left, I was hoping to find some at Maddison Junction, some 15miles from my campsite. Overall, the Campsite I had been assigned to by the Park Rangers, meant a 10mile detour and so I tried to make it back to my planned route as soon as possible.
(Clouds and Fog over Fairy Meadows)
The initial hike was beautiful and easy, but again, I didn't feel great. Since leaving Dubois a few days ago, I had been struggling with a bit of diarrhoea and overall weakness.
(In YNP I always had to check, which water was actually drinkable. This water for sure, was not)
I met several people along the way, got to tell my story and received a lot of encouragement on my way north.
Close to the Fountain Flats Campground, I finally found one of the animals I had been looking for. A bison. Much smaller, than I had expected, but still interesting (and very tasty...In YNP Bison burgers are pretty common and delicious)
After another 5-6miles on the park's main road, I finally arrived at Maddison Junction. As I had already assumed before, there was no store here and so my hope for resupplying died.
Without food and still feeling weak, I decided to break my own rules. I went to the main Junction and tried to get a ride to Mammoth Hot Springs. This would mean I'd officially blue blaze for the first time, for about 30miles (blue blazing: covering actual trail miles by car)
I couldn't have had more luck, with the person who picked me up. After some 30min and many cars passing by, Jarrah stopped and picked me up. Jarrah was from South Korea and on her way to Mammoth Hot Springs. On the way there, we stopped at the Norris Geyser Basin.
Upon arriving in Mammoth Hot Springs, we both were shocked by the amount of people. Mammoth was small, but thousands of people were on the streets and long waiting lines showed the location of shops and restaurants. Without even stopping, we decided to drive on to Gardiner. Gardiner was just a 10min drive from Mammoth, but outside of the National Park and a "real town". Covid restrictions didn't apply here anymore and the crowds were smaller. However, motel rooms for a 2-star room started at 280 USD without tax.
We spent the rest of the day in town. Eating and having some coffee, before driving a few miles out of town to a secretive campingspot, overlooking the town.
(View on Gardiner)
Day 86: Bears! (31miles)
On day 86 Jarrah drove me back to Mammoth and continued driving towards Denver, to catch her flight to Seattle and finally South Korea. We shared a lot of common ideas and values and meeting her, was a great pleasure.
From Mammoth Hot Springs I hiked along the northern border of the national park towards its northwestern entrance. Just a few miles in, the trail became somewhat crowded, but not by people. First I encountered an elk on trail, minutes later a black bear with a cub.
The cub was extremely playful and fun to watch. I made myself noticed and pulled out my bear spray, but the bears remained very calm and relaxed. I started a pretty one-sided discussion with the bear, about who should be on that trail and finally my arguments seemed to convince the bear, as it slowly moved into the nearby trees.
The rest of the day remained pretty uneventful. After an tough climb, a few miles before Sportsman Lake, the trail became easier, but harder to follow. I lost it a few times, but never for long.
I still felt bad, had some stomach pain and diarrhoea and when I came to the Fan Creek Junction, I decided to take the easier trail towards the highway, instead of climbing into the mountains again.
A few miles in, I met a trail crew who told me that about 1,000 Grizzlies are living in the Yellowstone/ Grand Teton ecosystem.
Just before making it to the highway, my overall condition worsened and my bowel exploded, leaving a stinky and slimy mess behind. All signs indicated a potential Giardia infection.
Nevertheless, I had to hike on, for another 6-7milesm With no more backcountry permit, I had to leave the park that day.
Luckily, just after a mile on the road, Super-Dave, his sister and niece showed up and offered me a ride. I hadn't asked for it, but with my overall condition deteriorating, I gladly accepted it. The ride was extremely fun. We took pictures at the park's entrance, had a beer in the car and chatted about the trail and New Zealand.
And yet again, the old saying "the trail provides" held some value. In times of need, I got blessed with meeting some extraordinary people. The strength and encouragement I get from these random strangers is invaluable and one of the best experiences on trail.
With the help of Super-Dave I got to Big Sky almost a day earlier than expected. I quickly resupplied in the local General Store and than hiked another 2-3miles out of town, until I had found a nice campsite.