I sleep in today. When I finally get outside I see it's snowing again with new accumulation on the ground.
I am meeting Frank and Jane this morning for a hike. On my way up to Mammoth, I stop at the carcass area and find Bob L & Mark Miller. The carcass is gone! They tell me the Park service moved it last night away from the river and into the willows to give the critters more privacy.
They say the Canyons had been feeding it early this morning but have already gone up the hill out of sight.
I see one coyote in the willows and numerous birds.
In the warm and inviting lobby of the Mammoth Hotel I meet up with Frank and Jane and Sara and several other Yellowstone fans. We discuss our revised plans to hike & ski today. We had expected to take a snow coach out to Indian Creek to hike out there, but it was cancelled at the last minute. We think they ran out of fully operating vehicles (!)
No matter. Instead we take Frank's advice and drive to Tower. He will take one group cross-country skiing up the road towards Dunraven and Frank A will take the rest of us snow-shoeing to Bumpus Hill. I am in the snow-shoe group, which also includes Jane & Sara, tall Lori and short Lori.
We get our gear together and head up the road, crunching away. A herd of bison blocks our path right at the corrals. Frank starts into the field to bypass them, but as soon as he does, the bison begin to walk into that same field.
Frank stops and waits for the rest of us to advance on the bison, gently moving them along. One by one they leave the road, following the cow in the lead. They leave us a few dark patties in the snow as so-long gifts. Frank re-joins us on the snow-covered road.
Shortly after we pass the corrals, Frank A leaves the road again, and heads up the first of several low hills. The skiing group takes off - their route follows the road.
We take our time and soon fall into line behind Frank A. This route takes us up the ridges behind Rainy Lake, where I have so often seen black bears and elk and mule deer.
There are some deep spots and some steep spots, but it is a great hike, with wonderful views of the Yellowstone Canyon and glimpses of never-before seen portions of Specimen Ridge. At one point I worry that this hike will be too long for me, but in the end it turns out to be almost too short! At various times we can see the road below us and we smile to see the skiers toiling away.
We see prints of perhaps a rabbit or a squirrel in the snow, which seem to be going the same way we are. I see bison and elk prints and at least one coyote. We also find one set of prints that I believe could be wolf. While climbing over some deadfall, I lose my balance and end up with one leg straight out in front of me and the other bent under me. It takes a bit of doing but I eventually get untangled. Sara helps me to my feet.
We stop for a snack at a pretty spot, with views of Druid Peak, Cut Off Mountain and Mt. Norris. The weather is in the low 20's, overcast and no wind, which makes it pretty close to perfect.
There are elk on the hills to the south, including a magnificent bull.
When we get to Bumpus Hill we see it has a view across to the Calcite Springs Overlook. We can see the railings and a few visitors. We can also see a different angle of the cliffs one can see from that spot, where peregrine falcons have their nests in springtime.
Frank A points out a deep rift in the ridge, about 6 feet from the edge of the cliff, which will someday break off and slide into Yellowstone Canyon. When it does, I hope to be well away from that spot, because it will likely dam up the river and cause all sorts of drama!
We take photos and gaze about and talk about all sorts of things. It is so cool to be up here, away from the "usual". Once again, I am amazed at Yellowstone's backcountry, even this close to the road!
After a while we head back. We start by retracing our steps, but groups like us are partial to seeing new things, so we consider an alternate route. Eventually we break away from our trail and bushwhack our way down the hill behind Rainy Lake.
We are cautious not to get too close to the water itself. Rainy Lake may be frozen and snow-covered but I would not trust its ice. Our caution is well-served when we notice several thermal bubblings on the lake's west side.
Honestly, I didn't know it was thermal at all!
When we get close, we can distinctly smell the sulphur, too. We do cross a few mushy spots, where water is trickling down under the snow from above, but we have no trouble.
Once back on the road, we are careful to stay out of the ski-lanes. Several skiers pass us on the way down and more are just starting up, including a family with young children.
Once back at our cars, Frank A and the two Lori's present a virtual winter feast. They have tomato-basil bisque, 2 flavors of hot tea, and a container of cold garlic shrimp that Frank A got at Costco (!) It is all very yummy. I regret I have nothing but trail mix and candy bars to share with my friends. My Christmas cookies are long gone.
After we finish our post-hike treat, I turn on my radio and ask if anything is in sight. Kara reponds by saying "come to Slough"! Jane and Sara are keen on seeing wolves, so we leave a note on Ballpark's car telling him where we are.
We find the wolf crowd at Crystal and join them here, instead of continuing to Slough. Frank A and the Lori's go to Aspen but the view from there is not as good.
Laurie is here and as is Richard. They show me where to look. It's the Mollies. They are on the north side of the Lamar, in the rocks, a bit west of the old Slough Den area. The remains of an elk can be seen, and there are numerous wolves nearby. My high count is 11, 5 black and 6 gray. Laurie says all 19 are here. Jane and Sara get many good looks at them and I am very happy to share this with them. But it's pretty chilly today and not particularly close by.
I am very sorry I did not get to show Frank A or the Lori's these wolves. I called them on the radio a few times but they apparently didn't hear me.
Anyway, I they wave as they drive back west. They are headed to Chico for a soak before they go home. I say my goodbyes to Laurie and Richard and drive Jane and Sara back to Tower. A few minutes later, Frank and his skiers show up. They went all the way up to the service road and then skied down that to the Campground and back on the main road.
Once Frank is settled, we head to Mammoth. We have a drink in the bar and then a delicious dinner in the main dining room. We have a wonderful time.
Then all too soon, we come to the end of the evening. We say our goodbyes, then they head back to Bozeman. I have an easy drive back down the Canyon to my motel.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, 11 wolves (all Mollies), 11 Loons, 5 wolf watchers and the spirit of Allison