September of 2012 was to be a major milestone in my consecutive-month skiing odyssey.
The whole thing started back in 1997 when we were living in Salt Lake City and I was able to ski in October because the Park City resort opened for Halloween weekend. By that following June, I had skied 9 months in a row and somebody suggested I should try to ski through the summer so I could say I had skied every month of the year. That led to all kinds of craziness over the years and a lot of great memories. Interestingly enough, some of the greatest memories came from some of the most miserable experiences.
Anyway, we're going to be away from home for most of September so I decided to do this year's September skiing on day 1, so to speak. Saturday, September 1, 2012, would be my 180th consecutive month of skiing.
On Friday, I left Jackson Hole at 5am to go fishing in Yellowstone National Park. I was driving under a bright full moon on my way to fish on Slough Creek in the northeastern corner of the park.
Driving along, it just hit me - I got the crazy idea that skiing Beartooth at MIDNIGHT on Sept 1 under a FULL MOON would be an unforgettable experience. I even kicked myself for not realizing that if I'd known ahead of time about the full moon, I could have planned to ski my August turns at 11:30pm and then my September turns at midnight. What a two-fer that could have been!
On Slough Creek, I had one of the most incredible days of trout fishing ever in my life, so the trip was already in bonus time before I ever even got to Cooke City where I was going to stay overnight. The only downside was that the first clouds and rain in weeks came in that afternoon and the sky was definitely overcast. Night skiing - alone - on leftover runnels and sun cups would be "relatively" foolhardy in bright moonlight, but it would be pretty darned stupid in a thunderstorm. So, I switched back to the original plan of getting up on Saturday morning, driving to the Pass, and doing my skiing the "normal" way.
Well, plans are great but the weather doesn't always cooperate.
When I left Cooke City on Saturday morning, the clouds were hovering about a thousand feet above the valley. As I approached the pass, I drove into the cloud and visibility dropped to maybe 50-75 feet. The top of the pass was enveloped in a thick cloud.
As I loaded my pack, I started wondering whether this was a very good idea. The top of the pass is nearly 11,000 feet in elevation and there are no trees or even big rock features to provide definition. There's definitely no trail to "my" snowfield, so I would have to find my way there and back in a cloud. I was fairly confident I could point myself in the right direction to get TO the snowfield, but I wasn't so sure about getting back. And - OF COURSE - I had not brought along a compass.
Then, I hit on the age-old idea of using rock cairns to mark my way. I figured if I built little cairns on the way out, I could use them to find my way back.
So, here's my first cairn. The car is about thirty yards beyond that pile of rocks on the horizon and I'm in the process of building another cairn:
I actually did almost get lost. I knew that it should only take me about 15 minutes and 300 vertical feet to get to the top of the snowfield. After not reaching the snow in 20 minutes and 350 vertical feet (I have an altimeter watch), I decided I was either west or east of the snowfield but I wasn't sure which. Two more cairns got me to a rock outcropping where I could make out that I was west of the snow by a good 100 yards. I was at least thirty degrees off-course from where I should have been, but I found the snow:
I skied down the west shoulder for a ways, but since it's a convex slope and I wasn't sure what was below me, I ended up far to skier's right of where I should have been. This snowfield has been shrinking over the years since I first skied it, but there was a very cool bergschrund right in the center of it. I should also mention that there's nothing in these photos to give any scale. The vertical wall in this photo is maybe 40 feet high:
By now the clouds had thinned to the point that I could see that a huge, NEW crevasse had opened up above the bergschrund. This is the new crevasse that is just uphill of the wall in the above photo:
So I scrabbled on over to the skier's left side of the crevasse and skied on down to the bottom. The last little rollover is pretty interesting as it really drops off to about 50 degrees for the last three or four turns. Here I am loaded for the hike back up (I did two laps), with my final tracks in the background:
You can see from the photos that the skiing wasn't exactly high quality, but it was still another cool adventure.