DAY SIX - Tuesday, February 21

THE BLIZZARD ARRIVES

Itís even warmer today at 28. I find lots of new snow on the car and itís also quite windy today.

The wind has made drifts in the driveway, so itís a bit tricky to get out this AM. Luckily, the plow has already been through both ways.

Hooray for the plows!

It appears that the snow and wind of the last two days was just a preview. Today conditions are far more severe. Usually I can count on the trees for protection against blowing snow but today, every time I reach even a slight opening in the trees, like while crossing the bridges, or at Barronette, the wind come through fiercely, carrying swirling snow.

So, I make slow progress.

In the Soda Butte Valley, the drifting is pronounced, especially in the east bound lane. There are daggers of drift piles all along the way.

At Hitching Post, some drifts in the east-bound lane rise over two feet! The saving grace, as always, is the lack traffic. Temporary white-outs arrive with more and more frequency, causing me to come to a dead stop until it passes. I keep my flashers on to warn other drivers, but none appear!

I am so preoccupied with being safe on the drive this morning, I fail to realize how odd it is that I do not hear from Laurie and Dan. As it turns out, they got stuck in a drift in the driveway. I feel awful for letting them down. I should have waited while I was still in radio-range.

I stop at Curve to call their home phone but when I get no answer I figure they are on their way. They werenít. They were shoveling out!

I continue to Elk Creek. I radio Kathie. She and Rick are at Hellroaring with decent viz, but nothing in view. I tell her visibility is ok from here to the north, but I cannot see Specimen Ridge. She says the drifts at S Curves were awful.

I scope from here anyway and chat with a nice couple from Dallas. The man says they have a 7AM flight from Bozeman tomorrow and wonders what time they should leave Gardiner in order to be there on time.

!!!

I look at them like theyíre nuts and say Ė oh no, you need to stay in Bozeman tonight! The lady actually looks relieved to hear it!

I hear Rick on the radio say ďBlacktailĒ, so I pack up and head west, encouraging the Dallas couple to follow.

As we go, the weather gets worse and worse. It fooled me by letting up a bit while I was at Elk Creek. Itís a full-on blizzard again now with thick-falling snow and relentless wind. Visibility shrinks to about 10 feet.

Even if I make it to the Nature Trail, I canít imagine Iíll be able to see wolves unless they are right on the road!

As I near the entrance to the Six-Mile Blacktail road I see several cars stopped in a line, including Kathie and Rick. Also, two ranger cars. They have temporarily shut the road so the plows can deal with the nutty drifts at S Curves and North Butte.

The Ranger asks me and the Dallas couple to pull over and wait a bit. We do. I go out into the howling squall to talk to Rick. He says people are seeing wolves at Blacktail Ponds but as we are talking, someone reports that they are already out of sight.

I tell Rick I am nervous about Laurie & Dan. I also talk with Kathie who suggests I give up on going west, since even if I get through, how do I know Iíll be able to get back through the drifts once the plows leave.

Sheís right. This is not a squall, itís a blizzard, and will likely last through tomorrow morning.

So, I wish Kathie good luck and tell Rick Iím gonna turn around. He says he will, too.

I check in with the couple from Dallas and advise them that the wolves are out of sight now but might be visible by the time they get through.

After brushing a pound of snow off my hood and shoulders, I get back in my car and turn around. Good lord - why am I attempting to drive in a true Montana Blizzard.

As I start back east, a coyote appears in the road. It hops over the high snow berm to the south. I creep on, going maybe 15mph. These are the worst conditions Iíve had on the Blacktail since my very first blizzard experience here, about 15 years ago.

Phantom Lake is bad, Christmas Bear is bad, the hill down to the Perch is bad. None of the forested sections offer any protection from the wind today!

I slow down to about 10, due to all the swirling white-outs. I donít even recognize Hellroaring until after I pass it. When I finally get to Lower, I pull over to take a stress break. Rick catches up to me here and we stay in radio touch the rest of the way.

If it werenít for the snow poles, I really donít know how Iíd be able to continue.

For a few moments at Tower things get a tiny bit better, but then the wind returns with a vengeance. Finally, I hear Laurieís voice on the radio. They are heading west past Slough. I tell them theyíve missed nothing but bad weather. They agree to wait for me at Lamar Bridge.

Along with the arrival of this blizzard, the temperature is rapidly dropping and ice starts to build up on my windshield. My heater canít melt it fast enough and so much ice has accumulated at the bottom that my wiper fluid nozzles are blocked.

The clear area of my windshield shrinks to almost nothing. Finally, I see Laurie & Danís car in the lot on the western side of the bridge. I pull over and hop out, thanking them for waiting. This is when I learn they got stuck in the driveway and had to shovel out. Plus they accidentally set the emergency brake without knowing it, which baffled them for a while. This is exactly what I did one winter along Trail Creek Road years ago, to my great embarrassment.

I apologize to them for not waiting for them, but they wave it off. I explain I need to clear my windshield before I can drive any further. As I do so, I am pummeled with icy snow and wind. I manage to scrape out the majority of the ice build-up, and then apply the de-icer spray I always carry (thanks, Chloe).

My washer fluid now works again and I feel confident, so off we go. It always helps to have Laurie & Dan ahead of me, although their taillights become so caked with snow that I can barely see them.

There is still considerable drifting in Lamar, especially around the Institute. And the sporadic white outs return, as well, so we have to stop a few times.

Once we get back, we relate our parallel tales. The blizzard continues to rage all around, but we stay warm and well-fed inside.

Today I saw: bison, a coyote, elk, a lot of snow and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.

Next Chapter

Previous Chapter

Back to Main Page

Printer Friendly Index