Sunday, July 29 – Mount Washburn

As it turned out, I went on three hikes last weekend: the Ribbon Lake hike I blogged about, a  hike to Elephant Back (3rd or 4th time), and a hike to the much talked about Mount Washburn.  Mount Washburn is a 7 mile round-trip hike that begins at 8900 feet and ascends some 1400 feet over 3.5 miles. The condition of the trail varies from perfectly smooth to perfectly awful (as in, you have to calculate where to put your feet before moving forward). My neighbor, Jim Wyman, and I took this hike on our own because neither of our wives was inclined to give it a try.

This weekend Mary Ann wanted to climb the first half mile of Mount Washburn to photograph the incredible wildflowers in bloom over that stretch of the trail. So we donned our Walmart hiking boots (from Walmart’s Premium collection, for the discriminating cheapskate), packed some trail mix, Zone bars, and water, and headed north .

About two miles before the trail head we encountered what I’ll politely call a moron convention. A grizzly had meandered up from the woods and was strolling along the east shoulder of the road, headed in the same direction we were headed. Rather than being content to view this sad looking beast (his fur was mottled, his eye looked diseased, and there was a square patch of fur shaved off his right rump) in passing people were stopped mere feet away from him, out of their vehicles shooting photos. As the unfortunate bear made his way north, the cars would pull forward a few yards to keep up with him. There was even a motorhome with the living area door wide open and children hanging out to view the spectacle. At one point, a blond-headed doofus got too close and the bear lunged in his direction, sending him running for cover. This all lasted about 15 minutes until finally the bear stopped moving and the line of cars progressed past him one by one as the occupants filled their memory cards with images of this hapless maladroit.

Why did the bear cross the road?

We finally made our way to the trail head and began our climb. Dark clouds floated overhead and a cool, stiff breeze greeted us about a tenth of a mile up. And, sadly, where less than a week earlier dramatically colored fields of cheery wildflowers had covered the landscape, about one  third had died off, imbuing the fields with a brownish tint. Mary Ann declared that the wind would make it impossible to get macro shots of the flowers and made an impromptu decision to follow the trail to the peak of Mount Washburn.

And so we climbed. Somewhere between a quarter mile and a half mile up, snow with the consistency of mayonnaise  began falling in dollops all around us and I think we were both too surprised to remember to get the photo. The snow only lasted a few minutes and we pressed on, slowly, toward our goal.

We stopped for numerous gasping breaks, photos of bees in flowers, and to stare out in awe at the views. Occasionally a passer by would stop to chat and invariably the conversation would turn to the amazing spectacle of the grizzly by the roadside and the human heard thinning event that just missed occurring.

Looking up the trail to Mount Washburn

Finally, about 3 hours and 40 minutes after we began, we reached the summit, collapsing into the lookout hut for a brief recovery period. The views were incredible. From the top we could see Lake Yellowstone and two of its fingers and islands, deep into the canyon, and other mountain peaks, some of which were 25 miles distant.

We made it!

View from the top of Mount Washburn

After about half an hour it was time to head back down. The downhill trek uses different muscles than the climb but the condition of the trail was an assault on our feet, making the descent painful.

About a quarter mile from the top Mary Ann spotted a fox down the trail headed in our direction. And apparently the fox spotted us for he froze in his tracks. Just as Mary Ann pulled the camera out of the backpack (yes, I had once again wound up carrying all the gear) and got off a couple of quick shots, the fox darted off the trail, seemingly in pursuit of dinner. We scampered down to where the fox had been, looking to see what morsel he might have caught. Our eyeballs came up empty handed until I glanced up to where WE had been when we first spotted the fox. And there he was, back on the trail happily headed away from us, apparently having outfoxed us.

Foxy fox

About half way down we began hearing a steady chirping sound and searched the rocks above us to spot the bird that must be emitting this call. What we saw instead was a chipmunk, no bigger than a soda can, staring angrily at us, apparently telling us to go away. As we did, he calmed down. Quite the tough guy.

We finally returned to the truck for the drive back to our campground. Mary Ann had accomplished quite a feat (and feet) but was already suffering the consequences, with swollen knees and blistered toes. Once again, the Trail Degradation Crew had outdone themselves. But we  returned to the RV park with some awesome photos and a great memory.

Notes to the Trail Degradation Crew: how about taking some time off…

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