jellystone, Dec7-17

10:20 a.m. on November 28, 2012 (EST)
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Hi Friendly YS folks,

Calling those familiar with Yellowstone in winter....some friends and I are planning on taking a 10-day backpacking+xcountry ski trip through yellowstone. We're more familiar with wintry conditions in NH's White mountains (Mt. Washington area), and are familiar hiking in zero farenheit temps. We have the weather-appropriate clothes and gear.

What we are not as familiar with is Yellowstone! Given our dates, it appears the roads into the park are closed. So, our general idea was to drive to fly from the east coast to SLC, rent a car, head to the park, and trek on out via skis and week-long camping packs.

We'd like to see some wildlife, some landmarks of the park, and enjoy tackling some elevation gain for the sheer fun of it, and for the views.

After googling a bit, there are still some logistics to be worked out. We're flying to SLC and renting a car to drive to the park. Park roads are closed before the 15Dec, so no car inside and no snowmobile drop offs. I suppose that means we're 100% person-powered!

So, specific questions if you have some advice:

*Can we leave the car at the park any old place while trekking for 10 days? 

*Given that trails will be unbroken, and 9hrs sunlight that time of year, how much ground do you think we can cover in a day (all ppl in good shape)?

*Which treks would you recommend? Should we plan two circuit treks or a single, longer loop?

*Other suggestions on logistics, gear, what-have you?

Thanks very much!

10:45 a.m. on November 28, 2012 (EST)
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frogleg,

You may be able to access the Park by snocat.  Call and ask.  Seeing wildlife, elevation gain, and landmarks will find you everywhere.  For a great trip, I would head to the Lamar Valley in the NE part of the Park.  You will be likely to watch wolves, elk, bison, deer and antelope interact much like the first explorers did.

The Yellowstone Plateau is high in elevation and unprotected from Arctic fronts that come down the Great Plains.  You need to be prepared for temperatures much lower than zero.  Heavy snow can reallly slow you down without any broken trails.  Don't be overly ambitious and allow for some storm days.  Ten miles a day may be a lot under some conditions.  If the weather is bad, no one will really want to go and look for you 25 miles from the trailhead.  It might to wise to do some short loops or ski in and set up a basecamp for some unencumbered day trips.  I would pull a small sled to accomodate severe winter gear.  If it were me, I would bring a small collapsable wood stove for those conditions to use with a tent, or at least a large tarp for a lean-to and a fire at night.

Do not underestimate the Northern Rockies in winter.  Be careful around hot springs and geothermal features to avoid taking a swim.  You are describing the trip of a lifetime, just don't be overconfident.

 

 

10:45 a.m. on November 28, 2012 (EST)
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frogleg,

11:40 p.m. on December 2, 2012 (EST)
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Thanks for the advice ppine,

Due to a delay in work, I'd be going solo if I did this trip, and for only 6 days in the park. After some serious consideration, I'm now in the 50/50 camp of taking this on by myself, mostly for the reaason that my layering system and gear system  (while it does work nicely), has not been tested at -20 even for a day-hike.

I had thought an alternative would be to make the trip into two 3-day treks, or one 3-day trek and three 1-day hikes from a base-camp.

Either way, I have compiled a rough gearlist if you'd like to comment. My backup is to pick another wintry park that is slightly warmer and so a wider safety margin for solo-backcountry travel.

sendspace.com/file/qkgd1h

(above link is confusing; on that page, click on "Click here to start download from sendspace")

Cheers,

JD

12:55 p.m. on December 3, 2012 (EST)
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Frogleg,

I am happy to hear you are using common sense.  I am not a gearhead, but I would be happy to look at your gear list..

Because you will find isolation very quickly on the Yellowstone Plateau in winter, I like your 3 day trek and 3 day trips idea best.  It is unlikely that you will be doing any hiking.  Snowshoes or x/c skiis are the preferred means of travel.  Stream crossings can be problematic because of all the geothermal heating.  Large mammals seem to fall thru the ice a lot even in the dead of winter.

You will probably find all that you are looking for only 5 miles or so off the road.  No need to wander back in there where you would be tough to rescue.  Bring a Spot or a satellite phone just in case.

I have a close friend that went on a winter ski trip around Crater Lake, OR.  After about 4 days, a major snow event occurred, something like 28  inches of heavy wet snow.  Their daily mileage went from about 14 to 2.  They ran out of food, got exhausted and had to be airlifted out.  The margin for error in winter needs to be greater than at any other time.  The big enemies in Yellowstone are extreme low  temperature and the wind.  It was 36 below in my driveway in Laramie, and 43 below once on a ski trip at Fraser Park, CO.  Those are air temperatures, not wind chills.

5:53 p.m. on December 3, 2012 (EST)
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Ah, thanks for looking, let me know if there's a problem with the link.

i do like the idea of being only 5mi off the road.  if i'm going after 15th however, perhaps being based near a warming hut, a visitor center, even the Roosevelt Ranger station would reduce the risk too, yes?


Are there parts of the park that, broadly speaking, are warmer/colder than others? It would seem that following historic weather reports here (nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/winterreports.htm), Mammoth is on average warmer , and Madison colder. No reports for Lamar though.

I've been recommended some weather links such as wxmaps.org/pix/temp1.html , if you have others.

11:58 a.m. on December 4, 2012 (EST)
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Frogleg,

Please forget the idea of a "warming hut, visitor center or Ranger station."  You are probably from the East Coast.  Yellowstone is vast.  There is nothing out there. 

In winter, there is very cold and really cold.  There is some moderation from Yellowstone Lake and the geothermal features on a very local level, but the whole Park is on a giant volcanic plateau that is high in elevation and unprotected. 

I was not able to access your link, but my computer is not the latest.  The really important equipment is the shelter, sleep system, stove, and lighting.  They need to be solid with backup plans.

 

4:49 p.m. on December 6, 2012 (EST)
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feel free to PM me your email, i think i am having a change in travel plans (waited too long, flights are now expensive); it would be off-topic to continue in this thread.

September 2, 2014
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