Sunday, May 23, 2010

Backpacking Shenandoah National Park - Austin Mtn to Furnace Mtn to Black Rock Summit loop

DOUBLE CLICK ON ANY PICTURE TO VIEW IT IN A LARGER VERSION

May 21-23, 2010

Chris Nixon, Patrick Mumm, Sam McGrath, and I left Virginia Beach around 5 pm for the drive to the Shenandoah National Park. We made it there in about four hours and found our way to Loft Mountain just before dark. We found a pleasant campsite and hurriedly set up our tents. It was supposed to rain so we brought car-camping tents so we could throw those tents in the car if they got wet and at least start out with a dry pack and contents (including tent, tarps, etc).

We got up Saturday morning around 6 am, made oatmeal and coffee breakfast with the Jetboil, washed up (with hot water in the bathrooms!), and broke down the tents. Because the reservation kiosk still wasn't open, we deposited our $15 camping fee in in an envelope and headed to the Loft Mountain Wayside to get our backcountry permit. Made out the paperwork and deposited the copy in the assigned container and headed to Blackrock parking lot for the start of the hike.

We begain the hike at the Blackrock parking lot. The Appalachian Trial (AT) ran right along side and we got a photo at the concrete sign post and began the hike heading north towards Brown's Gap.

The start...


It was an easy section, and we were going 2 mph or slightly better. It was overcast, but cool and pleasant for hiking. We were all secretly wishing the rain to stay at bay.

Hiking on the AT...


Along the way we came across a five foot-long black snake which Sam and Patrick agreed was a black rat snake. IT climbed up a nearby tree and slithered into a hollow in the tree. Even though we were more interested than scared, watching it slink into that hole in the tree still gave us the heebie-jeebees.

The snake...


When we got to the Brown's Gap parking area we had a choice to go up the AT or follow the Madison Run Fire Road. The boys were using a Hiking Upward trail description, so we stayed on the Fire Road for 0.8 miles until it intersected with the yellow-blazed Big Run Spur Trail. Up we go (!) for 0.3 miles to a ridge and intersect the blue-blazed Rockytop Trail.

The Madison Run Fire Road...


Big Run Spur Trail...


We continued on the Rockytop Trail for 0.4 miles to the intersection of the blue- blazed Austin Mountain Trail. The trail was mostly ridgeline and we enjoyed the hike and all the mountain laurel in bloom along the way.

Mountain laurel on the Austin Mountain Trail...


We started to descend and passed a number of rock slides, and then continued to descend down to the valley and reconnected with the MAdison Run Fire Road.

Rock slides on the Austin Mountain Trail...


We were making good time as we stopped at the intersection of the Madison Run Fire Road and the Fernace Mountain Trail. We decided to stop here for a meal. We were worried about the lack of water near our destination camp site at the summit of Furnace Mountain so we decided to eat our "just add boiling water" dinners for lunch at the Madison Run and save our fresh water supplies for breakfast and drinking along the rest of the hike. We'd eat our tuna sandwiches (no water needed) for dinner at the water-less Furnace Mountain summit.

Chris pumped water while the Jetboil boiled. Within a few feet of the Fire Road, we had a couple day hikers pass us and watched a man running and calling after his freedom seeking and unleashed dog. After a too-hearty mid-day meal, we began the climb of Furnace Mountain

Pumping water on the (lithium-free) Madison Run...


We were climbing in earnest now! We climbed steadily, but took plenty of breaks over the next 1.8 miles. The flowering mountain laurel kept framing beautiful views of the foggy mountains.

On the way up Furnace Mountain....


Ascending the trail made it seem longer than it was, but we finally made it to the saddle and the intersection with the Furnace Mountain Summit Trail. We turned lft and continued up! Argh! About halfway up the half mile Summit Trail, it began to rain, lightly at first, but it steadily kept notching up a bit, right on the brink of breaking out the rain gear, and then we found the campsite.

We hasilty put up the tarps, stowed the packs underneath, and then set up the tent and the hammocks. It was only around 3 o'clock and were bummed at the thought of sitting around for the next 6 hours under the tarp in the rain. We donned tain gear and walked the couple of hundred feet to the summit overlook - a large table rock with nice views to the northwest. Unfotunately, because of the weather, there were lots of low clouds and fog, so the views were obscured. We headed back to the campsite and Chris and I cought some Z's. The rain stopped and we headed back to the summit overlook. It was nicer sitting on the rok watching the clounds roll by below us so we got the cards, and Sam and Patrcik schooled Chris and I in hearts.

Card sharks at the Furnace Mountain Summit overlook...


The campsite...



We ate our tuna sandwich dinner around 6 pm at the overlook and then retired back to camp for a round of spades. Chris and I regained a modicum of dignity by winning a Wolfe-style 2 out of 3 tournament series. My nil failed in round 1, but Chris' was successful in round 2 to pucsh us toward victory! We packed it in shortly after 8 pm and fell asleep quickly.

Sunday, May 23

Got up around 6 am, and started to take down the camp. Took down the bear bags, grabbed the food, made breakfast at the summit overlook, and then finished up getting all our stuff together.

The Sunday morning view from the overlook...


We hit the trail again around 8 am and backtracked half a mile down to pick up the blue-blazed Furnace Mountain Trail.We were disappointed, but soldiered on up and up the trail taking breaks along the way. We climbed steadily for 2.1 miles to reach the Trayfoot Mountain Trail. We met some AT club volunteers who asked us about treefall blocking the trail somewhere from the Furnace Mountain summit spur trail and up Furnace Mountain trail to the intersection with Trayfoot (since they were coming to clear it). But we advised them they had gotten bad intel. They saw my hat and we talked a while about some rare violets they had found at Douthat State Park and then they continued on their way for a nice day hike sans work.

We were thankful for some nice descending trail and had to climb just a bit to make it to the Blackrock area with great SW views of the rock slide in the lower section and then nice NW views in the summit area.

The lower Blackrock trail section...




Blackrock rockslide...


Blackrock summit area with views to the northwest...


Sensing the the end of our hike, we continued on the AT for about a third of a mile where Patrick and Sam took the shortcut (by maybe 100 feet) while Chris and I stayed true and took the parallet AT back to the Blackrock parking area. We were happy to get back to the car, changed clothes, and headed back to the Loft Mountain wayside to look for some trail books and hydration.

Heading north on the parkway, we couldn't help but stop and admire the mountain view, especially the particularly beautiful one at Big Run overlook.

Big Run Overlook...


It was a good trip, even with the forecast of rain. It's always nice to spend time at elevation - with friends, with scouts, and with good humor.

Key West, Spring Break 2010

Family Camping Trip to Yellowstone, Day 9

August 26, 2009
Canyon Campground to Old Faithful Lodge

Got up and had a simple breakfast of oatmeal. The girls went horseback riding while dad did laundry. We broke down camp and packed up for the last time, and drove back to Upper Geyser Basin and the historic Old Faithful Lodge where we would spend out last night in the Park.

We stopped along the way at the Yellowstone River and had lunch - tuna fish and chips.

We checked into the Old Faithful Lodge and got keys to our room in the original building section. The shared bathrooms were tiled and beautiful and there were beautiful old tubs that I'm sorry we didn't take advantage of!

Old Faithful Lodge...




The girls shopped while I went to the backcountry office, modified my permit to start off on the Buffalo Plateau trail the next evening and I also got my Montana fishing license so I could legally fish on the Buffalo Fork. The lad from the Youth Conservation Corps was most helpful, using his personal cell phone to track down info and then using the computer to register me online and print out my receipt. WOW - what service!

Old Failthful backcountry office....


After taking care of the backcountry permit, I did a little gift shopping and SHOWERED! We had a lovely dinner in the Lodge restaurant. I had the pork chop special with apple glaze and Kathi had steak and shrimp with fried risotto - we even tried a little farmed bison meat. It was good. Dana, of course, had grilled cheese and fries and Hailey picked from the buffet. Mom and I also had Gouda soup (tomato base?) Excellent!

Cleaned plates....


After dinner, we sat on the second story deck/porch and watched Old Faithful blow and recounted stories of our trip as the sun went down. Perfect!

the "porch"...


Old Faithful letting it rip!


After dark, Hailey helped me look for Mars which was supposed to be particularly big and close.

2 out of 3 camping beauties!


Feelin satisfied, we hit the rack hard!

Family Camping Trip to Yellowstone, Day 8

August 25, 2009
Canyon Campground

We got up and made a breakfast of eggs, sausage, and coffee. Our cookstovee gas ran out so Kathi cooked the last of the eggs over an open fire. Nice!

I went to the backcountry office at Canyon and asked about camping at the Buffalo Plateau patrol cabin and the Ranger said No Way!

This was our next to last family day in Yellowstone and we had rearranged our schedule to be able to climb Mount Wasburn with good weather and clear skies so we could make the best of the views. It was also good to do the hard work on this day before we splurged and stayed in the Old Faithful Lodge the night before our early morning drive to the airport.

We were a little late in getting to Dunraven Pass by 11:00 am. In retrospect it would have been better to get an earlier start. We started at 8,859 feet in elevation and were climbing to 10,243 ft. At the beginning, the path was easy enough, but Kathi's lingering bronchitis had her struggling with the altitude and thin air. We took it slow and took rest stops as needed. The views all along the way were spectacular! I think Backpacker magazine rated this hike in the top three family hikes and I would definately agree!

Beginning the climb...



We saw marmot at the bottom near Dunraven Pass...


As we climbed, think I freaked Kathi out when she asked where we were hiking to and asked if it was the peak in this picture on the right.

Mt. Washburn in the center of the picture - way in the distance!


I looked at the map, and had to respond that it was acctually the small peak in the center of the picture, the one with the little point in the clouds. Not even through the first hour of hiking, that almost sparked desertion! Luckily, everyone agreed to soldier on - Dana "hiking" in her Crocs. She probably would've done it in flip flops if we let her.

The views continued to Wow us - especially the view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone which we had seen before from the rim. But this was a whole new perspective!

Mountain Views...


Happy Campers!


Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone....


(Careful editing =) More Happy Campers....


Mountain views...


On the way up, Dana and Hailey stopped to speak to every brash, handout-seeking, ground squirrel they saw (many). They got nothing but slight of hand from us.

Ground squirrels....


As we continued up, the trees started to thin out and the landscape took on that lunar look, but the panoramic views just kept getting better and better.

Above the tree line....




Nearing the summit...


After about 3 hours to go the 3 miles, there was great relief as we neared the summit. Once on top, we had lunch and took a well deserved rest. We scanned the lower slopes for bighorn sheep and saw a few off in the distance. At the summit, they had a cool lookout with maps of the names and locations of all the visible mountains in every direction. So, I took advantage of the the elevation and located the Buffalo Plateau where Tom and I would be hiking into the backcountry - also to a topographic crest of about 10,000 feet. I was psyching myself up!

We made it!


Mountain Profile Map Showing Buffalo Plateau...


The Real Thing!


On the way down, we spotted a Pika in the rock wall along the path to the summit. We enjoyed watching this hamster-sized creature dart in and out of the rock crevices to spy on us and then dash for cover. The girls always appreciate cuteness!

The Pika...


We made the return trip down Washburn in 2 hours - a long day, but well worth the views. I joked with Kathi that now she could brag to her friends and claim the disticntion of having bagged her first peak over 10,000 feet. She laughed wryly and said that her friends wouldn't care and I shot back that she needed some new friends!

Nearing the End of the Trail...Back at Dunraven Pass...


Kathi also confided in me and told me something the girls said in and exhausted state on the way down Mt. Washburn. "Where the heck is Dad dragging us to tomorrow!" We both had a knowing laugh. They were glad to learn that was our last march, er I mean hike!

We made our way back to Canyon, and had an early dinner while most other people were out and about. It was quiet and peaceful. That was until a black bear cub decided to wander through the campsite next door (where the residents sprayed something over everything they owned - idiots!). The bear cub was definitely interested in their spray as he sniffed everything they had sprayed. We kept waiting for a mother bear to arrive and were vigilent about not getting between mother and cub (a dangerous situation), but the mother never materialized. This made us more worried for the cub since it would likely be tracked down and killed. They say in Yellowstone that "a fed bear is a dead bear" and it seemd like this cub had learned to associate the campground with food. Tragic!

Black bear cub sniffing around next door...


Dinner was hot dogs and mac and cheese. Later that evening we went wildlife spotting in the Hayden Valley. We got a good spot early and it was nice how the folks with the expensive spotting scopes let everyone have a look at what we saw and the people with digital cameras shared pictures of wolves, bears, and other interesting animals with the kids. We heard lots of cool stories. We were hoping to see wolves, nut alas, did not. We did see a BIG grizzly roam lazily across the valley for about an hour - much to everyone's excitement. In addition we saw elk and bison. Closest we got to the wolves was to hear them at night, but that was cool too.

Spotting wildlife at one of the Hayden Valley overlooks....




Christmas day in Yellowstone did not disappoint.

Family Camping Trip to Yellowstone Day 7

August 24, 2009
Canyon Campground

Today is our anniversary and we also learn it is considered "Christmas Eve" in Yellowstone and all the shops are festooned with Christmas decorations. Interesting!

Pancakes and bacon (!) for breakfast before the drive to the Norris Geyser Basin. On the way, we take a 3-mile one-way side road along the Gibbon River to see the Virginia Cascade and Meadows. More beautiful water!

The Virginia Cascade...


Once we got to the Norris Geyser Basin, we walked the 1.5 miles around the basin's boardwalk trails. Lots of beautiful views of the geyser's steam rising above the valley with mountains in the background.

Steamboat Geyser....


Geysers in the Valley....




Thermal Creeks....


We cruised around the Norris campground where we had wanted to stay (but didn't because they don't take reservations). Nice campground. It was full.

The View from Norris Campground...



We ate lunch at the Beaver Lake picnic area - leftover pancakes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Continuing on towards Mammoth, we were interrupted by bison in the road (much to the girls delight). We patiently enjoyed their slow progress across the road and the girls laughed at the "dumb" male calf for eating plastic tape off a marked roadside tree.

Bison in the Road...

Mother and Calf....


The girls dropped me off across Bunsen Peak, and I hiked the Howard Eaton Trail (Golden Gate to Mammoth). Traveling through the Hoodoos rock formations and into the back country of the Mammoth Hot Springs, this was my favorite dayhike in Yellowstone. It was an easy trail and there was so much diversity in landscape, gorgeous views, interesting thermal features, a MUST DO hike.

Start of the hike on the Howard Eaton Trial...




Looking back towards Glen Creek and Gardners Hole...


Mountain Views...






The trail to the Hoodoos...



Cool Rocks...


The Hoodoos!



Montana paintbrush...


The Trail Continues...








tree grove...


wolf prey????


nearing Mammoth Hot Springs...


busy insects...




ancient geyser....


thermal features only seen from the trail...



Kathi and the girls picked me up at the appointed time and we drove to Slough Creek to recon the exit point for my backcountry hike with Tom Crabbs.

Lamar Valley near Slough Creek...




Pronghorn in the Lamar Valley near Slough Creek....


On the way home, we scanned the Lamar Valley for Wildlife, got some provisions at Roosevelt, and continued back towards Canyon Campground. Suddenly, near the Mount Washburn trailhead, the car in front of us came to a stop, and there, not a couple hundred feet from us was a grizzly bear! Most astonishingly, he was peacefully eating flowers and seemed unconcerned with the growing line of traffic. Kathi and I switched seats so she could drive and I could take pictures out of the car window. Amazingly, and against all park runs, some idiots got out of their cars and approached the bear. We took our pictures and moved along so others could get a look before the idiots scarred the bear away or he ate someone.

Grizzly!!!!


Back at the campsite, we had a dinner of spaghetti, pasta and butter, and quesodillas with sausage and peppers. We uncorked a bottle of Pinot Grigio to celebrate our anniversary, built a fire to cook smores, and then fat and happy, hit the hay.

Merry Yellowstone Christmas!