Make a plan. Preferably a good one. Something ambitious, but logical. Then commit, and enjoy the action.
Our plan was to go skiing in the Tetons. Summer had set in too quickly. Only a couple days of June remained, and the temperatures were sweltering. Will there still be enough snow? Had the recent rains formed a giant runnel?.. Wouldn't I rather just drink beer and go fly-fishing?
We rendezvoused on the Madison, just inside Yellowstone Park. I drove over from Cooke City (multiple swims en route), meeting Ben from Bozeman. Tied to the top of his Honda Civic (45 mpg), was his folks' big old Wenonah canoe. Our intention was to paddle across Jackson Lake, campout, then climb and ski Mt. Moran the next day.
Neither of us had been on Mt. Moran. Nor had we seen the snow conditions of the prior six weeks. However, the Skillet Glacier is common knowledge as an optimal route to the top, and canoe access to summer skiing speaks for itself.
We went down a bit early, to shore up all the red tape. The canoe permit was straight forward, but tracking down a Wyoming Game and Fish warden, to formally clear us/ our watercraft of aquatic invasive species, was fairly futile. We combed the village of Colter Bay, but to no avail. Having given it the good old college try, we stocked up on beer, and went in search of Spalding Bay and the put in.
As the saying goes, 'you never know until you go'.
Turns out the access road to Spalding Bay is currently closed (for no apparent reason). So we began with a mile and a half portage to get to Jackson Lake. After a few methods/ attempts, we settled on one guy carrying the ski gear and oars, and the other (Ben) piggy backing the bear of a canoe. Naturally, there was a bit of a bushwhack/ short cut thrown in for good measure.
With the lake glassing over, it was a relief to seise slchelpping and start dipping the oars, making distance on our objective: mighty Mt. Moran. The wildlife viewing was exceptional. Whitetail deer were grazing on lush hillsides adjacent- hardly minding us, ravens cawing in dead snags above, osprey and pelicans fishing, trout rising for bugs all around.
When we finally got a good look at Moran, optimism hovered in limbo. The Skillet's snow appeared to start alarmingly high. The rhetorical idea of a Plan B was tossed around, but we were committed. Besides, bushwhacking builds character, and 99% of all good tours involve some sort or another.
As for kits, we opted not to bring sleeping bags. The primary three reasons being: how warm the air temperatures were, how little we planned to sleep, and obviously- to save weight and space. Single-wall bivy tents being the substitute. Not only would they provide shelter from a potential thunderstorm, but also reprieve from the 'skeets. Our old school PFD's made awesome pillows, and our rucksacks- 'elephant slippers' (you tuck your legs in for warmth).
We pulled ashore, just as twilight was leaving. Camp was on the beach, for the forest had turned black, and was thick with downfall. In the fading glow of dusk, Ben climbed atop a lakeside stump, soaking up the ambiance. Taking the opportunity, I began to make some long-exposure photographs. 15 seconds at first, then 30, adjusting the aperture accordingly. After the first couple shots, and a brief moment of head scratching, it began to sink in that the green and purple lights dancing in the sky out to the NE were none other than you know who. We were observing the wake of a solar storm, the elusive Aurora Borealis.
A chorus of alarms soon sounded. Three hours of shut eye would have to be sufficient. Retrieving our food hang, mostly still asleep, I could already smell the glorious aroma of good coffee (the Velvet Hammer). Nothing quite like a rich backcountry brew, before a good climb, at O-dark-30. (it's more of a ritual/ meditative-type thing, but the caffeine still is nice)
The bushwhacking was reasonable to start. Quite a few logs to crawl over, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Soon though, we found ourselves obligated to a steep slope, maybe 40 degrees, where the brush turned real thick (some aspen/ willow hybrid-monster type veg). High enough to where your headlamp and visibility ended about 6 inches in front of your face. And thick and steep enough to necessitate yarding on as many branches as you can in order to make any headway. No using your ski poles for leverage. They wouldn't find the ground. Best to just scrap and swim your way up the hillside. I actually found myself laughing through this section. Typically you come up with a few new expletive sequences at times like that, but it was just so over the top, I found it comical.
Continuing up, the vegetation begins to thin out, you become less concerned about startling a bear , and before long you are making good time up the talus. You fill your jug in the creek, splash some water on your face, and transition to ski boots and crampons, just as the sun starts to crest the eastern horizon.
We made our way across a nice bergschrund to begin. There was a convenient snow bridge that diagonaled right across the middle of it. With 20' chasms on either side, it was an entertaining novelty to navigate. Specifically in the Greater Yellowstone region, where glaciation is far less pronounced.
Climbing higher, we found snow with a perfect crampon consistency, but radically uneven. Recent rains and warm temps had left the snow surface riddled with a maze of texture….
(that's the long-winded start to the story anyway. to find out more, you'll just have to round up a canoe, dust off your crampons, and dig up some optimism.. :)