Damien and I considered the possibly trying to AT ski to the summit of Sepulcher Peak. There wasn’t much beta on the ski but after discussing it the folks at the Bear Den Ski shop and the visitor center and the visitor center we decided to check it out. Considerable avalanche was in the forecast for wind loaded slopes, so we weren’t to confident on finding good conditions. However, the Snow Pass Trail route to the base of the peak trail beyond  was a nice outing within itself so would be worth heading to the area regardless. I had tried doing the un-groomed steep trail in xc skis before and it just wasn’t fun so I was excited to have AT skis this time around.

Damien skinned up the Upper Terrace Loop clockwise until we reach what appeared to be the cutoff trail that linked up with the Snow Pass Trail. It was unsigned and I think it wasn’t the exact turnoff, but we did begin to see the orange trail markers in the trees. We were on route. We followed the trail into the forest and up. AT skins made the whole ordeal of going up much more enjoyable. It was horrendous trying the herringbone two years ago.

Snow Pass is a little bit removed from a true wilderness feel since it has power line across it, but the weather more than made up for that. Frigid, wicked winds blasted over the pass and snow stung our faces as we left the forest and entered the open meadows. It truly felt like Yellowstone’s notoriously harsh winters. Damien has practically his entire face covered as we traveled over the deep snow drifts. It was clear looking at the snow patterns the the ridge we were supposed to follow up Sepulcher would be wind loaded with severe avalanche danger. Instead we would stay low.

After we headed down from the pass the wind tunnel effect lightened up, with the snow still fell heavily from the ski and winds continues to swirl the powder around us. Here on the open Swan Lake Flats we followed the trail pole to pole to a junction with the Sportman Lake Trail. We decided to go explore this other trail which headed into a small wooded canyon out of the wind. We took turns traversing along steep slopes…and then I saw a movement to my left.

A safe distance away trotting chest deep in snow along the creek was the cow moose we had startled. We froze and watched her and she stopped to look back at us. There aren’t many moose in Yellowstone. In fact this was the first I had ever seen there. It was an exciting moment for both Damien and I as we watched her go back to foraging. She was beautiful.

We couldn’t continue on the trail because the slope steepened making the area an avalanche concern. Instead we headed back to Swan Lake Flats and skied into the white out. The sun shined through he white clouds briefly and the whole scene reminded me of Antarctica. White Ski, white air, white ground and a faint sun. We skied back to Mammoth Hot Springs the same way we’d come arriving back at 3:15pm. It was time to take a bath!

I’d always wanted to swim in the Boiling River area in the winter, but never had for one reason or another. I convinced Damien what it would be fun. He was skeptical but followed me along the mile look trail. along the Gardiner River. The “Boiling River” is a boiling hot river of water that comes down the slope from the Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces where it meets up with the freezing cold Gardiner River. Where the two rivers merge the water t is jacuzzi temperature. The only problem is getting into  and out of the water. First Damien and I tried to go to the easy to access small pool off by instead. However, the rock wall of the “pool” did not block out enough of the freezing Gardiner River Water so it was lukewarm to cold. Thus, we opted to moved the bigger area where the other swimmers were. To access the larger pool on the left you have to wade though water that is searing hot on your left and ice cold on your right. Plus you have to contend with slippery sharp rocks. I’m pretty good over rocks and moved quickly to the nice warm temps of the far pool. Damien had a more difficult time, but made it.

The hard part is deciding to leave the pool. The air is cold and the long walk back to the clothes through either steaming or frigid water just does not sound appealing. But it had to be done. Evening set in and all of us decided slowly made the decision to emerge. Damien and I opted to just go through the cold Gardiner and avoid the medium rare feel of the boiling river. It actually wasn’t all that bad  as far as being exposed to the air and I felt pretty good with my towel around me.

Damien and I were the first to head back along the trail, but of course our path with blocked by a herd of bison heading our way. We quickly put on our headlamps and explained the situation to the folks behind us whole admitted that they would have walked right into the bison if I hadn’t seen them. Going into ranger mode, an instinct I can’t seem to shake, i led everyone up the hill and to the road. We took this detour back to the trail-head parking lot. Its always an adventure!

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