Wednesday, April 21, 2010

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.

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