An Overnight in Yellowstone National Park

Our daughter was born in January and our hopes for the summer were to get out camping as many times as we could to let her experience sleeping outside the home as the regular way of the life in our family.  We managed to spend something like 20 nights in our pop up camper trailer and a couple nights in a tent but these were all in the front country and we had not yet taken her backpacking

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Going out on a low mileage but true wilderness backpacking trip was something we really wanted to do before the snow fell this Fall so even though it was the season opener for rifle hunting I decided to push that back a week and we gathered our gear for a trip into Yellowstone National Park.

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Torie had Mae on her back in our vintage Tough Traveler kid pack as well as as much other gear as would fit in the lower storage section. Subsequently I was responsible for everything else and as such I borrowed the Kuiu Icon from the gear library at work in the 5200 cu. in. (85 liter) size.

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We chose a campsite in the Canyon area of the park which is my favorite. The incredibly steep, sulfur-strewn canyon walls that sweep majestically down into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River are about as impressive a site as I’ve seen anywhere. Our campsite was situated a few miles from “Artist Point” and the well-worn trail leading out to it followed the canyon rim closely for much of the journey.

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We arrived at camp a few hours before sunset and with temperatures set to be near or below freezing overnight I immediately set about gathering and sawing wood for use in our tent wood stove.  Torie played with Mae while trying to get our sleeping gear set up as well so when night time did set in on us we’d have our shelter all set to go.

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We cooked up a batch of couscous topped with a delicious pesto sauce served alongside sliced pepperoni and then washed it down with chocolate cookies and a few splashes of whiskey.  We brought along some organic pre-packaged food for Mae which, like pretty much everything we’ve ever fed her, she lapped up eagerly.

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Nighttime falls early in these parts but I set about putting a warming fire into our little wood stove which is designed perfectly for our tipi (both are the awesome little cottage gear company, Titanium Goat).  Temperatures quickly reached the height of comfort and soon enough we were sitting around in short sleeves and no hat.

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Mae awoke at around 2am giving a little cry and although she seemed plenty warm she was awake and not ready to fall immediately back to sleep.  I took the time to start up a new fire in the stove while Mom nursed our little one.  We stayed awake talking for about an hour until Mae was able to fall back asleep which lasted until 7:20 in the morning.

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It was a brisk morning but a re-kindled fire in the wood stove followed by hot coffee and warm granola made for delightful times as the sun shone over the trees and onto the lake causing the ground frost and mist over the lake to simply sparkle.

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We drove home at a leisurely pace taking the time to enjoy just how empty the park is at this time of year.  Some of the spots we stopped and enjoyed are typically buzzing with hundreds of tourists during the peak season and for us to be able to sit and enjoy a view for a solid 30 minutes while only seeing a handful of other people was really quite enjoyable.  Even the grizzly sightings we had to and from our trailhead had but a few cars stacked up at the site – something that in the summer could easily have turned into an hour-long traffic jam.  Not taking the simple pleasures of where you live for granted is a very important lesson, wouldn’t you say?

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Backyard Roots – A Montana and Wyoming Ski Series

Beau Fredlund and Kt Miller have spent a fair amount of time living in a small  town in deep in the mountains of Southwest Montana that spends a good portion of the year buried under deep layers of deliciously low density powder snow.  A Powder guide and photographer by trade the two seem to have an excellent rapport as ski partners who are both willing to put in great levels of effort to tick off exquisite lines in their “backyard” – the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Over the course of the 2014/2015 winter the duo produced a series of short films they dubbed the “Backyard Roots” project that focuses on the concept of exploration just outside the front door of ones home.  Each episode then takes on its own individual theme ranging from the caution we must take, to how our peers affect our decisions, to overcoming and facing our fears.

Episode 1 – Patience is a Virtue

Episode 2 – The Social Media Factor

Episode 3 – The Sleeping Giant

Fifty Miles on the Pitchstone Plateau and along the Bechler River

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A trip in the Bechler region of Yellowstone National Park has been on my bucket list for years.  I secured a permit encompassing a vast chunk of the SW corner of the park.  My itinerary was to traverse the Pitchstone Plateau, then head westward to the Bechler River Valley, following it northward to my end point in the Old Faithful geyser basin.  This would allow me to experience three vastly different ecosystems, camping one night in each.

 

I experienced beautiful moonrises, glorious sunrises, sunny afternoons, a seemingly endless thirty-six hours of continuous rain, mile after mile of both grassy savannah walking as well as mud and bog walking, a spectacular soak in one of the best backcountry hotsprings known to humankind, and hours of solo introspection and enjoyment.  The journey through this section of YNP is well worth a visit for someone looking to walk an all-trail route that has just enough an element of navigation and route finding challenge to keep things interesting but is still moderate enough to allow your thoughts to wander without consequence.

 

The route crosses numerous springs, streams, and rivers so water consumption planning is simple.  I inquired locally and with respected and trusted individuals regarding the fishing potential and fly choices.  I cast my line into three separate stream/river systems, each containing different species and although my luck and skill (lack of?) didn’t pan out, the joy and meditative qualities of tenkara fishing made the extra six ounces of gear well worth it.

 

Logistically the trip worked out exceptionally.  I left my car at the Pitchstone trailhead, hiked the loop, and grabbed an instantaneous hitchhike with an off duty park employee all the way back to my car at trip’s end.  Bike shuttling along the busy park roads is an option as well but would require planning a morning start to allow for the extra hours needed.  Hitchhiking can be a gamble but in this instance paid off exceptionally.

 

I decided to photograph the journey through wide shots of the landscape, trying to capture the essence of the different spaces I visited.  From the wide open, grassy savannah of the Pitchstone Plateau, to the woody and wet valleys of Mountain Ash Creek, to the boggy, misty and steamy Bechler River Valley, all zones had a unique character that was constantly bringing a smile to my face.

 

 

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Yellowstone National Park by Heinrich C. Berann

Yellowstone from the North - Heinrich C. Berann

Heinrich C. Berann, (born 1915 – died 1999) the father of the modern panorama map, was born into a family of painters and sculptors in Innsbruck, Austria. He taught himself by trial and error. In the years 1930-1933 he attended the arts and design school “Bundeslehranstalt für Malerei” in Innsbruck.


In 1962 he painted Mount Everest for National Geographic Society, and created 4 panoramas for the United States National Park Service: Yellowstone National Park, North Cascades National Park, Yosemite National Park and finally Mt. McKinley National Park (now Denali).

– Source, Wikipedia


Scrubfest 2011 – Cowboy Pow

A group of individuals loosely-related via splitboard.com have been getting together atop Wyoming’s Togwotee Pass for the past half-dozen years or so to delve their splitboards into the deep, Wyoming “Cowboy Pow” along the continental divide at the pass as well as on the steep flanks of the impressive Teton Range in Grand Teton National Park. I’ve had the pleasure of joining this crew for the three seasons and each has been a delight not only because of the opportunity to ride exquisite snow in challenging terrain but because of the camaraderie of this fine group of folks as well. In both 2009 and 2010 I shot video and made an edit of those captures. 2011 was no exception and I was able to put together a short barrage of both the toil of skinning uphill as well as the joy of slashing down.

Scrubfest 2011 from samh on Vimeo.

View the embedded video, Scrubfest 2011 on Vimeo.

Experiencing the mountains in winter produces perhaps the most awe-inspiring moments for me. To climb to the top of them and look out over the landscape for dozens, if not hundreds of miles provides a view that little else tops.

Wade and Trevor high up in the Tetons

I had the opportunity to demo a splitboard this weekend – a chance that I jumped at. I’ve not had any experience riding a rockered (aka reverse camber) board so when Will from Spark R & D mentioned he had a Jones’ Solution available I grabbed it for a test with little hesitation. The reverse camber both rode downhill and skinned uphill like a dream and I’ll be researching that technology for my future splitboards.

Jones’ Solution splitboard and Spark R & D Blaze binders

The Grand Teton and the Teton Mountain Range

Rio, Trevor, Wade, and Jeramie atop East Angle Mountain

Trevor earning his turns

The Art of Glissading

Wikipedia defines glissading as the

“..voluntary act of descending a steep slope of snow in a controlled manner either for the sheer thrill of the ride or to bypass tedious scree.”

During the summer of 2009 I co-guided a course in ultralight backpacking for the Backpacking Light Wilderness Trekking School alongside Andrew Skurka and Glen Van Peski in the beautiful Wind River Range of Wyoming. One afternoon as we were descending along painfully slow scree fields (I believe off Wind River Peak) we opted to speed things up and glissade some perfectly pitched snowfields.

View the embedded video “Glissading in the Wind River Range” on Vimeo.

Backpacking Light – Wilderness Trekking School – WS1-LWB 2010

Over a weekend in late July and early August Chris Wallace and I had the opportunity to instruct a group of excited students in the ways and (dare I say) art of ultralight backpacking.  We were working on behalf of the Backpacking Light Wilderness Trekking School and operated a three day course out of Jackson Hole Wyoming in the Bridger Teton National Forest. 

Chris and I have had the opportunity of backpacking together previously and regularly exchange gear-related chats via various Internet channels so I know what his strengths were.  He is a gear and nutrition nerd, plain and simple.  Ask him a question about a piece of gear and he will provide you a well-researched and fact-based explanation of it.  Ask him a question about caloric density of food or what he suggests as a ratio of protein to fat to carbs and he’ll have an answer for that as well. 

Chris provides a good balance to my style which is a bit looser.  I know gear also but from a more theoretical point of view basing my knowledge more on fabrics generalities and broad design elements rather than specific brands.  I’m also blessed with having spent myriad days in the backcountry of the Rocky Mountains and having walked thousands of trail miles with only a map as my guide.

I was able to offer up to our students a light-hearted, humorous attitude with an anecdote for just about every situation and Chris was able to provide qualitative, verifiable data for any and all serious questions posed by our more technical students.

The students who enrolled in our course were of a broad background.  We had semi-retirees from Florida, vagabonds from Wyoming, alpine enthusiasts from Oregon, and a solo-trekker from Quebec.  The students were well-versed in a good chunk of info regarding the ultralight backpacking ethos but all yearned for more and also particularly wished to put these techniques into practice in the backcountry and have help doing such from instructors like Chris and myself who’ve done so many times.  According to post-course feedback we were successful. 

But enough with all this writing – – let’s look at some photos because we all know they’re worth a thousand words.  For full photo set please visit my Flickr photo page.

Teton Mountain Range
Gossamer Gear Spinn Twinn

 Charlie and the rising sun.
Have you been hiking near the Tetons?  You really should you know.
 I can see your Tetons from here.