Friday, June 22, 2007

Yellowstone River/Specimen Ridge trail

I've been meaning to finish up my series of hikes in Yellowstone this May/June but work has been very demanding. Here is another entry for a favorite trail.

I started at the Yellowstone Picnic area not far from Tower junction on the NE Entrance road. This trail goes up to look over into the Yellowstone canyon between Tower and the bridge but on the north side of the river away from the road. This is a good area for black bear, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, coyotes, and ospreys. The trail goes right along the edge of the canyon affording nice views of the river and colored rocks. I was lucky enough to see 3 bighorn ewes resting along the trail, one lying down in the shade of a tree. As you can see, they weren't too upset by my presense. I also saw some pronghorn at a distance.

I stopped near the trail junction for the Specimen Ridge trail and took this view of the river looking upstream toward the Canyon, not visible here. I continued past the trail junction on the Specimen Ridge trail to another trail which heads down into the canyon. While the trail isn't visible from this picture, it goes through the trees and past the white thermal area in the lower left. I ate lunch not far from this spot and then I went a short way down into the canyon but decided I had hiked enough for a warm sunny day and went back up and back to Yellowstone Picnic area. Only 2 other sets of hikers on this trail today and I only met 1 group. Surprising for such a nice day. Much of this trail is fairly level and easy but the beginning and end are somewhat steep.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Fawn Pass Trail, YNP

Another trail report from Yellowstone Park.

On May 30th, I drove to the set of trailheads at the end of Swan Lake Flats, just before heading down into Mammoth. Several trails branch from this site on both sides of the road. I was surprised there were only a few cars in the parking area, usually this is nearly full by the time I got there, about 9 am. Maybe because the weather was spitting snow intermittently fewer people were hiking. I hiked across the flats until I came to the trail junction and then turned south to go on the Fawn Pass trail. So far the trail was relatively flat and completely open. Now I went through patches of trees and climbed harder. I found climbing exhausting, I'm not in great shape and not used to the altitude. Most of my hiking is done between 2 and 6 thousand feet and I was now above 7000 feet. About halfway up the hill before going into the Gardiner River, I saw a cow moose about 100 feet away, facing me. I continued rather warily, she probably had a calf nearby and might be aggressive. Just as I was nearing the top of the hill, I was something moving on the hill to the northwest. I stopped and used my monocular and could see that two bears were moving about on the open hillside. I found a place to watch them for a few minutes and satisfied myself it was a grizzly sow and cub. They were far enough away I wasn't too worried about them, maybe 350 yards distant. In the picture above, the sow can be seen as a small black dot between clumps of trees near the top middle. Obviously I don't have a zoom lens.

The sow was apparently digging roots and the cub was moving around somewhat randomly. After a few minutes, the sow abruptly stood on her haunches looking in my direction, then the cub ran into the nearby trees, soon followed by the sow. I was surprised and my first thought was that a male grizzly was in the area. After thinking about that for a bit, I decided I didn't want to continue on that trail and started down again. After I made my way down the trail a bit, I stopped and looked at the area where I had seen the bears. Soon, 3 hikers came over the crest of the hill which is probably what the grizzly had smelled or heard. At that point I wished I had continued up but decided not to go back. These were the only other hikers I saw during this hike.

I've seen grizzly bears in this area 3 or 4 times previously and I was very aware that I could meet one. I've also seen grizzly tracks many more times. This was for me a nearly perfect way to see a grizzly, at a sufficient distance but close enough I could watch for a while. And I liked most that I was hiking not sitting in my car.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Bighorn Pass trail

I just got back from Yellowstone NP and finally have some interesting hiking reports. While not my first hikes of the season, previous hikes were fairly mundane.

On Memorial Day I hiked part of the Bighorn Pass trail from the west side. I saw no one during the entire hike, it was almost as if no one had hiked or ridden on it since I left last fall. The weather was variable, windy, cloudy, and snowing lightly when I started and sunny when I finished. I went in past the Fawn Pass cutoff trail, about 4.5 miles total, when I decided I did not want to overdo and went back to the backcountry campsite and ate lunch.

The trail follows the Gallatin river through a broad meadow valley. For the distance I went in there is not much elevation gain, just a few bumps and once up along the hillside to avoid a swampy area. This time of year stock are not allowed on the trail because it is wet although the trail was fairly dry, even the snow didn't seem to add moisture. The hillsides were partially burned but some trees remained. Other hillsides are open meadow giving great visibility to search for wildlife.

I saw elk, mule deer, a coyote, and marmots along the trail, also geese and a hawk, I think a Swanson's. While eating lunch a cow elk came down and spent some time broadside to me, not browsing but not moving away, perhaps she had a calf nearby. When I saw the coyote, I was hoping for wolves but this unmistakable a coyote who was more wary of me than the elk, he moved away quickly once he saw me. No bears, although a large pile of scat close to the beginning made me more alert.

I've taken this trail a couple of times before and while I haven't seen bears or wolves, I have met others who told me about seeing them. Last fall, some horsemen saw 12 wolves in a pack earlier in the day. Another hiker I met a few years ago said friend of hers had seen a sow and 2 grizzly cubs in the distance the day before. I keep hoping to see both, I did see scat and tracks for both bears, not certain of species, and wolves.