Washington – Day 8 – Mt. Rainier

Rainier Valley

Day 7 was partially taken up with our descent from Lake of the Angels, partially taken up with our loitering at the trail head pondering what to do next and partially taken up driving toward Mt. Rainier.  We stopped off at a hotel along the way as it was suspected that accommodations nearer Mt. Rainier would get more sparse and more expensive.  The next day that suspicion was validated – everything near the park was sold out or very fancy.  This also made sense once we got into the park and saw just how busy it was by midday.

Mt. Rainier
Mt. Rainier from the end of our hike.

We arrived at the White River entrance to Mt. Rainier around 8:30 and drove in.  The initial plan was to do two hikes, so starting at the northern end of the park, we went to the White River Campground to hike toward Rainier on the Glacier Basin Trail.  The trail is reportedly 7 miles round trip, but there wasn’t really an end destination, though looking it up on the map afterward, we went about 3.5 miles in, so I think we made it to the point we were supposed to.  Much of the hike was along the White River which was fed by glacier melt from the Emmons Glacier which is the largest in the lower 48 states.  We did see a team of five hiking along the glacier further up – and according to some person I overheard, hiking Rainier is relatively simple though being a multi-day event.
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Washington – Day 6 & 7 – Olympic National Park

Mt. Ellinor
View from Mt. Ellinor
Mountain Goat
Mr. Mountain Goat nestled into his rocky alcove hiding from the people.
Mountain Goat
Rock Licker

We actually got up early and left Aberdeen right around 7AM headed for the Mt. Ellinor trail head which we reached around 9:00.  I think there were two trail heads for Mt. Elinore and we were heading for the upper, which involved many miles of bumpy dirt road to access.  I have some philosophical thing against hiking past a trail head further in or up since it seems like an intentional deoptimization of the hike.

The upper trail was a 3.2 mile round trip with 2444′ of elevation gain.  We weren’t really carefully tracking elevation or trail distance, but we had made notes and looking back when writing I found it interesting to calculate the elevation ratios.  This one was a 3.46 to 1 ratio, which was notably steeper than the other climbs.

We knew there was a chance of seeing mountain goats, so we were asking people on the way up, (actually, Janet was asking people, I don’t talk to random strangers in the woods.) and the information was that there was one juvenile just over the peak.

When we got to top he was still there, nestled into a recess on the back side of the mountain, so we got to bag our first mountain goat sighting.  But then we hung around enough and he decided that we weren’t dangerous enough to prevent coming to the summit, so he did just that.  We stayed out of his way and let him stroll about licking the rocks for minerals just like the signs said they would.

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Tetons & Yellowstone – Badlands National Park

On the up-side, the campground in the Badlands had showers.  On the down-side, they were cold.  We did a variety of shorter trails on the second day.

Cliff Shelf Trail – a shorter loop following a boardwalk through juniper trees with a geologic slump.

Door Trail – a three quarter mile trail down a boardwalk through a break in the formations (the door) and out into the unmaintained area.

Window Trail – a quarter mile trail to a window overlooking where we had just been on the Door Trail.

Notch Trail – this was the longest trail of the day through a canyon, up a log ladder and along a ridge to an overlook of the White River Valley.  This was the most interesting hike, walking along a canyon ridge.

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Tetons & Yellowstone – Badlands National Park

Well, the title of this post is dumb because I’ve been referring to the trip as the Tetons & Yellowstone even though it also included the South Dakota Badlands.  The Badlands was kind of an add-on, somewhere to stop on the drive if we had time.  We weren’t exactly sure what to expect or how long we were going to want to stay in the badlands.

Mt. Rushmore

Our first stop was on the way to the Badlands in the Black Hills at Mount Rushmore.

While Mt. Rushmore might be an impressive National Monument, the general area is a complete tourist trap.  Keystone is a small town just outside Mt. Rushmore which resembles a year round carnival, kind of like Pigeon Forge, TN.  We drove through Keystone and continued up toward Mt. Rushmore.  There were occasional vehicles pulled over on the side of the road, which we found odd, given that we were less than a mile from the actual entrance.

Turns out, although the National Monument access is free, parking is privately run and cost $11, park passes not accepted.  Between that and a general distaste for the tourist trap we had just driven through, we decided not to pay, dubbed the entire place Mt. Shmushmore, turned around and just took some pictures from the road around the area.

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Tetons & Yellowstone – Mt. Washburn

We woke up and took some time to pack up camp as this was move-out day.  We were basically just going to head out the Northeast entrance to the park stopping for whatever we found along the way.

First find, ignoring the road side bison that we shot some pics of along the way, was a pile of people in one of the pull-offs  (#7) watching a black bear who was foraging and (briefly) taking a swim in the river.  We stayed there taking pictures for a little while.  It was amazing how much camera equipment was on the ridge.  I felt very under-cameraed… but most of these people were shooting pictures with the hopes of selling them.

Black Bear

Second stop was to see another black bear – this one cinnamon colored.  We didn’t get nearly as good of views of this one as it was back in the woods a bit.

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Tetons & Yellowstone – Yellowstone Falls

We started out the day with the plan to go see Yellowstone Falls and Artist’s Point (#3).  The ranger told us that there was 6ft of snow on the trail, but we figured he was just being cautious and we’d go regardless, like we had in the Tetons.

On our way to the Falls, we stopped to watch a coyote hunting in the field and got to see it successfully catch a gopher (or something similar) for breakfast.  It kept hunting for a while, but we did not get to witness a second successful kill.


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Tetons & Yellowstone – Norris Basin

Day two in Yellowstone we started with a visit to the Norris Basic Geysers (#4).  This, as you may be able to predict from the name, is right next to our campground.  We arrived pretty early and were among only a few vehicles in the lot when we got there.

The area has two major walking loops – the first one we did was Porcelain Basin and the second was the creatively named “back loop”.  This area was largely devoid of plants with only a few dead trees poking up through the mineral deposited ground.  There was steam coming up from vents, fumaroles, geysers and springs all around us.  Overall there’s a wide variety even among the individual types of formations – some are crystal clear , others are milky white with dissolved limestone, others red, some just look like pools with some nice colors around the edges, others are constantly bubbling or steaming, others are violently erupting at short or long intervals.

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Tetons & Yellowstone – Mammoth Hot Springs

We had a leisurely start to the day packing up all the items that we had laid out to dry and charge the night before, the stopping at the Walmart in Cody for foodstuffs and getting gas.  We got back into Yellowstone through the East entrance (#1 on the map).

We happened upon a herd of bighorn sheep not far into the park (probably around Sylvan Pass) and stopped to take pictures until they wandered across the road, hopped the fence and headed down into a valley.

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Tetons & Yellowstone – Hidden Falls

Day two’s Teton destination was Hidden Falls.  We got a little later start because we had to pack up the tent and move out of camp.  It was a clearer day, so we swung by the Jenny Lake scenic drive for some more pictures (and to let it warm up for the hike, because the morning was apparently 32 degrees when we got up).  After another stop at the ranger station to double check that we were making the best decision on which hikes to pick, we headed out to the falls.  We met up with a guy named Casey from San Francisco and hiked out to the falls with him.

Without realizing it, we took the “horse road” to the falls, which was a path (when we could actually see the ground) along the side of the mountain.  This must have been, by far, the less traveled path to the falls because there were no footprints for the most part.  We crossed at least one avalanche path where all the trees had been blasted down the side of the mountain.  We crossed a second steep area which, though it didn’t have signs of an avalanche (maybe because there were no trees there) seemed steeper and was quite possibly a little dangerous to cross.  Casey seemed to trust that we knew where we were going… questionable decision making on his part.

The avalanche path as seen from the upper trail. We, of course, crossed it again on the lower trail returning.

Somewhere in between those points, a snow storm blew through.  We just waited it out briefly.

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Tetons & Yellowstone – Taggart and Bradley Lakes

Having successfully made it through the night without becoming human popsicles, we headed to the general store and ranger station.  The store had a surprisingly large array of camping gear.  The ranger station had a nice fire going, which would have been nice to sit by, but there was hiking to do.  Neither had many people around – but that wasn’t surprising since we were there when the doors opened and the season had barely begun.

At the park ranger’s suggestion, we drove to the Taggart and Bradley Lakes trail head which was just a bit south of Jenny Lake where we stayed.  We headed out on the trail only to realize that the bear spray was in the tent.  Too late, oh well, and as you can probably figure by this post, we didn’t get eaten.

We started the hike with a couple from Florida at the start of the hike.  They had rented bear spray with their car (interesting business model) and we hiked with them for a mile or so maybe.

The trail was officially open, but there was clearly not much foot traffic and the snow was at least three feet deep based on a couple times when we punched through.  We hiked around Taggart Lake and up over the ridge to Bradley Lake – I think we saw some moose tracks on the ridge (moose instead of elk because they were huge and because the ranger said the elk were just starting to move into the lower reaches of the park).  I’m certain we were the first ones to go to Bradley Lake that day and probably for a few days.  There wasn’t really any well marked or defined trail – we followed old footprints when we could see them and otherwise just pointed ourselves in a general direction.  The lakes aren’t that far apart, so there was limited area in which to get lost.  We made it to and around Bradley Lake, visit the bridge on the far end and declared that the end of the hike.

Bradley Lake Pano
The Tetons behind Bradley Lake

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