Monday, September 01, 2008

Trail Journal: Mt. Washburn

Trail: Mt. Washburn
Date: August 29, 2008
Distance: 6.4 miles
Elevation change: 1400'

As we are leaving Yellowstone in six days, this was our last major hike. It'll be sad to leave all of the fascinating landscapes here, but at the same time I feel like I've conquered Yellowstone. There will always be more trails to hike, but I've seen all of the major parts of the park, along with some not-so-major ones.

Mt. Washburn is the park's "most popular day hike," with about 10,000 visitors per year. However, when you consider that last year the park had 3,151,343 visitors, that means that only 0.3% of them hiked the most popular trail! Even so, the parking lot was pretty crowded.

Not long into the hike we encountered some mountain goats. I've never seen mountain goats in the wild before, and because they were on the trail, I hoped they would be friendly. At one point, there was one standing ahead of us, and one creeping up behind us. We had to make a quick decision to avoid being surrounded by wild beasts, so we decided to walk forward and hope we weren't noticed. Well, apparently we were noticed, because the goat gave a very severe vocal warning. We backed up and waited until the goat turned his head away before running past.

This trail is a little different from most because there is a fire lookout tower at the top (with a pay phone and bathrooms!) Having a visual of our destination made it all the more daunting. (See the tiny dot at the top?)

The trail used to be a road, a long, long time ago, and ran right along the edge of the mountain. As some points it seemed to disappear into oblivion.

Finally we reached the top, where it was incredibly windy and desolate. Apparently, the ranger who lives in the fire tower stays there all summer with no days off. I thought it would be an isolating and spooky job, particularly at night when you are all alone, it's pitch black, and the wind is howling. Here are a few shots from the top:

Even though the trail is "crowded," I'd recommend this hike. It's not as difficult as some, because the trail is long enough that the elevation gain is not drastic. It's the highest peak in the area, so there are great views along the way and at the top.

Apparently, Yellowstone has over 1,000 miles of hiking trails. Over the past 2 months, I've completed 15 of them, for a total of 46.25 miles (5 of which were a mountain bike trail.) Granted, that's not even 10%, but I'm still happy with everything I've gotten to see.

Like I said, I'll definitely miss the area. But, as it continues to get colder (it's 45 degrees today, on September 1st), and I am reminded by locals that they had over 20 feet of snow last winter, I'll be glad to be riding my bike in January in New Mexico, in shorts.

Stay tuned for the next National Park Adventure: in a month I'm going to the Grand Canyon for 4 days!
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