An epic 10-day ski trek across Yellowstone National Park runs into its biggest difficulties in the last days.
We were on the last of three maps. The end was close enough to sense—but not close enough to discuss. Our epic ski traverse route through Yellowstone National Park had taken us on a series of adventures up the Lamar Valley, over Mist Creek Pass and into the Serengeti of Yellowstone—Pelican Valley. Then we had made our way across Yellowstone Lake towards our car at Flagg Ranch. I was traveling with my friend James Healy. We climbed Denali’s Upper West Rib together in 2000 and I knew he was solid in every way—most importantly he could provision and cook like only a winter outdoor instructor could, James followed as I led the way through increasing temps and sticky snow to the nebulous camp seven. After more than a week in the wild, things got challenging fast. I was never lost, but it was hard to pinpoint our exact location because of low visibility. Inevitably I had always overestimated our mileage when we could determine our location.
Early on the snow began to stick to us and melt. It must have been just above freezing. In no time we were soaked to the skin—still warm from exertion—but humidity permeated everything.
Camp that night was grim. James’s anemic sleeping bag was soaked and mine bled water as I wrung it out. Down pants, camp boots and jackets were heavy with moisture. Still, like each day before, there was no complaining and lots of laughing. With 13 miles left in the park and 2 more to our car we both had our eyes on the prize.
The map showed undulating terrain for six miles to the Snake River Valley. It took us until 2:00 p.m. to get to the river. The valley was not the burned out trees of the past but heavily forested, impossible to effectively navigate. We were hosed.
The river was frozen in most spots where we entered the valley but the map showed hot springs everywhere indicating it would not last long. Again, we ran into full-on good luck. Not ten minutes into the valley we found an old ski track that eliminated the time-consuming navigation and reduced each step’s compression from a foot to two inches.
As the sun neared the treetops, I asked James where we were on the map. The first elk we saw grazed with indifference as James pointed out the roof line of the visitor’s center. Unfortunately, it was on the other side of the river and it looked both swift and deep. We opted to head downstream and found a USPS marker possibly indicating a crossing.
There was a second crossing on the far side of the river bed. James was on auto-pilot, it was the last I saw of him until the Flagg Ranch parking lot. We simply changed our clothes into jeans and piled our crap into the back of the car. No crying. Within the hour, we were eating pizza in Jackson. •
Dave Schipper is a gear designer and adventurer based out of Moab, Utah. To read the entire account of his Yellowstone traverse click HERE