My Favorite Treks: The Trident Traverse from Cody, WY

Trident, Northern Massif from Mountain Creek, Yellowstone National Park

Sigma DP1, ISO 100, f/11, 1/30 sec. Click for a little bit bigger.

In addition to flanking the remotest spot in the CONUS, the Trident (the mass of peaks and ridges making up the Trident Peak Massif) may be YNP’s coolest peak, due its sheer size (volume) and complexity. The photo above shows only about 15% of its total ridgeline. There are four other main ridges you can’t see, behind, and to the left.

The massif itself is rugged, and a traverse of it is not for the faint of heart, or inexperienced, or acrophobes, but successful completion of one will rank high in your list of all time best wilderness experiences ever.

If you don’t have rock scrambling experience, this would qualify as a Hard Walk. If you can handle Class 3 scrambling on rotten stuff and serious mosquitoes, and are willing to carry a Tenkara fly rod and a packraft, and have some tolerance for suffering, you’ll have a Pretty Good Time with this.

I’ve made a few traverses of the Trident, but my favorite is what I think is the proper one, because of its elegance and the level of engagement required to complete it, and the fact that it’s nice to have both an ice axe and a packraft.

It starts and ends with non-simple transportation logistics, but if you don’t have a car, you can start and end in Cody, WY with a little creativity that makes for good stories.

From Cody, hitchhike up to Deer Creek, then walk into the headwaters of the Thorofare River. Packraft for a day or two (depending on how good the fishing is) until you’re about at the foot of the Trident’s SW ridge, near campsite 6T1 in Yellowstone. Here’s the view from there in a carelessly shot and poorly processed hand held panorama but it shows you the S side of the massif, and what the Thorofare River looks like when the packrafting is good, and what sort of low-el bush you might have to deal with.


The Trident from 6T1. Sigma DP2. Click for bigger.

Then, bushwhack, nav through matchsticks remaining from the Big Fire, then gain the ridge and enjoy the scramble to the plateau. Traverse the plateau, making sure to find a nice camp (I recommend two) up there on the grassiest benches on the E flanks, where there’s lots of waterfalls below you and pretty cliffs above you, and really neat sunrises. Then, drop down into Mountain Creek if you’ve had enough, or continue NE to Overlook Mountain, which is Hard but really inspiring, and descend into Glacier Basin, where there is whitewater and good packrafting on Fishhawk Creek when the water is high, and lots of dangerous wood regardless of water levels. But you’ll feel like a hardman for doing it, or you’ll get fed up with stress and walk the trail (you’ll boast about it later, so it will be worth any time you do spend in the water). Fishhawk takes you to all the way to the North Fork Shoshone where it’s a cruise (except at high water, when there are serious holes to deal with) to Cody and good food, and rodeo.

Give yourself about 7 days if you are going to be intense about this, and 10 days if you want to enjoy yourself a bit.

If you do this in October – and you can (“trust me” comes with wide latitude, FYI) – be sure to take a dry suit and ice climbing gear to play on the waterfalls on the E face of the Trident, and maybe an extra hat. There is nothing quite like it anywhere, and the mosquitoes are gone. But your pack will be heavy, and you’ll be real cold sometimes, and you might even be able to bum a steak at an outfitter camp.