Archive for September 2010

Rainbow Lake

September 26, 2010

Rainbow Lake

Bushwhack Date: September 18, 2010: After the full day Sheep Mountain hike of the previous day, we enjoyed sleeping in on Sunday. It was another beautiful day. After brunch, we motivated to hike. We decided on a bushwhack up and around Rainbow Lake. We jumped in the car and headed down the old Gardiner road out towards Corwin Springs. We found a pull out to park in a mile past the graveyard and headed out on foot across the brown foothills leading up to Sepulcher. We soon stumbled upon remnants of bison death. Fur clung on to the bleaching skull and backbones basking in the baking sun. This is bone country.

bison death

My new tote

We continued up and down the brown hills, climbing towards the chain of small lakes on Landslide Creek. The biggest of the lakes is Rainbow Lake, sitting in the center of the first three lakes. There is one more lake further down in the chain below the top three. Little oases in the dry foot hills surrounding Gardiner. We saw pronghorn and elk racing across the hills as we roamed. Hawks soared above.  We reached Rainbow Lake and took a nice break in the shade of a giant Douglas Fir on its shore watching ducks frolic in the wind blown water. Then, we headed uphill and climbed onto the ridge above the lakes and connecting creeks. We took a break on our climb and looked out to where we had just walked along the lakeshores. Em spotted a large brown spot moving rapidly between the lakes, heading towards our position. We stared down on it covering ground in leaps and bounds and called it a grizzly. We watched it cruise over the hills weaving between lakes from our perch and decided to move on along the ridge in case he decided on a climb. We saw him disappear in woods below. That was the last we glimpsed of him as we skirted along the ridge back to our car dodging pronghorn in the sun with one hand on the pepper spray.

At the lake

Above the lakes. Where is the griz?


Sheep Mountain

September 23, 2010

Headin' towards the peak

Bushwhack Date: September 18, 2010: Sheep Mountain sits above Gardiner. It is a sprawling mountain rising directly up from town out the Yellowstone River. Gardiner sit at 5,259 feet. The peak of Sheep Mountain sits at 10,547 feet. We awoke in Gardiner to low lying clouds and fog clinging to the surrounding mountains. We rolled out of bed around 8:30 a.m. After coffee and breakfast, we started up the Jardine Road out of Gardiner, turning on to the Eagle Creek Road towards Sheep Mountain. I had scouted the road a few weeks before and hit a spot about five miles in that I did not want to take the low slung Honda Accord over. A high clearance vehicle could easily make it further to road’s end at the bottom of a wooded Sheep Mountain ridge. But the Accord would not make it that far. So, I decided to park much lower on the road. We parked just after the road crosses Eagle Creek, below the lily pad covered Casey Lake. It would mean about 1,500 feet extra in elevation gain and loss. We started hiking around the 7,000 feet level just after 10 a.m. Heading straight up through open meadows, aspen groves, and Douglas Firs to the left of Eagle Creek.

Morning Aspens

Smoke from the Antelope Creek fire in the park and fog hung in the valleys, the fog slowly being burned off by the sun. We climbed through the woods and gained the ridge. We followed the ridge through the woods. It was soon cleaved by a deep rock strewn ravine. We dropped down into it and climbed back out, regaining the wooded ridge. We were up above one of the back bowls of Sheep. We loped through the ridge woods toward the peak ridge. We had entered the zone of the whitebark, and they are taking a beating on Sheep, as they are throughout the region, victims of Blister Rust and Mountain Pine Beetles. We hiked under a lot of red and gray whitebarks. A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that 82 percent of the whitebark pines in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are dead or dying. The study suggests that the whitebark pine could be functionally extinct within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in four to seven years. This is certainly true for Sheep Mountain. None of this is good for squirrels, grizzly bears, and other animals that rely on whitebark pine nuts.

Five Lakes

We wrapped around the wooded ridge and hit the saddle between it and the peak ridge. We looked down on Five Lakes below and up at the peak. We saw some other hikers on top and began heading that way. After a short ridge break, we continued the climb up, meeting the other hikers (fellow Gardinerites) on the way. They had driven to the end of the road and had a much shorter day than us. We exchanged pleasantries and then headed up as they headed down. We hit the peak, 3, 500 feet higher than where we began our walk, around 3 p.m. and enjoyed a lunch of sardines, crackers, cookies, and water on top. We ate and lounged for about 45 minutes of peak time, then headed back down. We retraced our steps along the ridges, peeling off before the deep ravine that cleaved our first ridge, wanting to avoid an unnecessary climb. We ended up dropping into Eagle Creek, which was worse. Lots of damp deadfall in the drainage. We picked, wound, slid, and climbed our way down, over and around deadfall, crisscrossing the creek as we went in search of the best route of least resistance. We ended up exiting the woods exactly where we entered them just after 7 p.m. Wonderfully exhausted, we headed home for margaritas, a movie, and blessed sleep.

Rocky ravine

Peak break

Solfatara Creek

September 17, 2010


Hitchhike Date: September 12, 2010: On Sunday, Em and I hiked the 6.5 mile Solfatara Creek trail. We started at the southern trailhead at Norris Campground and exited at the northern one. Before hiking, we parked in front of the Ranger Museum at Norris and checked out the museum. Geese and a large male bison had a showdown out front along the banks of the Gibbon River. The Solfatara trailhead sits back in the C-Loop of the campground. Trailhead parking was obstructed by a large pile of gravel. After confusedly looping through the campground, we ended up parking back where we started near the Ranger Museum and hoofing it from there.

Cracked and Bubbling

The trail follows the powerline closely most of the way, sometimes right underneath it, but is beautiful nonetheless. It is a very typical Central Plateau feel: lots of lodgepole forest, beautiful meadows, interesting thermal areas, and Lake of the Woods beckoning just off the northern end of the trail. We bushwhacked over the quarter of a mile of deadfall off trail to the shores of the lake. Since spying the lake on the map, I have wanted to stand on its shores. The edges of the lake are shallow and lily pad filled. The center of the lake looks deep, cold, and blue. Lake of the Woods sits under the lodgepole covered hill known as the Landmark. We roamed the western shore of the lake under the crystal clear blue fall skies. The lakeshore is an interesting spongy, shroomy, mossy mat. We felt we could be sucked underground X-Files style to be devoured by a giant psilocybic mushroom. Luckily it did not happen. Or it did and we are underground right now hallucinating and being slowly devoured by the acidic shroom juices. Either way, the sidetrip to the lake was beautiful: sitting on its spongy shores gazing out on lily pads, blue water, green Landmark, and blue skies soaking in the Yellowstone autumn. We bushwhacked back to the trail and started dropping back down to the road skirting thermal areas and enjoying great Gallatin views.

Lake of the Woods and the Landmark

Upon hitting the trailhead, I prepared for my hitchhike back to Norris Campground to get our car. Em found a nice place in the trees to hang out til I got back. This was my third hitchhike of the year. I limbered up my thumb and headed to the road, setting myself up on the edge of a pullout. Cars streamed by. Some drifted over the center line to put as much space between them and the hitchhiker as possible. Apparently distance helps assuage a guilty conscience. Convertibles, trucks with empty beds, cars with gapingly vacant backseats all streamed by. And they all streamed by in clusters. Five or six cars at a time manically tailgating each other, followed by minutes of empty road. Zippy’s disease manifesting itself once again on the roads of Yellowstone.

Grass and trees

I recently finished Tim Cahill’s book Road Fever, about he and his partner’s record breaking 24 day drive from Tierra del Fuego to the Bering Sea. (Great book!). In it, he talks of Zippy’s disease that inflicts he and others throughout their trip. Zippy’s disease refers to people rushing around manically to get things done as quickly as possible, to the detriment of the efficiency and quality of the task they are trying to get done. Twenty nine cars suffering from Zippy’s passed me right on by tailgating each other off into the horizon, dreaming of making their big move to pass, instead of backing off and enjoying beautiful Yellowstone views that don’t involve the bumper of the car in front of them.  But car number thirty, also suffering from an advanced case of Zippy’s, did stop to pick me up. I ran up to the door. The driver was manically hurling debris from the passenger seat into the back. He only got about half way through his hurling, as he monitored his rearview mirror, before he ordered me to climb in and close the door, sitting on top of the other half of the debris. I did not mind though. I had a ride! I slammed the door amidst my thanks, and he peeled off before the car behind him could get in front. This was a man on a mission to get down to Old Faithful as quickly as possible. We hurtled around corners towards Norris as I tried to chat him up. It didn’t go well at first. All concentration was on making time, George Costanza come to life. Finally, he opened up a bit and we had a short chat. He had hiked Solfatara before and found it boring, just a lot of trees. He mentioned that there was a lake on the map, but he never saw it. He must have been suffering from Zippy’s as he hiked too. I think he felt duty bound to pick me up because he had done some backpacking related hitchhiking in Yellowstone himself. Even Zippy will heed the call of duty.

Gallatin View

As we neared Norris, Zippy took over once again. He plotted his drop and go of me on the side of the road. There would be no pulling into the Norris Campground. That would mean cars, and god forbid an RV, getting in front of Zippy. I told him anywhere near the entrance to the campground was fine. He concurred and swerved onto the shoulder at the campground entrance. Amidst saying goodbye and thanks, I frantically tried to extricate myself from the passenger seat and its accompanying debris without taking half of it with me onto the shoulder. A car approached from behind, Zippy told me I got to go. I slithered out and slammed the door. Zippy immediately sped off, out in front of  other Zippies, and rapidly gaining on the field of Zippies ahead in the eternal quest of the modern motorist to make time and tailgate in auto herds. I roamed back to our car, climbed in and leisurely made my way back north to pick up Em and head on home to Gardiner. I pulled over to let Zippies pass and enjoyed large chunks of lonely roads free of auto herds all to myself. Tailgating and making time is a losing proposition in Yellowstone. Slow down Zippy and drop out of the herd.

Conquering Zippy

Summertime Rolled

September 14, 2010

Electric Peak up Beattie Gulch

September 14, 2010: Summertime has rolled on by into autumn. Over the last two weeks fall moved in and pushed out the dog days of summer. We awoke several mornings in Gardiner to snowcapped peaks looming above. But in the usual fashion, the last three days have been beautiful Indian summer days, clear with highs in the 70s. Clouds have just moved back in. We shall see what the rest of week has in store of us.

Em, Dad, Mom, and Jess after Storm Point hike

Before the rain at the Festival

Summer has flown by. We have enjoyed a plethora of visitors: the Coats family, my parents, and the Cipriano-Bremers. Mom and Dad came through twice with a 5 day trip to Glacier sandwiched in between. For their first weekend (August 20-22) we stayed down at Lake with Jesse and hooked up with John, Em’s Dad who is working the summer down at Grant, for a Lake ScenicCruise Tour and a picnic lunch out at Gull Point. I kayaked back to Lake Hotel from Gull point, with the wind and the two foot swell to push me along. Afterwards, Em and I got a game of disc golf in for the George Anderson Classic. On Sunday, we hiked Storm Point and toured Canyon after a picnic lunch at Nez Perce Ford. On Monday night (August 23), Mom, Dad, and Jess came up to Gardiner and stayed the night at the Jim Bridger Cabins. We dined at the K-Bar and roamed the town. On Tuesday morning they headed to Glacier, and returned to Gardiner on Saturday (August 28)  for the Yellowstone Music and Art Festival where Em had a booth. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and the Festival was ultimately stormed out, after fighting the good fight for hours in and out of the rain under the Kelty. The rain and wind ultimately won . On Sunday, after a Two Bit breakfast, Mom, Dad, and I headed down to Old Faithful to spend a couple nights with Jess in a riverside cabin. Em was Gardiner bound due to work. I took off Monday from work (August 30) and got two nights down at Old Faithful with the family before returning to work on Tuesday morning. On Monday, we toured out to West Yellowstone and back to Old Faithful. The night was spent playing Quiddler. Even Dad joined in on the fun.

Rollin' on the River

Em on Joffe Lake

We have done a couple of river trips on the Yellowstone, one in canoe and one in the Salvatos’ raft with John, Kristen, and Boomer. I have also been trying to get my kayak legs this summer after liberating my kayak from five years of storage in Idaho. It had sat in the loft of Gary and Judith’s barn while we were in Japan and Chile patiently waiting our return. I have taken it out on Yellowstone Lake, Dailey Lake, Ice Lake, and lots of practice on Joffe Lake. Em and I have also got some good hiking in. Over the last two weekends we have day hiked Beaver Ponds (September 4), Bunsen Peak and Osprey Falls (September 5), Beattie Gulch (September 10 and 11), and Solfatara Creek (September 12). Fred, Christina, and Toliver visited from Missoula over Labor Day (September 4-6) weekend. Em and I hiked during the days, and hung out with them for dinners and a Two Bit breakfast. Jess came up on Sunday night to hang out with all of us and a dinner at Rosies. Toliver enjoyed the abundant animal hot moochies on the ground of Yellowstone. Oh, the joys of youth!

Hot Moochie Machine

Ice Lake docking

Osprey Falls

Yellowstone Lake Kayak


September 9, 2010

May 16, 2009:

Ski Date: May 10, 2009; The Swan’s Fin: The sun was shining and I headed back up to The Swan’s Fin. A.k.a. The Pommel, because it would be the perfect hill for a Pommel Lift. Luckily there is none. It had been hit up earlier in the week by some skiers, but on Sunday I had it to myself. I started towards the top across Swan Lake Flats around 10am. The trip across the sage was covered on foot and ski, half and half. The snow is quickly disappearing on the flats, but holding on the slope of the Swan’s Fin. I boot tracked up it and dug in a small bench in the snow near the top. The very top of the hill is snow free. Blown down to rocks. I set up on the snow out of the wind. I did four runs down the Fin. The boot track was set up nicely after the first trip. The runs down were a blast on the corn snow. Some quality meditative time was spent on top surveying the 360 Yellowstone scenes in the sun. After the fourth run, I continued across the Flats on ski. From the top, I had been able to spy a mostly snow covered route. It required taking the skis off only once between the Fin and the car. I headed down the hill to Gardiner after enjoying the view from the road of my 4 signatures glistening in the sun on the Swan’s Fin. We were dog sitting Shiloh at a friend’s house where Em is painting a mural. I watched basketball, the Yao Mingless Rockets victorious at home over the Lakers to tie the series at 2-2. Go Rockets!

Ski Date: May 8, 2009; Hedges: The mission was skiing Avalanche. The members were Dave Hahn and I driving up to Sylvan Pass from Gardiner in his Vanagon. The Avalanche mission had to be aborted due to the closing of Sylvan Pass from a snow/rock slide after sitting at the cone barricade in front of the Fishing Bridge General Store for 2 and a half hours. No ranger in sight with explanation. We abandoned the wait at 11am and headed north to Canyon. Our new mission was to ski in the Washburns on Hedges. It was a success. We parked at the barrier just north of Canyon junction and roamed up the road 15 minutes to where we put on our skis at the Cascade Picnic Area/Trailhead. We were on skis just before the crack of noon. We skinned through the woods and hit the hills and climbed up a ridge to Hedges. The climb was steep and kicked my ass but we gained a lot of elevation pretty quick. At the top of the ridge, we decided against the 15 minute additional ridge skirt to the top of Hedges. We wanted to make sure to hit the snow before it began to fall apart. After a twenty minute break on the ridge top, we headed down our 1,500 vertical feet of fun back to the Vanagon. After a post ski libation, we headed back to Gardiner.

Ski Date: May 3, 2009; Elephant Back: Awoke at 8am in Osprey Dorm at Lake with a slight Cinco de Dos hangover. The ski mission was Elephant Back. A couple of inches of wet, heavy fresh snow lay outside. A problem soon popped up, Em had neglected to bring her skins. Luckily Parks hooked her up with a pair of kicker skins. She used these to climb Elephant Back. The sky was squally. Little squalls blew in with wet snow and retreated for some sunbreaks as we climbed and descended the 800 vertical and 4 miles roundtrip of Elephant Back. (8600 feet). We spied the scene overlooking the Hotel and the Lake sprawling below. The Absarokas lay shrouded in clouds. We loped through the unburnt lodgepole woods. After skiing, we had a lakeside car picnic in front of the Lake Hotel before cruising back to Gardiner in a mix of sun, snow, and rain.

Ski Date: May 2, 2009; Top Notch: I awoke at 6:30am in the back of the Honda Accord at the Top Notch trailhead. Chilly and misting snow. The Cinco de Mayo faithful soon began arriving. The pullout was soon chock full of vehicles, people, and one dog. 13 faithful hit the trail by 8am. Charley hung in the car. I brought up the rear. We climbed. The wind and mist increased with the altitude. Chilly misting rain. The break up top was brief. I followed the rest down. We dropped into the bowl. Conditions decent compared to my last run in it. Dropped in at a higher point following a few. 8 of the faithful headed down to the cars and Cinco de Mayo celebrations at Lake. 5 remained, I was among them. We climbed back up the heart of the bowl on skins. Steep and slippery. Kelby broke. Hooked back up with our trail on the ridge. Followed it over to our ridge up. Took different routes down. I stayed on the ridge. Apres ski were initiated at the trailhead upon arrival at 3:00pm, to Lake Butte, and finally to Cinco de Mayo at the LERV. Traditions were to be maintained. Skiing, cerveza, margaritas, fajitas, nachos, decapitation of pirate pinata…..friends and fire. Akin to Christmas in Japan. Minus Annual Gift Man.

Ski Date: May 1, 2009; Double Burn: Slept late. Motivated to go to Lake for the weekend. Tomorrow is Dos de Mayo. Saturday chosen for the Cinco de Mayo celebration. Traditional Top Notch ski and party day at Lake centered in the trailers in the Fishbowl. Ski, then eat and drink. I packed up and hit the road around 4:30pm for a leisurely drive down to Lake. I would be spending the next two nights down there. Em had to work on Saturday and would come down to Lake afterward for the party. On the sunny ride down, I was taken over by the urge to ski while passing Double Burn. The day had been cold but sunny. I wagered the snow was good for one run. I skinned up and had one late afternoon run down. Slushee crusties. Parks and Melissa drove by as I returned to the trailhead after my run. The Cinco faithful had began massing. After my run, I drove down to Lake and beyond to West Thumb on a scenic cruise. I returned to Lake to scope the scene. Ultimately, I drove on to the Top Notch trailhead. I slept in the car. Ready to go in the morning.

Kurione in the Kamakura

September 9, 2010

kurionekamakura Date: May 16, 2009: Flashback 27 months: Last weekend Emily and I had three wonderful days of travel over a wide swathe of Hokkaido from the Nihon Kai (Sea of Japan) to the Ohotsuku Kai (Sea of Okhotsk: warning my Romaji rendering of the Japanese pronunciation may be a little off). We spent time with great people, ate good food, and enjoyed beautiful scenery. The weekend also inspired the title of my Weblog: KurioneKamakura. Read on and these possibly mysterious words shall be explained.

February 17, 2006: Joyfully, today is a Friday, but we will not be going to work. Today is a yasumi (holiday) for us. We have taken nenkyu (paid vacation) from work, and instead will by plying the roadways of Hokkaido by bus to Lake Saroma on the Sea of Okhotsk. We are up before the crack of dawn. After cursing the alarm clock and gouging the legonias from the corners of my eyes, I am drawn to pull back the curtains and look out the window by the sound of howling wind. I am confronted with a fubuki (blizzard.) The wind is raging, and the snow is flying vertically and horizontally. I wonder what this bodes for the bus trip, and attempt to rouse Emily from her comfortable slumber.

Our tour bus is scheduled to pull out of the Chuo Bus Terminal in downtown Sapporo at 9:20am. We need to give ourselves ample time to get down there. From our house in the eastern Sapporo hinterlands of Higashi Yonesato, it takes about 35 minutes to get to Odori Park at the heart of downtown via bus and subway. But that is in the best of weather. In the midst of a fubuki in a fuyu (winter) chock full of fubuki, that time will be doubled, at least, due to the fact that entire lanes of roads have been abandoned under mountains of snow until the spring melt frees them. We aim for a 7:22am local bus departure from our house at Hakuryo Koko to Kikusui subway station on the Tozai Line.

After making our way through a foot of fresh and blowing yuki to the bus stop, we climb aboard the 7:22 am JR Bus No. 5. in the midst of the now slighly abating blizzard. Being the end and the beginning of the line, we get our choice of seats for a short nap on the ride to Kikusui. As expected, the 25 minute trip takes over an hour, setting the tone early for the day, and the bus is chock full of people by the time we roll into Kikusui. It truly is amazing, mind boggling, and scary how many people can fit onto a bus. As Sting once sang: “Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes.” Being a weekday, the rush hour is full on and today we are going with the predominant flow of people downtown.

We make our way into the underground bowels of the Sapporo subway system, where the mass of humanity can often be overwhelming, at Kikusui Eki (Station). Masses of tightly packed rushing humanity can be especially overwhelming to someone who spent the last 11 years living in Yellowstone National Park and Moscow, Idaho. But I have forced myself to adapt to the idiosyncrasies of city life. The Rat Race exists here in Japan in a big way, and I feel like one of those rats as I head for the chikatetsu (subway). But at least this rat will be taking a well deserved yasumi today. Kyo, shigoto o shimasen!!!! (No work today!!!!)

The Rat Race takes on epic proportions as I stare directly in its bewildering face. Two tries to jump on a subway car fail because the lemmings are packed so tightly that two big ole gaikokujins just ain’t gonna fit. Finally, we SQUEEZE on to a third train, and luckily we only have two stops to Odori, where half of the lemmings get off with us. Odori is the one place where the three subway lines of Sapporo: Tozai, Nanboku, and Toho intersect and people can transfer from one line to another. It is the Grand Central Station for the underground labyrinth of below surface Sapporo. Several underground malls extend below the streets at Odori. A winter shoppers paradise. And for one who hates shopping, like me, a mammoth spectacle of obsessed mass consumerism gone mad. CHUD is less scary than the armies of mass shoppers with purses and bags dangling from the crooks of arms as they push and shove their way onward to the next purchase.

We emerge into the world of above ground Sapporo, and the fubuki has subsided. The sun is now shining as we make our way to the Chuo Bus Terminal. We arrive at 9 am, 20 minutes early for departure. We are immediately recognized by the tour director because we stick out like sore thumbs pretty much anywhere we go. He tells us that the bus will be late coming in from Otaru because the fubuki has closed down the expressway forcing the bus to ply the local city streets. To be continued…


September 9, 2010

April 27, 2009: Today we awoke to three inches of snow in Gardiner. It is still coming down. Even more should be accumulating up in the park. Gardiner sits at 5,259 feet at the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The area of the park around Gardiner is its lowest elevation. The highest point in the park is Eagle Peak in the Absarokas. Eagle Peak sits at 11,358 feet. The average elevation of the Yellowstone Plateau is 8,000 feet. Gardiner sits at the junction of the Yellowstone and the Gardiner Rivers, nestled between the Gallatin Mountains and the Absaroka Mountains in a rain/snow shadow. Gardiner has a high desert climate and rarely gets the heavy snow of the rest of the park. When it does snow, it usually disappears fairly quickly. But just up the road 8 miles and a couple thousand feet, the heavy snows of the Yellowstone Plateau and mountain ranges linger into summer.

It has been a typical spring in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Just when you think spring has sprung, winter returns with more snow. Our weather has been oscillating between sun soaked warm spring days, and blustery snow filled ones. Spring in Hokkaido was reminiscent of spring here. Sun, rain, snow, and everything in between coming in a single afternoon. Friday was snowy and windy. Saturday was crystal clear. Sunday is once again snowy and windy. Snow is supposed to continue through the week. Spring skiing will continue. And conditions should continue to oscillate between powder, crust, and corn. We have had it all, and I look forward to having some more. After a winter at Old Faithful, it is great to be in Gardiner exploring a whole other skiing venue. We will be here until May 21. Em is working at Human Resources. I am working on the Bull Crew, going into the park and moving snow at Lake, Canyon, Old Faithful, and Grant. Lots of Yellowstone windshield time and wildlife spying. I work 4 ten hour days, Monday through Thursday. Giving me three day weekends to ski and otherwise relax.

Ski Date: April 25, 2009; Bighorn Loop: ” 7300′ to 7620′. 5.5. miles, easiest to more difficult. 320 feet elevation gain/loss. The trail begins at the Indian Creek Hut and coincides with the Indian Creek Loop for the first mile. It then continues west, making a loop through the rolling terrain with outstanding views of the Gallatin Mountains, Gardner‘s Hole and the surrounding country.” Mammoth Area Ski Trails Map. The views were outstanding. Mt. Holmes, Dome Mountain, Antler Peak, Bannock Peak, Quadrant, etc…were all booming in the blue. After a couple inches of snow the previous night, Saturday dawned clear and blue. A couple of inches of fresh on a solid base. I headed out of Gardiner at 10am and was skiing by 10:30am. I floated around the trail scouting the terrain. Somehow it was the first time I had skied or hiked on this section of the Bighorn Pass trail which ultimately leads over the Gallatins 20 miles to the Gallatin Highway. Good access to a wealth of terrain on Antler, Bannock, and Quadrant. As I toured the loop, I drooled at the Gallatins imagining the possibilities.

Ski Date: April 24, 2009; The Swan’s Fin: After a week of sun, winter moved back in on Thursday night. I awoke on Friday morning to fresh inches in Gardiner. This dissipated the necessity for an early ski start, essential for warm, sun soaked spring days. I rolled over and slept for a couple more hours, a luxury not afforded on my 7am start work days. I awoke at 9:30am, puttering and relaxing before motivating to ski at noon. I headed up the hill to Swan Lake Flats. My goal was The Swan’s Fin (a.k.a. The Pommel), a large hill on the edge of Swan Lake Flats. The top is about a mile from the road. The top of The Swan’s Fin sits at 7917′, the Flats at 7260′. It is a fun sustained 30 degree slope. I parked near Swan Lake and headed across the Flats. Not a good choice. I should have parked up at the Glen Creek/Bunsen Peak trailhead. Swan Lake is a big, shallow pond surrounded by marsh on the Flats. When frozen, skiing across the marshes provides the easiest access to The Fin. But the warm weather of the previous week started slushing things up. Leading to moist, marshy collapses. But I made it across nonetheless, and up The Fin. It was in good shape. A couple of inches of fresh snow on top of a firm base. Snow was falling and the wind was blowing. I did two runs on The Swan’s Fin before heading back across the marsh to the car. I stopped in at the Boiling River on the drive back to Gardiner. The bad weather allowed me to have it all to myself for my hour there.

Ski Date: April 19, 2009; Hedges/Sheepeater: I awoke in Pelican Dorm at Lake. We had agreed on an 8:30am start time for skiing Hedges. I was running a little late. I quickly packed and made my way over to Fowler’s house. The sun was shining, but the crew was not motivated. Sunburned and Livingston calling, Parks, Melissa, Brian, and Mike decided against skiing. They were leisurely dining on breakfast when I got to Dale’s. Their lack of motivation evident. I hung out for about 15 minutes, got some coffee, and said my goodbyes. I would be skiing Hedges solo. Hedges sits in the Washburn range just north of Canyon Junction. They had plowed up to the gate a quarter mile above the junction. I parked there. Two vehicles of Gardiner locals were already parked there. I strapped on the skis and headed up the road to the Cascade Lake Trailhead/Picnic area. I veered off the road there, and headed through the lodgepole forest to the beckoning slopes of the Washburns. Canyon Junction sits around 8,000′. The top of Hedges sits at 9,699. It is about a five mile round trip. The first mile is pretty flat. Once you hit the slopes, you are left with a beautiful, mostly open sustained run of over 1,500 feet. I did an up and down. The wind was howling up top, but the views were stupendous. Afterwards, I stopped in at the newly opened (for the season) Canyon general store for an apres ski Bratwurst. On the ride home I saw the same 4 wolves on the road between Canyon and Norris that I had seen a couple weeks before. Before getting back to Gardiner, I strapped on my touring skis at Sheepeater Cliffs trailhead and skied a mile in to relax on the cliffs overlooking the beautiful cascade of the Gardiner River in Sheepeater Canyon. A fitting end to a great ski weekend.

Ski Date: April 18, 2009; Top Notch: I drove down to Lake on Friday night to hook up with Brian, Parks, and Melissa. We all enjoyed the hospitality of Fowler’s. We were up early on Saturday, on the road to Sylvan Pass just after 7:00am. 5 of us piled into Mike’s ride. Our goal was Top Notch, a 10,238′ peak in the Absarokas: a classic spring Yellowstone ski. We parked at the base of our usual ridge approach, around 8,400′, and headed up on skins. The snow was crunchy with a breakable crust. Spring transitions not yet complete. The 1,800′ is gained and lost over two miles. A steep climb up, and a fun ride down. We hit the peak around 11am. The sun was beating out the clouds and made for some great peak lounging in a shovel dug seat. Brian, Mike, and Park’s did a long run of the southside. I stayed lounging, and napping in the glorious sun. When they arrived back up top, they were ready for another. I joined in on this one. We found some nice corn on some other south facing slopes. We skinned back up after a great run. Unfortunately, our ultimate run down sat on the east and north, which was windblasted with a breakable crust. This made for some sloppy turning. After riding the crust of the top ridge to the saddle, we decided to drop into the bowl instead of following the ridge down. I got a couple good turns in on the top of the bowl, and then hit the crust again. Falls ensued but all survived. The trees were much softer, controllable, and fun. We hit the car and some celebratory beers around 3pm. They were followed by many more into the night at Fowler’s.

Ski Date: April 12, 2009; Schult’z Knob: We were up early, and so was the sun. We walked over to Mike’s and climbed into his Jimmy for the ride up to Jardine, the former mining community nestled in the Absarokas, 6 miles and 2,000 feet above Gardiner. The Mineral Hill Mine is now closed, finishing up its clean up phase. Now Jardine is a satellite residential community of Gardiner, providing access to the National Forest. Its miles and miles of logging roads serve as ski and snowmobile trails and conduits to the wealth of off piste. I have skied up there several times, but not nearly as much as Mike. He was our guide on a seven mile loop up and around Schulz’s Knob. Coming off the Knob in our touring gear in collapsing, breakable crust was sloppy, but the rest of the tour was fun, complete with great sun soaked Absaroka scenery.

Ski Date: April 11, 2009; Blacktail Plateau Trail: “7571′ to 6600′, 8 miles, easiest to more difficult. The trail follows an unplowed road and may be skied from either end. It begins 8 miles east of Mammoth Hot Springs at a parking area across the road from a self-guiding trail, or at a service road approximately 1 mile farther east (we started at this trailhead due to lack of snow at the first). The trail gradually climbs 900 feet in six miles through open meadows to The Cut. From “The Cut” the trail descends two miles down a moderate grade through a spruce/fir forest to rejoin the Mammoth-Tower Road 1.4 miles from Tower Junction. Broad vistas, elk, deer, coyotes, and occasionally bison (and a whole buttload of critters) may be seen.” Mammoth Area Ski Trails Map. We dropped a car at each trailhead. Mike’s at the start, and ours at the end. Mike met up with us in Gardiner at 8:45am. We rendezvoused with Lloyd and Curtis in Mammoth at 9am. We saw two wolves on the hills near the high bridge over the Gardiner spooking a herd of elk with their proximity. After dropping the cars, we headed down the road. The snow on the road up to The Cut was in good shape. After The Cut, it began to fall apart in a collapsing mess. You would be cruising along nicely on top, and then suddenly everything would collapse leaving the skier wallowing in mush. It was at times a frustrating ride down on the road, but fun nonetheless. One must be prepared for anything in spring skiing.

Ski Date: April 10, 2009; Claggett Butte: I parked up at the Mammoth Terraces, just in front of the locked gate to Yellowstone’s interior. I strapped on my tele-boards and skins and headed up the Terrace Loop to the Snow Pass trail. A mile into into the ski, foreshadowing began. I looked down as I climbed and realized one of my side cables had unscrewed and unhooked itself. My rear throw binding dangled unfastened on my right foot. The cable nowhere to be found. Stupidly, I was not carrying a spare. Lesson learned. I searched and searched for 15 minutes retracing my steps, to no avail. I decided to sit and take a short break, before heading back down the trail in defeat. But lo and behold, 5 minutes down the trail I came upon the missing piece and reattached it. I headed back up Snow Pass invigorated. Near the top of the pass I veered off onto the Clagett Butte/Sepulcher trail and headed up Clagett Butte, which sits at 8005′. The Terraces trailhead sits at 6570′, giving a 1,500′ vertical over two miles. I took a long break in the sun on the edge of the cornice filled travertine cliffs on top of the butte before heading down. The snow was variable going down, from solid to collapsible, but the turns were nice. That is until I hit a big snow bump, falling forward and breaking my left ski. I heard a ripping sound. I was fine, but my ski was not. The top sheet of my ski had ripped up, taking the binding with it. Luckily, the binding was still attached, and the snow crammed between the lifted top sheet and the rest of the ski wedged it in place. I was able to ski down okay with its present state. But it would be the last journey for my Morotto tele-boards, purchased for 5000 yen in Sapporo. I got two seasons out of them. After asking around, Carl gave me an old pair of 193cm Tele-birds with Hot Chili rear throws. I will finish out my tele season on these. Thanks Carl!

Ski Date: April 5, 2009; Bunsen Peak: We rendezvoused with Curtis and Carl at 9am in Mammoth. We were going to ski Bunsen Peak, leaving Carl’s truck at the YAC Camp at the bottom of the old Bunsen Road, and taking our car up to Swan Lake Flats. On the Flats, we came up on four wolves right at the pullout where we were going to park. A big gray stood on the snow bank right in front of us. A black dropped down to the road and followed the other two grays. A good start to a great day. We strapped on the skis and headed across the flats to Bunsen. We climbed straight up Bunsen via skin and boot. The top of Bunsen sits at 8564′, and has some great snow filled terrain off its eastern side. We took a long lunch break up top, gloriously windless and sun soaked. Then we began our descent to the old road which we would follow down to the YAC Camp. The old road sits at about 7,200′ where we hooked up with it, giving us an interesting and challenging 1,300′ vertical to the road. From there we still had another 1,000′ vertical over several miles down the winding road to the YAC Camp. The road oscillated between ice and powder. When all was said and down we had covered about seven miles and enjoyed 2,300′ vertical of descent.

Ski Date: April 4, 2009; Specimen Ridge: After a week of snow, the sun was shining. Curtis and Carl came down to Gardiner for a breakfast at the Town Cafe, and we joined them when the Town opened at 9am. After breakfast, we headed up the hill and all climbed in the Accord and headed out to Tower. We parked just beyond Tower, at a pullout just before the road crosses the Lamar River. Our plan was to head up onto Specimen Ridge. Our pullout sat at 6,200′. We strapped on the skis and began to climb up to the ridge. As we climbed, the wind increased. By the time we were on the ridge it was raging. We named this ridge Windy Ridge. We climbed up to around 8,000′ on the ridge. Driven by the wind, we decided to drop down into a backside bowl that looked inviting and windless. It turned out to be a great move. Once we were off the ridge and into the bowl, the snow was soft and powdery. The turns were great. We found a sunny, nearly windless spot in the trees of the bowl. We dubbed the bowl Stone Bowl after a nice long break. I decided to do another run as the rest relaxed and headed back up to Windy Ridge. The ride back down Stone Bowl was stone cold fine. After another break, we motivated out of the bowl and down the rest of the ridge to the car. The ride down was a blast with great conditions.

Ski Date: April 3, 2009; Snow Pass: Awoke to snow and drove up the hill to the top of the Terraces. Parked at the gate and strapped on the skis. Headed up the left side of the Terrace loop to the Snow Pass trail. “The trail ascends 770′ in 1.5 miles through a series of steep grades along an old wagon road to Snow Pass. Good views of the surrounding country are frequent. From Snow Pass the trail continues 0.5 miles down over rolling terrain to a trail junction…” Mammoth Area Ski Trails Map. One way towards the road at Glen Creek trailhead, one way to Fawn Pass, and one way towards Sepulcher and Electric. I turned and headed another mile up Glenn Creek to the bottom of a ridge leading up to Sepulcher before turning back around and heading back to Snow Pass. The ride down was a good one. A good end to a fun 8 mile day out in the wind and snow.

Ski Date: March 29, 2009; Undine Ski Hill: Em and I awoke to snow, and headed up the hill to the Undine Ski Hill. From 1942 to 1994, this had been the local ski hill. A rope tow served the 500 or so feet of vertical on a couple of runs. Undine Ski Hill was finally shut down by the Park Service in the early 90`s. The hill sits 5 miles outside of Mammoth on the Mammoth/Tower Road, right across from the pullout overlooking Undine Falls. It is nice and open and easily accessible. We skinned up and explored the woods up top before our first run. The snow was good, so we skinned up again, took a break, and telemarked down once again. When conditions are good, it is a great and quick escape for a couple runs. After our second run, we hung out with the views of Undine Falls and the Lava Creek Canyon before heading back down the hill to try and dig out Jesse’s snow/ice bound car sitting behind Juniper Dorm in Mammoth. We dug it out, but ice still locked in the wheels. It was freed a few days later with the help of Drew and Charles.

Ski Date: March 27, 2009; Double Burn: After a week of snow and my first work week on the Bull Crew, the sun was shining on Friday morning. That boded well for my planned trip down to Old Faithful to grab the rest of our stuff out of storage in our winter room in Larkspur. The roads were in good shape, and I successfully lugged and loaded up all our stuff in the Accord and was heading back towards Gardiner by 1:30pm. I brought my telegear with me in hopes of getting in a few runs on Double Burn, a hill just off the road between Norris and Mammoth. I pulled off the road around 3pm, and the snow was in good shape. I strapped on the skis and skins at the Grizzly Lake trailhead, crossed over Obsidian Creek, and up Double Burn. The hill was burned twice, in 1976 and once again in 1988, and hence is nice and open compared to a lot of the other hills in the area. Twenty years on, lodgepoles are repopulating the hill, but sections of it are still real open and make for some great runs on a 400′ vertical slope of 25 to 30 degrees. I skinned up the first run, and then booted up for two more. A couple of inches of powder on top of a firm base for some great late afternoon dust on crust runs.

P.S. Our digital camera we got in Japan 3 years ago has deteriorated beyond use. It now only produces badly blurred images. We retired it, and we have spent most of the spring without a camera. The sporadic skiing images  (missing) I included are thanks to friends. Three of the final least blurred images from our camera sit above. R.I.P. We just got a new camera. I look forward to using it on next week’s skis.