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SURVIVING Yellowstone !


Yellowstone Adventure


I recently returned from an AMAZING trip to Yellowstone National Park with my Dad and Sister. AMAZING. The adventure was the last stop for me in the Summer of Mud, which also included the Mud Games and Tough Mudder.

The backpacking adventure is known as “Gallatin Crest Traverse” consisting of a 4 Day / 3 Night hiking and camping trip in Northwestern Yellowstone along a little known route that straddles the crest of the picturesque Gallatin Mountains. The route features some of the best views in Yellowstone, crystalline lakes, lush meadows, beautiful valleys and abundant wildlife. Total distance is over 25 net miles, “as the crow flies,” which actually becomes a much longer hike when considering the significant gains and losses in elevation throughout the trip. We estimate that the hike comes in around 30-35 miles roundtrip and has a difficulty rating of “4 – Vigoruous” from leading outfitters. It wasn’t exactly as difficult as the show, “Naked and Afraid.” But, it was a great challenge for us! Net elevation gain is almost 3,000 ft. In the backcountry, we only saw 2 locals on the trail in 4 days of the trip. Solitude was amazing.

Yellowstone Day 1

Trailhead Day 1 with our group including, left to right, my Dad, Sister, Me, guide Thad, John and CK !


Honestly, there were numerous warnings with regard to pre-hike preparations and fitness level, especially given the 30-40 pound backpack that we were scheduled to carry with our supplies, group meals, tent, sleeping bag, clothes, mosquito net(!), etc. For the most part, I ignored the warnings and figured that this would be no problem given my excellent fitness level. I was feeling VERY strong after performing well in the timed Mud Games race (finished 12 out of 1000) and demanding Tough Mudder event, all after my recovery from back and knee injuries earlier in the year. I figured that this would be a relaxing hike to end the Summer of Mud.


Ha, let me explain…

You see, being in shape does not necessarily mean that you are “in shape” for EVERY type of activity. I suppose I already knew this, but I had no idea how demanding the hike would actually be at times during the trip. My preparations included wearing a 40-pound weighted vest for miles on a treadmill at the highest grade it would go (10%). However, during the trip we ended up hiking up significant elevation, in the sun for miles at a time on obscure game trail with various obstacles. One day I even had what turned out to be approx. 80 pounds on my back. Being from the Midwest with relatively flat terrain, I am not even sure how I would have prepared for something like this. Regardless, WE SURVIVED, and I am most proud of my Dad at 69 years old!

Hiking Yellowstone


Day 1 hike was about 6 miles from the Trailhead to the campsite. The hike was considered by our guide to be “flat”, however, it was fairly challenging for us with approx. 1000 ft net elevation gain with a lot of sun plus the weight of our packs. This first leg also required us to get acclimated with carrying the packs for much of the day and general conditions of the hike including refilling water supply in the creek with special consideration to remove contaminants. There were a lot of segments with elevation gain and loss. When we arrived at the campsite, we concluded that Day 1 was tough. However, we had NO idea what was to come!

Julie and Mike Crest


Once we arrived at the campsite there were a lot of preparations to be completed before sunset including setting up the tents, separating out any food or items with odor to reduce chance of bear encounter, dinner, cleanup and some relaxation. We had a GREAT group and enjoyed the company, gourmet cooking and conversation.

Tent High Lake


Sleeping in the tent was a whole different story and I had some trouble with the hard ground on my back and getting comfortable with my problematic knees. I had a single tent and rolling on my side was a challenge for sure. And, for the life of me I could not find flat ground for my tent and always ended up sliding to the bottom of my sleeping bag! Anyway, no encounters with bear while sleeping, just some roaming elk, deer and moose in the area.

Day 2 of the trip was promoted as one of the toughest with significant elevation gain, although it was a shorter hike at only 4 miles net (again, definitely more than 4 miles overall). It was indeed very challenging, but I felt like the first day was harder. We did, however, slow down the pace and increase the number of breaks, especially as my Dad started to feel the effects of the hike on his legs. Oh, by the way, not only 69 years old, but my Dad also had knee surgery less than 2 months before the trip. Amazing story.

Family Yellowstone


Camping Day 2 was similar to Day 1, but we had the opportunity to cool off in High Lake. It was freezing (and the lake floor was deep mud)!

High Lake


We had more rest and relaxation on the evening of Day 2. And we needed it for what was to come on Day 3…

Overlook Camp


SO, what can I say about Day 3 of the trip? Well, it was the MOST DIFFICULT, physical challenge I have EVER experienced in my life. And, I have had some physically demanding trips, workouts, races and experiences. Day 3 was promoted as “the most rewarding” of the trip with “obscure trails only known to the natives”. Actually, there was no trail at all for stretches. Seriously, we had no idea.

After leaving camp we immediately hit the obscure trail and some significant elevation gain. Looking back, I wish I had warmed up more before we departed camp! It was a tough climb in the first 30 minutes or so. We needed to stop several times as the weight of the pack caught up with my Dad and his legs were having issues with the trail grade. I don’t know the exact grade, but it was WELL over the 10% of my treadmill. I was starting to feel it as well. We took a break at the top of the first climb and I offered to carry my Dad’s backpack in addition to my own. In my mind, and others, we needed to try to remove the pack weight from my Dad to see if that would help him make it through the balance of the uphill climb on Day 3. It worked, and, honestly, I enjoyed the challenge!

80 Pound Pack


Turns out I estimate that the total weight of both packs was around 80 pounds. Even more challenging, the second pack was strapped to the back of the first pack, so leverage was not in my favor. My legs, core and upper body had a tremendous workout for the rest of the day. A day that included another 5+ miles net (more miles overall), in the heat with significant elevation gain. And…

Over rocks…

Game Trail Rocks


Trees (come on, now, not fair)…

Tree Obstacles


Traversing steep, slippery, rocky landscape…

Rocky Traverse


With these stupid backpacks (trust me, I second guessed my pre-trip packing strategy the entire day. And, my Dad’s!)…

Big Pack 2


But, the experience of successfully completing the physical challenge while helping my Dad with some of the most incredible views I have ever seen made the hike on Day 3 one of the most memorable days of my life!

Overlook Mike


We made camp on Day 3 with some time in the lake and then dinner. My Dad, Sister and I went to sleep VERY early that night. Well earned, for sure! The whole group did a great job and I think for most of the group that stretch on Day 3 was the hardest they have experienced for hiking. It was a bonus that it was at Yellowstone National Park. In reflection that evening, I was thankful to have the opportunity to have fitness a part of my life and appreciated the strength gained from my Beachbody programs that helped me power through the day. I didn’t mind the rocky, uneven sleeping conditions (and rain) in the tent that night.

Day 4 was a breeze. The first 2 miles was straight downhill, 2000 ft elevation loss in that distance. The rest was mostly “flat” as we retraced the path from day one for the last 6 miles. Indeed, Day 1 was flat in comparison to the rest of the trip. It appears we were now more conditioned for the elements. We were so excited and proud to cross the finish line back to the trailhead at Specimen Creek. And, I am especially proud of my Dad and Sister for doing so well and getting to spend time together at a National Landmark. Time together that not only challenged us to our limits, but allowed us to experience that challenge together and with new friends. I will never forget this trip.

With that said, I am good on hiking for awhile:)

Special thanks to Wildland Trekking and our most excellent guide, Thad Miller, for one of the best trips of our life. Special thanks to Team members CK and John for sharing the experience!

Trailhead Finish

Trailhead Day 4 – We SURVIVED Yellowstone !!

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Premiere 5 Star Diamond Independent Beachbody Coach, CEO and Founder of TEAM RAGE, Mike Nowak Fitness, and How Do I Get Ripped, LLC. You are about to learn how I went from out-of-shape busy dad with significant travel, 2 kids and a wife to losing 20 pounds, 16% body fat and 7" off my waist while getting paid more income from home than my Ph.D. in Science & Engineering. Retired my Ph.D. career to focus on FAMILY & FITNESS!


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