Paddle powered, vegan fueled: kayaking and camping Yellowstone Lake without, meat, dairy

By: 
Liz Kearney

Imagine kayaking on Yellowstone Lake, exploring the remotest reaches of the lake, far from civilization. 

Livingston resident Parke Goodman, along with some friends, made that exact trip last week in Yellowstone National Park.  

Goodman, a local artist and co-owner of Mordam Art on South Main Street, went off for a five-night backcountry trip, leaving on a Monday and returning to Livingston by Saturday night. 

The trip was put together by Scott Hoeninghausen, a longtime Gardiner resident. Hoeninghausen said he got into kayaking about 16 years ago and has made dozens of kayaking-camping trips on Yellowstone Lake. 

They set off from Pumice Point, which is located on the park’s Grand Loop Road between Grant Village and Fishing Bridge. Pumice Point is on the narrowest point of the West Thumb bay. From there, they paddled across an expanse of open water that took them to the lake’s southern shores. They stuck close to shore as they paddled to their first campsite, not far from another bay on the lake, the Flat Mountain Arm. 

They had a couple of open water stretches to paddle across, but they were careful to do so early in the morning. Often in the afternoons, thunderstorm clouds and high winds kicked up, making the lake surface choppy. 

Yellowstone Lake sits at nearly 8,000 feet in elevation. Its waters are mostly ice most of the year, giving it an average year-round temperature of 40 degrees. 

“You’ve got about 25 minutes if you fall in,” Goodman said, referring to risk of dying from hypothermia. 

Goodman and his friends paddled from Pumice Point across to a lakeshore backcountry campsite on Flat Mountain Arm, where they spent two nights. They hiked around during the day, spying bear and wolf tracks. Fortunately, they never saw a wolf or a bear, but there were a lot of birds, including pelicans and bald eagles. 

On their third and fourth nights, they camped on the Southeast Arm of the lake, spending two nights there also. Goodman said he’d like to go back again and do more exploring up the Yellowstone River.

Motorized boating is not allowed in the arms of the lake, making for an even quieter backcountry experience. 

Their last night was on the eastern shore of the lake. They had time to do a little hiking on the Thorofare trail before they wrapped up their trip at Sedge Bay, where they had dropped off a car before starting the trip. 

The National Park Service requires backcountry campers to register in advance to camp in established backcountry sites. 

They saw only one other group of people in their five days, Goodman said. 

But one “group” they saw plenty of was mosquitoes. Their campsites were all mostly right on the shore, which provided a bit of a breeze to help keep the bloodsuckers at bay. Otherwise, there were often clouds of mosquitos. Goodman carried the well-known “Off!” brand of mosquito repellant and said it did a pretty good job. 

He also carried bear spray, even on the water. 

CAMP FOOD

Goodman and his friends all adhere to a vegan diet. Do you wonder what kind of foods vegans take camping?

Goodman said the three of them carried the whole gamut of vegan foods, from prepared boxed foods like hummus and chili, to nuts and seeds and on down to vegan junk food, including Oreo cookies and Pringles potato chips.

“There’s a lot of junk food that’s accidentally vegan,” Goodman’s wife, Bonnie, quipped last week.

Hoeninghausen, who brought the Pringles, said they’re great for camping because they remain uncrushed in the iconic Pringles can.  

Goodman packed food like Fantastic Food’s instant hummus and vegan chili mix, along with rice milk powder, apples and oranges, oatmeal and lots of fresh kale from his garden. 

Goodman said one of the cool things about kayaking is that you can carry a lot more stuff -- including food -- than you can backpacking. He even had room for a camp chair. 

Hoeninghausen said he brought along some prepared backpacking meals like rice and bean mixes to which you added boiling water to make a hot meal. 

He also packed vegan hot dogs and tofu-based “turkey” for sandwiches. And he recommends angel hair pasta for any camping food, vegan or not, because it cooks so quickly. 

 

IF YOU GO

Goodman said the campsites all had bear poles for hanging food, so take a lot of rope for slinging your food over the pole. 

A rudder for your kayak would be a good idea, too, to help steer in the rougher water. He also highly recommended a spray skirt to help keep you and your gear dry. 

And, as on any Yellowstone trip, have an assortment of clothing options available. 

“Be prepared for any weather conditions,” Goodman said. 

Hoeninghausen urged that anyone who camps in Yellowstone’s backcountry to carry bear spray in order to protect not only yourself, but bears, too.

“Do everything you can do to avoid getting a bear in trouble,” Hoeninghausen said. “Carry bear spray and wash your dishes far away from your camp, so bears aren’t drawn to your campsite.” 

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Liz Kearney may be reached at lkearney@livent.net.

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