Damien has attempted to climb Bald Mountain in winter/Early spring conditions several times. I was with him on his most recent attempt about 2.5 years ago when we had to bail due to scary avalanche conditions on the ridge. This weekend called for stable and moderate conditions in the Cascades. Hoping for a better outcome, Damien and I decided to once again try to Bald Mountain & Helena Peak.

We were able to drive about 2 miles up Deer Park Road before encountering impassable snow. We parked only about .4 miles from the first washout so this was a descent amount of headway. From the car Damien and I continued walking up the road, easily crossing the 4 washouts. After about one mile the snow was fluffy enough to warrant us strapping on our snowshoes. Both of us were surprised at how deep the powder was at 2000 feet. Not very long ago our biggest difficultly was lack of solid snow coverage!

At the end of the road near the TH for Kelcema Lake, Damien and I turned left into the forest and began to break trail up the slope to the NE Ridge. Several yards in we removed our overnight gear from our packs and stashed it in some trees so we could go light and fast. Fast was relative in the terrain. We wove around fallen trees and other terrain obstacles picking our way through the snow covered forest. Luckily, the snow depth increased swiftly and soon we didn’t have to worry about forest debris. We did, however, find that the snow was thick, fluffy and deep with a base that was not very close to the surface. As a result Damien sunk far with every step even with snowshoes.

We reached the open slopes where we had turned around on our last attempt. This time the Damien and I found the snow to be well bonded and we pressed on. However, “breaking trail” seems an inaccurate description. Damien was now tunneling through the snow at this point! We continued pushing our way through the sea of white to the ridge crest. Damien and I began to question how much longer we could continue cutting a trench through the powder or if we had enough daylight to make it to the summit. We continued on until about 3:00pm. The summit was still .84 miles and 700 feet away. There was no way we would make it there before dark; if we could make it at all. Moving had become an incredibly tedious and slow process.

After a brief discussion, we decided that we should abandon our original plan to attempt Helena the following day. Helena is a higher summit and involves a ridge climb about twice as long at Bald. The mountain would almost certainly have the same conditions as Bald and it it didn’t seem worth the attempt. It also didn’t make sense to camp at the base of Bald and then walk the 2.5 miles out the next day when we had a great weather window. It made more sense to choose a new, day-trip objective.

Damien and I descended Bald Mountain reaching the road just before sunset. With a full moon, darkness fell slowly even with the heavy cloud cover and snowflakes falling from the sky. Our legs ached from the attempt, but we looked forward to trying to climb in another part of the Cascades the following day. Sometimes you need to be willing to change plans.

A warming trend over the week caused heavy rain and low freezing levels, thereby melting a fair amount of snow. It did however, build a solid base. Damien and I floundered trying to decide on the weekend’s destination. We just could not predict conditions or the snow line after the warm and rainy week. To complicate things, Saturday was going to start out cloudy, but in late afternoon a huge system was going to move in bringing heavy precipitation and strong winds. This left us with a tiny window of opportunity to climb. In the end, Damien and I settled on climbing “something near Blanca Lake”. In general, we planned to either climb Kyes Peak or Toil peak depending on our timing, weather and general conditions. If both summits were out, then we would just camp near Blanca Lake. It seemed like the best strategy for the weekend was to have options.

On Saturday morning we arrived at the closed dirt road leading to the Blanca Lake TH.  Several washouts occurred a few years back on this final 2 mile stretch of road. No repairs have been made and now getting to Blanca Lake permanently requires a road walk. Of course, the 3 washouts are all in the final .25 miles! The first washout is an easy creek crossing over rocks. The sound washout in just a gravel blow out with no water. The final wash is a large and deep creek. I opted to take my shoes off and ford the rushing water. Damien made some treacherous leaps higher up to cross. As I put my shoes back on I heard splashing upstream and looked over to see Damien tossing large rocks into the current. He was building a bridge for us to cross on our way back!

After building half of the bridge (Damien said he’d finish on the way back) we continued up the final short section of road to the trailhead. The sky was slate grey as we entered the forest. However, the clouds were high, and it seemed like we’d have good visibility if we went for a summit. Of course, we also knew that the weather window would be brief.

Damien and I followed endless switchbacks up toward the Ridgecrest. The trail was reminiscent of Mt Si. At about 3500 feet with reached the snow line. Nevertheless, the trail was well traveled and a solid boot track was stamped into the snow. At about 4200 feet the switchbacks ceased as we crested the ridge. The tread traverses along the crest through gradually opening forests revealing far off vistas of craggy snow-covered peaks I could not identify. Closer to us we could see Glacier Peak, Kyes, Toil and Double Toil. About .25 miles short of Virgin Lake the boot-pack transformed rather abruptly into a snowshoe track. We took a moment to don our floatation and then continued to “The Saddle.”

The Saddle above Virgin Lake marked the point in our journey when we needed to make some decisions. If we turned right we could follow the 3-mile-long ridge to the summit of Kyes Peak, an involved scramble route.  Turning left would lead us to a simple scramble up Toil Peak. Descending would lead us to Virgin and Blanca Lakes. The clouds were still high, but the wind was certainly picking up considerably and the grey looked a shade or two darker. Damien and I estimated that to summit Kyes Peak would take 3 hours minimum and that is only if nothing went wrong. This put us on the summit at 4:00pm leaving us to descend in the dark and, possibility, in a storm with 40 mph winds. Going for it seemed unwise. On the other hand, Toil Peak was only .6 miles away and it seemed we could easily make it before a major weather event struck.

Damien and I split away from the solid snowshoe track and began to break trail along the ridge leading to Toil Peak. We discovered a random set of snowshoe tracks that seemed to appear out nowhere. Following them ended up leading us in a circle! We deserted the old tracks and once again made our own way through the powder. Breaking trail was not terribility difficult as the snow had a good base. However, the final 300-400 feet final climb to the summit did get steep. Also, Toil is one of those summits where you just never get there. Every time you think you are about to crest the summit you find that you have only topped out of a little mound and the summit is still in front of you! However, on these mounds the trees often parted, and we were granted spectacular views of the Monte Crisco Group and, unfrozen, Blanca Lake.

Finally, we stood on the tree lined summit of Toil Peak. The lower mounds afforded more unobscured views. Still we had finally tagged a summit this month! Damien and I didn’t linger though. Frigid winds bashed the trees and the clouds were sinking lower as the impending storm neared. We could see snow falling already about ten miles away.

We descended Toil the way we had come with ease, except we had to face inward during some steep sections. Damien and I rejoined the Blanca Lake Trail and followed the descending track from the Saddle. First, we passed tiny, frozen Virgin Lake. Just beyond the lake were signs indicating that there was no camping within 200 feet of Blanca Lake. This didn’t seem like it would pose a problem in the snow as we wanted to stay a bit back from the open lake anyway for protection. We continued, descending steep switchbacks as snowflakes began to fall.

A few switchbacks down I paused and questioned if Blanca was the smartest place to camp. The lake was a long descent. Damien considered this for a moment. With the freezing level at 6900 feet that night we had been surprised that snow was forecasted for 4900 feet. Blanca lake was at 4000ft and would thus, almost certainly, acquire heavy rain. Damien and I highly prefer snow and, thus, we decided the backtrack to Virgin Lake at 4600 feet.

We found a sheltered, flat area under some trees  across the lake from the trail and set up camp just as darkness enveloped the wilderness. Thick snow fell around us as we enjoyed dinner and discussed winter ambitions. Damien and I mused at how deciding  to camp at the higher lake was the smarter choice. We felt certain rain was falling at Blanca.

A strange thing happened that night. Usually, temperatures decrease after sunset. However, I was jolted awake around midnight by the sound of rain thrashing against the tent walls in a violent rage. Damien and I lamented having to pack up in the dashing, wet precipitation, but there wasn’t much we could do about it. At least we were dry in the tent… or we were dry at midnight.

At 5am I rolled over and Damien shook me awake. “Don’t roll toward the middle of the bag. It’s wet. My side is all drenched already,” he informed me.

I rolled back over in our double sleeping bag. A moment later Damien spoke again, “Get into the vestibule. We need to get rid of the water. We’re flooded!”

Fully awake now, I scurried out of the sleeping back and huddled into the vestibule. Damien did the same and peaked under the sleeping bag and pads. We might as well have been sleeping on a floating raft on a lake. There was major body of water growing on our tent floor! First, we tried to channel it out the door, but we couldn’t angle the tent correctly to achieve maximum drainage. Next Damien attempted to bail out the water with his coffee cup. This also did not prove to be effective. Finally, we made the decision to cut a tiny slit in the floor. This method worked perfectly, and we watched mesmerized as a tiny whirlpool appeared over the hole and the water drained out onto the snow.

Satisfied that we had removed most of the lake, Damien and I crawled back into a damp sleeping bag. We were going to start the day in just 1.5 hours, so we wouldn’t have to remain in the damp tent very long. Damien and I have discussed what might have caused water to enter the tent. The only conclusion we have come up with is that some gear inside the tent was pushed far off to the side and thus made contact with the fly causing leaks.

The rain still fell when we finally emerged. Our gear was thoroughly saturated though and I’m sure we packed out about 5lbs of water each. Luckily, rain was not falling nearly as aggressively when we began to follow the trail back to the Saddle.  In fact, the rain fully stopped, and glimpses of blue sky appeared about halfway down the trail!

Back at the washout, Damien completed his bridge building project and, therefore, I did not need to subject me feet to arctic temperature water again. The walk down the road to the car went quickly to our delight. Roads normally feel endless when you’re heading back. To top it off the next wave of the storm held off until about 30 minutes into driving home!

Another winter blast this weekend! Damien and I attempted Stillaguamish last year the same exact weekend (in a day), but ended up turning back because some freezing sleet gave us both hypothermia on the ridge. This time we planned on making a second attempt as an overnight and brought a few extra pairs of gloves!

Saturday morning started out with high, grey clouds as we hiked up the nearly level Perry Creek trail which gains 1,300 feet in 3.3 miles (hardly noticeable). Damien and I did not run into any snow patches on the trail until about .25 miles from Perry Falls. Note that these patches we a bit icy, but we did fine without traction. After crossing the river and beginning the steady climb up to Forgotten Meadows, the trail stayed mostly snow free until about 3,700 feet. At this point the track featured a few patches of snow. Around this time intermittent rain also began to fall. With our full goretex armor we hardly noticed the increased moisture! The patches increased in size until snow covered the trail completely. Folks had come up this way though, and there was a solid, compact boot track all the way to Forgotten saddle where the trees parted. Near the saddle we trekked through a trench with 2-foot snow walls!

A blustery wind tussled the snowflakes through the frigid air with gusto as we crested over the top of the ridge on the saddle at 5000 feet (the precipitation had turned to snow at about 4,000 feet). The solid boot pack ended here. There was evidence of tracks heading right along the ridge toward looming Mount Forgotten partly shrouded in wispy layers of mist. However, on our left in the direction of Stillaguamish, there was barely the faintest whisper of some old tracks vaguely detectable in the fresh powder. From our previous attempt last year, we knew there was a descent climbers trail that followed just below the ridge. Damien and I assumed we would have no issue finding our way even with the snow being much deeper than anticipated. We expected there to be at least an indentation of a trail, but there was none!

After traveling a few yards through the deep powder, we opted to slip into our snowshoes. I am really not a fan of the flat shoes, but sometimes it is the best method of travel before ski season. Our journey started out well and we easily followed the broad ridge through trees and open meadows. However, after about .6 miles or so the terrain grew increasingly rugged. Damien and I attempted to follow just below the ridge crest, but got cliffed out. We tried to follow our beta’s suggestion to travel along the top of the crest in the snow, but again geo cliffed out. We continually made attempts traveling at different elevations along the ridge, and got shut down every time by terrain! After roughly two hours with no luck and daylight hours swiftly decreasing, Damien an I decided that, once again, Stillaguamish would have to wait.

We backtracked along the ridge until we reached an open, broad meadow on the ridge crest perhaps .2 miles from the saddle. Here we were granted wide open views of Mount Forgotten, White Chuck and other surrounding peaks, but not for long! The clouds closed in as we set up camp and blotted out the views as snow fluttered with increasing vigor from the darkening sky. It felt like Christmas in this winter wonderland!

When we woke the following morning, the snow fell with even more intensity. Accumulation was surprising little considering how thick and swift the flake fell. It might have been the texture of the snow. It certainly was less fluffy compared to previous weeks. The snow turned to rain at about 4,500 feet as we descended. Back in Perry Creek Valley the mist hug low, giving the mossy trees an eerie and mystical effect. There is beauty in all weather in the mountains.

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!