I finish getting my pack ready, lock my car, and set off for the trail. I first have to go about a quarter mile up a closed road and as I’m walking, I see a younger guy coming in the opposite direction. “Just get off the trail?”  I ask the guy who’s by himself with a day pack and fly rod strapped to his belt. “No, I’m actually looking for the start. Going to hike the seven mile hole and do some fishin’ down in the canyon”, he replied. “I’m doing the same trail, it starts right up here on the left; you’re welcome to join me. My name is Alex“,  I said genuinely unopposed to some company. “Ok cool, thanks! The name’s Jack, pleasure to meet ya Alex.”
        The hike starts on the well maintained glacial boulder trail going through a lush forested area. The weather is absolutely perfect right now, including a cool breeze, which is always welcomed when carrying a heavy pack. Still shaded by the towering lodgepole pines, the trail goes right along to the edge of the Canyon, which makes for some pretty amazing views. From this point, the river seems insignificant as it lies nearly 1,000 feet below from where we’re standing.  “Pretty sick, huh Jack?”  I said as we stopped to take in the landscape and snap some pictures. “Hell yea! Can’t wait to get down there” he replied. We pass only a few people walking in the opposite direction, but for the most part, it’s only the two of us, which is a nice change from the crowded Lower Falls trail that I just came off of.
          The trail then moves away from the canyon and back into the forest. We come to a clearing that overlooks a big open meadow, with the huge pines on both sides and a view of the Mount Washburn range to the northeast (highest peak in Yellowstone). I’m usually the hiker always on the move and trying to get to my destination as fast as possible, but I had to stop again to take in another beautiful Yellowstone scene. After about 2 miles, we make it to the seven mile hole trailhead, which just has the name and an arrow (no mileage needed). “Hey dude, I’m going to be stopping a few times to take some shots during the hike which might be annoying. Feel free to go ahead if you want” I said to Jack as I lay my pack against the sign post. “No problemo! I have a camera too, just got into photography myself.” replies Jack while pulling out a Canon SLR. “That’s a sweet walking stick by the way, I need to get me one of them!” he said about my new “hiking buddy”, which I already have a weird emotional connection with based off the role it played in Glacier.
        I look at my watch and see we’re just over 8,100 feet; the highest elevation of the trail. We spend the next few miles talking about photography and our respective trips. I learn he just graduated from Northern Illinois and is starting grad school at Eastern Michigan in the fall. Having lived there for two summers because of internships, I proceed to tell him how nice Ann Arbor is (Ypsilanti, not so much) and of course, what bars to check out. I then start telling him about all the places he needs to go ‘up north’, including: Traverse City, Short’s Brewery in Bellaire, and all the surrounding lakes that make Michigan, Michigan. “You really need to hike at Pictured Rocks in the Upper Peninsula, it’s on a different level”,  I said about a place which is truly one of the most underratedly beautiful landscapes on the planet (google it). While I’m a Denver resident and don’t anticipate moving from my new home, I will always have A LOT of pride for both the state of Michigan and city of Detroit; even though it’s home to a particular football team that has continued to rip my heart out for over two decades and counting. Both are places I hold dear to my heart and there will never be a time where that changes.
       The trail starts to descend and the real fun is about to begin. Anyone who backpacks knows that traversing down a steep trail is not an enjoyable experience. It’s hard on the knees and often times can get pretty scary. I begin to tell Jack a story from my most fond backpacking trip, which was to Zion and Grand Canyon National Park with my brother and Dad. To pass the time as we were making our way down the incredibly steep and narrow trail, leading down to the base of the Grand Canyon, my brother and I made a list of “rules”. It was comprised of mostly weird and unrealistic scenarios which made our Dad just shake his head, but rule #1 was, you fall - you die, which couldn’t have been more true. When my Dad was planning the trip, I remember him showing us a list of a few routes we could take and what their respective difficulty was. They were all listed as “hard” with the exception of one that was listed as “extreme”. When he asked which trail we wanted to do, my bro and I look at each other, then back at my Dad before replying in eunicine with, “extreme!”. While this isn’t as steep as the Grand Canyon, ‘rule #1’ certainly holds true for the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Shortly after stopping to get Jack a new walking stick, it’s starting to get significantly more steep and we make it to the part where the path turns into loose gravel and there are no longer tree’s. We make a turn on a switchback and notice some water passing over the rocks at our feet. We follow the water with our eyes and just about twenty feet up, we see it’s coming from a steaming rock (assuming not the scientific wording). Geyser country. As much as I want to venture off the path and check it out, I remember what my girl Patti at the backcountry office told me this morning, Stay on the trail. We keep going and I quickly realize there will be many other opportunities to come up-close and personal with one of these iconic Yellowstone landmarks during our 1,200 foot decent.
        “I feel like we’re on Mars or something” Jack says as were carefully taking short steps down the steep rocky path. He’s spot on; it really is a bizarre landscape. The barron terrain has patches of termal rock and dead trees that look to be from a different planet. For the next 1.5 miles, we move appropriately slow through a series of switchbacks with the fresh scent of rotten eggs passing through our nostrils. Well my campsite should be interesting, I nervously thought to myself as we press on through the otherworldly landscape. It’s the steepest part of the hike and it’s very strenuous but I’m hoping the reward awaiting us at the bottom is well worth it.
          We’re now a little over 4 miles in and we get to a point with a great view of the canyon and seemingly out of nowhere, there’s now a significant number of trees. It makes the area seem a little less vertical but illusions aside, it’s still extremely steep. “Well this sure is going to suck going back up”  I say to Jack, just before he slips on the loose gravel and slides a few feet down the path. “Crap I didn’t even think about that!” Jack replied while he props himself back up after the somewhat nerve wracking close call. I can hear the water rushing below so we know were getting close.
          We make it to a junction with a fork in the trail and see a small wooden sign nailed to a tree. In fading letters it reads, “campsite 4C1” with an arrow pointing  to the right and “campsite 4C2 & 4C3” with an arrow to the left. As we head down towards the area which will be my home for the night, the trail starts to fade and it’s now almost all comprised of loose rock. Now unsure of the best way to get to the bottom, I stop to see how I should navigate this. I notice an orange flag nailed on a tree about 10 feet down an extremely steep grade. Assuming it’s a marker to help find the campsite, we head in that direction and just seconds after we start walking, my foot slips on the rock and I slide all the way down to the tree we are aiming for. That’s one way to get down I guess, I thought as I’m laying on my back. This made me remember something from earlier when Patti highlighted the words printed in all caps on my backcountry permit “CAUTION - ACCESS TRAIL TO CAMPSITE IS STEEP”.  I can now confirm that it is indeed steep.
            Finally, we (somewhat) successfully, we make it to my campsite at the bottom of the canyon. As we approach the site on the very much welcomed level ground, I immediately realize that this is going to be special. Situated no more than twenty feet above the Yellowstone River and among the final layer of trees before the base of the canyon, lies backcountry campsite 4C1 via the Seven Mile Hole Trail. In the middle of the big site, which easily could have fit five tents, is a self-made fire pit surrounded by two logs that form an L-shape. As I’m laying my pack down to scope out where I want to setup my tent, Jack yells from the water, “DUDE! You gotta check this out!”. Curious and excited, I walk down towards the direction in which he called from.
            I come around the corner right where the canyon starts to level off towards the bank and see Jack crouched down with a big smile on his face. “You’ve got your own personal hot tub!” he says while splashing his hands in the thermal water coming straight out of the rock (probably not recommended). I follow the water down to the river and quickly see that he’s not kidding. Right at the base of the grand canyon of Yellowstone and a stone's throw from my campsite, someone (the real MVP) stacked large rocks in a semi-circle to trap the near boiling water coming down from the thermal rock. It’s right at the bank of the fast flowing river, which is spilling into the geniously crafted natural hot tub, making the temperature a very pleasant 100-105 degrees.
       “Dang, this water is moving! I’m not going to be able to catch shit” said Jack as he stared at the river with a look of disappointment. With the steep banks on both sides for as far as you can see, Jack decided to part ways and start his trek back up the trail to try and find a new fishing hole. “Good luck and Godspeed brotha!”  I say to him while not feeling envious of the elevation climb he’s about to start. Nice kid, but finally time for some peace and quiet, I thought as we wished each other the final farewell.
         It’s only about 3:00 pm so unlike my overnight in Glacier, I have a good 5-6 hours of daylight left and I couldn’t be more excited. What does one do in the back country with no cell service and miles from another human being, you ask? Whatever the hell I want! After filling up my gravity filter with the refreshing alpine water from the river, I walk back up to my campsite to set up my tent. Room with a view, I think to myself as I put my tent right against the side of the cliff, overlooking the breathtaking canyon. I then think about the fact that my backcountry permit only cost $5 and it came with my own natural hot tub at the base of a world famous canyon. I can’t help but laugh (out loud) at the thought of the hundreds of dollars that the tourists spent for one night in their cramped quarters, miles from anything truly wild.
            Speaking of hot tub, this feels like a perfect time to relax and enjoy the plush amenities of what this campsite has to offer, so I grab my book and head back down to the water. I step foot into the hot spring and move around some flat rocks to form a back that made it more like a bathtub. The water is HOT but feels amazing with the cold water from the river spilling over. I could stay in here all night, I thought to myself as I open up the Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Teddy Roosevelt.
          As I’m reading about the man who created the National Park System and spent a significant amount of time in Yellowstone, I look up and notice steam rising from another thermal area on the edge of the river. This is the most ‘Yellowstone’ thing ever. I need to document this. I stand up to get my tripod and notice a big rock that has a relatively flat surface sitting right at the base of the river. Welp, I know where I’m cooking and eating dinner, I thought as I excitedly walk back up to get my stove.
I’m currently perched on my rock/dining room table, and am waiting for my water to boil so I can rehydrate my dinner. The sun is just about to set so I get my camera/tripod back out and take a time lapse to capture a scene that I know I’ll want to remember. As I’m waiting for my food to rehydrate, I begin to reflect on the day and start writing in my journal while staring in amazement at the beauty of my surroundings. The yellow and pink rock of the canyon paired like a fine wine with the deep blue of the river and vibrant greens of the trees above. Combining that with the sounds of the roaring yellowstone river and birds singing in the background, I can’t help but smile as I now fully understand why people like Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir were drawn here. It’s truly an extraordinary place.

FUN FACT: The canyon’s colors were created by hot water acting on volcanic rock. It was not these colors, but the river’s yellow banks at its distant confluence with the Missouri River, that occasioned the Minnetaree Indian name which French trappers translated as roche jaune, yellow stone.
        I decide to treat myself with a hard earned meal of fettuccine alfredo, and it tastes exceptional. What kind of sorcery are the chefs at Backcountry Pantry pulling to make this freeze dried food taste so good , I thought as I finish my entire meal. Serving for 4 my ass!            It’s 9:00 and the light in the canyon is quickly fading. Somehow I’m still hungry so I whip out my stove and begin to boil water in pursuit of curbing my always dangerous sweet tooth. Raspberry Crumble (also from Backcountry Pantry) is the GOAT of backcountry desserts and one of my camping necessities.
        Well now what? I thought as I’m leaning against a log waiting for my food to cook. I learned that one downside of solo backpacking is when the lights go out, you’re not left with many options of things to do. After finishing the always delicious dessert, I catch myself throwing twigs into my newly purchased solo stove and just staring in astonishment at the workings of the vacuum cooking. Yep, that’s my que for bedtime.
I awaken at 6:30am on the morning of Friday August 11th feeling refreshed and energized, which might have something to do with getting 9 hours of undisturbed (and much needed) sleep. As I get out of my tent, I see that the sun has yet to rise over the steep walls of the canyon, which naturally urges me to grab my camera and walk down to the water before I start packing up. The scenery and colors are even more spectacular than before so I walk over to ‘my’ rock and take it all in with my feet soaking in the comfortably brisk water. After a good half-hour of enjoying the morning view, I walk back up to the campsite and start packing up camp.
        As I’m folding my tent poles, I stop and have a very specific but never experienced feeling come over me. “I’m back!”  I say to myself (out loud) with an ear to ear smile on my face. Still stopped in my tracks, I realize that I’ve now been on the road for a full week and I think about how cut off from the outside world I’ve been.  I went an entire week with my phone completely off or out of service for significantly more time than it was powered on - I haven’t checked a single work email and have had virtually no exposure to social media, sports, or news (thank God).
         Prior to this trip I was in somewhat of a mental, let’s call it a ‘funk’, which was caused by a few things going on professionally and personally (backstory will come in time). The feeling I’m having is hard to describe as it’s something I’ve never felt before, but it’s as if I completely shed whatever negative outside stresses I was facing. I’m back, I say again as I’m pacing and fist pumping to myself while holding my tent poles. I don’t know if that sounds weird or not, but frankly I don’t care as I’m now fully recharged and am enthusiastically feeling ready to take on the world (let me have my special moment, OK?) . That specific moment at this specific spot is something that I will always pinpoint when thinking about the need and importance of getting off the grid to recharge.
          I get all my gear packed and I'm ready to start the hike (climb) up. Yesterday, I was thinking about how shitty this climb was going to be but today I honestly don’t even care as my spirits just couldn’t be higher. I get my pack on and start to walk out but just as I reach the unbelievably steep trail, I stop and take one more look at my campsite. I have camped in some epic places around the country, including in double digit national parks, but backcountry campsite 4C1 in Yellowstone National Park currently holds the crown as my #1 favorite.  
Back to Top