15-Feb-2001 -- Every February, Roy and I spend a week or so cross-country skiing at Lone
Mountain Ranch, near Big Sky MT. Before we left this year, I checked on nearby confluences.
There's an unvisited one about 25-30 miles to the south, in the northwest corner of Yellowstone
Park. Even better, the confluence is located a mile and a half up the hill from a section of Fan
Creek that we've skied once before. It's in Yellowstone Park, so there's no problem with legal
access. On the down side, the confluence is a good 5 miles from the road, and the year we
skied up Fan Creek, the snow conditions were firm and the trail had already been skied open
by another party. This year, though, the snow is problematical for off-trail skiing.
Knowing that whether we reached N45W111 would depend on snow conditions, existing
trail, weather, how much debris from the 1988 burn was in the way, and other imponderables,
Roy and I recruited our friend Oscar and Lone Mountain Guide Chris, and the four of us packed
our climbing skins and set off for a day's skiing. The trip started off well -- on the drive to the
trailhead we saw two moose, three young bighorm sheep, a couple of whitetail deer, a kingfisher,
a duck, a raven, a herd of 60-80 elk, and two wolves! On the way home we topped off the
critter count with a couple of coyotes.
We reached the trailhead, shared by Fawn Pass and Fan Creek trails, around 10:00,
temperature maybe in the teens and the wind howling down the valley. The trailhead is on
US 191 between mile markers 21 and 22 (counting north from West Yellowstone). Our
intended route was east across the windswept plain of the Gallatin River, up Fawn Pass
trail to the Fan Creek intersection about a mile and a half from the car, then two miles or
so northeast up the bed of Fan Creek to a likely place to climb to N45 W111. The trailhead
is at about 7100 ft elevation, the objective at about 7800; the GPS said they're close to
5 miles apart.
The wind was, as usual, strong and cold as we crossed the Gallatin River. Once we
got to the shelter of the open woods, things were much better, and we followed good
trail to the Fan Creek intersection. Here conditions deteriorated. The trail up Fan soon
disappeared, leaving us (mostly Chris) breaking trail in three feet of snow. Even worse,
the bottom layer of snow was in bad condition, and it tended to collapse when you put
weight on it. This made trail breaking harder, because you never knew whether your
foot was going to go down two feet or three when you took a step. When we reached
the creek we came out of the woods, so we were back in the wind, with our tracks
drifting in behind us. We crossed the creek on a snow bridge and worked our way
up the quarter-mile wide open plain that it occupies. This area is really pretty, with
good views up and down the creek and the adjacent hillsides. At one particularly
nice point, the banks squeeze in from both sides, and when the sun breaks through
the sculpted snow drifts are outstanding.
Just upstream from this narrow point we were able to get out of the wind (mostly)
and eat lunch. At this point it was clear that snow conditions were against us and
N45 W111 would have to wait for another time. So we enjoyed the view, took a
few pictures (until the batteries on the digital camera declared that it was too cold), and
turned around. Re-opening the trail in our inbound tracks was much easier than
breaking fresh trail, and we had time to ski out the Fawn Pass trail a little distance
before returning to the cars.
Even though we didn't make it to N45 W111, we had a fine day of skiing. Here's
a picture looking toward the confluence point plus pictures of the four of us at lunch. In
1996, Roy and I (with Tomy and Mary Ellen) skied farther up the creek, to about a
mile below the confluence point. The terrain looks pretty much the same as you get