We decided to spend the day completing the portion of the Blacktail Plateau trail we missed yesterday by beginning our journey on the lower trailhead. We began in the dim light at 7:15 before the sun appeared over the horizon. It was cold again, but not as bad as the previous day. The car indicated 15 degrees.  We glided carefully over the track studying every rock to make sure it wasn’t a bison disguised by the low light and talking loudly at every corn to avoid startling unseen critters on the other side. We didn’t run into anything though. This end of the trail did not climb as steeply as the upper portion. It gentling wove around the rolling hills as it slowly gained elevation on the climb to the plateau. It was a cloudy day and even went the sun rose it remained frigid. We stopped after three miles for a quick snack. It was at this point that we began to see the wolf tracks again. It was 9:30am and the sun began to peak through the clouds making the snow sparkle. It would end of being morning of both sun and clouds making it impossible to keep ourselves at a comfortable temperature. One minute we were over dressed and the next under-dressed.

The sun and clouds didn’t matter though. What mattered was that as we continued on our journey a sound entered my ears. I stopped and told Eric is stop too. Without the grinding of the snow beneath our skis the distant sound echoed clearly over the Plateau. The wolf pack howls drifted through the air like soft music caressing the landscape. I had never heard wolves howl in the wild before and it took my breathe away. Such beauty in their wild music. Such freedom. There was no way to tell how close they were or how many sung. But it lasted three minutes before the voices disappeared into the cold. I smiled. Hearing the wolves was better than seeing them. And 15 minutes later we heard it again. This time it was one wolf, and he sounded closer. Perhaps the alpha had come to inspect us… we’ll never know.

We saw several elk grazing in the hills wells off the trail before winding around a bend high up on the plateau. A small avalanche from the shelf above the trail cover the groomed track. It had undoubtedly been the avalanche the skier told us about caused by the bison yesterday. The skier had been lucky he wasn’t standing beneath the shelf. It would have buried him.

We came to a vista that my GPS indicated was about where we had stopped the day before and turned back. The ski was downhill for the most part and we glided smoothly along until around a bend Eric nearly ran over a coyote. He seemed as startled and confused as we were. The coyote’s tail was early hairless indicating that he had been infected with mange. He tried to approach us, probably hopeing for a handout, but we waved our poles and yelled at him. He timidly back off, but instead of heading in the opposite direction he seemed fixated and getting around us. He tried to head up the slope beside the trail, but seemed to decide that making a path through deep snow was too much work and he returned to the track. He passed back and forth a bit as we waved our poles some more… then he bolted passed us at a dizzying speed. He watched him trot down the path before continuing on our way. Now it was sunny and we were down to our base layers… well Eric was down to his base layer and I was down to my three base layers. We made it back to the trailhead finishing 12 miles on the Blacktail.

We headed further up the road and stopped at Tower Junction where the road was closed. We snapped our skis back on and glided  uphill toward Tower Falls on the closed road. We were too tired to make it all the way to the falls, but we did make it to Calamite Springs Overlook were steaming hot springs were lined along the edges of the Yellowstone River below. Before skiing back down the road to the car Eric decided that he wanted to make the 1.5 mile journey shirtless. Oddly, he reported that the worst part was the backpack against his skin. It gave him freezer burn.

On the drive back several bison stood in the middle of the road. I watched a safe distance away for them to wander off. The two cars behind me though were impatient and went around me. They drove up to the bison and frightened them off the road even though all wildlife in Yellowstone has the right of way… plus I know of a bison that was near a car, turned around and broke off the rear-view mirror without even trying. Visitor ignorance angers me… but I thought of the wolves and it made me smile.

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