Monday, May 26, 2014


I climb peaks, not corporate ladders. They can be physically and mentally challenging, and the reward, while intangible, is better than any monetary compensation. Call me young and headstrong, but money is not a driver for me. Sorry Benny Franklin, but take the backseat. John Muir, you are my man. Thoreau, you can take shotgun.

Saturday was a half day for me, with beautiful weather and tons of tourons (read: tourist morons) out on the roads. What is a guy to do who just wants a little peace and quiet on the trail? The answer was staring me in the face-Emigrant, the peak that sits across from the ranch. Snow covered and all, it was the clear choice, all 10,915 majestic feet of it.

View of Emigrant from Mountain Sky
Nobody would be attempting it at this time of year, seeing as the snow is too light for backcountry skiing on it, and any normal person would wait until the snow melts to hike it. Boo-yah.

Emigrant again, but from near the base
Speaking of it, snow was definitely the word of the day. Sure, I have climbed Emigrant a couple times, but never with snow, or any peak with a decent amount of snow on it for that matter. Solid footing, avalanches (very low probability), and sliding on ice could all be problems. Or, let us call them challenges, it has a more positive ring to it.

A little morning mountain glow greeted me as I arrived at the trailhead at sunrise
My strategy for combating the snow was to hit it early. In the morning, I figured it would still be crusty, so it would be possible to walk on top of it and avoid post-holing. As well, it would be frozen together and less likely to let go and send me on an unwanted sledding trip down the mountain. Ice would be dealt with on a case by case basis.

The first half of the climb was easy, with the first wildflowers coming into bloom. Sagebrush buttercups, Wyoming kittentails, and shooting stars led me ever up the mountain. At the tree line I encountered the first patches of snow but was able to skirt around them. Farther up was a different story-there was no getting around that stuff. As well, at a certain point there is really only one path up Emigrant, so there is no choice to make-follow the ridge! As a famous fish in a movie once said, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."

Following in the footsteps of mountain goats
My morning-crust theory worked quite well: I avoided post-holing, but it had enough give for solid footing. It was also clear that the snow was not going anywhere. In fact, walking on top of the snow was preferable to bare ground and climbing on scree, the loose rock that sends you back half a step for every one that you take forward.

After three hours and ten minutes I was surrounded by nothing but blue sky and scattered clouds. Of course, the hairiest part was the last 20 yards, walking across a snow ridge all of two and a half feet wide with steep drop offs on either side. Picturing it in my mind still gets my adrenaline pumping.

How do you value the reward for climbing this? I do not have an answer for you except that there was no place in the world at 9:35am, on Saturday, May 24th , that I would have rather been.

Looking East

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Full Circle

Light frost on the roofs and receding snow. That first hint of green in the landscape. Hunting for the first wildflowers. Putting away the snowshoes and skis and dusting off the hiking boots and bear spray. Life and hope spring anew this time of year. There is a a palpable energy in the air. A buzz. I can practically taste it. For me, this is the new year.

And who knows what it will bring? Now that is exciting.

This past weekend, that meant the first backpacking trip: destination Yellowstone. Sometimes you just have to get out, and that is what my buddy and I were determined to do. Saturday afternoon it was pouring as we left the ranch. In the Park, it turned to snow. Soldier on.

We parked at the trailhead with just enough daylight to hike the six miles to our campsite. We shouldered our packs and with a thunderclap the snow abruptly stopped. After a quick dinner and setting up camp, in the receding light we saw the snow creeping down the hills toward us as we climbed into the tent. Perfect timing.

The next morning we awoke to sunshine and a brilliant blue sky. Instead of the snow, wind, and rain we had mentally and physically prepared ourselves for, we worried about getting sunburned. I would like to think the optimism of spring somehow factored into the equation.

We ate breakfast with the bison. They agreed that our campsite was par excellence.

In search of adventure, we set off for a day hike from our camp, ambling through meadows and over rolling hills. Along the way, we passed herds of bison, elk, and pronghorn. Swallows darted through the air catching insects above the water. Tenacious sagebrush buttercups, shooting stars, and pasque flowers dotted the just-thawed ground. Fresh snowmelt thundered down the river.

Eight miles into the hike we came to a junction:

Blacktail Creek Trailhead 4 miles
Knowles Falls 1.9 miles
Gardiner 8.6 miles
Hellroaring 8 miles

Well of course we decided to go for it-let's head to Gardiner! We formulated a plan to hike in, grab some lunch, and then hitch hike back to Hellroaring where we would hike the 6 miles to our campsite. The one problem was our lack of money-we had left our wallets in the car since the old greenback does not do you any good in the backcountry. You buy your safety by carrying bear spray, and the sights are free.

Hmmm. We decided to try and buy pizza on a promise, and if we had to we could leave collateral in the form of a camera or other gear.

In the end, we got our pizza and managed to get back to our campsite with an hour of daylight to spare after hitching three rides. The optimism of spring again? There is no guarantee for two guys with beards  and muddy hiking clothes to hitch a ride in the scant spring tourist season. Even potential rides were not plentiful coming out of Mammoth Hot Springs at 4pm on a Sunday.

Just like the seasons, we came full circle, and had a great time doing it. A solid 20 mile day of hiking put us right to sleep, with bison, elk, and all of the other majestic creatures of the Park roaming our dreams, the taste of adventure lingering on our lips and our spirits renewed by Mother Nature. Today, we felt alive.