Bechler 4 (and the Pitchstone Plateau)

Jackson

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September 29 - October 3, 2023

This is the fourth year in a row we've done this sort of trip at the end of September/beginning of October, hence the thread title. The route was a little different this time since we wanted to see the Pitchstone Plateau and some other areas, and also because, for the first time, we didn't manage to get a site near Dunanda Falls.

There were four of us: Andrew, Steve, Alex, and myself. It would be a 4-nighter, and our route was the Pitchstone Plateau to Union Falls and Scout Pool, over to Bechler Meadow, up Bechler Canyon, past Douglas Knob, down to Shoshone Geyser Basin, then back out along the Firehole to Lonestar trailhead.

The weather for the trip was looking fairly iffy, but we were down for pretty much anything short of a blizzard. It turned out being fairly manageable for the time we were out.

Andrew stayed at my place the night before, and we drove down in separate vehicles, dropped my car off at the Lonestar trailhead, and drove from there to the Pitchstone Plateau trailhead/turnout. It was a pretty, sunny day. All the better to get us sweating immediately on the steep climb from road.

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Topping out on the initial climb.

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Slopes of the Pitchstone Plateau

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About to where it mostly leveled off, trees thinned out a bit.

It was surprising to us how quickly the trail thinned out and was close to nonexistent for much of the plateau. I guess it's not an enticing day hike, and most people probably don't backpack it. Their loss!

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The trail is the depression in the grass.

We reached Phantom Fumarole a little before mid afternoon and had a late lunch. Cool spot.

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On we went to camp.

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Nice distant views of the Tetons from where the camp site was.

We got set up and enjoyed the rest of the day. It was interesting that there was no spot that was clearly where people always set up, since most Yellowstone sites do.

We unsurprisingly saw no one all day, and the other camp site across the way was not occupied. Water at the spring was better than I expected given what I've read from others, but it had a notable sulfur scent.

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This night seemed to be one of the colder ones. We had a nice fire and then went to bed.

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Messing with the night mode on my pixel camera.

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Bedtime.

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It was a beautiful sunrise the next morning.



Our original plan for the second day was to follow the trail off the Pitchstone Plateau and then hook up with what's marked as the "Old Marysville Road" trail to Mountain Ash Creek, up to Union Falls and Scout Spring. The distance for that was going to be somewhere in the 16-17 mile range. Andrew had been wondering a while about cutting some distance by going off trail down Mountain Ash Creek from the Plateau, and we had talked about it a bit before the trip. We had both read @TheMountainRabbit's report from last year where he did the same thing in reverse, so we discussed a bit more as we covered the first miles of the day and decided to go for it. It would save us around 6 miles and, if it went without much difficulty, would be a much more efficient way to see Union Falls and Scout Spring.

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Making our way along the trail. This stretch was just following cairns from point to point. There was no distinguishable trail at all.

We saw a massive mule buck and a pine marten as we walked that morning. Really cool sightings. The pine marten kept running ahead and stopping, and we saw it a few times.

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Ascending a little rise. Cool to see Jackson Lake in the background.

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Got closer to the Tetons.

We reached the beginning of Mountain Ash Creek according to the map, and we headed down. There was no water in the creek for a decent while.

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Down we go.

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Got a little cliffy in places, but there was always a good bypass.

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Mylar balloons suck. Of course there was one back here where people almost never go. We were #1 and packed it out.

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Big, old bear poop.

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Andrew diligently checking the GPS to make sure we didn't get pulled too far down the wrong drainage. A lot of the walking was fairly clear like this.

We stayed on course pretty well. I took us a little too far down one little drainage, but we got back on track.

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Looking across the upper Mountain Ash Creek drainage before getting into the brush ahead.

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Confusing perspective of a precipitous drop to an interesting waterfall.

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Some of the walk, especially as we got lower, looked like this, with water running through the brush and making things tricky.

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Almost done with the off trail bit. We crossed the creek right here.

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Union falls coming into view. Impossible to capture the scale of this one. Such a cool waterfall.

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Panorama of Union Falls. We likely wouldn't have walked far enough up for this view had we just taken the longer route and not gone down Mountain Ash Creek.

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The classic view of the falls.

We went from there down to Scout Spring. There was a couple there when we arrived, and they were just leaving. Perfect. It was sunny and pretty warm, so it was just right for getting into the water. It would not be all that pleasant if it were cold out. I failed to take pictures of the rest of this day, so the next three are Andrew's.

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Scout

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Cool dragonfly at Scout.

We went to camp after that. We talked with a ranger outside the patrol cabin just up the trail from our site, then we got set up and settled. Warmer night that night, and nice and dry.

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The weather deteriorated a bit the next day. We had about 15 miles to cover.

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Serious beaver action in this spot. You can see in this one and the next one that the NPS has put in those wire cage things to keep the stream flowing, but it doesn't seem to be helping much. This was a sketchy bit where most of us got our feet wet.

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We walked along the top of the beaver dam here. I did not like it. The water on either side was quite deep. The pro move would have been to put on wading shoes and go upstream a bit to where it was shallower. Oh well.

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Another crossing of an unnamed creek farther on.

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Arriving at the Bechler River. It had begun raining a little before this, but it became pretty steady here. It kept up for a decent while.

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Walking along the meadows toward the canyon.

We took a lunch break at an unoccupied camp site at the mouth of the canyon. The trees were thick enough that we didn't get rained on. The rain had mostly stopped by the time we finished. I put on my gaiters to keep water off my pants and out of my boots from brush along the trail. Turned out to be a great choice.

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Sun is back out, canyon looking great.

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I take a picture of this spot every year and never post it, so I'm doing it this time.

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I also always take a picture of this spot with people walking through the fall foliage. This time, we're headed the opposite direction compared to previous years.

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Lots of old bear scat remnants through here. They seem to have a thing for mountain ash berries.

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Iris

We came across a group at Iris Falls that was headed down canyon. They said parts of their site flooded in the recent rain. Not fun. They were very enthusiastic though.

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My favorite cascade. Loved the mountain ash berries in this view.


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Final ford of the day. Camp was on the right side of the trail here, just back in those trees.

We set out our things to dry a bit, trying to take advantage of the sun while we had it. We preemptively set up our tarps to keep our gear dry and hang out if it did decide to rain more.

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And then it did rain more. And it hailed. And there was some good thunder and lightning.

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Fortunately, the rain stopped as it was getting dark, so we got a fire going and were able to dry out our boots and socks.

I believe it rained more after we went to bed, but I honestly can't remember. I do remember it was very wet, and I had to pack up a very wet tent in the morning. I kept the wet fly separate from the interior by stuffing it into a trash bag. That also kept all my other stuff from getting soaked in my pack.

That next day, we planned to soak in the hot springs in the late morning, then make our way up over to Shoshone Lake and Geyser Basin. As with the last few days, we were on the trail by around 8:30-9:00.

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Misty morning on the river next to camp.

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Getting to the thermal areas on the upper river.

As we walked along the thermal areas, Steve spotted a black bear on the slope across the canyon. We took turns looking at it through his binoculars. Then we spotted another one. First time I've seen any bears in the park not from the road.

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Hilariously poor phone camera zoom. The bear is the black spot. It ran up that little ravine and climbed up through the rocks.

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The final ford. Ferris Fork.

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Iconic Ferris Fork thermal area view.

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Cauldron

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Back again.

We set up the tarp because it had started sprinkling. We had the place to ourselves for a bit, then a duo from Oklahoma rolled up and joined us. Good company. One of them runs a Youtube channel with backpacking videos: "Long Wilderness Walks." They were headed down the canyon to Dunanda, then out on Grassy Lake Road. I watched his video later on, and it sounds like they had a rough go of it this day and the next few days with rain, snow, and cold.

After a couple hours, we headed off, up the long, steep hill toward Douglas Knob.

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Creek next to 9D2, where we have stayed in years past. Not this time.

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Out of the trees and into Douglas Knob Meadow.

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I have yet to find a good way across this marsh.

It had started sleeting by the time we were in the meadow, and it turned into snow as we continued on.

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Wet.

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We were getting pretty tired as we made our way downhill from the continental divide. The sun came back out for a bit, so we posted up in a meadow near our trail junction and had a snack and a rest. It was nice.

We ran into a couple of guys at the junction and talked for a bit. They were headed to their camp site along the Firehole after covering some of the same trail we had.

We headed down toward Shoshone Lake, feeling pretty tired and sorry for ourselves (or maybe that was just me). To make matters worse for myself, I slipped while crossing Shoshone Creek on a wet log, dunked my foot, and whacked my hand so hard it went numb. Cool cool. The area was beautiful though. Glad we saw it.

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Lot of water grass growing in the creek.

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This was one of my favorite shots from the trip. Such a neat little segment of trail. Felt very secluded.

We got down near the Geyser Basin, and we opted to head to camp first.

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View of the geyser basin.

I took us down the wrong trail at first (headed toward the geyser basin), so we had to backtrack back to the trail along the lake's north shore.

Because the spur trail to our camp site was nearly half a mile long, we decided not to go back to the geyser basin. It was an easy call for me since I was there just a couple months prior.

The lake was foggy, and it was windy and cold. Of course this was the night we couldn't have a camp fire.

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Spooky

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Tarps set up, prepared for more rain or snow.

It didn't rain for most of the late afternoon and early evening, but it was a struggle sitting there getting chilled by the wind. We decided to go to bed around 7:15. Perfect timing because it started raining shortly after that, and it kept up for most of the night.

I had to go to the bathroom in the early morning, and by 6:00 a.m., I couldn't wait any longer. So I went out in the pitch dark, it was snowing heavily, and the toilet was a decent walk from the tent. Did not enjoy that.

The rain and snow stopped by the time it was time to be up for the day. We ate quickly, packed up, and got on our way. Gaiters saved the day again.

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Foggy morning on the lake.

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We moved quick on the way out. I also skipped the log I fell on the day before. Just ran through the creek with my gaiters, hoping they would keep the water out. Success.

We got to the Firehole and saw a few bison along the way. Didn't notice this one until we were right next to it.

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We arrived at Lone Star Geyser. A couple was there and told us that some people they had seen said it had gone off recently, so we must've missed it. We weren't too broken up about it. However, as we moved past, it started firing up. I haven't seen it erupt before, so I can't say whether it was a full eruption or not, but it was pretty darn good.

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Took this when we figured we wouldn't be seeing anything.

PXL_20231003_165942309.jpgAnd here's when we stopped and turned around to see it going off.

The paved final portion was hell for my feet, and it also seemed to take forever. I had done this trip in new boots I had only hiked once in prior to the trip. They were good overall, but the bottoms of my feet were killing me by the end. It was a relief getting to the car and putting on Chacos.

We went to the Old Faithful Inn for lunch. We had tried the snow lodge before going there, but their power was out. We ate our fill at the buffet, and then I took everyone back to their cars.

Awesome trip. I'm happy we went and saw some new sights and pushed ourselves a bit harder than usual. We're looking at maybe doing a Thorofare trip next year (earlier in the season) and then making this one more leisurely like we have done in the past. Already itching to go again, and it's not even December yet!
 
Awesome photos & report.

I still remember that marshy section near Douglas Knob being pretty awful when we were up there in 2021. I think we're gonna try to hike that area again next year.
 
Awesome photos & report.

I still remember that marshy section near Douglas Knob being pretty awful when we were up there in 2021. I think we're gonna try to hike that area again next year.
I think the only solution for that spot is to swing really wide toward Douglas Knob. Or just wear waterproof boots and gaiters and go for it like I did. Haha.

Hope you go over there again! Easily the spot I've spent the most time in in the park, and I'll never get tired of it.
 
Wow! Great TR @Jackson . Love the waterfalls, cascade and all the fall color everywhere. Some of those photos would look great on canvas!

Walking across the Beaver dams feels uncomfortable, we have done it too, not thrilled about it. The cages - do you know anything about those? Would they try to catch and release beavers in that area?
 
Nice hike! Someday I want to get back to the Bechler area, though I'll admit it's mostly because all those creeks and rivers look fun to fish. The waterfalls and hot springs seem like a good bonus.
 
Wow! Great TR @Jackson . Love the waterfalls, cascade and all the fall color everywhere. Some of those photos would look great on canvas!

Walking across the Beaver dams feels uncomfortable, we have done it too, not thrilled about it. The cages - do you know anything about those? Would they try to catch and release beavers in that area?
Yeah I thought the dam would give out under me at any second! I was the first across and it held for all of us.

I thought the cage things were just to create a bit of space where water would flow and beavers couldn't block the flow, but I'm not actually educated on that. Haha. So I can't say for sure!

Editing to add that if they were traps, I don't think anyone, rangers included, travels that segment of trail often enough to check traps routinely.
 
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Nice hike! Someday I want to get back to the Bechler area, though I'll admit it's mostly because all those creeks and rivers look fun to fish. The waterfalls and hot springs seem like a good bonus.
My friends always lament not having their rods and/or not having enough time to fish various spots out there. Lots of great looking spots on the Bechler and on Shoshone Creek!
 
Looks like a great trip! Thanks for sharing.

Glad to have provided some inspiration - however small. Would love to compare our routes on/off the plateau one day - things can look very different on descent vs. ascent, but looks like yours was pretty similar to ours in general.

That beaver pond section is quite a sight to behold. I get the impression there is a beaver vs. ranger chess match going on back there - and the beavers have the upper hand. Did you happen to take note of the conditions on the old trail? (It was still marked as of last year.)
 
Great report @Jackson !

I cannot remember what the words of today's youth would be (something being hard? :D ) but in the words of today's middle aged person you guys are awesome badasses (no offense @Rockskipper ;) ). I've had thoughts of visiting the Pitchstone Plateau/Phantom Fumarole/etc. and your report is now turning those thoughts into desires.

The fall colors are great. Your pictures of Union Falls are stunning!
 
Looks like a great trip! Thanks for sharing.

Glad to have provided some inspiration - however small. Would love to compare our routes on/off the plateau one day - things can look very different on descent vs. ascent, but looks like yours was pretty similar to ours in general.

That beaver pond section is quite a sight to behold. I get the impression there is a beaver vs. ranger chess match going on back there - and the beavers have the upper hand. Did you happen to take note of the conditions on the old trail? (It was still marked as of last year.)
I wish one of us had tracked the off-trail portion. Andrew just watched where we were on the map but didn't track. I would've had a much tougher time doing it as an uphill. It was pretty pleasant going down, for the most part!

Yes the beavers seem to be winning by a big margin. Haha. I'm honestly not sure about old trail vs. new trail. Are you talking about the one I've lined in yellow here?
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We did accidentally follow that one for maybe 50 feet before we turned around and got on the other one, but that's all I've seen of it/know about it.
 
Glad you enjoyed the trip so much. So much wet, chilly weather - you're tough!

Love that dragonfly photo - great detail. :)
 
Yes the beavers seem to be winning by a big margin. Haha. I'm honestly not sure about old trail vs. new trail. Are you talking about the one I've lined in yellow here?
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We did accidentally follow that one for maybe 50 feet before we turned around and got on the other one, but that's all I've seen of it/know about it.
I'm pretty sure what you have highlighted is actually the newer route - or at least it seemed to be. When we went through that section last year I mused that they might just revert back to the old route, which they may have ended up doing. There were a few provisional signs at the time. I think they'd have to swing much further out to the SW to avoid those pesky, industrious beavers though.
 
I'm pretty sure what you have highlighted is actually the newer route - or at least it seemed to be. When we went through that section last year I mused that they might just revert back to the old route, which they may have ended up doing. There were a few provisional signs at the time. I think they'd have to swing much further out to the SW to avoid those pesky, industrious beavers though.
Ahh ok. I appreciate the insight. I'd still probably brave the beaver mess to save the quarter mile haha. I didn't see any signs, logs across the trail, etc. to indicate that we should head one way over another. I do think I saw where the other trail joins in, and it looked pretty lightly used.
 
Jackson, Thanks for the Great Trip Report and photos. Loved It! Best To you!
 
Ahh ok. I appreciate the insight. I'd still probably brave the beaver mess to save the quarter mile haha. I didn't see any signs, logs across the trail, etc. to indicate that we should head one way over another. I do think I saw where the other trail joins in, and it looked pretty lightly used.
Well, that's the kicker - the longer distance route is just as bad, if not worse! It seems it was clear when they re-routed it, but the beavers had freshly flooded it last year. I think there's a non-zero chance they abandon that whole cut-off trail and just let the beavers have it.
 
So beautiful. Thank you for sharing the trip report. I’ve been to most of those spots, but it took me a number of trips to get there.

The books I have, indicate that the Pitchstone campsites may not have water. I went there one Labor Day, and carried a gallon of water with me, because I didn’t want to risk not having water. In hind sight, I wish I had stayed there two days. I didn’t see anyone else from the time I got to the top of the first climb, until I was coming down that incline on my way back. The first person I saw was a man driving an RV. He was concentrating and looked so concerned. I almost turned around. I really liked the Pitchstone, and hope to go back. The view of the Tetons from the camp kitchen is something that most will never experience. It wasn’t like looking out Jackson Lake Lodge, but then, it didn’t cost a fortune, and it wasn’t crowded.

I can’t imagine going cross country. In fact, that trail, which they say requires navigation skills, and to keep looking ahead and behind for cairns, is not a trail I’m going to take. But I really love going along with you. Take lots of pictures.

When I was there, the flowers at the campsite at Floyd’s Knob, were possibly the most intense colors I had ever seen. After coming back from the privy, Kevin commented that the shape of the hole in the privy was essentially, the outline of the park service emblem. Interesting. True.

I really like the campsite by the Shoshone Geyser Basin. It’s so wonderful just sitting on the shoreline and just seeing things.

Thank you for taking us on your trip.
 
So beautiful. Thank you for sharing the trip report. I’ve been to most of those spots, but it took me a number of trips to get there.

The books I have, indicate that the Pitchstone campsites may not have water. I went there one Labor Day, and carried a gallon of water with me, because I didn’t want to risk not having water. In hind sight, I wish I had stayed there two days. I didn’t see anyone else from the time I got to the top of the first climb, until I was coming down that incline on my way back. The first person I saw was a man driving an RV. He was concentrating and looked so concerned. I almost turned around. I really liked the Pitchstone, and hope to go back. The view of the Tetons from the camp kitchen is something that most will never experience. It wasn’t like looking out Jackson Lake Lodge, but then, it didn’t cost a fortune, and it wasn’t crowded.

I can’t imagine going cross country. In fact, that trail, which they say requires navigation skills, and to keep looking ahead and behind for cairns, is not a trail I’m going to take. But I really love going along with you. Take lots of pictures.

When I was there, the flowers at the campsite at Floyd’s Knob, were possibly the most intense colors I had ever seen. After coming back from the privy, Kevin commented that the shape of the hole in the privy was essentially, the outline of the park service emblem. Interesting. True.

I really like the campsite by the Shoshone Geyser Basin. It’s so wonderful just sitting on the shoreline and just seeing things.

Thank you for taking us on your trip.
Thanks!

That's interesting about the water. I figured if there's water in early October, it's probably running year-round unless there's a deep drought. I can't imagine hauling a gallon of water up that hill with a full pack!! Talk about challenging. It would be really fun to spend a few days up there poking around. It's such a vast area that really is devoid of people.

Navigating the cairn-to-cairn portion would have been significantly harder solo. It was very helpful to have four sets of eyes searching. I don't really remember there being a visible trail at all while we were on the plateau the second day.
 
Great report @Jackson, and beautiful pictures.

The Pitchstone is a great place to explore. Not sure why it doesn't get more attention like other destinations in the Park.

What was the elevation when you finally ran into running water on your decent of Mountain Ash Creek?
 
Great report @Jackson, and beautiful pictures.

The Pitchstone is a great place to explore. Not sure why it doesn't get more attention like other destinations in the Park.

What was the elevation when you finally ran into running water on your decent of Mountain Ash Creek?
Thank you!

I wonder if with the Pitchstone Plateau, it's just long enough distances to get anywhere on a dayhike that most people don't bother. Phantom Fumarole isn't ridiculously far, but I imagine your average day hiker isn't going to want to put in the 9-10 miles mostly through patchy forest to get there and back. Their loss!

We started on the fork that begins around 44.21334, -110.80124, which is pretty much dry all the way down to where it meets up with the main fork. There was one meadowy area along the way with a few pools of water (44.21174, -110.81363), but otherwise it was mostly just a rocky wash with a few dryfalls. ~7560 feet is the elevation of that confluence according to Caltopo.
 
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scatman Mirror Plateau and the Lamar River Loop - Yellowstone National Park - July 7, 2016 Backpacking 38
IntrepidXJ Easter Weekend Around the Paria Plateau Hiking & Camping 1
IntrepidXJ Dome Plateau Hiking & Camping 4
scatman Invite Mirror Plateau - Upper Lamar River - Hoodoo Basin - Yellowstone National Park Meet Up (Members Only) 27
BJett Cumberland Plateau - Obed/Big South Fork Hiking & Camping 7
John Goering Beartooth Mountains, Lake Plateau Backpacking 11
kansas October trip to Uncompahgre Plateau Trip Planning 14
John Goering Beartooth's Hellroaring Plateau Backpacking 10
hatchcanyon Dome Plateau (2009) Off Road 8
hatchcanyon Dome Plateau (2002) Off Road 3
Christian A Desert that's as sculptured as the Colorado Plateau General Discussion 2
Kristen M. Caldon Photo 3 strikes on Plateau Point Hiking & Camping 6

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