Yesterday we woke to 35 below zero, for the second day in a row. Yes, that’s cold, but honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a reason that this area was the last place, in the Rockies, to be civilized. This type of weather keeps the riff raff from really wanting to live here and those who are hearty enough to stick around are usually worth their salt. Today, New Year’s, is a bit warmer with five below at high noon. Still though, it’s too cold outside to hunt birds on the last day or venture out for the first fish of the new year. With any luck, I’ll get out for a ski with my better half in YNP later in the day. For now, I’ll settle to watch the English Premier League and catch up on next summer’s bookings. The Hot Spurs have Chelsea on the ropes thus far with a 4-1 lead.
Norris Geyser Basin has become my favorite hot spot in Yellowstone. With hardly ever a soul around, complete with geysers, hot springs and super heated steam vents, Norris has it all. Rarely do I see anyone XC ski here, but the Back Basin is one of the best little known ski trips in YNP. The next time you come to Yellowstone National Park, skip out on Old Faithful and take some time to visit Norris Geyser Basin.
The past month has been a blur. Without a doubt, this season has been as busy as I want to be while snow coaching in Yellowstone and trying to run a fishing business as well. The past three months in YNP are comparable to May, June, July, August, Sept and October, except that it’s much colder. This cold, snowy, windy weather takes it’s toll a little quicker than summer’s warm days and driving these Bombs 150 miles or more each day will wear, even the seasoned guide, to the bone. There are only three weeks left and yes, I will miss this job when it finishes up on March 15th. Where did the winter go?
While these photos show us deep into Winter, angling is not far away. Each day continues to get longer and this will lead to spring. Some folks around here think it’s here, but if you asked a Bison, they would say otherwise. April will be here soon enough and that’s when fishing starts to get really good. We have quite a few spring trips booked this season and if you haven’t experienced Montana’s other fishing season, maybe it’s time.
Montana Snow Pack
It’s been dumping here in West Yellowstone and throughout Yellowstone National Park for the past ten days or so. Not everyday has been a blizzard, but consistent snow has fallen from the skies. Most of this snow has been laden with water and making a snowball straight from the ground has been possible from time to time. Prior to this, the mountains were slim, but now we are back above 100% and headed into the wettest part of winter. March, April and May is when things really get loaded up in the high country. The past several years have a seen a mid-March warm spell, so it will be interesting to see if this occurs once again.
Jefferson River Drainage – 128%
Madison River Drainage – 111%
Gallatin River Drainage – 119%
Missouri Headwaters – 120%
The slower pace of the winter season allows one to truly take it all in, even from behind the wheel of a B12 Bomb. For me, rubber necking and driving go hand in hand as maneuvering the Bomb really isn’t as hard as some think. I love the winter and the solitude it provides in a place often considered over-run with visitors. Winter in Yellowstone is not busy, which is a good thing but also slightly elitist in the fact that YNP’s Interior is not a cheap place to visit in the Winter.
On Monday, I start a seven day run with photographers. We will be staying at the Snow Lodge each night, up before dawn and out till dark. As one of my favorite British YNP photographers says, “lets trundle along and see what we see”.
Over the past month, many a mile has been passed by behind the wheel of Bombardier B12. Visiting Yellowstone during the winter months is by far a highlight of my year, honestly, I don’t feel that there is finer job out there in West Yellowstone. While traveling the upper reaches of watersheds such as the Yellowstone, Snake, Gallatin and Madison it’s possible to ascertain the area’s snow fall. While I don’t feel like I’m an expert on snow pack, it’s handy to compare what the NRCS SNOTEL Site reports with how things actually look around here.
This fall started out as a wet one and overall coverage by the end of rifle season was solid throughout the most of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The Rendezvous Ski Trails had fantastic condition for annual Fall Camp held every year here in town. When we entered the Park in early to mid December, the roads were in the best shape we’d seen in a long time, baring the Winter of 2010-2011 of course. At this point, snow pack percentages where doing fine, but I really wasn’t paying that much attention to them cause the white stuff was a plenty, and nobody really gives thought to snow pack in December cause it’s just too early to think about it. Certain areas were being hit harder than others and I can remember a storm or two than dropped hardly a skiff at our place on the Butte, but dumped in town, on upstream past Madison Junction in YNP and Betwix the Lakes. The most recent storms dropped quite a bit of Wet & Heavy on the ground and right now we are sitting pretty. Locally, the snow pack south and west of Town is slightly below average, but maybe the wind blew some of it away. When reviewing the percentages, it normally takes quite a bit more snow to get these types of moisture content scenarios. Basically, there is a ton of water in what we actually have on the ground and that seems to be the case all over the State of Montana and parts of Wyoming.
What does all this really mean? At this point, we have solid snow in the high country…..just where it’s supposed to be. If you haven’t heard, the avalanche advisory has been HIGH. Four days ago I saw photos from a slide on Lionhead that showed a 6 foot crown and it slid top to bottom – that’s scary shit. Also to note is that fishing has been really good when the wind isn’t blowing. Thus far, January has been quite warm compared to most and the Madison River down in the valley has been topping out at 38-39 degrees each day – that’s pretty darn good for January.
Stay tuned for more updates on snow pack….it’s always changing.
Madison – 107%
Jefferson – 117%
Gallatin – 120%
Touring through the West Gate has provided for some interesting wild life viewing thus far. Wolf packs have been seen on multiple occasions and the bobcat is out cruising the Madison River as well. It seems as if the trumpeter swan numbers are up, but maybe some of the their other water sources are frozen over, pushing more of them into the thermally charged rivers of Yellowstone National Park.
Yesterday morning there was a fresh elk kill near 7 Mile bridge, but not a wolf was seen at the time we came in and out. There were plenty of ravens and other scavengers around, but the wolves must have been off in the trees, hiding out and waiting for darkness to return. About 90% of the time, wolves don’t get what they’re after. Winter gives them a huge advantage as they almost walk across the snow without punching through too deep, where as elk punch all the way down due to their small hooves and larger weight. The elk near 7 mile Bridge was most likely running for the Madison, but ended up being about 40 yards short. Elk use the river as a safe haven and will stand chest deep in the river for as long as possible to fend off a wolf attack.
This big bull bison(below) has been hanging around Biscuit Basin with a few others for the past several weeks. As winter progresses, these large mammals love the warmth provided by the geyser basins. Geysers, hot springs and fumaroles along the Firehole River act like radiant heat in a house, warming the ground, and helps to keep the snow at bay allowing an easier time foraging for grass.
December 21st (and also June 21) sums up a large part of who I am. On one hand there is the first day of Summer and the other is the first day of Winter. Long ago, some believed this day was the birth of a new year and paid homage to the Sun God. While on the other hand, June 21 meant that you better get your fields planted and your beers brewed up as winter is long, hard to endure and coming faster that expected.
While not totally pagan in my beliefs, the seasons of the year along with the mountains and rivers do play a rather large part in my life. It’s not that I worship nature, but rather there is this deep respect for living with it, among it, if you will. Watching the snow fall, the sun rise up or the moon set over Yellowstone connects with me at an unexplainable level. As luck would have it, my bills are paid as a result of living and working out of doors. Snow should be considered “white gold” as without it; the rivers don’t flow as high, the trout don’t live as well, geysers won’t keep erupting, skis are useless and my snow machine would just since there spinning it’s tracks.
Molly and I are healthier for living the way we do and for where we choose. Tonight we will celebrate Winter Solstice in superb fashion and tomorrow we will head into Wonderland.
From here on out, the days get longer.