Archive for the ‘Yellowstone’ category

Hot Tub Technician Rambling Blues

November 17, 2010

The guts of A5

I am winding down the final few hours of my Hot Tub Technician career here in Mammoth Hot Springs. I started this gig on May 20. It ends today. It has been a good run with a good crew on Mammoth Maintenance. But it is time to move on. I look forward to once again climbing behind the wheel of a Bombardier R-12 this winter down at Snow Lodge. I check back in for the winter season on December 2. Giving me two weeks off. I am hitting the open road tomorrow and heading to Texas for Thanksgiving. Emily will meet me there, and we will drive back to Yellowstone after Thanksgiving with the family on the Texas coast. Em has been in Alabama since October 30 spending time with her mom, friends, and other family members. If all goes to plan, we will reunite at the Houston Amtrak station on Tuesday. Em is riding the rails from Birmingham to Houston. Then we will head to Port Aransas on the Texas coast with the family for Thanksgiving. My final Hot Tub check is done. I stare out the window of A5 at snow covered Mammoth.  Hot Tub Technician days behind me. Soak on.

Mom and I on the porch of A5

Emigrant Peak

October 10, 2010

Head towards Dailey Lake

Hike Date: October 9, 2010: 38th birthday. My first in the Greater Yellowstone since my 29th in 2001. 2002-2004 in Moscow, Idaho, USA. 2005-2007 in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan. 2008 in Tomball, Texas, USA. 2009 in Putre, Chile. It is good to be home. Em and I spent the day hiking Emigrant Peak, looming over the Yellowstone River’s Paradise Valley. The top of Emigrant sits at 10,921 feet. The Yellowstone River around 5,200 feet. We started hiking at Gold Prize Creek at an elevation around 5,600 feet.

ridge

ridges

I first arose in Gardiner at 6 a.m. for a weather check. The previous night was rain. Some snow up high. At 6 am it was cloudy in Gardiner. I saw no stars. I went back to bed, going to check again at 7. The weather report called for a nice day: mostly sunny, 20 percent chance of rain. The day just need to mature as we slept. It did and we did. On my next check, things looked a little more promising. Clouds hung on Sepulcher and Electric but there were gaps. Let it stew for a while longer. Finally we arose at 8 am for the day. We finishing packing up and hit the road at 8:45am heading north along the Yellowstone.

Contemplating Em

Snow Descent

We turned the Accord off  89 onto East River Road, Dailey Lake Road, Six Mile Creek Road, and finally Gold Prize Creek, our trailhead. We started hiking at 10 am. The clouds that were clinging to Emigrant were starting to clear. They left a dusting of snow up high. It cleared beautifully as we climbed. And climbed. And climbed. We heard some folks off in the woods before tree line, but never saw them as we took different routes through the trees. They were going down. Real early risers that had already summitted. We would encounter their footprints in the snow above treeline up to the peak.

North Peak

Em on top

Our climb was slow. Often slow motion. But we finally made the top at 3:45 p.m. We communed with the peak cairn and headed down the snowy ridge. Some slips and slides kept us on our toes on the steep descent. Off the ridge we enjoyed sunset in the grass of the lower inclined meadows before regaining the last 3 miles of more moderately pitched trail. We finished with head lamps, the stars, planets and milky way booming above. We the hit the car at 7:45pm. Gathered firewood and headed to Dailey Lake to camp. Food, fire, and sleep. We awoke to howling wind, a Dailey Lake trademark, and snuggled deeper into sleeping bags before heading home to Gardiner. And work. Cumpleanos. Tanjoubi. Birthday. Finito.

Emigrant in July from Dailey Lake

Weekend to Weekend

October 3, 2010
Dailey Lake

Dailey Lake Rainbow

October 3, 2010: The summer season in Yellowstone is rolling towards its end. Locations close with each coming week: Roosevelt, Canyon, Lake Hotel to name a few. Mammoth is still going, until October 15. But we have started closing up the cabins and some of the employee dorms, which will not be used in the winter. For the final month (which we are half way through), my schedule got switched around in the scramble to cover for the loss of our night guy and some others. Until Mammoth closes for the season, I have Friday and Saturday off and two night shifts a week (Thursday and Sunday).  My week has just begun with my Sunday night shift. I am living weekend to weekend.

The weekend was spent kayaking and shooting disc golf. On Friday (October 1), I kayaked a 5 mile stretch of the Yellowstone River. I put in at the Cinnabar River Access just above the Corwin Springs bridge and took out at the Yankee Jim River Access. This was the first time I have taken my kayak out on the Yellowstone. It is a great stretch of river for a beginner like me, mostly mellow with some quicker stretches to keep you on your toes. I emerged successfully and pulled out just above Yankee Jim Canyon, stashed my kayak, and limbered up my thumb for the hitchhike back to Cinnabar. This was my fourth hitchhike of the year, and by far my most successful. This one will be hard to beat. As soon as I hit the road, a car was hurtling my way. A red 1966 Mustang. You don’t see many of these on the road, and I know of one in Gardiner. I assumed it was Carlos and stuck out my thumb enthusiastically. The Mustang blew on by. I turned around and waved my arms exuberantly at the retreating Mustang. Carlos clued in to who I was in his rearview and pulled over 50 yards down the road. I started hoofing it rapidly before he changed his mind. The passenger door opened in welcome as I approached. 30 seconds, 1 car, and a ride all the way back to Cinnabar. Thanks Carlos!

On Saturday (October 2), Em and I headed down to Old Faithful to put some stuff in storage for the coming OFSL winter and shoot disc golf. The annual Fall Classic Disc Golf Tournament was happening on Saturday and the disc golf faithful were converging along the Firehole. Jess set us up with a transient room in Larkspur. We hit the golf course around 4 pm, hooking up with Carlos, April, Charlie, Avril, and James for a party of seven. The last on the course. I had only shot the Wilderness Course at Old Faithful once before, in the winter about 10 years ago. Em had never shot it. So, we were in need of knowledgeable chaperones. We ended up having to skip two holes, one due to bison and one due to dark, but had a great time on a great course. On Sunday morning, I woke up early and headed up Craigs Pass to Scaup Lake for a morning paddle before gathering up Em and heading back to Gardiner and then my 2:30 p.m. night shift at Mammoth.

The previous weekend was also filled with some kayaking and disc golf. On Friday (September 24), I went out to Dailey Lake to kayak. Hidden in the reeds on the far end of the lake, I came upon a floating dock where I spent an hour and a half relaxing in the sun before completing my circumnavigation of the lake. After kayaking, I had a nice fire to bid farewell to the sun and greet the rising moon before heading back home to Gardiner. On Saturday (September 25) we headed up to Beartooth and Shari’s place outside of Clyde Park for the momentous occasion of Dale Fowler’s 60th birthday party. Generations of extended Yellowstone clan descended upon the homestead to celebrate and camp out. A ten hole disc golf course was set up on the 22 acres. The etiquette hole sat on top the highest point where a rotating bench takes in a wide swath of Montana: the Shields River Valley, the Crazies, the Bridgers, the Absarokas, the Little Belts. The weather was ideal for an outdoor shindig. Em and I were the last up around the fire, discussing Dune and Islamanauts with Keenan into the wee hours. Sunday dawned early, and work beckoned. We drove home thinking of next weekend. Now, that next weekend has already passed. I look ahead once again. Weekend to weekend to weekend.

Dailey Lake

Bring on the weekend

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

Solfatara

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