Contributing from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Hiking Electric Peak
Stats: Electric Peak, Yellowstone National Park: 20 miles as an out-and-back. Our time:12 hours and 37 minutes with 3712 ft of elevation gain (start elevation: 7280, summit: 10,992).
The summit of Electric Peak sits in the state of Montana while the portion we were hiking is in Wyoming within Yellowstone's boundaries. This was an impromptu thing as we had planned to hike Mt. Washburn before it closed but hiking Electric was an opportunity that we had been talking about for a few seasons. Honestly, I didn't think this adventure would happen but here we were- prepared or not.
Screen-shot from All Trails app
It’s 630 in the morning and 38 degrees. Isn’t this supposed to be summer?! I only brought a fleece, a rain jacket, and a wool beanie. My hands were like ice, but I figured I'd enjoy the chill while it lasted a split second.
This hike starts from the Glen Creek Trailhead near Mammoth Hot Springs in the northern part of Yellowstone. Right now, the parking lot is under construction, so we had to park across the street at the Bunsen Peak trailhead (another doozy of a hike as far as elevation gain; in two miles no less). We had planned to hike to Mount Washburn this July 4th, but the day before another hiker had invited us to join him for Electric. Apparently, this dude has hiked to the summit every year for the past ten years so we were pretty lucky to have an experienced person with us.
The trail was leisurely and relatively flat with meadows, streams, and forests. There wasn’t much wildlife out which was interesting because it was so cool out that morning we were expecting to see a few animals. We were taking it pretty slow and easy knowing that once we hit mile 8 it was going to get beastly. 9 AM hit and we were getting eaten alive by mosquitoes now that it was warming up. We make a sunblock and bug spray pitstop.
Electric Peak in the distance around 7am. Photo by author.
Between miles 8 and 10 (the summit) the elevation increases from 8500 to 10,992 and the trail is not marked. It’s more than three hours into this trek. I am not the best hiker out there and I was sucking wind and stopping every 5 minutes. The boys would stop, and we’d talk about the geology of the rock formations or try to identify an animal by its scat. Mr. Electric let me use his trekking poles for the steepest portions. I have a pair and considered bringing them for river crossings (fords which never happened) but didn’t want to carry any extra weight. Well, now I know better and am converted. It took us an hour and a half to move one mile (I use my Garmin watch to track my pace and even though the watch died right as we were getting back to the car it still saved all my info!).
Hitting mile 8. Photo by author.
We are approaching the summit. The Knife’s Edge is an area of complete exposure to the elements where it’s wide enough that you don’t feel like you’ll be blown over either side of the 30-foot drop-offs into fields of scree (loose rock) but still need to have your feet firmly planted and hold on to.. something. This was called a Class 3 scramble where you can mostly move hand over foot to get one of the false summits. There were three.
Rock pilings at the first false summit. Photo by author.
The boys were super patient as I slowly made my way up and over. I'm not the most experienced climber so this was pretty nerve racking. Let's just say: I wouldn't want my family members to do this because I'd worry sick about them.
Everything else was a scramble over loose rock and we made sure there was plenty of space between the three of us so if a large piece came loose we weren’t having to radio for a rescue for someone with a busted face. The approach and taking of the summit at mile 10 took a little over two hours.
Looking back over my shoulder: Cache Creek. Farther away to the right: Swan Lake near the trailhead.
Photo by author.
After a quick lunch break we made our way back down. Mr. Electric went back over the Knife’s Edge while my partner-in-crime and I chose to crab-walk and slide down the scree field. According to him it was safer even if it took us longer. We had to scout a climbing route back up the “trail” but I was relieved to start heading downhill.
Surrounding mountains. Photo by author.
Never in my life have I had knee pain like this. I couldn’t quite get the rhythm of going downhill with trekking poles. I was moaning and groaning until the boys started walking backwards. They were going faster than me and saving their knees. Genius.
Finally, back at where mile 8 began (we're now at 12 since we were going back the way we came), we laid out on the grass (later to be crawled all over by ants), had snacks, and watched the clouds. This is perfect. Eight leisurely miles to go. Except for the mosquitoes. We made one water-refill pitstop because we didn’t want to carry extra water (weight) if we could just filter along the way.
Purinize at the summit. Photo by author.
My joints hated me that day. I felt a hundred years old. It got to the point where any slight downhill I’d jog because it felt better on my knees than walking. The last five miles I was convinced that I enjoy torturing myself as I used my hat to constantly swat at the mosquitoes threatening to carry me away. Less than two miles from the trailhead a bison is blocking our path. Since we were in a meadow we walked off-trail and gave him a wide berth. Just a mile left, and I look over my shoulder at where we had just been a few hours before. The sun was lowering in the sky and had cast Electric in silhouette. I can’t believe I did that.
Silhouetted Electric Peak. Photo by author.
Back in the car I say, “Well guys.. WE DID IT! Some parts were miserable… and terrifying, but this was a really great day.”
For now, I think I’ll admire her from my porch for a few years.
About the Author
Vanessa originally hails from Florida but moved out west to work as a park ranger in Montana after experiencing California's Yosemite National Park. She now works year-round in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.