Day 12: Mount Washburn

“There’s snow here. Deep snow.” We were standing at the Mount Washburn south trailhead, 8,500 feet (2,800 m) above sea level. Above us stood one of the tallest peaks in Yellowstone, gleaming in the bright afternoon sun. It was warm enough outside – about 60F / 16C – but there was no denying that the trailhead was completely buried in snow.

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We waited until our last full day in Yellowstone to climb Washburn for two reasons. One was to give the snowpack a chance to recede, since it had still been snowing in the park as late as Memorial Day weekend. The other was to give us a chance to get acclimated to the altitude before we made our most ambitious climb.

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The views from Washburn were breathtaking. There are two trails up the mountain, both of which were originally laid down as stagecoach routes. There aren’t any stagecoaches making the summit run anymore. In their place is a steady stream of hikers, eager to take in some of the best scenery in a place that has no shortage of beautiful vistas.

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The snow would get deeper as we climbed. In the early parts of the trail, it was the kind of lingering mush you have in the driveway after a snowstorm in March.

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In some spots the trail was completely clear and dry.

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However, the higher we ascended, the more snow we were seeing. And at some point, the trail became completely buried under a deep snowpack, and we found ourselves hiking on top of 6+ feet (2+ meters) of snow. In our shorts. In July.

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They say the altitude does funny things to your mind. We wouldn’t know.

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Nick and Anna, our fittest crew members and veteran soccer players, generally set the pace ahead of the rest of us. By agreement with Chelsea (because of wildlife) I brought up the rear – a right which I claimed as ‘lasties’ throughout the trip.

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Maria proved to be more than capable as an alpine explorer. She may have felt some need to live up to the standard of the other Maria, from The Sound of Music.

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There’s a fire observation tower on the summit of Mount Washburn. I would stop now and then and marvel at how far away, and how high, it seemed.

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In the last stages before the summit, we saw the deepest and most challenging snow conditions we would encounter on the whole trip. It was really amazing to see how stubbornly the snow was resisting the warmth of the sun.

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I was in happy disbelief when we finally reached the top.

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And the views were absolutely worth the effort. That’s the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone in the background behind Maria.

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They had a telescope in the tower, through which you could see Grand Teton, 75 miles (120 km) away).

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It was late in the day by the time we summited, and some late afternoon thunderstorms gathered in the sky above us. We descended as fast as we could manage across the drifted snow. The rains held off nearly until we had returned to the trailhead, and we were grateful that we made it back without getting pelted by rain or hail.

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Even a rainstorm looks lovely in Yellowstone.

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We ate a hearty dinner at the Canyon Soda Fountain, and retired to the Canyon Lodge lobby for a game of Uno – and a beer for your correspondent.

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Tomorrow: Rise and shine! Time for the Tetons.

Sixty-five years ago…

1946 was a busy year. In the wake of World War II, the first meeting of the United Nations took place that year in January. The World Bank was established to help rebuild Europe. Occupation forces in Germany, Italy, and Japan were coming to terms with the end of the war and the beginning of a lasting peace.

Back home in the States, the Basketball Association of America was founded, and a young Dean Martin teamed up on stage for the first time with another young fellow named Jerry Lewis. (Their first show went badly, and the club owner threatened to fire them unless they came up with something better. They did.)

One other thing happened on this day in 1946 that is worth noting. A German farm boy from Wisconsin married a girl from an Irish family in Philadelphia. They had met at the Navy Yard at the end of the war. And they went on to create a marriage for the ages, with a family that has thrived and prospered through the benefit of their love.

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There are fifteen people who directly owe their lives to these two people, and many more whose lives have been made better, fuller, and more meaningful by their example.

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Grandma and Gramps, thank you. Without you, we wouldn’t be here today.

Day 11: Fourth of July

Is there anything cooler than being in Yellowstone, our first national park, on the Fourth of July? How about we add some horseback riding into the mix:

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Early on the Fourth, we woke up and headed to the horse stables at Mammoth Hot Springs, where we had booked a one-hour ride through the sagebrush. Each of us would ride our own horse – the first time Anna has ridden on her own.

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We lined up at posts inside the corral and our horses were led over to us. The staff at the stables was wonderfully patient with our family of total amateurs, and they went out of their way to make us feel comfortable with our horses.

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Anna and Maria somehow ended up with the biggest horses in our group. We never understood why they would want to put little Anna on a bigger horse than, say, mine, but it was a funny sight to see. (You can’t really tell in these pictures, so you’ll have to trust me. It looked like Anna was riding Secretariat.)

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There were only two guests other than our family, so – in a continuing theme – we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We read a lot about crowds in Yellowstone before we got there, and it was a pleasant surprise to have so much open space and relative quiet while we visited.

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There’s a strict ‘no cameras’ rule on the ride, to keep folks from getting distracted and from startling the other horses. So we headed out on the trail and left our camera behind with the ticket taker, who snapped some pictures of us on our way out.

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The ride was a terrific experience – one of the highlights of the trip. We loped along hillsides, told bad jokes, and made fun of Maria’s horse for its slowness. Anna rode so well that we’ve been thinking about signing her up for some more lessons here at home. (Is there anything that girl can’t do?)

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From Mammoth we headed out the north gate of Yellowstone into Montana. We intended to spend the afternoon and evening in Big Sky, Montana (an actual place), where Chelsea had read there would be some special 4th of July events. Along the way we were going to stop in the town of Bozeman for lunch.

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We absolutely loved Bozeman, which is the kind of town that has a lively brewpub scene and an organic grocery store. (Our kind of place!) Big Sky turned out to be a bit of a bust – it’s a ski resort, not much of a town per se, and their ‘events’ turned out to be bigger on paper than in reality. Still, we were undeterred, and we got to enjoy some lower-case big sky country while driving around:

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We ended up looping back to the west gate of Yellowstone, stopping in the creatively-named town of West Yellowstone, Montana for their 4th of July parade and fireworks. The parade was every bit as corny and delightful as a 4th of July parade is meant to be:

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This tracked bus in the parade is an example of the vehicles people use to get around Yellowstone in the winter, when a deep snowpack covers all of the roads. Driving down the asphalt, the bus sent a deep rumble through the road and sidewalk that chattered our teeth.

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You already heard about our brief visit to Idaho. With the thunderstorms overhead, we sought refuge in a barbecue restaurant that turned out to have a themed dining room. Hard to tell in the pictures, but each table in the room was made to look like you were sitting inside a stagecoach. We got a big kick out of that.

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After dinner, we wandered across the street to a shaved ice stand. Chelsea and the kids have very strong feelings about shaved ice, and this place did not disappoint. I think they had about 25 or 30 flavors available.

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There was still thunder in the distance when it was time for fireworks, but the show must go on. Nick took some beautiful long-exposure pictures using Chelsea’s camera.

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Next: Deep snow and majestic views on Mount Washburn.

Quick post: At the racetrack

We’ll get back to the Yellowstone trip diary tomorrow. For today, I wanted to post a quick update on our life since then. We’ve been home from the trip for about two weeks now. For most of that time, we’ve had some guests in town – Chelsea’s cousin Jessica and her family.

This past weekend, we took them up to New York City for an excellent day trip. I’ll write more about that when I’ve made some more progress on the Yellowstone updates. The weekend before, however, we did something near and dear to our hearts – we took them out to the racetrack. Following are a couple of looks at the Spergers out betting the ponies.

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Most of you will remember that we made a trip to the racetrack two years ago, to celebrate my dad’s birthday. Like that trip, on this visit we set up camp in one of the family pavilions at the far end of the grandstand. We took the kids down to the stables to see the horses between races, and we made a few bets along the way.

Maria had a hard luck afternoon – I think she may have had one winning bet in about five races.

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Her brother and sister, who were picking horses in lockstep tandem, won money on just about every race where they picked. They didn’t end up winning much money on the afternoon, but they were constantly winning, which of course is great fun.

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Your correspondent also had a winning afternoon. I bet on six races and won money on five of them. Like Nick and Anna, I pretty much broke even on the day. But that’s a darn sight better than leaving a bunch of money behind at the track.

I’d like to go back again a little later in the season, when the weather is a bit more cooperative. It was 97F/36C outside and humid as all get out that day. Even so, we had a great time and we’re raring to go back again soon.

All right, back to the Yellowstone Chronicles tomorrow!