September 2, 2010

Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone NP

The hike to Mt. Washburn peak is the most popular dayhike in Yellowstone National Park so we couldn't visit the park without doing the hike. There are two options to start the hike, the first is to start at the trailhead on Dunraven Pass on the Grand Loop and the second is drive to Chittenden Road and start the hike from there. The trail from Chittenden road is slightly shorter and more exposed. We chose to start the hike on Dunraven Pass, which is at 8859 feet elevation. There is a parking lot there for about 20 cars and RV's, it fills up quick so its best to get there early. There is also a pit toilet. After layering up and grabbing our bear spray we headed out to the dirt trail. Most of the trail is an old road that is no longer used so it's wide in most parts. It starts with a steady climb right at the beginning. Since it was a cold morning and had been cold that last several days, there was some snow and ice scattered throughout. Going up the trail we went through several alternating sunny and shaded areas. Very soon on we could see great views of the Yellowstone Caldera. We were pleasantly surprised that we didn't have to put in too much effort before reeping the rewards of this hike, the views. After a few switchbacks we came across a group of young bighorn sheep on the cliffside. These were the first and only we saw on our trip so we took time for pictures.
A little further up the trail we saw our first pika. It was smaller than we had anticipated and after more pictures we pressed on. Mt Washburn Peak was in clear view at this point, along with the fire lookout tower. After circling around the peak on gravel trail we made it to the top. The 360 degree view at the peak was amazing. The clouds from earlier in the day had cleared. We could see Hayden Valley, Yellowstone Lake, Canyon, and nearby mountain ranges. There was a large space at the peak to take a break and eat, as we found many people doing. We joined them for our break while continuing to admire the views. We also explored the building and were able to enjoy even more views on the balcony on the second level. There was a fire lookout tower, interpretive displays, calling card pay phone, public telescope and a display of the caldera. There were also several pit toilets here that were surprisingly clean.  After about one hour we headed back down the trail. We saw the sheep again on the way down as well as a marmot. As it had warmed a bit we had to shed some of our layers.
The views were great on the way back since the sky was clear. We took more pictures on the way down and much of the snow and ice we had seen on the early part of the hike was now gone. After about 4.5 hours total we were back at the parking lot and it was nearly full. The 6.4 mile hike was great and the views were also. We can understand why this is such a popular hike. We recommend getting to the lot early and making sure you layer up for the hike as the weather can change without notice and afternoon storms are common.