Today, sadly, was our last big hike of the trip. Our consolation is knowing that we still have a few days to go, but the majority of them will be spent driving home. To go out with a bang we decided to hike Mt. Washburn, our second summit of the trip. The hike was suggested to us by a ranger, and after doing a bit of our own research it appeared to be the one that would be perfect for us.
The one thing that made all of us a bit nervous was that the hike was in what was billed as “prime bear habitat”. Bear spray seemed like a pricey investment at about $40-$50 per can. We learned though that this year a new business, Bear Aware had opened in Yellowstone. They rented us a can for only $9 for the day and also offered some great advice about where to hike for the best chance to seem wildlife, wildflowers, and great scenery.
After getting our gear on we made our way to the trailhead to find it already so busy that we had to leave Bob in a somewhat questionable parking space. I was relieved that he was still there and ticket-free when we returned. We all found the trail surprisingly easy, I guess all the hiking we’ve done over the past month has paid off. Our hike was about 7 miles round trip. The same distance as Twin Sisters but with about 1,000 feet less elevation.
There were awesome views nearly the entire way up. We had a view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Tetons, and the caldera to the south. Occasionally we wrapped around to the other side of the mountain and had views of the northern part of the park as well.
By far the biggest highlight of the trip was all the animals we got to see. Our first animal encounter was with a yellow bellied marmot who seemed to take exception to our standing outside his home. We had merely paused to take off a layer of clothing, but he seemed to thing we were planning to move in. He gave us a bit of a stare down and then a mock charge before we decided to continue along and he decided to hide back under his rock.
As I mentioned above, the one animal that we weren’t too keen on seeing during the hike was a bear. The ranger who had suggested the hike, as well as numerous other sources, assured us that the best way to protect ourselves was to make a lot of noise as we walked. I interpreted this to mean that we should sing a lot and the “Bear Scare Song” was born.
We quickly reached the summit where we found the best cell service we’d had in the park. Ellie called Lily to say hello from the top of a mountain, then both girls called to say hello to grandma. From the summit we had been advised by the Bear Scare people to take the Mr. Washburn spur trail just a bit further. We did and were very quickly rewarded with fields of beautiful wildflowers. After posing for some pictures we started heading back to the summit. Molly suddenly stopped and told us all to turn around. We were shocked to see a herd of big horned sheep following us. They seemed to be indifferent to our presence, but with three babies among them we didn’t linger for photos for too long.
As we began our descent we saw a small storm approaching. Ellie wasn’t too happy with the development and proceeded to try to convince it to leave us along by repeating “sun come out, rain go away” over and over. The rest of us focused on getting back below tree line and singing the bear scare song. We did have some brief showers and a couple rumbles of thunder, but nothing major.
Shortly after the storm we had what may have been our coolest animal encounter. As we rounded a corner I saw a fox walking down the trail toward us from the other direction. He seemed to be heading higher up on the hill, but it may just have been our quick modification of the bear scare song to a fox scare song that convinced him to do so. In any case, he left the trail and passed by about 20 feet off the trail, 10 or so feet above us. As he did we noticed the large fish in his mouth. Apparently he’d already found his dinner.