What started out as a simple, maybe thirteen mile long hike, turned into a drastic 40 mile long camping adventure.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day, three days before I was to leave Yellowstone for the summer. I left my jacket in the car and we started out in the warm heat. Less than two miles in, we stopped for an hour on a bridge to laze around in the water–we had all day, right?

At the first junction, we decided to abandon our original plan of doing a loop of Pelican Valley in favour of heading to Fern Lake for more swimming. This would only add a mile on to our total round trip. Right?

The way to Fern Lake was also the way to Wapiti Lake, which I knew was ten miles from the canyon, where we could walk back to the dorms. Wapiti Lake was only an extra five miles onto Fern Lake. So when we somehow missed the turnoff for Fern Lake it only made sense to continue hiking. What was an extra ten miles? We had plenty of time and we could make it all the way to Canyon, even if it was normally a backpacking escapade.

Around 6PM, we realized we were going past campsites and we kept losing the trail. The tiny map I had on my phone wasn’t aiding much, and we were following an ever winding river. I realized that with over ten miles to go in either direction, we might be back late. Thankfully, one of us had service, so I texted my friend back at Canyon.

After a rest, I realized we were maybe more lost than we thought, so I again borrowed my friend’s phone and called 911 for the first time in my life. The dispatcher was friendly, and with his guidance we figured out where we were.

An hour later, we made it to Wapiti Lake. Phewph! Only ten more miles home, but on a clear cut trail… right?

We walked around the lake and encountered a sign. Wapiti Lake this way, Fern Lake that way. Well. We were already at Wapiti Lake; we didn’t want to go past it… right?

After we’d walked a mile or so towards Fern Lake, it clicked–Fern Lake was the lake we’d missed earlier. We were going in the wrong direction.

Around midnight, our last phone with the only flashlight was down to 20%, despite our efforts to conserve batteries. I called 911 again to alert them of our status. It took a while to get a connection, but they recommended we stay where we were–Pelican Valley is closed from 7PM-9AM for bear management reasons.

I had a feeling that the path we were on was familiar. I had a feeling that last year, two different friends and I had veered off course and encountered a bear right there. However, without light, we couldn’t continue.

By pure chance, I had bought a lighter the week before. People kept asking me to borrow one so I bought one impulsively for funsies. That lighter allowed us to make a fire and saved us from hypothermia.

After five hours spent huddling around the fire, the sun began to come up. We rose haggardly and began hiking once more. In less than five minutes, I recognised where we were and regained all my excitement–there were only about eight miles left!

The sunrise over Pelican Valley was the most gorgeous sunrise I’d ever seen despite the exhaustion and the cold that riddled me. We’d made it.


The sign where it all went wrong, and the sign we had never been happier to see about fifteen hours later.
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The river we mistakenly followed for a while.
Elk skulls–a few of the exciting skeletons we saw that day.
It started raining soon after sunrise.