Monday, December 27, 2010

Ski & Snow Camping in Craters of the Moon

On our way to Wyoming, we drove through southern Idaho through the Snake River Plain. There was so much snow! I've always had a dream to ski in Craters of the Moon National Monument, which protects the majority of a young lava field (so young that there aren't many plants growing on it yet). There's just something so ironic about a lava field being covered by snow! In the summer, it is sooooo hot here, but right now, the winds are howling, snow is being blown all over the place, and its in the mid 20s! We had an opportunity to ski in the park since we were going to pass it on our way to Jackson Hole, so we stopped at the visitor center to inquire about skiing. Along with one other car, we were the only ones in the whole park!

Skiing Craters
Skiing to our camping spot for the night!

The ranger answered all of our questions with no rushing us out of there, since we were the only ones in the visitor center. He told us that we could ski along the only road through the park (about 7 miles round trip), which was groomed once a week. We could also do tele skiing on any of the cinder cones that we wished, but he warned us against going on the young lava field, since it is very uneven and cracked. When we asked about snow camping, he said we could camp at the ice caves, in the parking lot (which was now under a couple feet of snow, so you can't tell its a parking lot). We figured that we weren't going to make it all the way to the Tetons before dark fall, so maybe we should camp at Craters instead. It would give us a chance to test out if the ski pulk we made a few days ago really worked.

Skiing Craters
Romy pulling the ski pulk along the ski trail in Craters of the Moon.

So there we were, filling out a back-country permit to go snow camping overnight in Craters of the Moon! It was supposed to be in the mid 20s overnight with a chance of snow, so we made sure to bundle up. It took us almost an hour to pack everything we wanted into the pulk and into the backpack before setting off on the ski trail. We made sure to pack everything we needed to keep warm and stay comfortable for the night. That included our 4-season tent, cold weather Army sleeping bags, pillows, warm cloths, and high energy snacks. We didn't bring the stove or anything, since we only had food that didn't need to be heated. We brought enough water with us in the pulk so we wouldn't need to melt and boil snow.

Skiing Craters
We camped under the protection of a broad tree (it was windy in the afternoon) near the ice caves parking lot.

We have about 2.0 miles to ski to the camping spot near the ice caves. It was relatively flat with some up and down parts. I had the backpack on for the ski to the caves, and Romy had the pulk. It was kind of tricky to keep my balance on the skis with the backpack on at first, and I fell backwards after only a quarter mile! But it was in slow motion, so I didn't hurt myself. Romy was pulling the pulk, which was pretty much weightless unless you were going uphill. But it did add drag, so he wasn't able to glide as efficiently with the pulk on. Also, we noticed that the rigid poles weren't attached to the hip belt tight enough, so the poles would get jerky sometimes as you stride because there was too much play. That is easy to fix though, we just have to tie it on tighter to the waist belt.

Skiing Craters
Sunset at our campsite near the ice caves.

We passed by some amazing scenery. As we skied, we went past snow covered cider cones and lava fields. Scraggly trees which were bent by the wind stood along the trail. Sometimes, tall jagged spires of hardened lava stuck out of the snow too. We didn't see any animals, but we saw bunny tracks in the snow. The sun popped in and out of the clouds, and as we neared our camping spot, the wind started calming down a bit. The low clouds that obscured our view of the huge mountains to the north cleared and we were left with an amazing view!

Skiing Craters
Popping out of the tent in the morning like Marty Stouffer in one of his Wild America episodes!!!!

When we reached the ice caves area, there were a few trees that were so broad, a tent could fit under their protective branches. This seemed like the most logical place to put our tent, so we skied up to one of them. We started stomping the snow down with our skis. Then when it was all flattened out, we took the skis off and stepped onto the snow with our boots. My leg sunk 2 feet down into the snow, just past my knee! I guess we didn't stomp the snow down enough, and the snow was really deeper than we thought! So we started stomping on the snow with our boots, and finally got it compacted enough to build the tent on it.

Skiing Craters
Skiing back to the visitor's center the next morning.

The snow wasn't too compact enough to stake the tent down, but that was okay, since the wind completely stopped by now. So we just set up camp, and as we finished, the sun began to set. It turned the sky all kinds of colors! But it also started to get much colder, so we got in the tent and put all of our cloths on. Then we snapped our sleeping bags together and got in. We were kind of tired, so we decided to go to sleep when it got completely dark. After a few hours, we both woke up, and couldn't sleep. We didn't bring a watch or our cell phones, so we were guessing what time it was. Who knows? Than we fell aslseep again and when we woke up, it was light out!

Skiing Craters
My turn to pull the ski pulk on the way back.

Our neighbor gave us a banana bread loaf for Christmas, and we took it with us and had half of it for breakfast before we packed everything back up and broke down the tent. It was pretty quick. One benefit of snow camping is that nothing gets wet because if it does, it just freezes right away. The frost is easily shaken off or rubbed off. Nothing gets dirty either because the snow is clean. Once we were ready to go, we started skiing back towards the visitor center. Romy started pulling the pulk back, but then we switched so that I pulled it and he put the backpack on.

Snake River Plain
A cloud covered butte along the road to Idaho Falls on the Snake River Plain.

It seemed to be a lot colder that morning than the day before. As we skied back, my fingers were so cold that they hurt, even though I was really warm from skiing. Then I realized that the pole strap around my wrists was very tight and my circulation was being cut off! After I loosened the straps, my fingers felt a lot better. Anyways, we finally made it back to the car and visitor center, and packed everything back into the car. Then we stopped back into the visitor center to let the ranger know we made it back from the camping trip. The ranger was so nice, and he made us some hot cocoa in the back office! It was sooooo good! After we finished, off we were, back on the road. It took us the rest of the afternoon to get to Jackson, Wyoming.

Snake River Plain
Blowing snow over the road to Idaho Falls. It was cold and windy!


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