Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Thorofare in Winter

The Thorofare, as referenced by me, is a large expanse of Wilderness that encompasses the Southern border of Yellowstone National Park and the Northern, Teton Wilderness.  It is huge, it is wild, it has mountains, and other than during hunting season virtually no one goes there.  That virtual lack of people drops even further in the winter when it would be lucky to see five people over the course of the extended season.  My Father had been there twice before in Winter (and several times in the Summer) but I never had in any season.  This year, still looking for work, I had time to join him on his sabbatical trip into the most remote part for a five day ski trip.

I don't have any pictures placed directly here, but I have uploaded quite a few, and tagged their location so you can see our journey if you wish.  They are all located here.

We left Saturday night and drove into Wyoming to get a jump on the next day (it's a long drive from Colorado to Turpin Meadows in North Western Wyoming where our journey was to start).  The next day we arrived at the trailhead (and our lodgings) in the early afternoon.  That gave us time to put a trail in before dinner.  The overall plan was to leave from Turpin Meadows and climb up into the Soda Fork Meadow.  From there we head North into North Fork Meadow, over Trail Creek Pass and down to Ocean Divide and Meadow.  Then out into the Thorofare valley where we'd stay by the Hawk's Rest cabin.  A lay-over day to cruise around the valley (and specifically go over to the Thorofare ranger cabin) and then back the way we came.

That afternoon we made it to the top of Soda Fork Meadow, which was helpful for two reasons.  The first is to have a trail put in for the next day (breaking trail in cross-country skis is hard!) and the second is despite a wide, summer trail and good maps we still got lost quite a bit in the woods.  It's amazing how easy it is to lose a trail in the Winter!  Well anyways, we put the trail in and headed back for dinner.  After eating and putting our packs together for the next day it was time for some early sleep.

The next day we got up and on the trail by 6:20, just as it was getting light.  We were dry and well prepared (about the only time on the trip) and so even though the temperature was hovering somewhere between -10 and -15 we didn't feel very cold.  We made it back to Soda Fork in good time, and slogged through the meadow as a wind began to pick-up.  Then up and over to North Fork, avoiding the avalanche slopes as best we good.  The original plan was to make it to the top of Trail Creek Pass by that night but the snow was much deeper than anticipated (deeper down to a crust, the 4.5+ feet of snow pack wasn't the issue, the amount we sunk in was) and as we slogged through North Fork Meadow it became increasingly unlikely that we would make it.  I, in particular, ran out of energy and we had to stop at the top of the Meadow for a very cold lunch.  We made it almost halfway up the pass before deciding to stop at around 3:00.  Which seems early but there's much left to do on these trips after the traveling end is over.

We constructed a snow cave in the trees, which took two hours.  There was so much snow it was never an issue to find a good place (though walking around through it was more problematic).  Here we picked the base of a tree and simply dug up out of the depression.  Afterwards it was time to melt snow and boil some water for our (freeze-dried) dinner.  This process was very slow, taking almost two hours every night.  It's an amazing amount of extra work to have to melt snow for drinking water rather than just purify stream water.  That done we retired to the cave as it was getting dark and spent the next 11 hours laying inside.

The next day we were up at sunrise and moving as fast as we could.  We broke camp and headed up the pass, which involved one very tricky gully we were forced up to avoid an avalanche slope.  70' of elevation gain by side-stepping can really wear you out!  Then up and over down to Two Ocean.  The many-mile-meadow was a slog.  Though it was beautiful, the endless breaking trail through a meadow whose end never seemed to get closer was quite punishing.  Finally we hit the end and drop off both the meadow and the trail to follow the creek down to the Thorofare valley (which, though slightly dangerous, is much faster in the winter than sticking with the trail).  From there we cross the massive expanse to the bridge over the Yellowstone and the cabin by Hawk's Rest.  Though the whole trip so far has had pretty good views, this is certainly the jewel.  The scale of it all is hard to take in.  The mountains aren't as spectacular as the Wind Rivers to the South, or the Tetons that we could see at the beginning of the trip, but they're beautiful, and huge, and the area is so wild as to more than compensate.  The two of us were mostly likely the only ones who would be there for the entire Winter, and we were certainly alone then!

Again we made it by 3, and set to building a snow cave and melting water.  And again finished just in time to duck into the cave as night came (and with it, the cold).  The next day we awoke for our layover day, a chance for some great scenery and for out bodies to rest an recuperate.  Neither of us were eating or drinking enough (we estimated under 1500 calories a piece per day) but a day of easier skiing should help.  We headed over to the Thorofare cabin on the other side of the valley.  The views were great and this was my biggest day for photography.  Right outside the cabin (about) is a special point.  Hard to nail down exactly, but it is the farthest one can be from a road in the contiguous United States.  I took some pictures and a 360 view from there before heading back.  I then skied around to get some more photos while my Father melted more water.  A couple of short little ski trips and a dinner later and it was off to bed again.

The next day we saddled up and began the return trip.  It had begun snowing the night before and was still going when we left.  In fact we couldn't see across the valley to figure out where to go!  We simply had to trust our sense of direction, and memory, to make it through.  Luckily both were good enough we made it across with no incident and spent the rest of the day alternating snow and sun.  Which was a sticky combination for our skis, and a tiring one, but not beyond our means.

We had planned to sleep in our first snow cave that night, but upon returning found it sagging far too much for comfort (it had begun sagging the first night, and actually dripped quite a bit of water on my Father's sleeping bag).  So we pressed on all the way down the pass into the North Fork Meadow where we built a new cave and for the last time, melted snow for our final journey out.

The next day it was still snowing, though again clearing on occasion for a brief bit of sun.  We made great time down to Soda Fork and out, but as soon as we hit the top of the trail, the sun came out in earnest and our skis began to stick terribly.  What had taken us less than 2 hours to get down the first day we put in the trail this time took close to four.  It was quite painful, as I had injured my leg the previous day, and quite slow.  Nevertheless we had left early in the morning for just that reason, and made out car by 2:00 with plenty of time to spare.

It was a great trip, gorgeous and wild.  This little summary here was intended more as a "where was I" description than a true expression of what the trip was like.  It as cold, and very wet.  It was a lot of work especially with the snow not really ideal for skiing at that point.  Always being on top of 4 or 5 feet of snow, never being able to sit down or be dry grates on a person.  Yet it was spectacular, the views were amazing. And the feeling of solitude and grandeur more than made up for the hardships such as they were.  What a wondrous time!

No comments:

Post a Comment