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.

With a fresh tank of gas Eric and I headed out this morning to embark on our final snowmobile journey. Mark suggested we go to the less visited trails along the Gallatin National Forest to Horse Butte and beyond. We followed the Big Sky Trail with crossing highway 191 several times before the junction to the Horse Butte Loop. We followed the Loop along the shoreline of Hebgen Lake. Bison winter in this area, but we didn’t see any. We took the left side of the loop and began to climb up the Horse Butte. There is a short turn off to the Lookout Site at the top. Unfortunately, the trail gets rough and I ran my sled into a ditch. Eric pulled the sled 360 degrees so it was facing out, then pushed while i gunned the throttle. This time I was standing ON the sled, but I still got thrown off terrifying Eric yet again. But at least the sled was free. We headed up to the Lookout Tower on foot. The stair were blocked so we couldn’t climb it. But the view from the Butte was still rather lovely even with the low hanging clouds. We got back on our sleds and completed the loop before joining once more with the Big Sky trail and heading further North.

We crossed the highway a few more times and then across of open meadow near farmland. The trail then went into the woods. This is where some interesting track began. The trail plummeted almost vertically down two freakishly steep hills causing me to back off on the throttle completely. Then it went nearly vertically up a steep hill making me thus gun the throttle to the fullest extent! We wove through the Gallatin Forest at 8,000 feet for well over an hour before coming to a junction with an ungroomed road and a sign warning folks to call the avalanche hotline. We decided to pull over here and snowshoe the ungroomed road.

The road was used by off trail snowmobiles making it relatively packed down and it ended up leading to the Tepee Trailhead. The trail is wide and also used by snowmobiles though it was covered with fresh snow. It was nice only sinking 6-8 inches instead of 3 feet like the day before. We made much better mileage today. It was still cloudy and snowy, but not as harsh the the day before and we enjoyed our time off the sled.

We returned after three hours like yesterday and rode back south. We turned off Big Sky and followed the Madison Arm, a nice wide trail suitable for speed. We rejoined Big Sky and decided to attempt making it out to Lionshead. We were running short on fuel though and halfway there we decided that we didn’t have a enough gas to make it. Instead we took a shorter trail back to town using the Little Snowy and a different section of the Powerline Trail what was both wide and straight. We had out last adventure with speed and powder there. When we returned the Sleds Eric’s fuel was nearly empty!

Today we took a break from XC skiing and tried our hand at snowmobiling. We rented two Polaris 550 SHIFT snowmobiles from Travelers Snowmobiles across the street from the Days Inn complete with full body suits, helmets and boots. We planned on riding the groomed Two Top Trail, part of the Island Park snowmobile trail system. Riding a snowmobile, I quickly learned, was pretty much the same as riding a jet ski. It took a few minutes to get the hang out the clutch, but it was easy enough after that. We headed along the Streets if Wast Yellowstone to the edge of town where the trail began.

The rules of the road are simple… 45mph and as people pass you from the opposite direction hold up a hang to indicte how many folks from your group are behind (including yourself). The final person holds up a fist. Eric led at first. We switched after 15 minutes and I stayed in the lead after that. As it turned out, I was a faster and more bold rider so I made sense. We followed the track for an hour or so before pulling a few yards into the Two Top Divide turnoff. Here we dismounted our sled and strapped on the Atlas snowshoes we rented from Freeheel and Wheel. We weren’t about to spend the entire saying sitting of course!

We followed some old off trail snowmobile tracks to the top of the hill where we met up with Idaho. The border of MT and ID is within Island Park. We also discovered the Continental Divide Trailhead here. We journeyed into the virgin snowing trail… sinking deep into the snow even with the snowshoes. Eric fell in a drift and it took him about 5 minutes to stand up again since the snow was so powdery… plus it was much deeper than our trekking poles (over 4 feet). Heavy cloud cover blanketed the sky and snow fell softly around us. The forest was still and beautiful… and we moved painfully slow! We returned to our sleds three hours later to continue the Two Top Loop… unfortunately we continued amount the very bumpy Two Top Divide Trail and had to make an awkward U-turn when it dead ended. We got back on the real trail though. By then white mist hung above us. The air had the right amount of moisture and chill to cause a thick layer of frost over our face shields even though we lifted them at every stop. We had to ride with them up with the cold air cutting our faces… I had my baklava over most of my face though so it wasn’t too bad. Two Top is known for its views, but we couldn’t see anything int he distance with the low clouds and now heavy snow that fell around us as we drove to the high point. At some place I could barely see the long poles that marked the trail! Eric and I went off trail in some places where other sleds had packed down the snow, though this was not as much my thing. I liked going fast on straight track.

We descended to a bowl on the lower part of the trail and played a bit in the field. Eric got caught in a deep drift… pushing the throttle as be pushed while standing BESIDE the sled as opposed to being ON the sled proved to be a back idea as I got throw a bit, but it ended up freeing his snowmobile. We had time to spare and decided to get off the Two Top Loop and extend the trip by taking the Powerline Trail back to West…. a less used area with rolling hills and fun straight track!