Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Republic Pass II

We finally got back to Republic Pass on a sunny day. This time we could really see the mountains surrounding the pass. I think this is my favorite of the places we have skied so far. Perhaps that should not be surprising because these mountains are part of the Absarokas. When our friend Ben first introduced me to the Yellowstone ecosystem we backpacked in the Absarokas and most of Dave and my subsequent backpack trips have also been in this range. The range extends for 80 miles so we still have lots backpacking to do! The name "Absaroka" is what the Crow people called themselves. It translates to "children of the long beaked bird" and probably refers to ravens rather than crows.

Specimen Ridge

One day last week we decided to head to the top of Specimen ridge. The ridge got its name because it has petrified trees on it. Unfortunately for us, the trees are on the steep sides of the ridge and hard to access in winter. We snowshoed up to the top of the ridge as the climb was too steep for skiing but once on top there were just rolling hills and we were able to just amble along and enjoy the views.

The petrified trees are located somewhere in the conifers off to the left. We'll have to wait for a summer visit to see them up close rather than just through binoculars.
The weather was funny while we were on the ridge. There were snow showers over some of the distant ridges but we had sunny skies over us.
From the ridge we had a nice view of Mt. Washburn. Our friend Don skied up to its top the same day we were walking the ridge (26 miles 3,000 feet elevation gain).

Monday, February 15, 2010

East Rim

On a recent day off we skied along the east rim of the Yellowstone river canyon. The park grooms a trail on the opposite rim and we could hear people laughing and talking on that side but we had the east side to ourselves. At least we thought we did. After we were back at the ranch we found out that one of the institute instructors was filming a cougar on the rocks beneath the trail that day. We did see cougar tracks but didn't see that cat itself.
When we got near the top of the trail we saw some big horn sheep. We went into whisper-mode thinking that we needed to be very careful not to spook them.
As it turned out, they actually walked towards us and seemed more curious than afraid.
Only when they got pretty close did they finally begin to run off in the other direction.
Some eventually went over to the edge of the rim. That's the Yellowstone river down below.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


It's 1 am. I'm in the bunkhouse, and just finished the Slough Creek post. The wolves are howling up a storm and they are close by. Will be an interesting walk in the dark back to the cabin.

Slough Creek

Bette and I have made several ski trips up Slough Creek. Slough Creek is one of my favorite spots in the park. The first time I was there was back in September 1978 with my friend Don. We were on our way back from an attempt at moving out west. Recall us sitting by the campfire at night cooking hotdogs on a stick while listening to bugling bull elk. My brother and I made several fall fishing trips to Yellowstone in the late eighties and both times we camped in the campground there, and fished the lower sections and first meadow. Then in the early nineties while Bette was backpacking with our Wisconsin friend Ben in the Absarokas southwest of Cody, I was fishing there and saw two whooping cranes plus a helicopter that was flying in to pick up a hiker mauled by a grizzly bear.

Our first trip up was during a period when it seemed that all our days off and ski trips were on cloudy days with light snowfall. You missed some of the more spectacular mountain views, though skiing through a light snowfall in the mountains is beautiful too. The first picture is looking down after climbing up most of the way from the trailhead. We started way down at the bottom. The second picture is of Bette up in the first meadow with the patrol cabin in the background.

We went back on a sunny day with our co-volunteer John (aka Yellowstone Jack of the Wolf Collaring - Bison Stampede Fame). Snow was great and someone kindly broke trail ahead of us. Made it up farther but still didn't make the second meadow. Another time for that.

Bison in the meadow were pretty feisty. Must be the relatively mild winter. These two were knocking heads. Not sure what the one is doing with its tongue out.

Then it was back out. The snow was soft enough so that the downhill was a lot of fun. Managed to make it out without crashing for a change.

Cabin 8

Earlier we posted photos of the bunkhouse. Here is what are cabin looks like.

Below is the view out the front door.

That's it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Wolves and Wolf Watchers

Wolves are the stars of winter wildlife watching in the park. People visit the park often enough to get to know the different wolf personalities, and some wolf watchers have the number of their favorite wolf (collared wolves get a number) on their vanity license plates--Like "YNP 21" or "Wolf 302". It's quite a subculture. Do you know there are also geyser watchers?

Viewing is usually from the road and often at quite a distance. Scopes are required to see anything, and there are some huge telephoto lens. Below we are watching a group of wolves which are beyond the trees that are between the buses and the background ridge.

People moved up to the rise on the other side of the road to get a better look.

The photo below is of the the same wolves that were being watched in the above photos, only taken the day before. These wolves were just above the road. The photo was taken with our new 300mm lens on maximum zoom, while I was shivering. It gets cold standing around doing nothing. I'm surprised you can see anything.

There are four wolves in the picture (and a wolf shaped rock). The wolves up by the tree are members of the silver pack of four wolves. Named for the seated silver colored wolves. The black one below the tree may be a male (wolf 146) trying to either join the pack or woo away a female. They females weren't showing a lot of interest in him.

If you are interested, Ralph Maughan's blog is a good source of information on the goings on of the Yellowstone wolves, and those outside the park too.

Friday, February 5, 2010

John and the wolf collaring

The wolf biologist have started collaring wolves this week. On Wednesday we got word that they were working right near the Buffalo ranch. Dave dropped a group of students off near the location of the collaring but there was no room for the bus. He came back to the ranch to get me and we watched from further away. First the spotting plane came into sight.
Then the helicopter came in with the darter hanging out of the door. The noise and wind spooked a herd of bison who started running full speed away from the helicopter.
Unfortunately, our coworker John had not heard that the helicopter was coming and had headed out to ski down the valley. The bison wound up heading straight for him. Those of us who knew him couldn't decide whether to watch John or the wolf. Once we realized that he was not directly in their path we could not stop laughing. (John has a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time) We'll probably tell more John stories later. He is now calling himself Yellowstone Jack and is planning a series of stories about his adventures. This one will be called Yellowstone Jack and the Stampeding Bison.
This last photo was taken by John as the bison ran by. I love the way the bison's tongue is hanging out. He said he could hear them grunting as they went by. The biologists successfully replaced an old collar on one wolf and got a collar on a second one from a pack that previously had been uncollared. Apparently the wolves, bison, and John survived the ordeal just fine. We all enjoyed viewing his photos on the big screen TV and hearing his tale over wine and baked brie that evening.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bear Claws

I found these bear claw marks on a lodgepole pine up a small drainage off of the Bannock Trail just outside the northeast part of the park. People say bears claw trees to communicate their presence (both male and female), and sometimes to take out their frustrations. Wonder how people know that.

You can tell the size of the bear by the width of the claw marks. I'm not sure how old these were (trees grow, increasing the spread and height of the marks).

Hopefully we will see some grizzly bears in March. The males come out first. Given the low snow levels and relatively mild temperatures we might see a bear this month!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Winter Wolf Retreat

I was the program assistant for a class called Winter Wolf retreat. The instructors were Nathan and Linda (Dave assisted them for a class earlier). This class was a bit different from the others we've had so far because it was not an official Yellowstone Association class. This one was part of Nathan and Linda's Wild Side business. As a result the meals were catered! Zac was our chef and the food was yummy.
We began each day with wolf watching from 7 am to at least noon. The wolves cooperated once again. Lots of intrigue (males from other packs lurking and flirting and hoping to pass on their genes). In the afternoons we headed out for a few short snowshoe hikes. On the way to one of them we got a nice look at this big horn sheep.
On another day we snowshoed in to a canyon near the Pebble Creek campground. We walked along and on a stream that was frozen in places.

Republic Pass

We finally had a day last week when all four volunteers had the afternoon off. Don, who has been here many winters agreed to lead John, Dave and I up the Republic pass trail in the national forest just outside the park. It was a pretty good climb up to the high meadows in the picture below but it was also a very nice ride down at the end! It was snowing all day so we didn't get a great view of the pass. We'll have to try again on a sunnier day. Of course when we got back to Cooke City (a very small town at the Northeast entrance to Yellowstone) and had settled down with some mochas at the local coffee shop the sun finally poked through.

3's a charm

When we arrived people people told us that a nice frozen waterfall was hidden in the small bunch of conifers visible in the lower left of this photo. We look at these trees every day from the kitchen window and decided to ski over to have a look at the waterfall. The first time we tried was during the cold spell when we first arrived. By the time we found a way to cross the many braids of the Lamar river the sun was starting to set and we had to head back to the ranch without getting to the falls. I had a day off without Dave and tried to get to the falls again. This time the weather was nice and warm. So warm that the stream crossings on the route I chose would have required swimming. So much for trial two. Finally, on the third try I chose a circuitous enough route that I managed to get across the river in a few spots where it had frozen.

When I finally made it to the clump of trees the waterfall was just barely visible.
After making my way through the downed trees guarding the entrance to the falls, I was rewarded with total quiet except for the musical sound of running water under the ice in an almost church like setting with columns of ice like draperies at the altar.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Wolves (bears too) are crepuscular. They are most active in the hours around dawn and sunset. That means getting out just before or as the sun is coming up when supporting a wolf watching class. Getting up early isn't too hard, but early morning is the coldest time of day. Scraping the bus windows and keeping your feet warm are the main problems. As the season gets on we will be getting out earlier and earlier.