Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Montana: 4/20/2010 Mystic Lake hike

Today we went on another hike that ended much better than the previous two. Shelli was working but Jesse had the day off so we packed up in the morning and headed back to the Bear Tooths. Two or three weeks ago when our mom was out here, Jesse tried to take her on a hike that lead to a place called Mystic Lake. Because of the snow that was still on the trail they were not able to make it all the way to the top, so Jesse wanted to try it again in hopes that the sun had melted enough snow to allow us passage to the top. We got up to the parking area and started walking up the trail. We brought our fly fishing gear and stopped along the river to fish a couple of times.
Once the trail turned away from the river we stowed our fishing gear in the woods and started hiking. Again Erika was in charge of keeping the bears away and that is exactly what she did. She said that the bears were just too annoyed with her to even be interested in eating us, I think that was a pretty accurate statement. We hit a little snow on the trail but nothing that really slowed us down, but after about 1.5miles we started getting into deeper and deeper snow. We just kept pushing on and finally made it out of the woods and above the tree line. Once we got out into the open, the trail switch backed up the side of the mountain which looked daunting but we eventually made our way. The higher up the mountain we got, the deeper the snow was, and since the sun was out in all her glory, the snow was not firm enough to support our large bodies. We were going to bring our snowshoes but Jesse said that we wouldn’t need them, ha, he was wrong. We waded through the hip deep snow for almost a mile before we came to a spot with enough sun exposure to have a firm trail to follow. We got almost to the top and had to stop and shed some layers, so we found a cool tree and snapped a picture.
) No more than 5minutes down the trail we came around the corner and were hit with one of the most amazing views I have ever seen. We were about 200 feet above Mystic Lake and there was no question where she got her name. It was still almost totally frozen over from the winter so the water had an amazing blue tint to it. There were mammoth, almost tooth like mountains surrounding the lake resembling the name of the mountain range… The Beartooths.
Amazing view
We only had a few minutes to take a couple pictures before we had to head back down so we enjoyed the view and turned around to start the 3 mile trek back to the car. We traipsed and tramped down the hill and through the snow until we got to the part of the trail with no snow and then the hiking was much easier. We finally got back to the car and headed back. We stopped and took a couple of pictures of the mountains and how beautiful and vast the landscape is but still had to come back to billings. Falling asleep with the mountains in the side mirror made me realize how truly minute we are compared to this world.

Who wouldn't want to live here
There is beauty in the storms.
We got back to Billings and went out to eat again at a great Italian restaurant. Once we got back we did what we have done every night since we've been here... SLEPT!!

Montana: 4/19/2010 Hellroaring Hike

Today Jesse was working but Shelli had the day off, so we decided to go for a hike up in the Bear Tooth mountains near Red Lodge. We woke up and Shelli was starting to make breakfast which was delicious. We had pancakes with blueberries and blackberries, and eggs with tomato, spinach and pesto. After breakfast we headed out to the mountains and stopped in the small ski town of Red Lodge and rented Erika a pair of snow shoes (Shelli had a pair and I was using Jesse’s). We continued on the road for about 10miles and then turned off and started winding up the mountain on a dirt road. The road was pretty rough and we would not have been able to make it if we did not have Jesse’s new Subaru;) We got about 3 miles up the 5 mile road and could not go any further because of the snow. So we parked there and started hiking up the road.
As far as the Subaru could get
About ½ mile up the road we saw some tracks going up the side of the hill, (away from the road). Shelli was like, “Hey, let’s go up there” so we all agreed. We strapped on our snowshoes and started side stepping up the side of the almost vertical hill.
Strapping on the Snowshoes

) It took us about 30min but we made it to the top of the ridge line where there was no snow because the rocks were so steep that not even snow could make its home there. I saw Shelli looking up at the vertical rocks that were about 100yards above us and knew exactly what she was thinking, and she said it, “Hey, let’s go up there”.
Me at the top of the snow hill
Shelli scoping out our next phase.
Figured we should take a picture just in case we didnt make it down alive

So we left our snowshoes on the rocks and started scrambling up the hill which was only very loose rock. Every step we took some rock got knocked loose and made mini rock avalanches all the way to the bottom of the hill. We finally got to the top of the hill where the rocks started going vertical and I could see it in Shelli’s eyes… “Hey, let’s go up there”. I quickly agreed but Erika was a bit more hesitant, but she was finally convinced and we started climbing up the rocks. The rocks would be completely vertical for about 10 or 15 feet and then we would have a break in the rock and it would be about 20 feet of almost vertical but very loose rock. You could not trust any hand holds or foot holds because even in the larger rock that looked stable, there were many times that we would slide our hands on top of the rock and it would just break loose. It took us another 30 min but we climbed about 200 feet to the top of the first pinnacle.
Part of what we had to come up
The three of us on top
Shelli walking the ridge (about 3 feet wide)
Our View
Me and sister on top of the world

We figured that our adrenaline had flown enough for the day and started looking for a way down (it was too steep to go down the way we came up). We found a way down on the other side of the mountain and slowly started clambering down.
This was not even the steepest part.

We had to be careful not to walk directly below each other because if just one tiny rock was knocked loose, it would fall and start knocking larger rocks loose and eventually lead to a small rush of falling rocks, and being caught underneath that would have been a quick ending to the hike. So I would get down a certain distance and move over to the side and let the other two come to that point, and we made our way down the entire slope that way. We got back down to where our snowshoes were at, took a few minutes to catch our breath and started going back down the snowy part of the hill toward the road.
We finally made it down to the road and started walking back to the car. We got down to the main road and stopped in Red Lodge to return Erika’s snowshoes and get some coffee. Once back to Billings we all grabbed showers and went out to eat with Jesse. When we got back we were pretty beat and went to bed.

Montana: 4/18/2010 Yellowstone

Today we woke up and grabbed breakfast at the hotel and headed back into the park where we planned to find a hike around the Lamar Valley. We headed that way and in good ol’ Yellowstone fashion hit more herds of Bison than we could handle but eventually made it to the trailhead of the hike we wanted to do.

It was a 6mile hike to a petrified forest which was supposed to be really cool. When we pulled into the parking lot there was a herd of about 100 Bison about 30yards in front of the car, but since they seem to be comfortable with humans and were just grazing we didn’t think much of it. A park ranger stopped and we asked her what the best way to get to the petrified forest was because our book did not have the best directions. So she started talking about going to the top of this peak, and following that ridge, climbing this pile of rocks… etc, etc. So we listened and when we were confident that we knew where we were going, she headed on her way. We started putting our hiking boots on and preparing our daypacks, forgetting that the bison were so close. When we were ready to go we realized that they had totally closed in on us, which was ok because like I said earlier, they seem to be ok with humans. There was one bull however who must have had a bad experience with some of our kind because he started walking toward us shaking his head up and down violently. He got closer and closer and Jesse and I were just making jokes about him ( Erika was already backing up) not thinking that he meant business. When he was about 5 or 6 feet from us and we could truly understand how big he was, and that he was serious about us going away, we started to back up as well.
He was so loud, and very serious about us leaving.

We made it to the back of the car but by this time the rest of the herd had made it around to the sides of the car and we were almost encircled by 100 GIANT beasts. The car was locked and the key was stowed in my jacket so I quickly unlocked the doors just in case we needed to make an emergency jump into the trunk. Luckily we were able to back away from the herd and make our way around them to the trailhead.
Jesse's car surrounded by Bison
We started up the trail which was just part of the plains but going towards the base of the mountains. Now we all know that there are Grizzly bears in Yellowstone and they are just starting to come out of hibernation looking for their first kill to satisfy their hungry bellies. So Jesse told us that he read in his “Bear Aware” book to just make a lot of noise so that you don’t startle them. Jesse and I were not too worried about it but Erika seemed a bit nervous. We promptly put her in charge of letting the bears know that we were coming. The entire hike she was yelling, “Hey, bears, here we come” or “Go away bears” or “Don’t eat us, were not very tasty”… etc, etc.
Three of us almost to the base of the mountain
We made it to the base of the mountains and started walking up and through the trees where it was very muddy because of all the snow melting from above. We made it through the tree line and got to an even steeper part of the hill, and to make things worse there was about 3 feet of snow that we had to tromp through.

This wasn't even the steepest part
It was very slow going and time and time again we would be walking on top of the snow and without warning we would drop through the hard surface and end up waist deep with one leg while the other leg stayed on top of the snow, as you can imagine this was a very awkward position to be in. Being the problem solver that I am, I had an idea. Why don’t we spread out over the snow to distribute our weight better… kind of like snowshoes. I started crawling on my hands and knees and it actually worked. I only made it about 4 feet until my brilliant idea fell right through the snow.
My plan proved to be ineffective
After about an hour of climbing, sliding through mud and crashing through snow, we made it to the top… of the first ridge. We remembered that the park ranger told us to climb to the top of the first peak, walk the ridge to the base of the second peak and then climb to the top of that peak. We got to a little area where there were some stable rocks and no snow to get a better vantage point and realized that just a little farther up the base of the mountain there was a trail that gently wound down the side of the mountain and there was NO SNOW!! We decided that we were definitely going to go down that way. When we realized that to get to the top of the second peak we would have to trudge through more snow that was probably even deeper than before, we decided to cut our losses and just head back down.
We had already gotten more exercise than we could handle for one day and the air at 7000 feet is much thinner than at 100 feet (Orlando). We headed back down to the base of the mountain and made our way to the car. We figured that since we had more time we would drive to the north ease entrance to the park where there is a very small town called Cooke City. Jesse has wanted to go there because everyone told him that it was a great place so we started heading that way. We ran into another… you guessed it… Bison herd. We stopped and snapped some pictures and then were on our way again.

Erika in the car
When we got into Cooke City there were snowmobiles all over the place: in parking lots, for rent at the gas station, on the roads and everywhere else you looked. We stopped at a place that was simply named “Bistro” where a young Slovakian girl waited on us. We ate and rested a little there and then started heading back home. The road going East from Cooke City was still closed from the snow so we had to drive all the way back through the park to the entrance that we came in and then it was another 2.5 hrs back to Billings.
Cooke City
On our way out of the park we ran into a group of 4 big horn sheep that were on the side of the mountain, so we stopped and I grabbed some shots of them and then our three tired bodies climbed back into the car and headed home.

When we got back Jesse and Erika started making dinner and I went to the airport to pick up Shelli who was flying back from Vegas where she had her bachelorette party. We had a good meal and caught up with each other, then it was off to bed.

Montana: 4/17/2010 Yellowstone

Last night Erika and I arrived in Billings, MT and Jesse picked us up from the airport. Since it was such a long day of traveling we pretty much hit the sack as soon as we got to his house. This morning we woke up pretty early and started the 2.5hr drive to Yellowstone National Park. The drive was pretty uneventful but even in the plains it was a nice change of scenery from Florida. Once we got into the little town at the Mammoth Hot Springs entrance we stopped at a small information station and got some information about what roads were still closed and where there had been wildlife sightings. We finally got into the park, which was actually free because this whole week at all National Parks there is no fee to enter as incentive for people to visit. We started driving into the park and were immediately flooded with large mountains, rivers and low running valleys. We decided to go to a waterfall overlook that was pretty close and when we got there it was nice to just sit and listen to the water. We decided that since the weather was looking a bit harsh, we would put off hiking until tomorrow and just drive the park seeing the things that could be easily accessed from the car. We started at the Mammoth Hot Springs which have a wooden trail winding around and through them because the ground is so unstable from the volcanic activity that much of the seemingly stable ground is really just a thin crust and would quickly give way to the weight of a human body. The hot steaming water was flowing from the springs down the side of the rocks and over time has left sulfur deposits that range in shape and color from bright red, round bubbly looking terraces to dark grey, steep ledges that look like stair steps build by a blind man. We walked around for about an hour looking at the variety of shapes, textures and colors that were presented by the flowing sulfur water. We left the hot springs and started making our way to the Old Faithful Geyser which was about a 2 hr drive away. Along the way we stopped at various geysers and hot springs that were accessible from the car, stopping in many areas to take pictures of the plethora of Bison that were roaming the fields, or even roaming the roads. We finally arrived at The Old Faithful Geyser and when we got there they said it was going to be about 30min until she would erupt again so we made our way over to a little cafeteria and got something to eat. We made it back to the area where the great eruption is supposed to occur and sure enough about 2min after we arrived (along with about 150 asians) we saw what many people come to Yellowstone for, but to us it was slightly anticlimactic. I mean, the fact that it has been erupting on a schedule for so long is impressive, but the eruption itself is hardly anything to get excited about. We left that area a little disappointed and made our way to what is known as the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”. When we got there it was a pretty big canyon with a large waterfall falling into it. We drove around the top of it and took a few pictures and then made our way back to the entrance of the park. We went to our hotel and checked in where the small town hotel manager asked if Jesse had a genuine credit card, to which Jesse responded… well, he wasn’t exactly sure what the guy was asking so he just gave him the card. We dropped our bags and then went to eat at a bar/pool hall/ casino/restaurant. We had seen so many Bison that they were starting to look yummy, so in good taste we each got a large Bison burger, which was delicious. We headed back to the hotel and crashed.

Jesse and I at the Grand Prismatic Pools
Us at Mammoth Hot Springs