For the past thirty-plus years, Golden Software's founders, Pat Madison and Dan Smith, have loaded up their backpacks and trekked out into the wilderness of Yellowstone National Park for a backpacking excursion. Five years ago the backpacking invitation was extended to me, and I have tagged along through sunshine, rain, sleet, and snow, across meadows and rivers, and over mountains and downed trees ever since.
Pat Madison and Dan Smith on their 1990 Yellowstone trip.
Yellowstone provides a challenging, yet rewarding, backpacking experience. All necessary items required for the backwoods adventure are carried in backpacks that weigh between 20 to 40 pounds depending on the individual's desired level of comfort. The average daily hike is 6 to 7, but some trips we've hiked as many as 12 miles in a given day. We experience spectacular scenes including geothermal basins, active geysers, herds of bison and elk, waterfalls, and breathtaking views. Element preparedness is critical as weather patterns can change from sunshine to snow in a matter of minutes. And there's nothing like a 3,000 foot elevation gain to test even the fittest individual. Through all of Mother Nature's moods and glory, the backpacking group revels in the time spent together as we make our way from one campsite to the next, sharing in many laughs and memorable experiences.
This year our trek began at Biscuit Basin and concluded at Fairy Falls. We covered roughly 28.5 miles on this trip and were fortunate to have great hiking weather (previous years have been a different story), and the group was injury-free (again, previous years have been a different story).
Our 2015 backpacking route mapped out in Surfer.
The first campsite was along the edge of Summit Lake. The 7.5 mile hike to our first destination was without incident with the exception of a slight detour around a lone bison lounging in the middle of our path. Trail conversations on this first day centered on catching up with one another. Technological distractions are nonexistent in the backwoods, thereby allowing us uninterrupted stretches of quality discussion time as we hike along the trail. Naturally, Golden Software was also a frequent trail conversation topic!
The buffalo taking his morning rest on the trail.
Our second campsite was located at Firehole Falls, a mere 5 miles away. For this hike, we ditched the trails and ventured out cross country to our destination. Pat, our fearless leader, came well prepared with his compass and map. I will admit to wondering a time or two whether or not we were actually going the right direction, but we arrived at our campsite as planned. Our mere 5 mile day actually turned into an 8.5 mile trek once all obstacles were taken into account including felled trees, steep ridges, vast meadows, and the final hurdle of fording the Firehole River.
Success! We know where we are.
On the third day of our trip, we were back on the well maintained trails, and the 7 mile stretch to our final campsite was a breeze! That breeze came to an end, however, when we came upon the campsite. A buffalo herd of a few hundred head had staked claim to the area. Not wanting to bother these massive creatures, we decided to explore the nearby Fairy Falls and allow the herd to move on at its leisure. Upon our return, the majority of the herd had ambled off, but a few stragglers remained on the perimeter of camp. The stragglers didn't make a stand when we decided to stake our claim on the site. The bison herd proved to be a source of evening entertainment as we watched bulls challenge one another, calves bound and jump across the meadow, and a few brave yearlings chase off an elk that had emerged from the trees.
The stragglers hanging around our campsite.
By the last morning, the group was ready to head back to civilization so we broke camp and hit the trail bright and early. The hike to our awaiting van was a quick 2.5 mile jaunt. We all piled in and headed to Big Sky, Montana where Pat's family had prepared a breakfast feast for all of us weary backpackers.
The Golden Software crew on the final day.
Zach Mills, Blakelee (Midyett) Mills, Pat Madison, Dan Smith
I can understand why Pat and Dan remain committed to these backpacking excursions. Four days in the backcountry without interruptions give us a chance to reconnect with one another and with ourselves. Detaching from the hustle and bustle of everyday life is truly a rejuvenating experience, and I eagerly anticipate our future Yellowstone backpacking adventures!