Austin Peak Overnight: July 2015

muir_mountain

Wilderness Seeker
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Apr 16, 2016
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121
This was it. I only had a few days off of work, and I wanted to go backpacking to a place where I could find complete solitude. My mind felt cloudy and weary, and I believe the best way to free it is by wilderness backpacking. It didn't take long to settle on visiting the beautiful and wild Absaroka Mountains of Wyoming.

I had my first taste of the Absarokas while on a family trip to Yellowstone a few years back. We were camped just east of Yellowstone National Park, along the Shoshone River. This is the mighty river that essentially splits the northern and southern halves of the range. When we weren't driving to see the natural wonders within Yellowstone, I went exploring up in the hills just north of the Shoshone. Even though I was only a mile from the road, I felt like I was the first person to set foot on the ridges and in the deep, spectacular canyons. These were truly the most beautiful and wild mountains I had seen up to that point in my life, and they made a lasting impression on me. And now, perhaps 5 years later, the Absarokas were calling to me again.

On July 12, I drove up to the Brooks Lake Campground from my hometown in Boulder, CO. Brooks Lake is very pretty, but most of the trees around are victims of beetle kill. My plan was to head above the trees to the top of what is unofficially called "Austin Peak." Austin Peak (or Mount Austin) is more of a giant plateau with a "high point" of approximately 11,080 feet. It sits northeast of Brooks Lake, requiring some off-trail travel north from the Bonneville Pass Trail.
IMG_0783.jpg

The thing I will remember most about this trip are the flowers. Pictures, of course, don't do it justice. This picture was taken along the Bonneville Pass trail, about 20 minutes from the trailhead. This entire hillside was covered with dazzling sunflowers. It was fascinating to note all the flowers were pointed in the same direction (southeast, I believe).
IMG_0789.jpg

Pictured behind me is the Jules Bowl. This was about halfway up the pass trail.

IMG_0808 (1).jpg

Further up the trail, you reach the broad top of Bonneville Pass. Pictured is the small lake at the top of the pass. From here, I headed off-trail to the left (north). Another note: I saw at least 50 bear tracks along the trail, but never saw a bear. This is prime grizzly habitat.
IMG_0813.jpg

I couldn't believe me eyes! Once above treeline north of Bonneville Pass, the views opened up, and I thought I happened upon Heaven. Literally! To my delight, I discovered that the entirety of Austin Peak consists of gentle green slopes thick with wildflowers. It is just a class 1 walk up from the pass, with the only difficulties being a couple of rock bands to circumnavigate. The above picture is looking back south to the Jules Bowl.
IMG_0816.jpg

Finally on top of the plateau, with Austin Peak straight ahead. Wildflowers were EVERYWHERE.
I still had a couple of hours of daylight left, so I hiked to the top of Austin Peak and soaked in the views.
I didn't get any good pictures that evening from the top, so I hiked down about 100 feet from the top and set up camp. It was on the rounded bench just beneath and to the left of the top of Austin Peak in the photo above.
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The scenery was so spectacular, it felt other-worldly. I got lucky with the weather; it was sublime the whole trip. However, this camp would be the last place you'd want to be in a lighting storm!!!

There was hardly any wind, so I left my tent and went back to the top of Austin Peak. I set up the camp chair I brought with me and just watched the sun go down for the next hour. By the time the sun disappeared behind the Tetons, I felt spiritually healed. What a fine day! Not to mention I hadn't seen a single soul since leaving my car.

I went to sleep in my tent just as it was getting dark (holding the bear spray, of course :)). However, it wasn't meant to last.
"HOOOOOOWWWWWWWLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!"
My blood-shot eyes burst open from a deep slumber. It was completely dark, probably a couple of hours after I went to sleep. "Oh sh-t," I whispered to myself. I gripped the bear spray tighter.
That was the sound of a pack of wolves perhaps 100 yards away from me, in the darkness.
"HOOOOOWWWWWWLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!" It echoed, piercing through the night. There was a howl probably every 10 seconds for what felt like the next 30 minutes. The grey wolf was re-introduced to Yellowstone in the 1990's, and has made a solid comeback in the surrounding mountains. And on this night, I sure wasn't a fan. Multitudes of 4-letter words spewed from my mouth in a whisper. It was fascinating, but at the same time, terrifying. Much later, I was able to get a few hours "sleep" before dawn. It was definitely a night I'll never soon forget.

I rose before sunset and hiked back to the top of Mount Austin for some sunrise shots. It was spectacular.
IMG_0839 (1).jpg

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The Tetons glowed with the rays of the rising sun.
IMG_0835 (1).jpg

The above was taken outside my tent, just before I left for the car. As you can see, the wildflowers were out of this world.

I packed up quickly and headed due south across the plateau. Beautiful hiking. Instead of going back down to the lake on Bonneville Pass and taking the trail to the car like I should have, I decided to do a shortcut by going down one of the gullies. Oh what a joy that was... Well, it was an ADVENTURE, but I don't recommend it because of a few reasons. First, the gully narrowed near the bottom and was extremely steep with unstable soil. It wasn't fun hiking down it. Secondly, I was afraid for bears the whole time, because the valley really closes in. On top of the plateau, you can see for miles.
IMG_0843 (1).jpg

This was taken in the hidden valley that turns into a horrendously steep gully on the descent. There's something about the Absarokas that make you feel like an explorer. Not only did I FEEL like I was one of the first people to set foot in that valley, I have the assurance that I WAS one of the first!!! Going off-trail in the Absarokas is not for the faint of heart, but is such a pleasure for the crazy adventurer like me.

At this point, some of you are probably already marking your calendars to visit this place. And let me tell you, it is a special, almost sacred place. When I went, there were absolutely no signs of human interference; a true wilderness experience. Wouldn't you like to keep it that way?? If you do decide to venture to the Absarokas, tread lightly and of course pack out all your garbage.

For most people, this is probably better as a day hike (it is between 6-7 miles round trip) because it is so reliant on good weather. And there's always a chance you'll be kept up at night by howling wolves ...
But I must admit, it was the most spectacular campsite location imaginable.

The Absarokas will always hold a special place in my heart, and this hike gets right to the heart of what the Absarokas are all about.
 

Jackson

I like to go outside.
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Joined
May 31, 2015
Messages
2,481
Fantastic. I really like the sunrise shots and seeing all those wildflowers. Thanks for posting this!
 

slc_dan

Desert Rat-Weekend Warrior
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Jun 7, 2012
Messages
1,686
really love the camp shot. Alpine tundra in bloom with a beautiful cirque. wonderful.
 

WasatchWill

Ready For More
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Jul 23, 2013
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1,559
Looks and sounds like it was a surreal trip! I can only imagine how much more beautiful that landscape was in person.
 

Absarokanaut

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Sep 17, 2014
Messages
608
In 2008 between two back to back trips I was care taking a wilderness horse pack trip camp just down the other side of Bonneville in Dundee Meadows. This was one of my favorite camps...until NOLS discovered it and started using it incessantly. I got up about 2:00 AM to drain the main vein and just as I got the stream going I had a wolf growl very aggressively at me from less than 15 yards away. Then I heard a pup wimper about 20 yeards the opposite direction. I was right in between. Cold, frosty July night. Need;less to say Junior got his business done pretty quickly.

I was fully charged by a BIG boar grizzly on the Bonneville Trail in July 2012.

I have hiked Austin more than 4 dozen times and been up there on a snowmobile. I love it. Thanks for sharing. Let me know if you ever come back up, I have family with a very special place in the Dunoir Valley and I hike the Brooks Lake area often.
 

Absarokanaut

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Joined
Sep 17, 2014
Messages
608
Oh yeah, lets wet your appetite for more in the area.

How about the south Summit of the Northeast Pinnacle Butte:

Pinnacles 090311 Mikey W.jpg


How about Jules Bowl from Austin on a snowy mid August morning.

Absaroka Pinnacles From Austin After August Snow.jpg



Here's Austin from 11,040'+ Mt. Sublette not to be confused with treacherous Sublette Peak right next to it:

Absaroka Austin from Sublette Summit Post.jpg


Here are the 48s remotest peaks from the Divide Crest not far east of Austin.

Younts & Thorofare 2008.jpg


The Pinnacles from the Highpoint of the Ramshorn Plateau:

Point 11,894\' across Pinnacles to Tetons.jpg
 

muir_mountain

Wilderness Seeker
Joined
Apr 16, 2016
Messages
121
In 2008 between two back to back trips I was care taking a wilderness horse pack trip camp just down the other side of Bonneville in Dundee Meadows. This was one of my favorite camps...until NOLS discovered it and started using it incessantly. I got up about 2:00 AM to drain the main vein and just as I got the stream going I had a wolf growl very aggressively at me from less than 15 yards away. Then I heard a pup wimper about 20 yeards the opposite direction. I was right in between. Cold, frosty July night. Need;less to say Junior got his business done pretty quickly.

I was fully charged by a BIG boar grizzly on the Bonneville Trail in July 2012.

I have hiked Austin more than 4 dozen times and been up there on a snowmobile. I love it. Thanks for sharing. Let me know if you ever come back up, I have family with a very special place in the Dunoir Valley and I hike the Brooks Lake area often.
I may have to take you up on that offer this summer! I'll be in that area at least twice.

Thanks for sharing your stories. I noticed dozens of huge bear tracks all over the trail, as well as the wolf howling; I'm sure anyone would have some scary stories if they spent enough time in the Absarokas. It is truly a wild place that embodies the true spirit of Wilderness--where man is merely a visitor.
 
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