Friday, June 24, 2011

One of the 10K-foot Peaks I Climbed Last Year

As I sit here recovering from knee surgery, I present this photo album of my hike last year to the summit of Avalanche Peak in Yellowstone National Park. This was the very first mountain I have climbed that was more than 10,000 feet in elevation. I chose it because the hike seemed straightforward, was devoid of any technical climbing, and was relatively short in both mileage and duration. Also, it would be the best opportunity for a hike after a couple of days of acclimatizing to high elevation, after having spent a couple of night sleeping at, or above, 8,000 feet above sea level.

I'd never been to country so high, and I didn't know whether or not I'd suffer from anything like altitude sickness. So to be safe I figured a few days of easy day hikes around the park were in order before I hiked what, to me, was a big peak.

My son was going to hike the mountain with me, but the day before he got a pretty bad cut on his foot and so he decided to wait for me at the car while I made the hike. Just as we got to the parking area, we spotted a grizzly bear in a field near the road. I was able to get a number of shots of the bear. This was one of my major goals on this trip--to see a griz. The bear did not like us and he took off a moderate pace, apparently wanting nothing more than to keep a lot of space between himself and us. I got some shots of him with the regular lens, but by the time I got the telephoto lens on the camera he was pretty far away and I only got three quick photos of him before he descended into a small gully and vanished for good.

It was thinking of the grizzly bear that I began the hike alone.

There it was. Classic grizzly bear profile. Humped shoulder, frosted coat.

One of the few shots I got of it with the telephoto lens. You can see that legendary silvertip coat.

The trail sign as I began the hike, alone. I had already managed to shoot myself with the canister of bear spray. Fortunately, I was standing beside a fast running spring and was able to wash it off before it could do much more than sting me a bit. Happened because I was in a hurry to clip it to my belt. So I went off on the hike stinking to high heaven of spicy peppers. I was a walking taco.

The trail shortly after leaving the security of the road. I imagined a hungry griz around every bend.

Looking ahead, I could see some real mountains peeking through the trees.

Some kind of wildflower, some kind of insect.

I crossed a seasonal creek (dry by August) and looked back to spy some of the real mountains I had come to hike.

Shortly after that I could see the high country that had lured me west.

I had not been prepared to find the vast stands of dead pine forests in Yellowstone. Victims of the pine beetle that has spread like a virus, given longer feeding and breeding seasons due to the effects of human-caused global warming.

Just below the main peaks of Avalanche I could look across to see Hoyt Peak.

And there, in the base of this high bowl, were the slopes of Avalanche Peak.

The trail leading up to the summit far above.

Stitched panorama from the side of Avalanche Peak.

Another panorama. (Click to embiggen these panoramas. Well worth the view!)

Nearby Hoyt Peak.

The very wild and very rugged Absaroka Mountains.

Had to get this photo of me near the summit of Avalanche Peak. The first time in my life I had been over 10K feet (well, not counting as a passenger in a jet).

This is Russ Snider. We met up on the trail just below the summit. He was also nervous about hiking alone in grizzly bear territory, so we hiked together for a while. Nice guy. The mounds of rock behind him were wind breaks for climbers who have found themselves on the summit in blustery weather.

The Absorakas behind me. The skies in Yellowstone are fantastically clear.

I've read that there are easier routes to the summits of this pair of mountains.

When I stopped for lunch, some of these critters lit on my daypack. I have no idea what they were, but ever since my experience with the little solid black bumblebees in Pisgah National Forest, I have taken great care not to annoy such animals.

Being a southerner, I had to take a shot of one of the patches of snow I encountered. Here in the southern Appalachians, one just does not encounter snow and ice in the middle of August.

The trail along the high peaks. We took the trail that leads off to the left.

This was really unlike anywhere I've ever hiked. The closest I've come to this kind of terrain was in Baxter State Park in Maine, and on Mount Washington in New Hampshire.

Another shot of Hoyt Peak.

I kept wonder what it would be like to pitch a tent on the hill above this glacially carved lake.

I originally wanted to hike to the summit of Hoyt Peak, but since Andy's foot ended up being too sore for the trip, he was waiting in the car for me and I didn't want him to wait longer. Also, I was a bit afraid of late afternoon thunderstorms.

From the gap I could see Hoyt Peak behind me.

Back down in the beetle-destroyed pine forest, I could look back toward the heights of Avalanche.

These pretty blossoms were along the trail growing in the talus.

Some yellow flowers in the field near the seasonal stream.

One last look back at the ridges of Avalanche Peak.

On the way back to the lodge where Carole was waiting for us, Andy and I stopped at this roadside lake to take a few photographs. Yellowstone is so beautiful that it's impossible to describe. One has to see it.

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