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Beartooth Diary

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  • Darrel Thomas
    Here is my travel log from the Beartooth trip. I will try to get some pictures posted very soon. Darrel ... What an awesome adventure! We got to drive through
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 2, 2005
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      Here is my travel log from the Beartooth trip.  I will try to get some pictures posted very soon.



      What an awesome adventure! We got to drive through some of the country’s most scenic areas, see tons of wildlife, take a mountain bike ride, AND I GOT TO SNOW KITE THREE DAYS!!!!


      Thursday May 26, 2005

      We left Boise, about 6:30pm, after Shannan got off work and we got the last bits of stuff loaded into the truck. We stopped in Mountain Home for a burger, and took highway 20 to Ashton through Fairfield, Arco, and Rexburg. A few miles North of Ashton, at about midnight, we called it day and drove down a forest service road into Harris Canyon, no where in particular. It was just where we were when I was done driving. The road wound its way down a forested canyon, within a mile or so, we had found a nice pullout. We parked the truck, and jumped in the back for a good night’s sleep.



      Over breakfast the next day, I said to Shannan "Is that a stump or a bear over there?"

      The stump then obligingly turned its head and sat up!

      "That’s a bear!" Was the only correct response.

      It was a pretty good size black bear about fifty yards away. I guess she wanted a chocolate muffin too! She watched us for a few seconds then ambled away, but not too far. About ten minutes later, the dogs got a whiff of her and started barking. I had never seen Cabrinha get her hair up that high before. We figured it was time to load up and head on before the dogs went and started something!

      We went on our merry way up through Island Park, we’ll have to hit that this winter I think, to West Yellowstone, and into the Park. It cost $20 for a seven-day pass to Yellowstone, but it saves 150 miles each way. Well worth it, even if the speed limit is 45 and the sightseers have a tendency to stop in the middle of the road and throw into reverse at the drop of hat, or the sight of a bison, which are as ubiquitous as cows in a feed lot. The park is really a national treasure and well worth a trip of its own. There are geysers, bison, deer and elk around every corner. We even saw a moose and a nesting bald eagle. That’s not to mention all the beautiful scenery with or without the wildlife.

      We reached the Beartooth Highway and Cooke City, MT around noon on Friday and headed on up the pass. Unfortunately, or perhaps somewhat fortunately, there had been several severe mud slides on the Red Lodge side of the pass, so we weren’t able stay at Greenaugh Campground, where we had intended to. I knew the pass would be open at least part way up the west side, well into snow country, but I hoped they would open the road all the way to the top for sightseers. At about 9800 feet, and one set of switchbacks to go, we came to the barricade. Not to worry though, there was a good size patch of premium grade corn snow right there. The winds were light, but seemed like they would work, so I put up my 14m and played around for a couple hours, while Shannan skied around with the dogs and took pictures. The wind was enough to get around, with the occasional gust worth trying to boost some air. It is surprising how much more wind it takes at 10,000 feet.

      Around 3:00 we figured we’d better go secure a campsite, being a holiday weekend and all. The only open campground we had noticed on the way up was Crazy Creek, about 20 miles back down the highway, but we hoped we might find something closer. About 15 miles back, at 7750 feet, well below snow line, we went to check out the road to Lilly Lake. WHAT A SCORE! There was a primitive campground, ie; a pit potty, a half dozen campsites with tables and fire pits, and a beautiful high mountain lake, and best of all, NOBODY THERE! So we took the nicest site right by the bathroom and the lake.

      Soon, a few people started to show up, but that’s cool, it was a pretty well spread out campground. Then one guy takes a drive through, stops, gets out of his truck and asks if we’re staying. Of course we are. "OK," he says. "I’ll just pull into this one here." Right behind us. Wife, kids, dogs, 4-wheeler yeehaw! Still, its OK. A while later another family pulls in with them. Wife, kids, dogs... yeeweehaw! We decided we would walk around the lake and let them have at it. The walk around the lake was an grand adventure of walking along deadfalls, tiptoeing across a bog and traversing cliffs. By the time we returned to camp, another couple families had joined the fracas, and there was word of more to come! I put the steaks on the grill, but within a few minutes, I couldn’t stand it anymore. We took a quick walk through the campground to see if there was anywhere we could go. Nope, we were stuck. A couple minutes later, I really couldn’t take it, so I left Shannan in charge of the steaks, and jumped on my bike to look up the road. Just around the corner, I found a couple pulling out of site on a cliff over looking the boat launch. It was a perfect site, close enough to the potty, but nicely isolated from the circus below. ZOOM back to the camp, cram the few things we had out back in the truck, Shannan grab the grill, and ZOOM back up the hill to nirvana.



      In the morning after breakfast with a deer, our new next door neighbor, we went for a little bike ride to Lost Lake, but were turned back by the raging waters of Spring. The trail also had several very rocky, barely ride-able sections. It still turned out to be a good six mile, technically challenging ride, and pretty much wore the dogs out.

      After a little lunch, it was back up to the snow! Just past the Top of the World Store was another place that looked promising for snow kiting. Low and behold, there’s a group of kiters out having a good time! We met Jeff, Ron, his wife Michelle, and their two boys, (Luke and Dillon I think) all from Bozeman. Again the winds were light from the NW, just barely enough to go, but I flew around for awhile, until it really seemed to be crapping out, then we hung out to see what would happen with the wind and swapped some kiting stories. I gave it one more try, but the wind was starting to go back and forth between NW, and SE, so said I was going to check out the site up top I hit the day before. The top wasn’t any good. The wind was solid SE up there, coming over a hill into a wind shadow. When we got back down, the wind had settled into a nice SE, blowing more steadily, but still on the lighter side. I worked my way up wind and up on to a huge 300+ foot slope at 45 degree pitch. It was a monster challenge to get up there, taking countless tacks up down the slope. I suppose it would have taken less if I didn’t keep throwing jumps on the way down, but hey, that’s what its all about. Finally, I scored the top of the ridge, picked my line for a screaming run and a huge jump, the grand pay off for all my labors. I took off down the hill, I could feel the kite loading up with all the energy from my charge down the hill. I could sense the time is right to send the kite up for the big pay off. I go up, up, out over the hill. Its huge, I’m essentially paragliding now. I start to wonder if I’m going to just float all the way to the bottom, still at least a football field away. Man, this is the big shit here! Yaahoo! Then, my body begins to turn slowly. I think "its OK, just relax and go with it, you’ve got plenty of time to come all the way around." I lean into the rotation to finish off the 360. It’s coming together so nicely, I’m about there... OOPS what’s that? The kite. Its diving toward the ground behind me! Quick, pull it back! NO dumb ass the other way! Aaahhrg! Now I’m getting the big sling shot ride! LOOK OUT, the GROUND! I leave a huge crater in the snow, and bounce out, as the kite slams into the hillside above me. I make a quick inventory; arms, head, legs. Check all systems operational. Kite? Upside down, but appears sound. Whew, narrowly missed landing the hospital there. Wanna go again? OK, but not as big this time. I went part way back up the hill and pull off a couple more decent jumps, but not hospital sized, just to even the score. By the time I got back, Jeff had left, and Ron’s family was on their way to pick him up after a long down-winder and to head back home. We called it a day and headed back to camp. Every night we were too tired to mess with a fire, went to bed about 8:30, and were asleep by 9:00. What a bunch of light weights!



      Shannan wanted to ride up the pass this morning.we figured it was around 12-15 miles and 2000 vertical feet to the gate at the top. I told her I’d give her a head start, then drive up to kite at the Top of the World site again. I caught up with her about an hour after she left, a mere 6 miles up the road. We guessed she had about another six miles. Sure enough, about an hour later she showed up, not too far ahead of the snow. As the weather was deteriorating, she opted out of riding all the way to the gate. It ain’t easy riding a bike at 10,000 feet! As I was setting up my kite some people pulled up in an SUV, jumped out looked around, muttered some stuff about "This is the best spot... should work... We’ll shoot ‘em coming out over there... Blah blah blah." Jumped in the car and left. Ten minutes later all these cars started pulling in, and all these people start milling around. I thought maybe a wedding or something, then the fancy cameras started getting set up. Finally, I figured I had better at least go rescue my kite bag, which had been laying there completely ignored in the middle of their "stage." Turns out it was a film company, Teton Gravity Research (TGR), shooting an intro to their latest ski flick. The wind was the best it had been all weekend, so I headed back up the hill to do my thing. I went back up on the monster hill that spanked me the day before, and had some decent jumps, but I was having trouble getting a good landing without lufting the kite. I saw Shannan skiing out with the dogs and headed back towards her. I spent the next hour or two jumping off a smaller 20 foot roll closer to the car. I got in several decent little pops, and who knows I might show up in the intro to the TGR movie. Just look for the red black and yellow kite playing in the background. If nothing else, I will certainly be appearing in thousands of home videos across America, along with all the elk, moose and bison. Just another part of the Wyoming wildlife I guess.

      Finally I had enough. My legs were shaky, and every muscle was starting to groan under the strain of even the easiest of turns. It was also starting to snow pretty hard, and since there wouldn’t be time to kite Monday anyway, we decided to get a good start on the drive back to Boise. We went back through Yellowstone to deal with the tourons slamming on their breaks to get a picture of a squirrel or something. I must say the Park bison are very well mannered citizens. We encountered two separate herds making their way down the road. Both times they proceeded in an orderly fashion down the right side of the road. Fortunately in the other direction, because they much prefer 5mph to the standard 45 we prefer. We gassed up and had dinner in Gardner, just outside the park. Then we drove to back to Harrison Canyon, the place we camped on the way out, for the night, and to look for the padlock we lost on the way up. (No luck.)



      The rest of the drive home was uneventful. With a stop at Craters of the Moon for lunch, we were home around 2:30.


      Overall, it was an awesome adventure. It was nice to get up in the mountains and enjoy the outdoors. I would definitely recommend getting a jump on the holiday crowds by leaving Thursday and getting a camp established by mid afternoon on Friday. As it is about a ten hour drive, if the winds were good on Sunday, leaving early Monday would still put you back into town in time to unload and get to bed in time to make work Tuesday. It was a shame the pass wasn’t open to the top. I’m sure that’s where the best snow and wind were, but what there was down below was well worth going for. The amount of potential terrain to explore there could make it worth checking out time and again, or perhaps staying longer. I came home very sore and tired after three days of great adventure in a new land. I definitely want to go back next spring.

      Who’s in?

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