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Getting Away From It All

A pack trip through the Bridger Teton National Forest

With Gregory Wolfley

If you want to get away - really getaway - this is the ride for you. Bridger Lake is in the center of nowhere. The Thoroughfare River near Bridger Lake is calculated to be the furthest location in the continental United States away from any road. As the crow flies, it’s about eighteen miles; by trail, it’s supposed to be twenty-eight miles.

This obviously is not a day ride in and out unless you want to prove me wrong. In that case, you better get an early start! Haha. You need to have a pack animal and ought to have a few packing skills before hitting the trail. Doing a few conditioning rides beforehand would also be a good idea to get your horse and you in shape.

“What about bears?” is probably your first question! Well, I’m more scared of frogs than bears. Frogs just make my skin crawl. However, your concern is well-founded. It is actually more likely that you won’t see a bear than you will see one. If you get lucky, though, you will see one. It’s real cool to see a bear from a distance… not so cool up close! Every bear I have seen in my entire career in the backcountry was running away. Usually, just a dark round fur ball getting smaller and smaller.

Now, if you really want to see a bear, the best way would be to not secure your food, keep a messy kitchen, drop food scraps on the ground, keep food in your tent and sleep near the kitchen!

The best way not to have a bear encounter is to travel in a noisy group, and if you do see one, stop or veer away from it. Set your kitchen up at least one hundred (100) yards away from your tent. Do not have any food or attractants in or near your tent. Hang your food ten feet off the ground between two trees with a long rope. Or I prefer this method, pack your food in bear-proof panyards. The panyards can be locked and left on the ground by the kitchen. Contact the Bridger Teton Forest service office near Moran Junction for bear-proof panyard rentals. These suggestions are not all-inclusive and do not guarantee success! Please do some research and learn more about avoiding bears and what to do in case of a close encounter. Proceed at your own risk.

For protection and a little peace of mind, pack a short barrel 12 gauge shotgun, with double OO loads, in your horse rifle scabbard. Even a large caliber pistol will probably just make a bear madder. *Take note that you cannot carry a firearm into Yellowstone National Park, which Bridger Lake is very close to but not in the Park. The Thorofare River is just a short ride from the Lake inside the Park.

Camp at Turpin Meadows the night before your ride so you can get an early start. The trails are really nice and not too rocky or steep so that you can make good time. Almost any level of rider can make this trip. We made it to the Lake in less than eight hours. However, we ride fox trotters and occasionally like to go fast. It is just fine if you want to take your time and take two days - you can primitive camp almost anywhere, and there is no shortage of water for your livestock. There’s plenty of grass for your animals to eat. However, do not turn them loose like you may see the professional outfitters do! Those animals spend the summer there, and it's home to them. If your horses get loose, they will assuredly head back to the trailhead thirty miles away. Yes, we know from experience that if your hoses get away, the trailhead is the first place to look.

Two suggestions: First- take your hobbles and turn your horses loose to eat, only during the day, with someone watching them. Second- fill the bottom of your panyards with alfalfa cubes. Even if the grass is belly tall, your animals are not used to eating like that, and it takes too long.

Be sure to take the short side trail ride to Parting of the Waters. A small creek located on the Continental Divide splits into two creeks, Atlantic Creek and Pacific Creek. The water in one creek ends up in the Pacific Ocean, and the water in the other creek ends up in the Atlantic Ocean. This is just an extraordinary, maybe one of a kind, interesting hydrological feature! This side trip is much closer to the lake than the trailhead.

There is a campground at Hawks Landing. This is right near the small rangers’ cabin. You can camp here or head on up the trail to Bridger Lake a couple more miles. We like to camp on the south side of the lake... When you get there, you are home.

We generally don’t move camp because it is a lot of work. I would recommend a minimum of four days for this trip but if possible, stay longer. We like to pack in the first day, make camp and sit in the dirt and eat beans! If we have the energy, we do shorter rides and explore and fish in the days in between. If you have two or more pack horses, you can leave them in camp tied up. If you only have on,e it is usually best to let him tag along on the day trips. The last day is to pack out.

A few more thoughts… The most important thing is to STAY DRY AND WARM; it is going to get cold, especially at night. I like to layer with a top layer that is a water-repellant duster or rain jacket. A brimmed hat is great to keep the rain or sun off your head and neck. I don’t wear line-dancing cowboy boots! I wear something that is comfortable for riding, off the horse wrangling, and that I could hike out of the mountains if necessary. A waterproof, low, heal, the rugged boot is great.

Another very important thing is drinking water. There is water everywhere for the horses. If you can find a true spring, it is probably safe to drink. All other water could be contaminated with giardia, so filter or boil it. I carry a life straw water bottle that supplies an unending amount of clean water. Just keep it filled up.

Another real important thing is DO NOT GET LOST! Learn to read a contour map and take paper maps. However, Santa just brought me a handheld Garmin GPS unit with the built-in satellite SOS/text feature… My wife noticed we aren't getting any younger, and it would be nice to stick around longer to spoil the grandkids.

You will not be alone because this is a popular commercial packers’ area, so don’t be surprised seeing people and some camps along the trail. It can be a good thing in case of an emergency or if you have any questions about fishing or the area. The other packers are always really nice. However, the area is so vast it is easy to get off the trails and away from everybody and get lost! Figuratively speaking, of course. And do not forget your camera! FYI: My friends in the pictures are Dave and Randy. Please enjoy the pictures and let me know if you have any questions.

Gregory Wolfley lives in Bluffdale, Utah. He's a middle-aged, married man who's also a Christian and NRA member. He says he loves his root beer, his faith, and his freedom! "I grew up in Idaho but live near Salt Lake City, Utah, now. We live on seven acres and board about 50 horses on the side. My professions are Landscape Architecture, Crackpot Inventor, and Wilderness Explorer. I also love firearms of all types and am an NRA trained instructor. I've been married 40 years to Nancy with six daughters and one son. We have been blessed with 24 grandkids. We have almost every age covered between 0 and 16." They both love riding and especially taking pack trips into the wilderness. Greg prefers Fox Trotters; they have 3, 2 quarter horses, 1 Tennessee Walker, and one mustang. They also love doing genealogy and traveling. He added, "I love the HTCAA community and making new friends. (And don't tell anybody I was born in D.C., haha)!" The photo is from December 2017 - There are a couple of missing babies had not arrived yet.


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