Pilgrim Creek Trail, Grand Teton National Forest, Wyoming, USA
August 7-10, 2016
Pilgrim Creek Wyoming contains an untamed wilderness seldom found across the lower 48. When I first read about this area, I was drawn to it by descriptions of vast open mountain meadows, abounding wildlife, and unrivaled desolation.
Pilgrim Creek is located on the eastern edge of Grand Teton NP. Pilgrim Creek road dead-ends at the trailhead. The trail travels northeast, leaving the park boundary within the first quarter mile and throwing you into the remote unmaintained wilds of the Bridger-Teton national forest.
The first 2 miles had over 15 creek crossings as the path zigzagged back and forth along the creek through thick brush and dense foliage. From the start we were well aware of the potential danger surrounding us, doing everything from clicking our hiking poles together to yelling gibberish in hopes of warning any bears of our approach. Although we were doing everything to make our presence known, deep down inside everyone wanted to have that chance, but hopefully safe, encounter with a Grizzly.…
Later that day we veered off the trail and began bushwhacking up a hillside, no idea of where we would end up, and far away from the generous water supply we had at our side earlier in the day. After several hours of pushing up a trail-less ridge we made it to a high meadow clearing and stumbled upon another trail crossing. With the sun low on the horizon, we decided set up camp for the night. After throwing up our tents, we realized how low our water supply had become. High up top on the meadow, we were far away from any water source. Group decision was to hike back down one of the nearby ravines and see if we could find at least a light trickle of H2O. As we started our hike back down, dusk setting in, visibility started to dwindle. After about a mile we all thought we heard some running water to our left, not thinking twice we once again sauntered off the trail into high brush. We quickly approached a steep descent into a creek slicing it’s way through the mountainous terrain. Excited by the sight of water, we upped our tempo and becoming less aware of our surroundings. Still about 150 yards from the creek, I made a quick turn around 7ft. high brush, only to stop dead in my tracks. Right in front of me was a clearing, more like a bed of sorts, in the thickest of brush an area about 15x15ft. had been smoothly matted down. Something big was here and recently, we had walked into a bears nest….. Slightly panicked I put my hand on the Ruger and started yelping non-sense in hopes to scare away any beasts that may be lurking in the shadows. We all knew we were in dangerous territory and quickly continued towards the creek. Once at the creek, we had one man filling water, and the other three on guard, eyes peeled, ready for action. Bottles filled we powered back up the hill, staying the fuck away from the bear condo and making as mush ruckus as possible. By this time night had fallen upon us. With our headlamps lighting our way, we made it back to camp. Thankful to be back, we brought out the whiskey, took a few swills, a few deep breaths and slowly retreated into our sleeping bags for the night.
The next morning we broke down camp and set out to continue our exploration of the surrounding wilderness. Sun was out in full force raining it’s hot waves of radiation directly upon our fragile skin, with temps quickly ramping up to 90. We made our way through stunning meadows, rocky outcrops, Teton vistas and piney forests. Throughout the day we encountered plenty of deer, sand hill cranes and elk carcasses. After hiking about 10 miles we dropped back onto an eastern extension of Pilgrim Creek, finding a beautiful beach clearing to set up camp. After pitching our tents, washing up in the creek and eating a quick meal, we embarked on an evening hike down stream. Wading through the creek with binoculars in tow, we were anxious for another wildlife encounter. About a half-mile down stream we came across a large bear paw print emblazoned into the shoreline sediment, although no bear in sight. After another half mile, we turned back up stream towards camp. The dusk light glistened ever so softly off of the creek with calming sounds of the running water at our feet, looking up we took in nature’s tranquility, reenergizing our souls with every breathe. Back at camp we started up a nice fire, got the whiskey flowing again and talked late into the night
On our last day we made our way back down the creek towards civilization. Rejuvenated and spiritually refreshed, we were ready for the long drive back home. Over the three days we hadn’t seen a single human, or bear for that matter. After talking to some rangers, we were informed both Yellowstone and Grand Teton had been covered with a thick smoke blowing in from western wildfires in Montana. When this happens it makes animals fearful and triggers their survival instincts, typically pushing them out of their natural habitats into adjacent valleys away from the smoke. Maybe this had contributed to our bearless trek…maybe not. We’ll be back, and next time we’ll find em.