High on my list of things to do in Yellowstone National Park was to try to bag at least a couple of peaks that are over 10K feet above sea level. And I very much wanted to get at least one that was over 11,000 feet when we got to Grand Tetons. Although both parks are packed with peaks in that range (and over), many of them are parts of multi-day treks. Since Carole and Andy were with me and don't like to hike, I knew that I'd have to stick to day hikes to bag the peaks. So I picked out several that looked like easy to bag summits within a day.
My limitations turned out to be the road system in Yellowstone. Because of the low speed limits you can't really drive very fast (and shouldn't want to do so). Add to this the fact that there are often various traffic delays and it's even harder to get around the park. The Obama administration has sent a lot of funds to the National Parks to take care of the abuse and neglect that they suffered during the W. Moron Bush years. This meant that several of the roads in the Park were under construction and this caused detours and delays in excess of 30 minutes in getting from Point A to Point B.
The morning that I chose to hike the first peak on my list, Avalanche Peak, I didn't take into account the great distance from the lodging we were using, and the guidebook I was using had some just plain bad information in it that caused us to miss the trail head. Thus we overshot the location and drove past it needlessly and into a traffic jam caused by a road improvement project. By the time I figured out what was wrong we had to sit pass through the jam, then turn around and pass through it again. Thus, I ended up at the trail more than an hour later than I had intended. Instead of starting my hike at 9:30 am, I wasn't able to get started until a little after 11:00 am.
As I got ready to hike, Andy decided that the cut he'd gotten on the sole of his right foot the previous day was just too severe to allow him to hike. So he elected to stay at the car while I went ahead. It's supposedly really not a good idea to enter the back country alone, because of the presence of grizzly bears. Andy and I had just seen a griz shortly before we arrived at the trailhead. But the bear took off into a ravine and vanished as soon as it was aware of us. So that was a good sign that the griz really didn't want anything to do with me.
Still, looking at the warning at the beginning of the trail didn't do much for my confidence. "Don't travel alone" was the first warning there. In addition, I had just accidentally hit myself with pepper spray while checking out my bear spray! My thumb hit the button when I was checking the plastic safety on the bottle and I found my left hand covered in burning hot spray and some of it on my right eyebrow! Oh, joy. Luckily there was a creek at hand and I washed the stuff off. It's pretty potent crap and I can see how it can fend off bears. Deciding that the views and the experience would be worth the risk, I headed up, leaving Andy at the car to explore the picnic area and environs and listen to satellite radio.
The trail was, as advertised, pretty steep to begin. But nothing I hadn't experienced in the East. In fact, the trails in Yellowstone are so well maintained that they're like vast graded boulevards in contrast to the National Forest trails I'm accustomed to using. In addition, the air out west is so dry that I didn't suffer the long ordeals of sweating that I have to contend with here in the South. I hiked up that mountain relatively sweat-free!
At about 9000 feet I came out of the forest and onto the tree line. The trail flattened out and I was rewarded with a fantastic view of the bowl below the summits of Avalanche Peak! It was fantastic! I stopped there to get out my tripod and take many photos. After a short while another hiker appeared and we talked. His name was Russ Snider and he was from Colorado. He asked if he could join me and so we ended up hiking to the summit together and taking the unofficial loop trail down the peak and back to the Avalanche Peak Trail. One thing that I had originally wanted to do was bag Hoyt Peak in the same hike, but I was really low on water by that time and I was also worried about leaving Andy alone at the parking area any more. Five hours alone waiting for me was plenty, I figured. So Russ and I decided not to hike Hoyt Peak and pushed on down to the road.
The views from Avalanche were amazing. And I realized in an instant why the western hikers/backpackers/climbers who I encounter always have a jaded opinion of the mountains of the East and South. Yeah, we have some tough terrain in this neck of the woods, but what the high country of the eastern USA lacks is a true vastness and a sense of real wilderness. Our wild country is just so small and contained in comparison to that of the West.
After exchanging email addresses with Russ, Andy and I headed back to our cabin and Old Faithful Inn to get in some more day hiking elsewhere in the Park. But the experience of bagging my first over 10K-foot peak was under my belt! It was all that I had hoped it would be!
View from the summit of Avalanche Peak.