Firsts / Taking the Plunge

Written by: Stephanie Baker of The Dancing Wind
Stephanie is the Office Manager at Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center and an phenomenal artist. Reflected in her photography is her love of the wilderness, wildlife, backpacking, skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, reading, peace and quiet.


My first backpacking trip was the Agate Creek Trail in Yellowstone National Park. I enjoyed hiking so much that I really wanted to experience the temporary autonomous zone of being in the wild for a longer period of time without having to worry about getting back home by dark, or any of the demands of civilization. I wanted to get out there and just be for at least a full weekend. The Agate Creek Trail promised just that – it was a short (but steep) trip that would be a good introduction to backpacking. Two days, one night.  

The biggest obstacle to getting started with backpacking for me was carrying the weight. I remembered my brother having to carry a 45-pound backpack for a Boy Scout backpacking trip that he went on, and that just seemed so insurmountable. Backpacking must not be for small people, I thought. How am I supposed to carry a pack that is nearly half my body weight? It didn’t sound possible, and it didn’t sound fun.

In researching how to make carrying my pack possible, I discovered the world of ultralight backpacking. What a brilliant idea! It would take me some time to be able to afford a full set of ultralight gear, but I was able to start off by purchasing a backpack that weighed only 2 lbs, 6 oz to use for my first trip. I had to make do with the heavier standard camping gear that I already owned for everything else, but an ultralight backpack helped. I also pared down my list of what I intended to bring to only the pure essentials to keep my pack weight down. My husband did the same, and also purchased an ultralight tent, which he carried.

The trip itself was an experience I’ll never forget, and one that had me planning my next trip as soon as I got back. The views were stunning. The trail was sometimes hard to follow, with bison trails branching off here and there, adding to the adventure. When we stopped for lunch, a herd of pronghorn with their fawns appeared in the distance. They galloped across the vast open range in a line, which was amazing to witness.


Later that day some biting flies joined us for the hike, and I learned that carrying bug spray would have been worth the weight. I also learned that my organic, non-toxic roll-on bug repellent was unfortunately not effective. The final portion of our hike to camp was very steep, dropping over 1,200 feet in 1.8 miles, with some of the trail covered in loose rocks during this descent. As I found my feet flying out from underneath me and landed on my butt, I wondered how I was ever going to get out of there the next day
But once I was at our stunningly beautiful campsite next to the Yellowstone River, the struggle and the sore shoulders were all worth it. This wasn’t a place that I would just be stopping at for a quick break to enjoy the view before needing to get back to the trailhead again; I would get to sink in and enjoy this place overnight.

Mother Nature decided to test that sentiment by sending an ominous-looking thunderstorm our way quite promptly. We had just enough time to set up the tent before the torrential rain began. Fortunately, we were too tired from our day of exertion in the July heat to eat dinner anyway. There was something soothing about the sound of the rain on the tent and the roaring of the river next to us. And something that made us both have to wake up to pee in the middle of the night. Nervous about stepping out into bear country in the pitch darkness, we stuck together with headlamps furtively beaming around, and made haste of the situation. Note to self: less hydration before bed next time.

In the morning we were treated to a magical misty sunrise. The hike back up that 1,200 vertical feet in 1.8 miles was steep, but I didn’t fall again, and I felt a huge sense of achievement at the top. The rest of the hike back seemed like a breeze in comparison, and we were treated to a visit from some bighorn sheep and another pronghorn on the final leg of our journey. After this trip I was hooked, and couldn’t wait to backpack again.

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