We began this weekend’s excursions with two options: Sherpa Glacier or Lake Stuart. The object was to scout out the route to Sherpa Glacier for future climbs. Whether we ended up at the base of the glacier or at Lake Stuart to camp would depend completely on trail conditions. Rain was expected even in the desert over the weekend so we figured this was a good chance to go exploring.

Eightmile Road was still snow covered and there was a descent snowshoe track all the way up. The predicted rain never too shape. In fact it was rather warm and sunny instead! Two sets of backcountry skiers and a snowshoer passed us, but we did not encounter the hoards of day hikers we came across a few weeks earlier. As fpr us, we had opted for snowshoes after a great debate between that and skis. We we’re sure of the snow-cover and conditions off trail if we headed to Sherpa Glacier.

The Stuart Lake Trail was well packed down to the junction with the Colchuck Lake Trail. Here is where things got interesting. The Colchuck trail was packed down as far as we could tell, but there was not a single track heading to Lake Stuart. We forged on breaking our own track and route finding our way through the forest. Staying on the trail wasn’t that easy, but going in the right direction was pretty straight forward.

We came to an open area near several creek and a march soon after leaving the junction. From here there was a full view of Mt Stuart and Sherpa. We decided to forgo using the beta we had (which wasn’t much) and head off trail directly toward the glacier instead of turning off further down as our information recommended. We were, after all, exploring. Damien got very excited about crossing all the creek every time he saw a long. I mentioned that the beta had said to stay on the right side of the creeks, but he didn’t hear me over the rushing water. We battled our way through the trees and snow drifts, up and down hills and endless forest. Damien did eventually reexamine the map and discover were were on the wrong side of the creek. We opted to navigate back to the trail and get to the meadow as the beta suggested.

We re-discovered the trail after a bit of tracking and ascending a few slopes. From here we were able to stay on the trail to the open meadow which, despite the incoming thick clouds, offered a great vantage point to study the route to the base glacier. It appeared we’d have to fight our way through forest and traverse around a large secondary peak… it was 4:00pm at this point and it would take well over 2 hours to reach the glacier while breaking trail in snow. In summer with the road open and melted climbers trail to follow things would have been different. But we had gained what we hoped, some beta, and decided to continue on to Lake Stuart for the night. We could see the plateau not too far off and had about 800ft of gain to go.

The clouds continued to build as we half stayed on the trail and half route found our way to the lake which we reached exactly on sunset. The moment we took our packs off at camp the clouds finally opened and a light rain began to fall. We set up quickly and finished getting everything in as the rain grew heavy. Warm and dry inside we got into our big puffies a reveled over how tired we were. It had been a 10 hour day with 9.5 miles. Long hours and high mileage winter trips are rare and we were excited to have had a taste of suffering again… or I was anyway. I live for a good sufferfest.

The heavy rain turned to a wet snow overnight. I actually woke up to find the tent walls were severely sagging in due to the weight. We pounded on the walls to knock off the snow and continued to do that every few hours. Some string wind gusts hit us as well, but nothing we were too concerned about.

In the morning a wet snow/rain was still falling, but it was lighter than it had been overnight. Heavy mist clung to the mountains that shadow the frozen Lake Stuart. However, as soon as we packed up and shouldered our packs the rain stopped! In fact, on our way back the clouds began to thin and reveal some sunshine along with some excellent views of the surrounding Enchantment Peaks. We did not take our detour through the forest and over creeks on the way back. Instead we broken trail to where we had broken off the day before. By the time we arrived back that the the skies were once again blue. So much for the full day of rain that was predicted. However, I think the rain in the canyon was much worse than the rain we experienced by the lake. There was a massive new rock slide on the road. Plus, the snow-cover on the road that was continuous all the way to the Trailhead the day before, now had several large melted out sections. Spring is on the way for sure… but I intend to enjoy the snow as long as possible!

We really should just start planning our trips the morning we leave for our weekend adventures. Weather seems to have a knack of changing last minute this winter. Plan A was to attempt to climb Helena Peak and Bald Mountain on the Mountain Loop Hwy. It was supposed to rain, but the avalanche danger was predicted to stay moderate. Alas, when we woke up Saturday morning the forecast was updated to High for Sunday at and above treeline. With that new information we changed directions and headed to Leavenworth through heavy rain. We figured maybe we could recreate our rainy first date to Snow Lakes almost a year ago.

We were greeted by blue skies, but with grey clouds lurking down the canyon as we pulled into the Trailhead lot. There was snow on the ground so we put our out snowshoes and started out. A beautiful mist had settled into the canyon floor and as we ascended the first switchbacks views of Mt Cashmere opened before us. We crossed a large section of avalanche debris about .75 miles up the trail. It seemed pretty old though and the terrain trap had already been triggered leaving no further danger so we pressed on. The distant grey clouds concealed the blue sky and a very light rain fell as we finished the final switchback and we began the traverse beside Snow Creek. It was here that we began to notice more avalanche debris and the slides on the trail increased the further we walked. About 1.75 miles from the trailhead we stopped again to evaluate the situation. I wasn’t concerned to much because it seemed almost every possible terrain trap had already  avalanche. However, Damien pointed out that some areas had not been triggered yet and with heavy rain predicted the following the day the rocks under the snow would be lubricated and could create hazardous conditions. We backed off and headed back down to the parking lot.

It was late in the day, about 12:45pm, we were began walking up Eightmile Rd, which was our safest, albeit least backcountry, option in the area. The Rd was full of snowshoers and several skiers, many with their dogs. This lack ofd solitude drove me kind of crazy. Luckily the crowds thinned out after about 2 miles. There were two section of avanche debris on the road. But we didn’t see potential for more slides. We noted that there was some ice on the Millennium Wall, but it did seem to be more like narrow pillar than large flows. Hubba Hubba seemed to be in, but appeared very white. Too much sun?

We received a mix of snow and overcast skies for the first while, but at 3:00pm the clouds began to shower us with snow. First tiny, wet flakes and then big fluffy ones. It transformed the slushy landscape into beauty and provided a more backcountry feel even though we were eon a road. We were delighted it wasn’t rain too!

At the end the road we began walking on the Stuart Lake Trail. We thought maybe we could get at least to the junction, but hopefully Stuart Meadows to camp. The trail was well broken, but the going slowed down significantly as we scuttled around trees and moved up and down snowbanks. Progress being so slow, we ended up at the large creek crossing bridge at about 5pm. There is a large open area there offering protection from tree bombs and a supply of clean snow. We decided to set up camp there… and I forgot to take a picture!

Instead of the freezing level dropping as the sun went down it rose. The heavy snow turned to rain as we cooked of Mountain House dinners. I tried Damien’s favorite: Chili Mac, to see what all the hype was about. Not to shabby.

We got a late start in the morning. Heavy rain made us hesitate to head back, but we managed to pack up during a period of lighter precip. The sun peaked one once or twice on the descent but mostly it rained and felt much more like April then Feb. Still, there is no place else I’d rather be a Valentine’s Day: in the mountains.

Determined to get out this weekend, Damien and I decided to try for a peakbagging long weekend in the Enchantments. The weather predicted was rainy Saturday, some showers and sun Sunday and sunny Monday. We figured we could hike in the first day, tag a few scramble peaks like Little Annapurna on Sunday and hike out Monday.

The rain on Saturday was as predicted. The Snow Lakes Trail is snow free up until the side trail for Snow Creek Wall (about 3500 ft). There there begins to be icy patches. We put on our snowshoes at about 3700 ft as the small patches began to get bigger. The trail eventually turns to pure snow and without floatation there were be severe post-holing. The conditions were pretty good, though the going with slow in the snow. The sun came out for about 30 minutes too, but the clouds came back in and the rain ensued. We reached Nada Lake around 3:30 which is mostly frozen, but with a few places with running water to filter. We rested here before continuing on.There is a log crossing over a deep creek by the lake. I had to remove my snowshoes to cross

We wanted to make it up to 7100 ft by Inspiration Lake. But the trail was getting thin and the day late. We opted to camp at the far end of the Upper Snow Lake and head further up in the morning.

The dryer day foretasted for Sunday did not occur. Rain was falling hard all morning. We waited things out for a few hours hoping conditions would improve, but they did not. Concerned about avalanche danger and the fact that everything was getting rather damp we opted to head out a day early. Its a good thing we did as the rain just got harder and packs weight about ten pounds more with the water weight that it soaked up! But it was an awesome trip into the mountains regardless!

 

The field trip portion of my AIRE class was scedruled to be held at the Mount Baker Ski area last weekend. I decided to come up early and snowshoe up the Artist Point on Friday. It’s a route I’ve always wanted to be and the weather forecasted was perfect. Clear sky’s and avalanche danger low. The Bagney Lakes Basin snowed evidence of avalanche debris from earlier in the week during the massive rain dump and crowns were everywhere in the gullies. I was happy that wasn’t there a few days earlier.

The route follows the cat track from the Heather Meadows Parking lot for the first 500ft of gain going over two steep sections. beware of inbound skiers and riders and stay on the right side of the track. There is a huge switchback that goes left and a sign warning about backcountry travel dangers. Stay right at this sign and cut across the ungroomed terrain. There was a pretty clean stomped down trail here. This leads to Austin Pass. The backcountry trail leads back to the road which is sided by steep slopes above. Due to the low danger of avalanches I decided to take a shortcut up the slopes to reach Artist Point. From here I followed a faint trail to the base of Table Mountain. I considered climbing it, but the sluffs of loose snow above made the going look sketchy. Instead I turned around and walked back to Artist Point. From here I followed the ridge to Huntoon Point and practiced self arrest.

Splendid views of Mt Baker and Mt Shuksan graced me the entire day as I explored the slopes. Conditions were good from snowshoeing as the snow was hard packed from the rain and there was minimal sinkage.

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.

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.

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!

Jeff joined Eric and I today for our second snowshoe endeavor of the season. This time our plan was to head up to Lake Valhalla which is just east of Stevens Pass on along Route 2. Luckily we had no issues with the roads this time. The start of the snowshoe is a on parking strip on the westbound side of Route 2. From there the route description indicated that we were to walk up Smithbrook Road for 2.5.

Smithbrook road is not plowed for cars during the winter, but the road is well traveled by snowmobiles. Indeed a plethora of snowmobilers whizzed by as our our walk up. There was no need for snowshoes on the hard packed road and we simply walked up under bluebird skies and admiring some mountain views. But after over a hour of road walking we get bored and Jeff decided to take matters into his own hands. After cutting across some road switchbacks and passing Smithbrook TH we put on our snowshoes and turned off the road. Compass in hand Jeff cut a route through the forest, over half front creeks and several drainages aiming at the direction we thought Lake Valhalla was in. But to be honest there was no true end objective to this trek. We were just happy to be out exploring in the mountains.

We never did find the lake. We ended up in a basin just below a mountain and sounded on three sides by high ridges. The Lake Valhalla, we figured, was on the other side of the high ridge. We had turned off the road prematurely and thus had not gained enough elevation to clear the ridge… even though when we were off trail we climbed about 1000 ft. Scaling the ridge was definitely possible, but we decided to call it a good days work. The basin we ended up in was lovely and we stayed here for lunch. Jeff even brought out his stove to boil water and make mashed potatoes.

The return trip was much faster since were were going downhill and no longer route finding. We ran into several snowshoers on the trail we had cut out and a few xc skiers on the road. Perhaps we will come back with out skis next time. Another snowshoe trip that ended up being completely different than the original plan… but still fun!