Trip Report - Winter 1997

Lewis and Debra Demler

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This is our first winter trip to Yellowstone.  After our first trip to Yellowstone in September 1995, I started to get angina symptoms again.  Since I had already had three heart operations since 1990, I decided to get a complete physical.  After a series of test, I was told that the entire apex of my heart was ischemic.  Due to the nature of the blockages, another operation was out of the question.  The prognosis was that within 6 months I would have a major heart attack.

Due to my heart problems, we missed going to Yellowstone in 1996, opting instead to attend one of Dean Ornish's Reversing Heart Disease Lifestyle Retreats in San Francisco.  Tests in the fall of 1996 indicated a complete reversal of the ischemia.  We decided, on the spur of the moment, to come to Yellowstone for a week in the winter.

We had not been on skis since 1987 so we decided to take our snowshoes.  We would rent skis when we got to Yellowstone.  We also planned on going snowmobiling for two days.

We took lots of pictures and video on this trip, but everything was destroyed during our house fire in May 1998.  I am trying to restore some of the negatives, but that has, so far, been a futile exercise.  The pictures on this page are from our winter trips in 1998 and 1999.  I have been able to salvage the digital pictures of the winter 1998 trip.

Saturday, January 1, 1997

The flight into Jackson Hole was good.  We got some good pictures of the Great Salt Lake and of the Tetons.

We waited for the shuttle to Flagg Ranch for over two hours (got in at 1:00 and shuttle was due at 3:00).  At 3:30 we called Flagg Ranch to find out whether the shuttle was coming.  It finally arrived at 3:45.

The road from Jackson was mostly clear with patchy ice here and there.  We saw 3 magpies and a bison in a field.  There was an eagle on a carcass near the road.  It left when we drove past.  Near the junction just before the Teton Park entrance we saw 5 moose.

The road from the park entrance to Flagg started out with snow in the middle and icy patches.  The Snake river was totally frozen over and covered with snow.  Past the Willow Flats Overlook, the road got totally snowy and icy.

Saw a coyote in an open area just before Colter Bay.  The pine trees were all frosted with snow.

Jackson Lake was frozen and covered with snow.  Along the lake the snow on the aspens looked like cotton balls stuck to the branches.

As we got closer to Flagg Ranch, the snow got deeper.  The road was all snow covered and the trees were really weighted down with snow.

Sunday, January 5, 1997

Walked up to the lodge for breakfast.  It was snowing.  Our hats got covered by the time we got there.  Our ears were very cold.  After breakfast Deb bought me an ear band.  She used her earmuffs.  Saw a rainbow (snowbow) around the sunrise on the way back to the cabin.  Deb decided to get an ear band as well.

After we called for someone to get our bags, we found out that the Snow Coach was not running today.  We had everything packed and ready to go.  When the porter arrived, we asked him where to meet the snow coach and he told us it wasn't running today.

We walked to the lodge to see what we could do for the day.  We decided to rent skis for 1/2 day.  We were told we could pick them up at 1:00.  During breakfast Deb overheard some people talking about blizzard conditions tomorrow.  The desk clerk let her listen to the weather phone recording, which said only a 30% chance of snow.  We went back to our cabin to eat and get ready for skiing.

We got out our anoraks, polartec pants and wind pants and went back for our skis.  No one was at the Ski Shack, so we went up to the front desk to get someone.  We had to give a credit card and sign for the skis.  I don't know why the clerk hadn't taken care of all that in the morning.  We went back to get the skis and found out that there no ski boots left in my size.

We had them cancel the ski rental, went back to our cabin and decided to snowshoe out to Huckleberry Hot Springs.  We got going and started out on the trail.  We missed a turn and walked out Grassy Lake Road instead.  We saw 2 Trumpeter Swans fly by.  We also saw several rabbit and deer mice tracks.  We met a couple going the other way.  They said the only thing down the road was the river.

We turned around to see where we went wrong.  We found the trail and a skier we had talked to earlier confirmed that it was the trail.  We met a ranger who told us we were still on the right trail.  Another ranger told us there was a moose further down the trail and a bison at the hot springs.

As we walked, we saw several ducks in Polecat Creek.  Then 7 Trumpeter Swans flew over.  There was a coyote across the creek.  At the bend in the creek we saw a diving duck that looked like a loon from a distance.  It would dive in one open area in the creek and come up in another.  We also saw a lone duck in one of the openings in the ice.

We finally found the moose in a open area across the creek.  We watch him for a while.  By this time we were really getting tired and still had to walk back out.

We decided to walk a little further to see if the Hot Springs were near by.  The bison was supposed to be there.  After we walked a couple hundred yards, we decided to start back.  We had actually passed a cutoff to the Hot Springs and hadn't realized it.  The sun was starting to set, so it was good we turned back.  The sunset was spectacular.  Two other ducks had joined the lone duck.  They were all mallards.

We got back to the cabin and stripped.  All our inner clothes were soaked and the inside of the anoraks was dripping.  We put up our clotheslines and hung everything up to dry.  Even though we had been so wet, we were still warm.  The polartec really works and so do the Sorel boots.

We ate supper in the room - soup, bread and snacks.  We turned in early.  I was dozing by 7:00 and we went to bed at 8:00.

Monday, January 6, 1997

We woke up around 4:30 and turned on the radio.  At 5:00 the temperature in Jackson was -3.  By 6:30 it was down to -5.  We called the front desk to see whether the snow coaches were running.  They hadn't heard anything yet.  The 7:00 news on the radio said that the Snow Lodge was open and the snow coaches would be running.  We called TW Services but they didn't open until 8:00.

We called TW Services back after 8:00 and they confirmed that the snow coaches would be running.  We ate breakfast at the lodge and talked to another family that had been waiting since Saturday to get into Yellowstone.

We went back to the cabin and finished packing.  We checked out around 11:00.  They snow coaches arrived at 12:00 but didn't start loading until 12:30.  There were 6 coaches to start.  We had 7 people in our coach.

At the first stop at Moose Falls we picked up 2 more people because one of the coaches had lost a ski.  We walked down to the falls and took some pictures.

The next stop was at a lookout over Lewis Canyon.  One of the drivers said there was over 100 inches of snow on the ground.

The snow coach was crowded, hot and noisy.  The ride was pretty bumpy, but not as bad as expected.  The further we went, the more tired we got and by the end of the trip our backs were sore and stiff.

As we drove by Lewis River, we saw 2 pairs of Trumpeter Swans.  One pair flew away as we went by.  I was too slow to get a picture.  We stopped next at Lewis Falls.  It felt good to get out and stretch.

Just before Grant Village we stopped to take pictures of a bison grazing along a creek.  One of the other passengers complained about stopping saying 'You'll see so many bison, you'll get tired of them".  That may be true, but this was the first, so we had to get a picture.

We stopped at West Thumb Geyser Basin next and took a walk around the geyser area.  We also had a bathroom break in primitive outdoor toilets.  Deb though she would freeze to the toilet seat.  It really felt good to stretch.  By this time we were pretty stiff.

We drove straight through to Old Faithful from West Thumb.  We checked in just before 5:00.

Our cabin was the furthest from the Snow Lodge.  We had to drag our luggage to the cabin.  I took one backpack, one suitcase and the snowshoes.  Deb took the other backpack and two suitcases.  We didn't do too badly, but Deb could barely go 30 yards without getting out of breath.  The altitude really seems to affect her.  We finally got to the cabin and collapsed for a while.  We resolved to pare down what we bring along.

We went back to the Snow Lodge for supper.  We had a vegetarian meal, but it had a lot of cheese, so it wasn't low fat.

We got back to the cabin and Deb unpacked all the food we brought.  We certainly won't starve with everything we brought.  A whole drawer full (!) in the dresser.

We turned in around 9:00.  We are finally in Yellowstone in the winter.

Tuesday, January 7, 1997

We rented skis the first thing this morning.  We decided to ski the Lone Star Geyser trail.  According to the pamphlet at the Snow Lodge, this is supposed to be one of the easiest trails.

The first two miles were killers.  Deb fell first, of course.  We came down to a small hill.  She did really well until she turned back to look at me, lost her balance and went over.  A short while later we went down another hill approaching the Firehole River.  I went first, missed the turn and sat down to avoid going into the river.  Deb followed and fell almost at the bottom of the hill.

We crossed the Firehole River and started to climb a large hill.  We climbed and climbed and climbed.  We went up over 300 feet.  On a downhill run as we approached the road, Deb fell again.

We crossed the road and stopped at Kepler Cascades.  We continued up past Kepler Cascades and finally hit the easy part of the trail.  This was the section they listed in the pamphlet at the Snow Lodge.

We skied along the East side of the Firehole River, passed the water intake for the Old Faithful area and then crossed over to the West side.  We skied on and on.  The scenery was beautiful but we were getting tired.

We finally got to the junction with the Spring Creek Trail and didn't think it would be much further to the Lone Star Geyser.  We met another couple coming back from the geyser.  They said Lone Star had erupted at around 1:15.  It was now 1:45.  Lone Star cycles at 3-hour intervals.  This was the same couple that passed us as we were struggling up one of the earlier hills.

Even though we missed the eruption, we decided to continue on.  It seemed to take forever to get to the junction of the Howard Eaton Trail and even longer to get to the geyser.  It was just steaming, so we took a few pictures and left.

We were exhausted and started to look for a good place to eat.  There wasn't any good place so we skied back to the Howard Eaton Trail junction and stopped.

Deb had to take a bathroom break, so she went behind a few trees off the trail.  She nearly froze.  It was bitterly cold and the wind was blowing.  The wind always blows around Lone Star Geyser.  She thought her hands were frostbitten because the hurt so bad.  She got the instant hand warmers out and put them inside her mittens to warm up.  She had been using her glove liners and fingerless gloves and they were soaked.

We ate some soup that was so thick it barely came out of the thermos.  Deb's hands warmed up but mine were cold now so she gave me the hand warmers.  We always want to bring several pairs of them along.  They are worth their weight in gold.

We skied mechanically from there.  Push, glide, push, glide.  At one point on an open flat area, Deb was so tired, her body said enough is enough and she just fell over.  We kept going because we knew we had to.  We were never so glad to see a bridge as the one that took us back to the East side of the Firehole River.  It didn't seem that far from there to the road.

We decided there was no way we could ski back down the hills on the trail so we tried to ski the road.  It was too hard so we took off our skis and walked the two miles from Kepler Cascades to Old Faithful.  We put our skis back on and we skied the short piece of trail from the road to our cabin.  I stopped at the cabin to get our boots while Deb went to turn in the skis.  We actually made it back before the 5:00 closing.  

We went back to the cabin and collapsed.  Both of us ached from head to foot, but our thighs hurt so much we didn't notice the rest.  While we were at the ski shop, Deb picked up a Yellowstone Cross Country ski book that indicated the Lone Star Trail was not so easy.  Too late!

Wednesday, January 8, 1997

We rented a snowmobile for the day.  We got a late start, so we didn't get on the road until 10:00.  We didn't think we would have enough time to make the lower loop, so we decided to go up to Mammoth instead.

We saw all kinds of bison and elk along the way.  We saw several elk close to the road, but none on it.  A lot of bulls still had their antlers.  Some had really impressive racks.  We found out later that the bull elk do not lose their antlers until later in the winter or early spring.

The bison seem to like walking on the road.  We passed a lot of lone bison, several groups of two to four and one group of eight.  We didn't realize it then, but this was the beginning of the bad winter in which the Montana DOL slaughtered one third of the Yellowstone herd, about 1,300 bison.

We stopped at the Madison Warming Hut for a bathroom break for Deb.  She was ecstatic.  Heated, flush toilets.  We continued up to Norris.  Between Madison and Norris we stopped at Gibbon Falls to take some pictures.  We stopped at Norris for another break but did not tour the Geyser Basin.

Between Norris and Mammoth, around Beaver Lake, we came up on a group of 8 bison heading North.  It was kind of scary passing that many bison on the road, especially since there was a mother with a calf.   We stopped at Rustic Falls to take pictures.  We went down the windy, steep road at the Golden Gate area.  The drop-offs look a lot worse from a snowmobile than in a car.

We also saw a coyote sitting between Madison and Norris and a coyote running near the Obsidian Cliffs.  We also saw a pair of Trumpeter Swans flying near Swan Lake and two pairs of swans in the river.  There were hooded ducks (Mergansers) in the Gibbon River.

We finally got close to Mammoth and found we could not drive into Mammoth itself, but had to stop at the Warming Hut and take a shuttle.  We didn't have time, since we had to get the snowmobile back by 4:30.  We ate lunch there, got gas for the snowmobile, used the facilities and left for Old Faithful.

On the way back, we took the Hoodoo side trail and just about tipped over on the uneven road.

We passed the same group of 8 bison on the way back.  I said something about getting pictures, but Deb wasn't ready.  The next bison we met was alone, so Deb tried to get a picture.  She dropped one of her mittens and before she let me know we had gone a good 20 yards.  The bison kept coming, went past us and stopped to check out her mitten.  We backed up a little and he snorted and then continued going north.  Deb was then able to retrieve her mitten.

We stopped at Roaring Mountain to take some pictures.  We continued on past Norris this time and took a pit stop at the Madison Warming Hut.

We took the side trail for the Firehole River Canyon.  We saw a bald eagle and stopped to take some pictures.  We also took pictures of the river and the falls.

We got back to Old Faithful right at 4:30 and Old Faithful had just erupted.  We went back to the cabin and changed.  We walked back to Old Faithful and caught the next eruption at 5:20.

We had supper in the cabin and went to bed at 9:00.

Thursday, January 9, 1997

While we were getting ready to pick up our snowmobile, I discovered my wedding ring was missing.  We did a brief search of the room - bed, floor, dresser, but couldn't find it.  We left a note for housekeeping and informed the front desk clerk.  We then picked up our snowmobile and left for the day.

We headed south to West Thumb.  It was snowing continually.  The snow was pretty deep over the mountains, especially at the Isa Lake Continental Divide turnoff.  The sign was completely covered.  All you could see was a ripple in the snow.  We passed very few bison on the road south.  Not much but snow, trees and mountains, but it was breathtaking.  We stopped at the second Continental Divide turnoff.  There you could see the top of the sign.

The ranger at West Thumb said this winter would probably be very hard on the bison and they expected a very large winter kill.  (I'm sure they did not expect the state of Montana to help make it a large kill).  There was a period of sloppy, wet snow early in the season, then 81" of snow over Christmas and then the rain over New Year's.  That left two layers of ice and it's very hard for the bison to dig down to the food.  They use their heads to clear the snow away - pushing it back and forth.  They just can't break through the ice.  The elk shouldn't be as bad since they can browse the trees, but they too, will have greater than normal losses.

The ranger said the black and white ducks we have been seeing are Barrow's Golden Eyes and the hooded ones are Mergansers.

We left West Thumb and headed for Fishing Bridge.  There were more bison on this stretch, but not a big number.  It was very cold and windy along the lake.  Several parts of the road were starting to drift over.  Lake Yellowstone was hidden behind the snow.  Just as we turned at Fishing Bridge we saw the snow-grooming machine.

We stopped at Fishing Bridge for gas and then went to the Fishing Bridge Warming Hut.  We ate lunch at the warming hut.  The ranger said that otters had been spotted between the bridge and the lake, but we didn't see them.  He also mentioned that 4 bison had fallen through the ice on the Yellowstone River and drowned.  He also said that one was still alive and struggling.  He said the policy is to let nature take its way.  They will not try to save the animals, or put them out of their misery.

We looked for the otters on the way out and still didn't see them.  We saw two bison frozen in the river just before Le Hardy Rapids.  Further down we saw the one that was still alive.  There was a bison on the road that seemed to be watching the one in the water.  We got some pictures, but we didn't want to linger because of the bison on the road.

Next we stopped at the Mud Volcano and were just going to take a quick look at Dragon's Mouth.  We got some pictures and as we turned to leave I noticed a bison near our snowmobile.  We started to walk down the boardwalk and the bison approached the bottom of the boardwalk and looked around, undecided where to go.  I wanted to continue down the boardwalk, hoping to discourage the bison, but Deb didn't want to get too close.  The bison got up on the boardwalk and headed toward us.  We turned around and started back up the boardwalk.  The bison kept on coming.  We got back up to Dragon's Mouth and the bison still kept on coming.  Fortunately, the boardwalk continued across the hill, so we headed that way.  The bison kept on coming.  Deb got around a small bend and I hung back a little to stay between Deb and the bison.  The bison kept on coming.  Just as I got to the bend, the bison decided it was going to jump off the boardwalk into the center area where the thermal heat had melted the snow.  We were safe at last.  By now we were at the Mud Volcano so we got some pictures.  Deb went back to the snowmobile and get the SLR camera and I took some close ups of the Mud Volcano and the bison that chased us around.

We stopped at Sulphur Caldron but surprisingly, there weren't any animals there.  I guess they were all over at Mud Volcano looking for us.

We headed through the Hayden Valley and it, too, was surprisingly empty.  There were very few bison compared with what we saw the last time.  It was very cold and windy.  The largest bison herd we saw was at the top of a ridge where the wind had blown the snow away.

We stopped along the south rim of the Grand Canyon and took pictures from Artist's Point.  We then went to the Canyon Warming Hut for a break.  We then took the North Rim drive and got pictures at a couple of stops.

It was getting late so we made tracks for Norris.  The only animal we saw was a bison lying in the middle of the road.  He didn't look too healthy.

At Norris, we noticed that a lot of the burned trees were starting to fall.  There was also a herd of bison heading toward the intersection from the Mammoth direction.

At Gibbon Falls there was a snowmobile tour group that decided to slide down the hill across from the turnout.  Since they didn't have sleds, they slid down on their butts.  This doesn't help their image.

We stopped at Madison for a break.  South of Madison we saw a pair of Trumpeter Swans.  I got some good pictures.  A little further down we saw three more Trumpeter Swans.

Just before Old Faithful we passed a lone snowmobiler heading the other way.  He was stopped and adjusting a thermos bottle.  A little further on a group of three snowmobilers flagged us down and asked whether we passed another one and whether he was all right.  One of the women said it was her husband and she was afraid he had a heart attack.  We reassured her that he looked ok and continued back to Old Faithful.  While we were taking our snowmobile clothes off, the group came in.  The woman was getting on her husband for scaring her so.  He said his thermos fell off and he was just retrieving it.  We put our clothes in the return bin and left.

When we got back to the cabin, Deb unpacked the packs so she could put them outside to get rid of the smell from the snowmobile exhaust.  She found my wedding ring in the bottom of her pack.  I had lost about 60 pounds in the last 6 months and it must have fallen off when I was getting the camera to take pictures of the eagle in the Firehole Canyon the day before.

Friday, January 10, 1997

We rented skis again today.  We watched Old Faithful and then we tried to ski the Geyser Hill area.  It was impossible.  The trail was very icy and rough.  At times it was just a foot wide, two-foot high mound of ice.  You were in danger of sliding off and down the sides.  We took our skis off and walked.

As we got to the Lion Group, a GOSA member came from the opposite way and said Beehive Geyser was due to go off.  We turned around and went back and watched it.  It was one of the better geysers that we have seen.

We walked down past the boardwalk to an area out of the wind and had a tea break.  We put on our skis and skied through the woods to the Grand area.  It wasn't bad until we hit the boardwalk again.  We skied past Grand into an open area where the wind was blowing snowdrifts across the trail.

The thermal area had melted most of the snow on the trail across the bridge over the Firehole River.  There was just a narrow, icy path.  I went first and my ski hit the gravel area, stopping me cold.  Of course, that made me fall.  It was a bad fall as I twisted both ankles and my shoulder.  Deb sidestepped down the hill.

We went out to Riverside Geyser and it was in the overflow stage so we waited for the eruption.  While we were waiting, we had some soup for lunch.  Several geyser watchers joined us.  We saw a very nice eruption of Riverside Geyser.  As Riverside Geyser was playing down, Grand Geyser started an eruption.

We left Riverside Geyser and headed over to Grand Geyser.  We saw a very good eruption from a distance, but by the time we got over to Grand, it was in the steam phase.  We watched that for a while and then decided to call it a day.  We were leaving on Saturday and needed to pack.

We turned in our skis and went back to the cabin.  After we finished packing, we went to the Snow Lodge and had a vegetarian supper.  Again, it was vegetarian but definitely not low fat.

Saturday, January 11, 1997

We brought our bags to the Snow Lodge.  We had breakfast while we waited for the Snow Coaches.  We left Old Faithful around 8:00.

We stopped at Kepler Cascades on the way out.  We also stopped at the Shoshone Lake overlook.  The snow coaches stopped at West Thumb for the last rest break.

We arrived at Flagg Ranch around 12:00.  The shuttle to Jackson left at 1:00.  When we got to Jackson, we checked into our motel.  Our flight was early on Sunday morning so we had to spend the night in Jackson.  We wanted to pick up two duffel bags to put our backpacks in so we would not have to carry them on the airplane.  We checked the Yellow Pages and found a discount store at the far end of town.  We walked to the end of town, towards Teton Village, only to find that the store had moved several miles further out.  We walked back to our room and checked for other stores.  We finally got the duffel bags at Jack Dennis.

After we packed the duffel bags, we went to an Italian restaurant for supper.  After supper we toured Jackson and then went back to the hotel.

Sunday, January 12, 1997

We left the hotel early Sunday morning.  Our flight home was uneventful, though depressing, as we knew it would be six months before we would be coming back to Yellowstone.

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