> OK, I guess this is East-East Idaho. And I guess it should be telling that the highlights of the second annual Jackson Lake ski-camping trip didn’t involve skiing. When we arrived at the north end of the lake last Thursday morning, Paul Fairbourn, Mike Shaw, John Harris, and I were greeted by an odd, far-off sound. We looked out over the ice and saw three dark wolves, about a quarter mile out, slowly trotting south. As we arrived at our campsite 45 minutes later, they circled around to check us out again.
Nate Hunsaker, and Mark and Mike Hill met up with us an hour or so later and we headed out to ski the 8,600-foot peak behind camp. The mountain burned fairly recently, so it’s open and dramatic with standing black skeletons against white snow. As we climbed, we were treated to the constant drone of a single-engine plane circling the lake, watching wolves we presumed. We were surprised when a helicopter showed up and made low sweeps over the lake. After one of those sweeps, we spotted a dark spot, unmoving, on the lake surface. The heli slowly eased up to the spot, they loaded the tranquilized wolf, and flew away.
In talking to rangers later, they were trying to figure out where these wolves had come from. They collared the wolf we saw and released it near the same spot. With all the action in the air above us, we kept up a running joke that one of us would be darted at any time. But it was a great experience. People spend entire vacations in Yellowstone, hoping for a brief glimpse of a wolf. We basically chased them away because they were between us and our campsite.
From the summit we skied beautiful, north-facing, boot-top recrystallized powder. For about 6-700 vertical feet. From there, we experienced every variation of crust on any slope remotely east or south facing. Challenging is an understatement.
Friday morning, Jerry Painter and Layne Pincock joined us. We skated and skinned south on the lake to check out an inviting 10,000 foot peak. We came to some “warm” springs along the lake shore. Although the water was mossy and steaming, it was only warm on the surface right next to the rocks.
Our group split into two. Half of us followed an ill-advised skin track through thick regrowth on a roundabout journey back to our original peak. The other half did a few laps on a promising slope closer to camp. Again, the high, north-facing slopes yielded excellent skiing. Almost worth the uphill slog over breakable crust underlain by gripless facets. And again, the lower slopes tested our balance and edge control (or lack thereof).
I left Friday night, but the rest of the group stayed for another night of wolf howling. Even though the skiing itself was nothing like the previous year, the wolf experiences and the time spent with good friends more than made up for it. But next year I’d like some deep powder.