Friday, June 11, 2010
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone may not be so enormous as the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, but that's no reason to look down on it. Unfortunately, that's the only view people will ever have of it - looking down from the canyon rim. The Seven Mile Hole trail is the one established trail that takes you all the way down to the river and lets you feel swallowed up by the canyon. At 5.5 miles*, it's a short distance, but since one and half miles of that involve climbing 1400 feet back out of the canyon, it feels longer.
This is the safe way to get to the bottom of the canyon. A couple week ago, two climbers died trying to descend frozen Silver Cord Cascade, a stream that makes a series of drops down the canyon wall opposite the Seven Mile Hole trail. From the news accounts, this isn't an insane climb to attempt and the two men weren't novices, but I suppose anything that couldn't get you killed wouldn't provide enough adrenaline.
Years ago, you could get near the bottom of the canyon right at the base of the Lower Falls via Uncle Tom's Trail, a series of ladders (nowadays stairs) and switchbacks. Genteel visitors would do this in dresses and suits, believe it or not; in the photo below, the gentleman to the right seems to have a great deal of dirt on his trousers, likely from falling or skidding. I'm sure their footwear was entirely inappropriate.
You can't take the trail all the way to the bottom any more, but it's still a strenuous little hike and a spectacular view, and also not free of danger. Lee Whittelsey's book Death in Yellowstone records a pair of people killed by falling rocks on this trail, but the only human fall from Uncle Tom's Trail happened a couple weeks after I took the photo at the top: a boy from Indiana was sitting on a railing above a particularly long drop off and lost his balance.
* The name Seven Mile Hole come from the distance down river from the Lower Falls.