January 14, 2009
The snow-covered landscape never ceases to amaze me. Each day can be completely different from the day before depending on how much snow was added, or how it was packed or groomed. Plus, visiting a feature on a cloudy day versus a sunny day is like visiting two totally different features. Even more interesting is the story the snow shows giving me information of what has been here before me. It’s very easy to see where the bison were, or where a rabbit had fun hopping around. I can see where a fox or a coyote has been. I can see where a squirrel played happily in a tree. I can tell where people skied or where they walked. Each day brings new tracks and new things to watch and look at.
So, even though we’ve walked around Old Faithful before, walking around it again is still interesting. This morning we took our rented snowshoes up to Observation Point that overlooks the Old Faithful area. It was only a .6 mile hike up the side of a hill, but in snowshoes, we travel about 1 to 1.3 mph depending on how long we stop for photos. It takes longer to get anywhere in the snow. Even in shoes, it is harder to move around because the surface can be slippery, uneven, have deep bison footprints in it, or have deep places where your foot sinks down to your knee every so often. We followed a well-beaten path up to the point cutting switchbacks every now and then just because we can. With the snow on the ground, we aren’t limited to the trail. We can pretty much go where we want. It’s so much fun to break new snow, too. At the top we watched Old Faithful erupt from a birds eye view and then headed back to the lodge for the start of our ski trip. Just before we hit the lodge, we nearly walked into a herd of bison moving our way. Luckily they were not on our trail, so after some pictures, we could keep going.
We skied along DeLacey Creek out to Shoshone Lake for our first cross country (x-c) ski. Our group was around 10 people total and all the rest were well-seasoned x-c skiers. Our guide was amazing, though. She was a x-c ski instructor as well, so she was able to help us out on the more technical parts. We had asked the day before if first-timers could make the ski and were assured that we could. Well, the very first thing we had to do was side step up a small hill, and then go down a longer hill. Down should be easy, right? We just came from downhill skiing and this would be a flat downhill if we were on our downhill skis. Well x-c skis are like toothpicks compared to downhill skis. Only the toe of our shoe was attached and the ski was as skinny as the boot. We had no control. Or at least not the control we are used to. So, that downhill felt long and I fell over multiple times getting down. Luckily snow is soft. =)
It was a beautiful day for skiing. We started out in a forest of the logdepole pines. The pines looked like they were sprayed with snow. In fact, to me, they looked very similar to sprayed concrete. Mark didn’t relate to that description either. The wind is usually very strong in this area, so the snow is mostly on one side of the tree as it was blown that direction. We fell pretty far behind the other skiers, but that made it neat because it was only us in the middle of nowhere in the snow. It was so silent when we stopped and the landscape was gorgeous. the creek was mostly frozen over, but we saw some wind-blown cornices along the creek every now and then. We didn’t see any wildlife except for a few birds and that made it feel even that more remote. Our group had split into about 3 groups and our guide went back and forth between all of us. She gave us a lot of information about snow. We learned that snow is warmer next to the ground and hovers at the 32 degree mark while on top it is the temperature of the air. The small rodents like mice make tunnels along the ground in the snow staying warmer and scurrying around. Then, the foxes walk along the top, listen to the mice and make that signature jump to collapse the mouse tunnel system briefly trapping the mouse, so it can serve as a meal for the fox. We also learned that on a frozen lake, there are 3 layers of snow on top. On top of the ice is snow, then a slush layer, then more snow. So, if you are skiing on a well frozen lake (2 inches or more), you might see that slush layer behind you and become concerned that you are about to fall in. In fact, there is snow under that slush. We did make it out to Shoshone Lake and actually ski around on the lake itself.
We both had a lot of fun on our 6 mile ski adventure. I know why more people ski in the backcountry rather than snowshoe. You can get further faster. However, we definitely need more practice on x-c skis before we go off on our own. We arrived back much earlier than our eight pm dinner reservations, and they were nice enough to seat us early. We had been quite amused at setting dinner reservations months in advance of our trip. we were told that it was needed, but while at Mammoth Springs very often we were either the only ones there, or one of maybe two or three groups. It turns out that many people had canceled their vacations recently due to the recession. At Old Faithful, the dining room was very often filled, so, yes the reservations were needed. Apparently, though, if we showed up at 5:30p, we could get seated early. any other time would have been hard.
We bumped into our friends from our Mammoth Springs and found out that he keeps a travel website too. He’s over at johnwise.com. When their vacation is over it’ll be interesting to see what kinds of pictures they managed to get.
Below you’ll see a picture of us at Observation Point and also one of us on Shoshone Lake.