Yellowstone Practical: Hiking

Two weeks…that’s it. Just two weeks left. Now, besides all the other crap involved with going back to the real world, that means it’ll soon be time to turn this blog back to it’s original focus on writing.

Err…

Well, at least I tried to have that as a focus. Didn’t always do all that well.

Having the opportunity to talk (a bit) about Yellowstone itself has been a nice change for me. Even if my current surroundings have taken away from the focus and time I need to write, it has been well worth it.

So, in the interests of getting back to basics, I’m going to not talk about writing once again.

Nope, I figured I would do a “public service” bit for the next couple of posts…talk about some of the best hikes/outings that are near to where I “live”.

One thing, however: although a great deal of my hiking has been off-trail, in places that haven’t seen a human in decades (if ever), I am NOT going to talk much about that. Off-trail hiking (and camping) can, frankly, be extremely dangerous if you are not experienced and prepared. I have friends up here – friends who are serious hikers & campers – who think I am completely insane for my little solo little excursions into the wilds, so I am not going to lead anyone else into my own life of…err…sin.

Today is mainly some equipment notes, specific to hiking at this altitude, and in this kind of terrain:

1) Water, water, water – you’re gonna dehydrate at eight thousand feet just sitting on your butt. If you go for an eight or ten mile hike? Yeah, running out of water sucks donkey balls. On easy terrain, and in mild weather, I plan on one liter of water for every nine or ten miles. If the day is hot, or the terrain difficult, I increase that by at least fifty percent.
2) Water addendum – even when you’re not hiking, have water. I use one liter Nalgene bottles so I can keep track of how much I drink in a day (three to four liters, on average, when I’m not hiking). Also, keep in mind that water does wash out salt and other minerals you need. I do not recommend Gatorade or other sports drinks…just make sure to bring food along that includes a few things that will help put back what you’ve lost. Even a simple handful of trail mix can make a big difference.
3) Boots – I recommend good, over-the-ankle boots. The stability and protection you gain can make a big difference in rough, uneven terrain. For on-trail travel, those aren’t quite as important, but folks should know that even the “maintained” trails here can have rough sections (downed trees, creeks & streams, rocks & boulders, etc…).
4) Daypack – get a good one, and make sure you set the straps right. Nothing sucks more than aching shoulders and neck ruining your hike. Trust me on that, it is fairly miserable. Also, make sure you have a pack that’s fitted out to carry a camelback. Having your water integral to your pack, rather than in bottles or canteens, makes things a lot more comfortable. Make sure, also, that you have enough space for all the shit you need to carry (more on that below).
5) Food – for a day hike, you don’t need to go crazy here. A couple of granola bars and a sandwich can be just fine. That being said, it can be a lot of fun to spend a while picnicking and relaxing at your hike’s destination/midpoint. I don’t usually snack while I walk (bears, you know…), so a nice lunch is a good thing for me. DO keep your food in sealed, airtight bags…and DO haul back out any remainder, as well as trash, in those airtight bags. Throwing open food and/or trash into your pack makes you nothing more than a mobile snack stand for the wildlife you didn’t think was right next to the trail.
6) Small, important things – a decent knife (no, you don’t need to go all freaking Rambo with some huge “survival” knife), something warm to wear just in case (sweatshirt, flannel, etc…), a decent map of the trail you’re on, and bear spray. No, bear spray is not a scam…I’ve had a bear walk past ten feet from my window. You need to have it with you.
7) Small, optional things – backpack hammock, camera, spare socks (far more important on longer hikes: there are creeks and streams that you can only cross by fording), and anything else you can’t bear to do without. Keep in mind, weight is not your friend when you hike – that pack that seemed so light when you started, can weigh a million pounds when you’re done.
8) “Oh, shit” kit – kinda optional, especially for trail hikes…but for my more aggressive treks, I always have this with me: waterproof matches, flashlight, compass, first aid kid (a tiny one) and small tarp.
9) Firearms – touchy subject to a lot of people. Back home, in the Rockies, I carry a pistol whenever I hike. Here in Yellowstone (or any National Park), carrying a firearm is perfectly legal…it’s just firing it that is illegal. If you carry a gun, and do fire it, you better damn well have a very good (read: life threatening) reason why. The rangers take that very seriously, and any ticket or criminal charge inside a National Park is a federal offense.
10) Cell service – just don’t count on it. No, really…you’re gonna run out of contact real, real fast. A cell phone is not a valid safety net up here. I know this is crazy talk in today’s world, but use common sense and preparation, instead.