Yellowstone and Mt. Washburn

June 30, 2017 - Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone, Wyoming, United States

At last we tried out our furnace!  Thank God.  It got down into the 30s last night.  Our lil’ Buddy heater could in no way keep us from freezing.  The furnace was a slice of heaven.  I woke up during the night with pain in my right foot.  The pain felt like a blister but I could feel nothing.  When daylight came I realized that a callous on the outside of my right heel had split down to the meat; deeper than a blister.  Dang.  I honestly didn’t realize that a.) I had a gross callous there, or b.) callouses could split and cause so much discomfort.  I applied a little "moleskin" and hoped that would do the trick!

We decided to forgo breakfast and head straight for our “hike of the day”; Mt. Washburn.  When I had suggested this hike I really wasn’t sure either one of us could accomplish it.  Mt. Washburn is the highest peak in the park at 10,243 feet in elevation.  We’d already noticed the difference in our breathing at the Badlands and that was a piece of cake compared to this challenge.  Mt. Washburn was known as a prime location for wildflowers and bighorn sheep; a herd is said to reside there.  The SlipperySlopeWhat I should have done prior to leaving our camp was review the “Best Easy Day Hikes” book I had purchased back in the winter.  Apparently, there are two paths to the top of Mt. Washburn.  Again, I accidentally chose the scenic route.  We pulled into the first trailhead and began our ascent at about 9:15 a.m.  We didn’t have any hiking sticks and rather scoffed at those who did.Fun on the trail


Initially the trail wasn’t as difficult as it was steep.  We fit more into the category of “strollers” instead of “hikers” and would stop as needed to rest.  About two-thirds of the way up, the trail turned to “snow-covered”.  Snowdrifts were feet high and even where there were edges of the trail clear of snow the sun had not yet melted the ice.  This was slippery, and slow-going.  We continued to climb.  The views along the way were spectacular.  We could see Yellowstone Lake and the yellow rocks of the canyon.  Eventually, we were hiking above the tree line.  I didn’t dare ask anyone, “How much farther?” but I sure wanted to.  At the summit of Mt. WashburnWe made it to the summit in 2 hours.  That’s what the book suggested the trail would take without snow so we felt pretty good about it.  Just as we were reaching the summit a couple bighorn ewes were peaking over the ledge at us.  Others had told us there were babes up there but we didn’t see any.


At the summit was a large group of German tourist having multiple pictures taken.  Of course we also wanted a picture with the “Mt. Washburn” sign in the background so I waited as patiently as possible.  We looked out from the observation deck and lingered for about an hour before heading back down the trail.  Just a short distance from the top we were interrupted by a group of young bighorn babes making their way down from the ledge to join their moms on the opposite side of the trail.  Sheep kidsCan I say that they were ADORABLE?!  The trip back down the mountain took nearly as long as it did going up; perhaps we shaved off 15 minutes.  Where the melt off had been frozen into ice, was now just mud and that did occasionally make things easier.  There was still a lot of snow to traverse; at least several hundred yards.View from Mt. Washburn


Once back to our car I realized that we had not taken the trail “in the open slopes of Mt. Washburn the entire way”; but had inadvertently taken the trail “harder on the nerves as it goes along a knife-edge ridge” (and did I mention?) covered with snow!  Dang.


We drove up to Tower Falls next.  The parking area was jammed with cars; as have all parking areas.  We’d barely scored a spot at Mt. Washburn.  I had hiked down to the base of Tower Falls with Taylor in 1997.  He had an adventurous spirit and while others were content to wait at the top, we wanted to see more!  There was a good view of the falls from the overlook and at a trail head; one trail leading in one direction, another trail leading in the opposite direction; was a sign.  The sign indicated that taking this trail would not provide a better view of the falls.  Taking which trail?  Having been to the base of the falls I interpreted this as referring to the trail heading off to the right.  Bill and I took the trail to the left; to the base of the falls.  It’s a steep incline all the way down to … nothing.  Once, nearly to the bottom it is able to determine that the sign was now intended for this trail.  The remainder of the trail was blocked for “habitat protection”.  My guess is that bear have probably taken over the area and people must now keep out.  Crap.  It is possible to hike down to the Yellowstone River but that was clearly not our intention.  As we hiked back up, we passed an older couple heading down.  On a hunch I asked them if they were intending to go to the base.  Indeed they were.  They had had their picture taken their 30 years ago and wanted to revisit.  They had read the sign wrong as well.  I could tell they were hesitant to believe me when I told them it could no longer be done.  They were on a tour bus with a 20 minute stop.  They chose to return to the overlook.  We also met a young woman on crutches heading back up this trail!  Very disappointing.Bill on the way to Tower Falls


We parked along the road between Tower Falls and Mt. Washburn for rest and refreshment.  While we were sitting along the rock ledge a truck drove around the curve.  A young man yelled out the window, “Hey, Bill!”  We were both quite surprised.  We paused there for a while in case this was really someone Bill knew and perhaps they’d turn around to say, “Hello.”  We pondered that it could just be some folks who had visited the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and noted the resemblance.  They did not return.


This was a good day.  We challenged ourselves and were pretty proud of our successful hike up the mountain.  At this point, what here could be any more difficult?  It wasn’t quite so cold when we returned to camp.  Bill built a fire and we acquainted ourselves with our neighbors who were visiting from France.  We will sleep well tonight!


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The SlipperySlope
Fun on the trail
Snowy Trail up Mt. Washburn
Almost to the top of Mt. Washburn
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