The Day we took off from our Triple Parks Trip a huge heavy rain and wind warning was in effect for the entire PNW. Though it wasn’t half as bad a predicted a copious amount of rain did fall during our Redwoods Excursion. Luckily we were in the trees which provided Shelter. The Redwoods National and State Parks Complex is composed of a series of State Parks and Redwoods NP. We went to Prairie Creek State Park which i believe provides the best sampling of everything that is the Redwoods: Tall Trees, the beach and Fern Canyon.

Damien and I completed connected several trails to make2 a loop tour of the the major features of the State Park. We began at the mian trail from the visitor center and followed the signs to the James Irvine Trail which offers a great tour of the Redwoods. This trail leads to Fern Canyon. The trail is almost none existent Basically you walk through the creek that runs through the Canyon. This area of lofty fern canyon walls is where Star Wars with filmed… The third of the original films. I get confused at this point which episode is which. The rain actually made the canyon even more beautiful.

We exited the Canyon to Golden Bluffs Beach… which exceptionally high surf. We followed the road/trail along the beach  for about a mile or 2 to Miners Ridge Trail. Walking out in the open on the road allowed us to fully experience the wrath of the rain so we were happy to be back under the cover of the tall trees. From here we trekked back to the VC completing the 12 mile loop.

The second half of our winter adventure vacation was centered around ice climbing. It was all in the same general area so I decided to put it all in one entry even though it was 3 days.

The drive from Bozeman to Hyalite Canyon’s Grotto Falls trail head is about 25 miles and takes about 45-60 minutes. The reason is once you are in Hyalite the speed limit drops to 25mph for 15 miles.

Day 1:

On the first day we arrived just after sunrise. Our first objective was Willow Gully. To get there you approach as you would to get to Genesis 1. Across the street from the Grotto Falls Parking Lot, there is a well packed down trail. Follow this trail through the forest ascending (sometimes steeply) up to the base of Genesis 1. Walk right along the base of these massive waterfalls and follow the beaten trail over a few small and steep hills to the next smaller ice flow. This is Willow Gully W2.

Willow Gully is a great short route for a first lead on Waterfall Ice. Damien had only led alpine ice before so he took this opportunity to try his hand leading W Ice. You can go straight up the middle of the flow or stay right into a chimney-like feature. From the ground it looked easier to go right. However, looks can be deceiving. Damien of course finished his lead, but last upon top-roping the middle variation we discovered that it was much easier that the right!

We didn’t stay at Willow very long as it is a pretty small flow. Instead from the top of Willow we traverse right along the top of the cliff, sometimes belaying each other, to the top of Genesis 1 (or G1). Looking at the massive ice flow form below the left side is rated W3 and progressively gets more difficult (up to W5+ the further right you go). We set up a top-rope on one of the many trees along the top of the cliff on the W3 flow. There are tones of preexisting tree anchors along all of G1. We used the existing slings to back up our own anchor.

We had the wall mostly to ourselves. The only other climber was a rope soloist who spent the day running laps of the W4 & 5 sections. A soloist also ascended the W3 route en-route  to access the upper waterfalls. We were able to do 4 variations of the W3 G1 left wall using redirect ice screws. The wall is 80+ feel and was well picked out. Lots of hooking with tools and stepping on preexisting steps. However, if you weren’t sucked into taking the east way there was untouched ice in-between to get a more technical workout. I did 11 laps that day. Damien did about the same.

Day 2:

One the  second day we once again headed to G1. This time we set up a top-rope by following the trail right from the base of the flow. The trail is well packed down, but steep. There is a hand-line over one the the sketchier spots, but caution should definitely used throughout. I put Damien on belay from one the W5 anchors so he could access the W3 anchor we used the day before. The tree is anchor actually hangs over the side of the ice flow so soloing was not a risk worth taking for us. Once again very few folks passed through. Another rope soloist and a team that climbed W4 at the end of the day. I did 15 laps that day. Damien did a bit less than that. Vitamin I was helpful for sure that night! We also checked out Lower Green Sleeves which is located just beyond Willow Gully. It is rated W3, but many agree that it is only a W2. We also checked out the Amphitheater Corner area which is along the Hyalite Creek Trail from the parking lot. We planned to set up a top-rope on Fat Chance W3 the next day really early in the morning before the Saturday crowds arrived so we wanted to make sure we knew the location.

Day 3:

We were on the trail to Amphitheater Corner Climbs before sunrise on Saturday as planned and arrived at the base just as light was creeping into the sky. There ate two ice flows on the left of this open area. The larger one on the left is called Fat Chance and the thinner, scarier looking one on the right is is called Thin Chance. Both are rated W3. Our guide described that setting up a top-rope was very possible though a bit of a trash by walking up to the left of the flows. This seemed reasonable enough. We geared up and headed on the well traveled trail left of the falls to set up our top-rope. We soon found that this steep trail was not taking us toward the too of the waterfalls, but actually it headed away from them. We went back down and tried a few variations ascending the snow beside the waterfalls, but there was no way to safety get over the short but menacing head-wall near the top. We went back on the trail and followed some boot-prints that diverged right back toward the falls, but they stopped short when the terrain became too dangerous to continue. Total we spent about 2 hours trying to figure out how to get to the top of the falls and even asked passing climbers to no avail. We decided to go back to Genesis, hoping it hadn’t gotten too crowded yet.

It was definitely crowded at Genesis 1 and another team was already on Lower Greensleeves (our other option). However, a team was just about to get off our old W3 line which they were only suing to warm up. We later found out that they were from Seattle too. Small world. We quickly scrambled to the top of the cliff and set up a toprope on our anchor tree. We ended up spending the day once again on the 4 variations. Again I did 15 laps. Damien was pretty spent, but still climbed quite a lot. We also had the opportunity to teach some new climbers some correct technique. Always good to help folks at the wall before something goes terribly wrong.

 

Conditions:

After 41 laps and 24 hours at the ice flows I feel like I can now lead W3. I’m sure Damien would say the same.  If only we had good, reliable Waterfall ice in Washington. It was an awesome ice climbing experience. Our technique had defiantly improved and confidence had built. One note about the ice quality at G1 however. The warm weather had been weakening the ice. On Saturday Jan. 23 massive dinner-plating was occurring all over the wall with football sized (or larger) chunks coming down. We anchored the belayer far away from the wall on a tree for safety. The W4 routes are very hollow and melting out fast. The W3 routes are extremely picked out (others might be as well). Definitely could use a cold snap!

 

This was a transition day as we needed to drive to Bozeman and begin the second part of our winter adventure vacation. We wanted to be off the trail at 2pm so we could pack up camp and head back north at a decent hour. We decided to ski the Chittenden Rd Loop again figuring if we began early enough we’d get back in time and still get in 10.6 miles.

We started in the dark by headlamp. It was once again a cloudy day, but this time the winds were not fierce. We moved quickly along the track which barely had any new snow. This time we didn’t pause at Calcite Springs or Tower Falls. We just kept moving opting to once again go clockwise around the loop.

We did not see any wildlife, nor did we take time to stop for breaks. The trip ended up being an endurance test. How far and fast could we really go on xc skis? It turned out that the answer was 10.6 miles in 4 hours!We returned to camp and packed up our home. It’s always sad leaving especially when I knew were would not be at a hotel and not outside… but at least our vacation wasn’t over yet! Plus, Jan 20 marked the ten month Anniversary of Damien and I… something  to celebrate along with the fact that the next few days would be filled with climbing waterfall ice!

I’d never completed the entire Blacktail Plateau as an out and back. I have down the entire trail in in two sections. Last year I attempted an out and back with Adam only to have to race back when we saw a massive heard of bison coming our way a long the trail. We hoped to complete the 16 miles uninterrupted this time and we nearly did.

Clouds hung low in the ski as we began to ski just as light began to bath of snowy landscape… though the sun never did appear in the sky that morning. We began the trail at the east entrance which climbed to the high point known as “The Cut” in 2 miles and 900ft gain. Ski tracks were visible on the trek, though they were lightly covered by about 1.5 inches of fresh snow. The beginning of the trail is relatively wooded so we expected no bison issues during this part… but of course nature had other plans. Two bison were grazing right beside the trail in the woods. Com contemplated making an arc around them, but the snow as too deep and there were too many fallen trees to navigate off trail. We stood and awaited talking loudly. The bison stared at us and then continued their grazing… it took 15 minutes but eventually they did move far enough from the trail to pass safely. With a sigh of relief we continued on. The view from the cut wasn’t very vast since clouds hung low on the mountains and soft snowflakes fell from the sky. We didn’t mind though. It felt like the wilderness.

From here the track enters what I like to call “The funnel”. There is a steep slope on the right and a steep drop-off to the left. It is not a place you want to come across bison. Luckily we passed through this area without incident. From here the trail enters the high plains of the Plateau. It didn’t take long for a bison to appear on the trail. Out in the open now it was easy to navigate around him in a big circle. We passed by some distant elk as the trail traveled up and over slopes of the grasslands  with a net loss in elevation. For a moment I saw a distant creature too small to me an elk or bison. It moved like a canine, but was too big to be a coyote. I can only assume it was a wold because it disappeared swiftly on the other side of the ridge.  We came across another pair of bison grassing on the trail. We had to cut track over a steep slope to get around these two, but we manged it without too many problems. Now and then the ski tracks would vanish; windswept. But we did manage to stay on the trail  though it was tricky at times. Several bison herds grazed at a safe distance and the sun began to shine around 1:00pm. Near the “shortcut” junction we found fresh bison tracks on the trail, but the herd was no longer in sight.  We did see a nearby younger bison bolted unexpectedly into the forest even though we were rather far away. I don’t know if we startled him or he was running from something unseen by us.

About 1 mile from the trailhead we ran into another bison too close to the trail to pass. We had a decision to make. He would be in the area for some time it seemed and we’d have to deal with him on the way back. There wasn’t much interesting left on the trail as it follows near the road the final mile. We were discussing whether or not to call it at the 7 mile mark when the bison began meandering toward us. We opted to just turn around at that point and climb back up to the plateau. The sunshine did not last long. On the upper plateau we found ourselves immersed in the Yellowstone Winter.  Wind whipped around us creating deep drifts and covering our previous tracks from just 20 minutes earlier. Thick snowflakes fell from the darkened ski. It wasn’t completely like skiing in a ping pong ball, but it was close.

Luckily we did not run into any more bison on our return trip. However, I finally saw something I’d wanted to see for years! A coyote not far from the trail leaped high into the air and plunged face down into the snow. He camp up with a mouse!  I didn’t make the entire trail once again, but I came very close this time! We returned to camp in time for the sky to clear and reveal a beautiful sunset over Bunsen Peak. The night was still and starry. Was it the calm before the next storm?

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!

We had originally planned to do the Blacktail Plateau on our second day, but after my alarm failed and then starting out at the Petrified Tree Trail-head by mistake we decided to do the shorter (10.6 mile) Tower/Chittenden Road Loop XC ski. We parked at Tower Junction and skied onto the closed Rd to Tower Fall. This is the first time I did not see any Bison hanging out near Rainy Lake. The trail ascends gradually passing by Calicate Springs Lookout which displays a lovely view on the Yellowstone River, Black Canyon and hot springs steaming on the cliffs. From here the track passes under a massive rock wall. The ski track is on both sides of the road, stay on the left side to avoid rockfall. At 2.5 miles the road reaches Tower Fall. The waterfall was mostly frozen (some water still rain behind the ice. Damien and I contemplated how one could access the bottom of the falls to climb in before continuing on to the Chittenden Road section of the loop.

You can go either way around the loop. Beta suggests going up through the campground counter clockwise to avoid a steep downhill descent… but we wanted to do a fun fast descent so we went clockwise continuing on the Rd to Canyon. The day remained cloudy as we traveled the road. The trail was not freshly groomed, but the ski tracks were still visible as were tracks of 3 foxes using the road as a corridor. We followed the little paw prints in the snow slowly uphill. There was one section of track were the snow got very sticky on the skis and wax didn’t help. The problem went away though after .25  miles. About 2.75 miles from Tower Fall I spotted a large figure lounging under a tree beside the trail. A large male bison. We were a safe distance, but still backed away. He saw us and stood, glaring at us for disturbing his mid-afternoon rest. I think he was hoping we were just leave, but then a few other skiers showed up. He reluctantly crossed the road and moved on to graze a safe distance away.

We continued on taking the next right through an open gate where there is a little box labeled Carcass Log. The trail was indeed steep downhill, but not so much that you could loose control on the skis. We descended 2.6 miles in 30 minutes! It was a fun ride down!

We once again reached Tower Fall and headed back to Tower Junction which no further wildlife meetings.

 

We drove through the famous Roosevelt Arch at about  8am on Saturday morning after driving through the night from Seattle to Yellowstone. We were immediately greeted by an onslaught of wildlife. Bison herds on the rd, hordes of elk on the plains and big horn cheep high on the cliffs  before we even reached Mammoth Hot Springs. We were eager to start skiing, but first we needed to set up our home for the next five days.

As expected the Mammoth Campground was hardly as crowded as it is in the summer. Only a few hardy souls dared to camp in the Yellowstone winter… though the weather was anything but harsh. It looked liked 25-35 degrees with light snow over the next few days. We’d opted to bring our 3 season tent for the extra ventilation. Our single wall winter tent would collect way to much condensation without steady winds. Our setup worked well over the next few days. A blow up mattress, then closed celled sleeping pads, then sheets, 2-person sleeping bag, down blanket and Mideast blanket. We might have been a little too warm some nights!

After setting up camp we headed up to Mammoth Hot Springs which is also park Headquarters. After a quick look around the visitor center and lower terraces we drove a little further up the road to the Upper Terrace Loop. This is a short and sweet xc ski loop around the upper terraces. It was Damien’s first experience on a groomed xc ski track as well. The trail was in good condition. Some sections were void of snow, but some green rugs were placed over the bare payment as bridges. The track passes both active and inactive springs bring heat to an otherwise frigid environment. I suggest doing this 1/25 mile trail counterclockwise. This way is gradually uphill ending with a fun slightly steep downhill.

After the Terrace Loop we decided to head over to Lamar Valley for the rest of the day. We pulled near the Buffalo Ranch where several folks were looking through scopes. It turned out they had spotted the Molly wolf pack lounging in the snow in the distance… all 15 pack members. They let us take a look at the toughest pack in the park; tiny black dots in the snow.

From there we moved on to the Lamar River Trail and did a quick ski in that area before moving on to the Slough Creek Trail which is 2.25 miles. This trail is not groomed but was packed down well by snowshoers. The ski was uneventful as far as wildlife and thick snow fell around us as evening set in. It was time to return to camp for mountain house dinners.