Adam and I may have gotten more than we bargained for when we set out to do the Blacktail Plateau for the second time on this trip. The plan was to start at the upper TH, ski to the lower TH and then back again for a total of 16 miles.

We began at 8am. Overnight it had snowed another foot and flakes still fell softly from the white sky. A white Christmas indeed. I broke track through the fresh powder for the first two miles and we reached “The Cut” in about 1.5 hours. No bad for setting the track up 900 ft of gain. Adam took over the lead for another hour as we descended slowly into the rolling hills and meadows. We saw a few bison a safe distance away and many tracks.
I took over leading again. We were about one or two miles from the lower TH and coming around a bend when I noticed movement further down the track. Bison! A large herd of bison seemed to be using the trail as a corridor and were heading toward us. Before I could fully evaluate their speed and other variable Adam was already turning around. I followed suit and we made haste the way we had come.

It did not appear that the bison were moving amazingly fast and I was hoping they we branch off into the surrounding meadows that surrounded us. After looking over our shoulders for 20 minutes and seeing nothing (though there were lots of bends and hills that decreased full visibility) we began to relax a bit, but kept moving just in case… its a good thing. I looked back one last time ten minutes later and saw in the far distances, but coming toward us, the same herd of bison spilling down a hill onto the track. At that point we booked it as fast as we could up the plateau. I was terrified. I remembered the herd that almost trampled Eric 4 years ago. I made game plans in my herd. Noted where we could hide if they overtook us. I kept the panic in my head though and stayed calm. It’s what I’ve been trained to do. Panic does not result in survival.

We hit the top of the “The Cut” and with relief double poled most of the way back to the TH. They never caught us. We escaped. But Adam’s already injured knee was messed up even more from the effort of the escape. We hadn’t eaten in 4 hours. We were overheated since we hadn’t stopped to remove down jackets in our haste.  Even though it was only 1:50pm we called it a day on the trail.

Instead we headed to Mammoth Hot Springs and had a quick look at the Terraces. On the way back to the Buffalo Ranch we saw a herd of 29 bison on the road near the Blacktail Plateau. We wondered if it was the same herd we had out run earlier.

Today was a multi-track day in that we kept moving from ski track to ski track in the Northeast Corner of Yellowstone NP. We began our day as the first hints of light flooded over Lamar Valley near Soda Butte making the snow glow blue under the cloudy, but clear ski. We parked the car and skied the unplowed road as Eric and I had down last year. There were some places were pavement showed, but Adam and I could easily avoid those area by crossing the street. There were so bison grazing a safe distance away as we followed the Lamar River watching the blue snow grow white as the sun rose in the valley (though we never saw the sun actually). We turned back after a mile and headed back to the car. There were more cars on the road now and the snowplows were coming soon too. Besides, we had more places to explore.

We tried to enter the Barronette Trail from the upper entrance but saw no way to cross the river. So we parked at the lower entrance. A trail was cut about 1/4 mile into the river basin, but then it turned left… the trail was supposed to go right. I shrugged and began to cut  trail following the river. It was relatively easy going through mostly flat terrain with some small dips. There were conifers in patches… some thick making visibility a challenge. About a mile in we came across two grazing bison. We were a safe distance to pass, but one male kept looking at us every time we moved. It was making me uneasy. After a few false attempt to continue and getting sketched each time by his stare I listened to my gut and turned around. Adam was relieved. He didn’t like that bison’s glare either. We explored the left side of the river until the trees got to thick. Then we headed back to the car.

From  here we drove to the Banndock TH (Warm Springs Picnic Area). This trail is ungroomed, but track was already well set so the going was easy. The trail led us through conifer forest and meadows. I was a bit nervous due to the moose known to wander the area. We saw none. After two miles the boundary of Yellowstone is Reached and we ended the Absorka Wilderness. The trail led us to Silver Gate, MT in 1 mile (where we saw moose tracks). From here we followed a snowmobile track toward Cooke City. We never made it too the city as I wanted to go back through the moose habitat before dusk. Moose terrify me more than bears.

Today we took a break from XC sking and headed to Cooke City. After last year snowmobiling the trails of West Yellowstone, MT I was looking forward to another fun experiencing using the snowmobiles to get into the backcountry for snowshoeing.

We rented a two-person sled from Cooke City Motorsports. Immediately we were warned that avalanche danger was extreme. The gentleman was comforted when I informed him I was AIRE trained and had becons, probes and shovels. He showed us on a map the places to avoid and suggested we visit some lakes where there was a warming hut. Adam and I suited up in heavy duty jackets, pants and helmets. Before we left the gentleman warned up to be careful of the sledding getting stuck since it would be impossible for only the two of us to get it out since the sled was massive. He said he’d look for us it we were out past 5:00pm.

Off we went down the Beartooth Hwy taking the turn off the wide main road by Colter Campground for the lakes…as it turned out we ended up somehow at Goose Lake which was not on the map at all (we were supposed to go the Mud Lakes). In my attempt to make a multi-Point U-turn the back end of the sled dug itself deep into the fresh powder. Shit!

I pulled forward into the snowbank on the other side. Then back. Then Forward. We dug in the snow. We stamped it down with out feet. We dug ramps. We picked up the back end and rotated it. We rotated the front end. Pulled back and forward. Repeated…. and eventually we got the sled free! It only took an hour!. Always fun to have an epic.

We decided to drive back to the Beartooth Hwy and stick to that road which was wide and groomed. The Bearooth Mountains were forbidding against the blue winter sky. Pilot Peak’s summit tower pierced the heavens like an arrow commanding the entirely of the craggy range. We turned around at the Junction with the Chief Joseph Hwy.

Adam took a break in town while I drove the road two more times passing a bison grazing near the track. It was good for me to be alone with my thoughts. I had recollections of Eric. Little things. Like how he used to say “I want to play” and “That sounds like a personal problems”. I remembered how much fun he had on the snowmobiles last year going through the deep powder and over bumps. How he got stuck and had just simply picked up his sled. These memories don’t make me sad. They make me smile. They are a part of me. They are gifts he gave to me. And he also gave to the gift of not forever living memories, but the drive to create new ones. And I discovered as I left the cold (coldest its been so far here) sear the bits of unprotected flesh on my face that the path I choose next will not be the path we would have taken together. It will be a new path. My path. Not our path. But a path along which I will still be guided by Eric. He brought me to where I am today and, though now I choose my own way, he will trail me.

And when Adam and I drove home today we passed a carcass in Lamar Valley. On the hill above us the Lamar Canyon Pack of wolves laid in the snow digesting their meal. “Thank you Eric” I thought to myself. The wolf is powerful, intelligent, fierce and compassionate. Eric was like the wolves. But wolves more forward. They move on to survive.  I am moving on too. I am following the herds of elk as they migrate to new land. And in that new place I will find my peace, happiness and my love again. A different love…. but still love. And I will be home again.

After leaving our car at the upper TH near Petrified Tree Marc dropped Adam and I off on the lower portion of The Blacktail Plateau. This is my favorite track in Yellowstone. It features gorgeous scenery, ample wildlife, rolling terrain and has a backcountry feel.

Today’s weather was more stable with mostly cloudy skies, light intermittent snow and a few patches of sunshine. The weather was colder as well and our skis did not stick to the fresh three inches of snow that had fallen overnight. We broke trail since the groomer hadn’t been by in awhile, but it wasn’t difficult. A few places had deep drifts and other areas had pavement exposed. These areas were short and few though. They could easily be navigated. We saw elk near the track and signs of coyotes. No bison or wolves like last winter. There were no other people around today.

It was only midday when we completed the traverse so we skis up and down the Petrified Tree Road to kills a little time. Then we drove the road to Cooke-City stopping at The Lamar Valley sign. Here we put on our snowshoes and walked to nowhere into the valley. It should be noted that only people that are good at navigation and understand land features should attempt this. You have to have good visibility of your surroundings at all times and use land features to make this happen. Never come over the top of a hill you cannot see around… there might be a hidden bison! Luckily, all the bison we saw were far off. We also saw signs of red foxes in the snow.

On our way back to the Buffalo Ranch we spotted three coyotes traveling across Lamar Valley.

Today our plan to to ski the Chittiden Loop passing Tower Fall along the way. Eric and I had only skied up to Calcite Springs last year and I was excited to do a new track. Things did not go exactly as planned. We skied in half snow, half wind and half sun up the closed Tower Fall Road. It has no been groomed in some time but the tracks as visible in the fresh powder. Almost immediately we found that due the the warm air we had to quick was our skis. It helped a little but they were still a bit on the sticky side. We passed the lovely view from the Calcite Springs Lookout and observed the hot springs below by the Yellowstone River.

Tower Fall was only half frozen and I had fantasies of climbing it with my ice tools… if i wouldn’t result in my getting killed on the rotten soft ice. We skied from the falls into the campground were we encountered a 12 point buck elk feeding on the dried grasses. We made a massive loop around him and found the Chittenden Road. We were getting more and more frustrated with our skis as we half glided half walked up the hill due the snow gathering on our skis. After about 1/2 mile we encountered a sign indicating that the road was closed to foot traffic so we turned back (Marc informed us that the sign was supposed to only be there in summer and should have been removed).

We decided to continue up the Tower Fall Road (also the other way to go around the Chittenden Loop). We got in about 2.5 miles before deciding to turn back. The snow was sticking to our skis in 3 inch chucks. Wax was not working at all. It was a trudge and just not fun anymore. So we skied back to the car stopping to release some of Eric’s ashes by the Calcite Springs. Last year he had skied from the springs to the car shirtless! All the while the weather kept changing it’s tune. We had blue skies, heavy snow, whiteout wind and clouds.

By then it was about 3:15 so we took a drive down Lamar Valley Road in search of wildlife. Whiteout conditions prevented most visibility, but we saw some bison. Hopefully tomorrow won’t be as sticky!

I’d been planning this trip since a week or so after my husband died in a climbing accident back in September. Eric and I began our journey together on a road trip to Yellowstone and I needed to go back to the place that I have always considered my home town to cleanse myself and begin my journey forward in life. Adam, a friend of both myself and my late husband Eric, agreed to join me on the journey even though he has never set foot in any kind of ski!

Adam and I left Washington at 1:30pm on Thursday, eastbound for Yellowstone National Park. We expected the Journey of 850ish miles would take until Saturday afternoon to complete. We slept in my CRV at a Walmart in Ceour D’Leane, ID on our first night. On Friday we continued east on I-90, pausing in Missoula to check out Freestone Climbing Gym. As it turned out the stop was well warranted after spending too long in the car. Plus the bouldering features at the gym were amazing. We stopped at Big Sky Brewing Company on our way out too. They give free samples!

The going was good on the road even over the passes since snow fall has been light this year. As it turned out we ended up arriving in Gardiner at 8:30pm. Thus we spent the night just outside the gates of Yellowstone curled up in the car. We would get an earlier start than expected.

We drove into Yellowstone just as the light began to touch Mt Everts. We were surprised at how light the snowfall was. In fact there was none until we reached the higher elevation of Mammoth Hot Springs. Even there it was spotty. Luckily, The Upper Terrace Loop was mostly covered with sufficient snow. It should be noted that the lower part of it only has a thin layer. We carried out skies until we reached deeper snow.

As I expected, Adam was a natural at skiing. No surprise since he is a grappler, cycles everywhere and is a lifeguard/swim instructor. He fell only twice on the long downhill potion of the track. I remember falling about ten times there last year!

Next I introduced Adam to snowshoeing on the trail of Golden Gate (accessed via Snowy Pass Trail). The trail was unbroken as usual and I am still uncertain why someone would want to ski it. We saw no wildlife along the way, but plenty of tracks.

We met up with Marc, my former NPS co-worker, at the Mammoth General Store. From there we headed into Gardiner to meet up my former supervisor’s supervisor, Katy, and some new folks I didn’t know. We all took the road to Jardin up into the hills and turned left on the road to Eagle Creek. After some issues with my car getting stuck in the snow, we all XC skied the Eagle Creek Loop which had good snow and excellent views. Adam kept up great with everyone to their surprise!

Marc stayed in town while we headed to his place at the Buffalo Ranch in Lamar Valley to clean up and have dinner. He is the  manager of the Yellowstone In is it I the now and lives in a log cabin that is rustic and beautiful. Marc didn’t return until after 9:30 since he drove his car off the road and down a hill just a mile away from the cabin. Luckily he is safe and the car seems to have faired well. They will be towing it out tomorrow morning.