Yellowstone Christmas - Day 4

Get up at 7am to the sound of the winamp llama, there is no comparison available in the world of alarm clocks. (I wish we had just had a normal alarm clock). Check out, and head over to the Exxon to pick up our snowmobiles. (Which are actually called sleds, when you know what you're talking about) We pick out helmets, snow boots, and then go out to learn about the machines. Scott has a polaris, and I have a skidoo, we are encouraged to swap around and see which we like better.

Rick shows us the hand warmers, the thumb warmers, how to change a spark plug, how to change a fan belt, what sort of thing might fuck up a fan belt, then shows us how to start it, and then says have a good day. Excellent. I'm straddling a 600cc death rocket and he's just wished me a good day. I guess he knows more than I do. First thing you find out is, it's not a sedately cruise. It slides, it bumps, and it's violent. We head up the road to get familiar with them, Getting as fast as 60mph on the straights. We ride into wyoming, and then turn around, and find a track through the woods to follow, which makes a nice change. We have quite a cruise around through these tracks in the woods, and then decide to head up to Round Lake for a look around. Very very fun. It's just a wonderland of snow and tracks and trees and beautiful views of the mountains.

We take turns leading, and hooning around in the snow. Lots of fun in the powder, and bumps, truly a wonderful way to play in the snow. After a bit of a wander in the back woods, I head up a powder slope and into the trees and back to the road. Scott isn't behind me. :) I head back out to him, and he's got stuck in a big hole I dug getting up the slope. We have a job ahead of us to dig him out. We get a lot of exercise doing this. It's quite hard work. We get it out a bit, and then try reverse, but that makes it worse. Eventually, we just pull it back down far enough that there is room for scott to turn around and he heads up to the road to where I'd left mine. Enough backwoods playing for now, we continue burning up the road to the lake.

Round Lake is beautiful. A great big flat expanse of snow, and beautiful views of Sheep ?? Mountain. We stop for a snack and some more pictures, and then head off northwards to check out the other lakes and views. Absolutely beautiful views, and sooo much easier than snowshoeing. A snowmobile is a wonderful way of seeing a lot of winter landscape quickly. And it's fun too :) Scott heads up a giant hill, and his motorbike instincts kick in and he turns across the slope and gets stuck. I power past him and just make it up, lots of fun hill climbing. We get Scott out a bit easier time, pulling him around so he can just go back down the slope. From here we head off out further, just playing and bouncing around all over the place. It's a great big playground, with stellar views.

We decide to head back to town, grab some lunch, and then head up to lulu or daisy pass, and see some of the other sights. I head off, and lose my way, I think I'm heading in the right direction, but am actually faced far too east. I follow some tracks down a shallow gully, which I think leads back to the lake, (Scott apparently thinks I am just exploring, he knows we are off track) The tracks all of a sudden loop out and retreat, but I am not quick enough or wise enough to know to do the same. I'm almost instantly in what seems to be a creek bed. Big snowdrifts over logs and rocks, and very little room to manouver. I think it can't be too far to the bottom and press on as best I can, starting to fear for the worst. I fairly quickly end up on a great big drift in the middle of the creek, with absolutely no way of getting up or down.

This is a most distressing turn of events. I at this stage am completly lost, which doesn't help, and very upset at the predicament I've gotten both of us into. Scott of course is not far behind me, also hung up on a rock, and also not going anywhere. I get off, and am immediately into my armpits in the snow, with my feet in a creek bed. This is not pleasant. I walk down the creekbed, to see if getting forwards somehow will actually help. It seems not, the creek doesn't seem to end, and I go far to far down. Coming back up is exhausting. Scott has had a look out the way he knows is right, and can't see anything either. We decide our only sensible option is to leave the sleds, walk out, and hope a) we're not too far away and b) we meet someone who can get word to Rick back at the Exxon, to come and get us.

Walking out is absolutely horrible. I am exhausted postholing up the hill, but eventually we get back to the top of the hill, and onto packed tracks. Which is much more pleasant, but still not great. It turns out we're not far from the lake at all, as we are back there after not much of a walk at all. This is most refreshing, we should be able to meet people here. I look over at the hut, but it turns out it's just a rental hut from the Forestry Service. Quite quickly, a big group of riders turns up, and we stop them and tell them what happened. They aren't headed back in yet, but will let Rick know when they go in.

In the meantime, we walk. Which is not horrible, in fact, with the weather being so fine, and the ground being quite firm it's not to bad at all. While walking we try to come up with estimates of what it will cost us. We figure 4 people, to help lift the damn things out, for probably an hours transport, and an hours work, about $700, or so we reckon.

About halfway back in, some lovely people offer us a ride back. This is hairaising to say the least. They are much better than us, funnily enough, and drive out very quickly. We are back in town in about 10 minutes, and head over to the Exxon to talk to Rick.

Rick's not in, and won't be back for an hour, so they tell us to go and have lunch, and come back later. Food is good. I wasn't sure how much help I would be without the food. The wait is nervewracking though. I chat to Nancy and some other people who wander by, who tell us that a) it's common. b) it can be _really_ expensive. Oh Joy.

Rick returns, but we can't go out to get them yet, as he needs to wait for his other rentals to come in and check them in. We loiter for a while, then go back and sit in the lobby again. Eventually, around 4:30, we head out, with Ricks sister Vic along. The plan is to ride two-up out there, get them out, and then we ride ours back again. It's nearly dark, but that doesn't seem to faze Rick and Vic, so we're cool with it.

A quick ride out, then we get to see how real snowmobilers ride. This is where our complete lack of experience shows us up. Rick says great, it's nice and wide, and proceeds to just ride both of our sleds off their respective resting places, turns them around, and powers back up the hill. (With a bit of help here and there from us all heaving on the skis) Very impressive to watch them both, jumping around on both sides of the sleds, full throttle and then it's all over. We ride back out, and are back in town in only an hour! Start to finish! For the very very reasonable rate of only $50 each, we are on our way. (This is apparently not normal. Three guys got lost right near where we did two weeks earlier and got $500 fines from the parks for being in the wilderness, and then had to pay $200 an hour for three guys for about 3 hours. Not cheap at all.) Couldn't speak higher of their absolute professionalism. And sooo laid back about it. Very cool. Turns out we did the right thing to stop where we were, and admit defeat. Continuing down the gully would have apparently meant a camp out.

While we were returning helmets and boots, some christmas carolers came round, and sang us all a song. We showed them our christmas lights, which they loved, and then we were off to Gardiner again. A lovely day all told. On the drive back, we get the temperature down to -1F, which is great, but we also crack a windshield. I think I had the heat on it too high for too long.

And we're done. Far too much writing goes on when you're just sitting around watching willy wonka and waiting for it to get late enough to ring the family for christmas. Stay at the Absaroka Lodge, right on the bridge. $50, and very nice room with a balcony.

Scott and the sleds

Karl and the sleds!

Scott, Round Lake and Sheep Mountain

Morning tea on Round Lake

Snowmobiling is fun!

Downtown Cooke City. Beds, Bar, Petrol and Snowmobiles

Deer out the front of the Absaroka Lodge, Gardiner