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  • Tiago Costa

Lost in the wilderness: backpacking during 8 days in Yellowstone backcountry (slideshow)

For those who love a great amount of challenge in outdoors, the Yellowstone National Park is a mecca and a dream. Yellowstone is considered the heart of the American wildlife, and it is also the first ever national park worldwide. It was founded in 1872, with the intention of preserving species that were being extinct by the human exploration back then. To fight private exploration and protect the ecosystem, Congress intervened. On March 1st, 1872, the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act was written.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the tract of land in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming, lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, and described as follows, to wit, commencing at the junction of Gardiner's river with the Yellowstone river, and running east to the meridian passing ten miles to the eastward of the most eastern point of Yellowstone lake; thence south along said meridian to the parallel of latitude passing ten miles south of the most southern point of Yellowstone lake; thence west along said parallel to the meridian passing fifteen miles west of the most western point of Madison lake; thence north along said meridian to the latitude of the junction of Yellowstone and Gardiner's rivers; thence east to the place of beginning, is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people; and all persons who shall locate or settle upon or occupy the same, or any part thereof, except as hereinafter provided, shall be considered trespassers and removed therefrom.

The Yellowstone National Park is so old that when it was founded, the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming were not states yet. Also, in the early days of Yellowstone this park was managed by the U.S. Army, just until the creation of the U.S. National Park Service in 1916.

Yellowstone is incredibly rich in its wilderness, but requires a lot of knowledge and responsibility from those who visit every year. During decades, non-native fish species were introduced and wolves were killed with the intention of increasing the satisfaction of the public visitor. Just recently, the alarm sounded and new plans for conservation were introduced. Wolves were re-introduced in 1995 and restrictions to fish were established. Today, fishermen can take home non-native species, but he's obligated to release the native ones.

I prepared this trip with the intention of being a personal challenge and not a photo expedition. However, as a photographer and a traveler, my camera has always space inside my backpack. I wanted to lose and find myself in the woods. I wanted to feel the respect for living in the same place as predators like bears and wolfs, or big animals like the elk and the moose.

Also, I was not alone. My friends Robert Greenwell and John Hildebrand completed the adventurous trio who hiked near 70-miles in 8 days. The challenge was serious, but the group was prepared for all the circumstances.

In Northwest Yellowstone, by the Sportsman Lake, Montana, this is the habitat for many forms of life. The Yellowstone National Park, first worldwide protected national park, founded in 1872, it's well-known by its incredible rich landscapes. It's considered the lungs of America and the heart of the American wildlife.

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John holds the group's permit to backpack in Yellowstone backcountry. Yellowstone is highly attended every year, however the amount of visitors in backcountry is low when compared to those visiting the touristic spots. Data by the National Park Service shows that in more than 330 million visitors counted in 2016, in the American Parks and Recreation Areas, only around 2 million were in the backcountry. © Tiago Costa

In the middle of the dense Yellowstone forest, John and Robert turn left in the direction of Sportsman Lake. Safety is extremely important in Yellowstone. To avoid unexpected encounters with bears, hikers should speak out loud and clap their hands to show predators that human-life is in the territory. © Tiago Costa

During a break-time at the middle of the hike, John checks the map to better understand the location. The Yellowstone National Park is one of the biggest parks in the United States. Backpack along near 70-miles can sounds long, but this is just a short percentage for the real park size. © Tiago Costa

Robert and John hike in the Sportsman Lake Trail, located in the Gallatin Bear Management Area. The Yellowstone National Park has 18-designated Bear Management Areas and informing the visitor about the bear population in that location. Here, the possibility for the visitor to have an encounter with a bear is high, so visitors have to be highly knowledgeable about this animal and safety rules. © Tiago Costa

Robert and John hike down-hill while being amazed by the view. Part of the challenge in a backpack trip like this one, is to carry everything needed for the period out-there. Define priorities while packing is a crucial process in order to pack light, but with all the necessary goods to survive. Food and water are the two most important things, but also tent, sleeping bag, pad, first-aid kit, jackets, headlamp, bear and bug sprays, among other objects are necessary. With more days backpacking, the necessity to bring more goods will turn the backpack heavier. For this trip, the group carried around 40 lb. (18 kg.) each. © Tiago Costa

Close by the Lower Fan Creek, the group's tent is set up side by side with the dense Yellowstone forest. In grizzly bear country, the sleeping rules are restricted, but important for humans. Bears have a diverse feeding. They are considered, among all the predators, to have the best sense of smell. This makes them to be curious and when they get interest for something, they will get highly possessive about it. That's when bears normally attack people. Bears don't attack people to eat them. They attack because of food and territory. For that reason, it's important for backcountry visitors to have their food out of the tent, as well as other odorous products.

It's important for campers to cook, eat and keep their products in around 100-yards away from the tent. © Tiago Costa

While in the Lower Fan Creek campsite, a young bull moose surprises the group by showing up in the woods. This mammal herbivorous is the largest from the deer family, weighing sometimes around 1,6000 lb. (725 kg.). The moose, or Alces in the scientific version, like habitats like Yellowstone, where they can find lakes, bogs, swamps, streams and ponds. Moose are territorial and can attack if they think the opponent is a threat. © Tiago Costa

During the fourth backpacking day, John takes a bath at the High Lake, Montana. Backpacking during several days can be physically and mentally demanding. The opportunity to have a bath in cold and clean waters can be seen by backpackers as a healthy reward in order to relax and get energy for the day after. © Tiago Costa

Landscape from the Sportsman Lake with moon light and few stars, at Yellowstone National Park. © Tiago Costa

Robert and John light the fire at the end of the day. At the Yellowstone National Park, the temperature variation between the low and the high can be rough and hikers should be prepared with warm jackets and a warm sleeping bag. Fortunately, the majority of the campsites at Yellowstone, allow fire and the group can warm up.

Robert pulls the rope that is going to hang the odorous products, inside the backpacks, to a tree. Safety in bear country is crucial. Especially during the night, when bears are more active, food, trash and other odorous products should be hanged at 12 feet (3.6 mt.) from the ground and 200 feet (around 70 mt.) from the tent.

John and Robert share a warm tea close to the warm fire, right before they go to the tent and sleep. While planning a backpack trip like this one, hikers should consider the benefit of carrying extra luxuries in order to pack light. However, a trip like this one is mentally demanding and some backpackers prefer to add some necessary luxuries, like tea, coffee, sweet candies or even alcohol, to have more life quality and revitalize their mind and soul. © Tiago Costa

Inside the tent and before sleeping, John writes on his daily journal. Notes representing memories that will last forever. © Tiago Costa


The "Weekly Journal" blog is updated every Sunday.

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