Your correspondent has been remiss; I didn't bother to write about the christmas time adventures (going to the yurts with Eric and Curt, and then again with Ken and Lisa and their friends from Logan), and now I don't remember them too well. So I thought that I should probably write this while it was still somewhat fresh in my mind.
We start on Friday, Mar 25, 1994. Initial plans were to take off at 3pm but the damn backups intervened. Oh well, the bike shop was having a big sale so I browsed to make up. And a good thing too - the bike shop owner said that Yellowstone still had snow so I should go skiing up there. Capital idea! Early Saturday morn I loaded up the truck with skis and backpack and ``off we go!'' It was still clear and 60 degrees in Poky so I wasn't too hopeful of snow.
100 miles down the road - yow! Pretty nice clouds up ahead. And now there's snow on the ground - about 5 feet! Starting to look good. I crossed the Continental Divide into Montana and here we are in West Yellowstone, home of the Rendezvous Ski Trail system, home to the US XC and biathlon teams. Excellent snow on the ground, and it's snowing lightly: perfect! And here we are now at Rendezvous. Very nice indeed - nice new snow, groomed weekly for both classic and skating. Had a very enjoyable ski, about 10K with a couple of nice downhills that I managed to stay in control on.
Ok, I guess now that I'm here I might as well eat.... But the whole town is closed for the season. Finally I find a restaurant, order a veg. pizza. Pretty nice, actually. Enjoy a Montana beer too - a straightforward lager, a little on the light side but better than nothing. So where do I camp? Hmm, they haven't plowed any parking areas by the sides of the road. Looks like I might have to park in town and ski to a camping spot, and that didn't sound too appealing at that point. Maybe I can sneak into the Natl. Park... the rangers are around, so I talk to one of them. He says no problem, he can give me a backcountry permit, and there's parking at the trailhead BUT: not for tonight. The Bastards! Just because it was after 5 pm. It was 5:15. What is it with these fascists?
Well, fuck them. From the map I see that US 191 goes through the park north of town. Head up north, find one of the trailheads - ok, parking! Park, ski in about 100m into the trees and camp for the night. Just in time, too, for no sooner had I settled in that a massive storm moved in. The temperature plummeted and it started to snow quite heavily. How wonderful!
Sunday morning, it was perfectly clear and sunny and about 20 degrees. Ok, let's head for the damn rangers office and get a backcountry permit first, and then investigate these other trails around W. Yellowstone. But then I thought I'm part way to the northern entrance to the park anyway, perhaps I should invesitgate that. I drove north through Bozeman and Livingstone and then south past the Absaroka Range (spectacular! have to go backpacking there some time) to the park. I find the ranger, who suggested some decent camping possibilities. In due time, I head for the trailhead, pack and set off. Where the hell's the snow? The road's on one side of this wide tree-less valley and the map says I have to get to the other. It's about a mile wide, and there's no snow to be seen! Damn! Well, it looks like the north-facing slopes have some snow, so maybe once I get across this valley and over the opposite ridge there'll be snow. It's a good thing 3-pin boots are just like hiking boots - I wouldn't want to walk a mile in those new-fangled plastic NNN boots. I figure out the things on the side of the backpack will hold the skis nicely. (Maybe someday I'll even get to use the ice-axe loops!)
As I set off down the path... what's that? The Northern Exposure theme? No, it was an eagle! About 50 feet up. It was nesting season for the bald eagles in Yellowstone. That's a beautiful bird - easy to see why Quayle would say "Obviously, you take the bald eagle and things of that sort, of course you're going to make sure that they are saved and that they can live and you're going to take every precaution that you can. But others--we just need a little flexibility."
As I was walking across the valley I noticed (couldn't help but!) that there were bison everywhere. No problem, the ranger said the herds are very shy and will move off if approached by humans. "Just stay clear of any bulls," he had said. So there I was, walking along the trail with a slight hill on my right and a stream on the left. "Are those hooves I hear?" I thought. Reflexively I ran up the hill to the right, just as this bison thundered by. Yup, a bull. I have never in my life seen any animal that large and up close; and I have never seen an animal run that fast. Putting the two together and man! that's an amazing amount of kinetic energy! It would have been somewhat unpleasant to be struck in the small of the back by a charging bison. Good thing I moved off the trail. Those things are just too massive for words, especially when viewed from a distance of about 25 feet.
The rest of the hike passed without incident. The herds did indeed move away as promised. Got to the other side, climbed up the ridge and YOW! SNOW! Good stuff too - SE facing, no crust, and about 3" of almost powder from last night. I skied along another couple of miles and saw this beautiful slope, wide, no trees. Near it was a little thicket of pine; good place for camp. I get there and notice something--tracks! Large animal too. I fish out that identification guide and... hmmm, adult grizzly. The tracks were fresh and were on the snow that had fallen the previous night. The rangers had been right when they said the grizzlies might be coming down early on account of the warm weather we'd had. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour I moved along to find another camping spot near another slope.
I doffed the backpack and tested the snow on the slope - excellent! Nice powder, not too fast. Just the right amount of slope too! I spent the rest of the afternoon climbing up and telemarking down. Just perfect - steep enough that I was a little nervous, with snow that I had decent control on. I skied till it started to get dark, and then skied right up to the tent. It was so wonderful to not have to drive back from the trailhead!
The next morning though, another storm presented itself. Instead of the sun and the sky it was blustery and snowing, and there was no contrast--almost whiteout conditions. The temperature had risen considerably and the snow was quite heavy and sticky, and it was starting to slab. Since it seemed to suggest avalanceh conditions I decided to head back. With the new snow and lighting conditions my tracks had disappeared so I actually had to navigate back. I climbed up almost to the top of the ridge (lessen the danger from avalanches too) till I recognised the place that I had crossed over. I was clearer in the valley, and the bison were pretty far away. Back to the truck, and now it was time to drive to Poky to pick up my cousin Pasha at the airport. I decided to take the scenic route via Butte, Montana.
Pasha (16) had grown up in the wilderness known as the southern Michigan suburbs. I picked him up at the airport and we spend Tuesday buying him boots and clothes. He was probably thinking ``Pocatello, Idaho? Yeah, near Des Moines, isn't it?''
Wednesday morning: our plans were to head for Craters of the Moon en route to the Sawtooth Wilderness. Craters was perfect, with the best sign that I have ever seen at a National Monumnent or Park: "Closed, No Facilities." We saw a few other people just sort of wandering around but they seemed at odds, not quite knowing what to do without being told about the sights by the rangers. We headed for the trailhead and had a leisurely hike in. It was 50 degrees and sunny so Pasha didn't complain too much. I pointed out the sites amidst shouts of ``Hey! Leave that alone!'' and ``Pick that up!'' He was surprised that there were no drinking fountains or trash cans anywhere.
The next morning there was another storm on the horizon. We headed for the Sawtooths and drove through Ketchum/Sun Valley without stopping (in spite of plaintive cries of ``This looks like a really cool place! Let's stay here for the night'' ). The snow was getting thicker, both on the ground and in the air. Up over Galena Summit and it was a blizzard. Down into the Salmon Valley towards the little town of Stanley--lots of snow. ``Damn! Should have brought skis.'' I thought. Again the problem was finding a parking spot for the truck. And an unforeseen problem--the snow's too deep to hike in. We found a side road with a small plowed area, parked, and camped in the trees. By now there was a bit of whining... pretty cold night, with more snow. The hell with it, I wanted my skis. Pasha said he'd try XC, so let's do it! A quick drive back to town taking the scenic route through Salmon, ID since I'd never been there; and the Bitterroot Range--Caramba! Really spectacular. Closer to home, the Lemhi Range has some tremendous peaks at around 12,000 feet. I filed away the location for future summer trips.
Back in Poky, we rented skis for the blister, stayed at home, and the next morning (Saturday) headed for Island Park where I knew of some easy skiing trails. Good parking area too; and then a very leisurely ski through some woods. All flat, no tele opportunities but we got to see a bunch of geese, a couple of what seemed to be swans, and some elk. It was a nice sunny day again, and not too much whining, even though he fell a lot. It was very warm here though - much warmer than Stanley. The snow's thin too, and wet. Slush in spots. Very good glide, but messy. I decided that tomorrow we'd head back to Yellowstone, which is about 30 miles away but a few feet higher so the snow should be nicer. We drove to W. Yellowstone that evening and Pasha managed to convince me to splurge on a motel room. Oh well, if I could bring that much joy into someone's life with $30 I suppose it was worth it. The next morning was overcast again but it started raining! Damn and blast! We made our way to Rendezvous but it had obviously stayed above freezing overnight so the snow wass going soft. That beatiful groomed track was now slushy in spots. Oh well, at least it was Easter and Daylight Savings Time and I was still skiing. Moving to Idaho was the best thing I'd done! What a wonderful spring break!