SUP Yellowstone National Park
By Sean Jansen
It’s summer. It’s hot and you want nothing more than to go and jump into a body of water and cool yourself off. You are currently living in Bozeman, Montana and you have just about had your fill of the activities in and around that area. You have white water rafted, you have fly-fished, you have swam in high mountain lakes after an all day hike, and you have backpacked into the wilderness. But you want to try something new. You want to go somewhere you haven’t been. And most importantly, you want to try something no one else has done. Or at least think no one else has done.
It is our human nature to push boundaries and try things to impress others. We as humans are very selfish and when you are a writer or photographer, it shows. My birthday was over the summer and as I described above, I had done all of those adventurous activities and did them repeatedly. I’m not trying to sound like I was bored of them but I wanted something new. In all honestly, I wanted to try something that reminded me of home.
I was living in Bozeman over the summer but I am originally from the ocean where I grew up surfing. So I only lived in Montana for the summer and I had brought my stand up paddleboard with me so I could paddle on the lakes and rivers in the area, and had a blast doing it. But I had a trip in mind that I was unsure if anyone had done before, let alone if it was even possible.
Yellowstone National Park is about 100 miles from Bozeman. And my proposed trip was to load camping gear on top of my stand up board with waterproof bags and paddle into a back-country campsite along the shore of a distant lake. I had read that there were many in the park and all were possible with a canoe or kayak, but what about a SUP?
So on my birthday, I gave it a go. The day before I drove to the park and got a campsite near to the launch area. I had to get to the park headquarters and fill out the necessary backcountry permits just to be able to camp out there. So when they asked me what kind of vessel I was to use to get to the campsite and I told them what it was, it felt like a movie scene from a comedy where someone farted in a silent area with several people, and all turn and look at you slowly with an awkward bizarre look. They asked me again about what vessel I was to use and again I said the same thing. So we then proceeded outside where I was to show them because they couldn’t believe me when I told them twice what it was. So with a few scratched heads, they gave me my permit and sticker to legally pursue a back-country site.
My proposed plan was to begin paddling on the morning of my birthday starting on one lake. And then paddling to another lake via a small channel between the two, approximately six miles from my launch site. So with the sunrise straight ahead of me, I took off. The channel that connected the two lakes together was about 3 miles away, so I had to paddle across open water, away from the shore to get to the opening. And it wasn’t until then that I realized that this trip might be a bit scarier than I thought. What I pictured in my head was a gorgeous, serene, and quiet experience, where I could do nothing but enjoy my paddle in a beautiful national park, do some fly fishing, and just enjoy being in nature. But somewhere along that first paddle about half way to the channel, it hit me that I was alone. Alone in a very wild wilderness, where nature is everything. But things slowly began to fade from my memory when you see the sun rising in front of you and you see trout sipping flies from the surface of the lake, like one sips while enjoying a good glass of wine.
So with a few casts out to rising trout and another 30 minutes of paddling, I reached the opening of the channel. It was there where the beauty and the silence take over, and you simply realize how gorgeous the lord intended nature to be. I was in a slow moving body of water, fighting a small current where it was no wider than 20 meters. Shallow, crystal clear water where you can see species of trout and aquatic plants as clear as day. But it was quiet, too quiet. I enjoyed it and like I said, it was exactly what I wanted the trip to be, but it was so quiet that it was creepy.
But going through about four miles of that, I finally reached the lake where I was to set up and camp, kick back, and enjoy casting out to trout from the shoreline. Fishing off of the SUP was an interesting experience, and you can get to areas where you cant from land, but casting out without having to balance yourself, was a great feeling. And after a couple of fish later, I set up camp and did nothing but take in the view of a fresh breeze across the lake and the ending of the day with the ever colorful sunset.
Having only one nights worth of time there was obviously not enough, but when you are alone, and creeped out from every noise you hear in the middle of the night, you begin to think that you may have seen enough. The paddle back was a joy, a joy in that it wasn’t even a paddle. I had to fight a current on the way there so all I had to do on the way back was steer and take in the beauty. The channel was a blast of relaxation and beauty. The lake on the other side once through the channel, was a different story.
I had got to the lake where I launched and my car was parked, only to realize that the afternoon breeze had picked up and began early. I woke up early that day in hopes of being able to beat said wind, but nature intended something differently than expected. I wouldn’t have expected anything less from her. So with a head wind on a SUP, it is like a sailboat going against the wind but up river as well. So needless to say, my trip back to the car was a workout. But during that workout, I couldn’t believe that the trip was possible and so rewarding. So there are other trips planned in different situations around the globe and I truly wish that I could pursue more adventures with this new concept.