[Geysers] Kitt's Winter Yellowstone Trip (12/28 to 1/2)

Barger bkbarger at bresnan.net
Sat Jan 5 12:18:51 PST 2008

     Happiness, health, and good fortune to you in this New Year.  I had the good fortune to visit Yellowstone this winter during our school break.  I headed to Old Faithful from Mammoth on 12/28/07.  I arrived to find Grotto happily chugging along in a Marathon.  I spent my first day absorbing all of the sights and sounds of winter in the geyser basin.  There was a good foot or more of snow on the ground, but the bike path was cleared making for fairly easy walking.  My feet slowly became accustomed to the added weight of my new snow boots that were encased in new, blue Christmas gators.  The boardwalks were completely buried in snow with a single path packed down by visitors, except at intersections.  If I erred in my judgment of how far I could move over to let another person pass, I could end up with snow to my knees or worse yet, topple ungracefully off the hidden edge.  
     Giant quietly steamed as I passed it.  Each sign had a snow cap on it, hiding its identity.  I headed for Oblong hoping for an imminent eruption.  It erupted at 1235 with most of the water hidden by the steam, but its thumping heart beat sounded like it belonged to a great giant.  Ah, six minutes of pure pleasure as I enjoyed the waters rushing to the river, the snow cloaked trees, and the nip in the air.
     For those who have never been to Yellowstone in the winter, you get a different mind set.  First dressing for the day requires many layers and about 20 minutes.  I wear wool socks, wool thermals, then fleece pants, followed by ski pants and finally heavy, water proof snow boots and sturdy gators and that's just for the lower half.  I wear several wool shirts, a fleece jacket, a neck gator, wool hat, down coat, and large, oversized water proof mittens.  My pack that I use in the winter is about a 1/3 of the size of the one I use in the summer.  It carries the essentials.  A thermos of hot water, a pack of food including nuts, jerky, granola bars, and chocolate, plus extra gloves, hats, a rain poncho, sunlotion, traction slip ones for my boots, a neck scarf, large garbage bag to sit on, and maybe a book.  I bring a single ski pole to help with stability.  The last thing to do is use the restroom, since you have 3 choices while in the upper geyser basin.  There is the pit toilet which is generally the closest, the Visitor Center bathrooms, or the Snowlodge.  Staying warms means to keep moving (even if it is in the same place).  Sitting makes you cold and generally is uncomfortable because your feet are only about 6 inches below the bench that you are sitting on.  I did find that the railing at Giant was a comfortable resting place, since there was no snow or ice on it.  My backpack stays on my back as an added wind barrier.  By the end of the day I yearned for a comfortable place to sit or lay down on.  Oh there is one other thing that is very different in the winter and that is you may be the only one using an FRS radio (with the exception of the Visitor Center).  This means you pick what you want to see and go there.  It also means that I try to report any geyser activity to help the Visitor Center collect data, clue the visitors in on any new prediction information that might make their trip more enjoyable, and generally be an extra set of eyes in the basin.  But enough about winter gear, back to the geysers.
     I filled my first day with eruptions from Oblong (1235), Daisy (1236), and then off to the Hill hoping for a Beehive.  Plume (1357, 1446, 1536,  & 1624) and Grand's steam cloud at 1500 near start, but no Beehive.  Brrr!  I headed in with a stop at the Visitor Center and dinner at the Geyser Grill.  Those Chili Cheese Fries definitely hit the spot and the large hot chocolate wasn't bad either.  I spent the dark hours reading, listening to music, and sleeping.  Tomorrow would come early.
     Saturday the 29th, I hurried to eat my oatmeal and hot cider, donned my many layers, and headed for Giant using my flashlight to find the packed section of snow on the boardwalk.  Turban and Vent were in eruption at 0725 (so I had missed Grand), and Grotto was erupting with Variable Spring down about an inch.  The Marathon which had started yesterday morning had quit sometime during the night and this was a new eruption of Grotto.  I had missed a "hot period" because Giant's platform was wet, half of India's was thawed, and Bijou & Catfish were very energetic.  It was cold today!  I finally put my rain poncho on to help protect me from the wind and snow.  Oblong's steam cloud appeared in the snow storm at 0818 ie and Daisy at 0820 ie.  I tried huddling, and walking to keep warm.  I made my way over toward Variable Spring for a break from the wind only to have a huge steam cloud drift over me from the direction of Daisy.  I tried to get to a better vantage, but the steam cloud disappeared at 1105 (Daisy near end 1104).  Riverside erupted at 1231 and I hurried back to Oblong for the 1237 eruption.  Grotto was in another Marathon, so after I had enjoyed Oblong's melody, I headed for the Hill.  West Triplet was in eruption at 1251.  I arrived at Beehive to find no bubblers going.  Plume erupted at 1331 and I returned to find Rift ie at 1350 (ending at 1418).  Three Turbans later Grand erupted (T2C).  The snow had quit and there was a break in the wind as I trudged slowly to the Geyser Grill.  Plume erupted at 1614 and as I ate my Chili Cheese Fries, I radioed to ask for verification of a steam cloud that appeared over the trees.  The Visitor Center said it was Lion in eruption at 1653.  Whew!  For a moment I thought I had missed Beehive.  I finished eating as I contemplated tomorrow and what it might bring.  I was in bed by 8 PM, so that I would be rested for tomorrow.
     Sunday the 30th found me hurrying to get to Giant.  What would I find?  It was still dark and overcast.  The wind had howled during the night and drifts of snow made even the bike path difficult to walk.  I passed Castle at 0702 and decided to stick to the bike path, since I wasn't sure I would be able to find the boardwalk trail.  By 0730, I could see Giant's platform.  Yes!  It was covered in a layer of powdered sugar snow and Grotto was quiet.  As close as I could tell Variable Spring was full, Catfish was splashing, but only steam came from Bijou.  Water surged and sloshed in Giant's cone.  It felt warmer today and I had time on my hands.  I called Donnie in Virginia to give him a Giant update.  My hand stayed warm while I talked on the phone which was a good sign.  The last two days it had been cold enough that I could only keep my hand out of my glove for a minute or two before it turned red.  I finished my visit with Donnie and Betty and then the snow started.  I huddled trying to stay warm as the wind started to blow and the temperature dropped.  I wondered when Grotto had quit.  The storm stopped and the platform area was quiet.  I decided to walk over to Oblong to see how it was doing, to warm up, and to eye Grand's area.  I was almost to Oblong when I noticed that Turban and Vent were in eruption at 0827.  Grand had erupted during the snow storm.  I happened to glance back at Giant just in time to see Feather pop up at 0832.  Giant Hot Period!  I hurried back to the cage as Feather's Satellite appeared.  Mastiff surged to 4 or 5 feet and then dropped.  The Visitor Center radioed to see if they had missed a call.  I told them that Giant was having a Recovery Hot Period and this could be it.  It was so cold.  I alternated taking pictures, calling on my radio, and trying to warm my hand.  I was trying to figure out which way to go to view the eruption as Mastiff started surging again.  Mastiff to two, four, eight, wider.... Mastiff was erupting!  0841  Oh my gosh!  The power!  Mastiff boomed out a low drum beat as the hot water met with the cold air.  The Visitor Center radioed to see if the steam cloud was Giant.  I replied, "No, It's Mastiff!"  I soaked up the song of Mastiff as I tried to get more pictures.  With no sun, total cloud cover, and cold temperatures, I didn't have much luck with photos.  At 0843 Giant had 3 lazy splashes and then thrust itself into the air, adding its own booming voice to the snow capped environment.  The steam and water were blowing to the south and east leaving the cage dry.  Giant's sign rolled under the right corner of the cage.  The snow that had covered the area between Giant and Turtle disappeared and the white platform was now a wet, steamy brown rocky surface.  Catfish pulsed toward the sky and Mastiff quit at 0848 (per my frozen scribbles in my notebook).  I took pictures until in was painful to snap any more and then I hurriedly put my hand inside my coat to warm it up.  The steam hid the spikes of water  that shot upward from Giant, but I would guess that the eruption was approximately 180 to 190 feet.  It wasn't so much the height as the sound that impressed me.  During the entire 98 minute eruption a total of 5 other people came near Giant.  Two skied up and took photos, two watched from the path although I suspect they were actually watching a Bald Eagle that had flown by and was sitting in the trees across the river behind Giant, and one lucky snow blower driver who was clearing the bike path were the only other people I saw.  Daisy erupted at 0953 and later I would find out that Beehive had erupted per web cam review at 0932 ie.  I waited for Oblong which erupted at 1145 and marveled at how the sound carried in the winter.  I headed for the Hill to find Little Squirt in eruption at 1228, Plume (1309), Beehive was dead with no bubblers, and Aurum erupted at 1329.  Old Faithful was erupting at 1346 as I made my way to the Visitor Center to down load my log information.  Lion was ie at 1425 with its initial as I headed back to Grand.  Castle erupted at 1432 and West Triplet was ie at 1506.  Daisy was 1511 near start and after two more Turbans, Grand erupted at 1559 (G2Q) duration ~11 minutes.  I enjoyed Old Faithful at 1646 ie as I made my way to a bowl of hot, chicken soup and after talking briefly with my family, I went to sleep.  (Two days later I found out that we had an earthquake that evening.  I don't know if I was listening to music or asleep, but I didn't notice the movement.)
     Monday, New Year's Eve Day, I tried to sleep in but the geyser basin called me.  I had decided to snow shoe for the day which meant an extra hour while I figured out how to use my new gators with my snow shoes.  I would quickly realize how much more energy snow shoeing takes to get around, but I wanted to go to Artemisia and I knew I would need them to get there.  Old Faithful was near start at 0819, Plume at 0845, Lion ie at 0907, and West Triplet was ie at 0907 (ending at 0918).  Grand was empty.  Rift started at 0916.  I slowly worked my way to Artemisia taking in the sights along the way.  The trail was good and relatively easy to climb.  I enjoyed watching the sunlight dancing thru the trees making sun beams.  The observation area at Artemisia was covered in a heavy mantel of snow with the right side void of all snow.  I had been snacking and enjoying the sunny, calm day when I noticed the dusting of snow in the run off channels of Artemisia.  It had to have fallen there yesterday morning, so...  Thirty-five minutes after I had arrived, while standing 8 feet back from the edge where I would usually be laying down, I felt/heard a muffled whump and commented out loud that even my heartbeat was more noticeable in the winter.  No, it couldn't be.  Could it?  I moved to the dry area and sure enough the water was started to push out into the run off channels.  Artemisia at 1110!  No, I didn't lay down, but I heard and felt thumps for 9 minutes.  I tried to take photos, but winter photography is tricky.  After the 29 minute eruption I headed back to find Fan and Mortar in an event cycle.  Bottom Vent was ie at 1215 (and I noticed that Riverside Geyser was also in over flow).  1219 White Stuff in Main.  I watched the cycle with disbelief and when the water levels in Fan ran out at the 15 minute mark, I headed toward Oblong.  Oblong 1319 ie.  I found out Grand's electronic reading was 0738.  Daisy was ie at 1405.  Riverside finally erupted at 1431 (more than 2 1/4 hours after I had seen it already in over flow).  I headed to Grand expecting a lengthy wait.  Daisy erupted again at 1656 and Grand erupted at 1657 with a G1C) and West Triplet started at 1658.  (Brr it was getting cold!)  The sun had disappeared and dark was quickly taking over the area.  I noticed Plume's eruption at 1712 as I trudged back still wearing my snow shoes.  (Tomorrow I would not be back to just snow boots.  Yeah!)  I called it an early night, so I didn't get the first Old Faithful of the New Year.  I was too tired.
     Happy New Year!  Early morning found me in a land that was very cold.  A group of 5 coyotes led the way to Castle.  Plume erupted at 0800 and I went to check on Grand.  Old Faithful was 0839 near start and Oblong was ie at 0856.  Turban was weak and I figured that it would be closer to noon.  But I had time.  Daisy 1031 ns, Riverside 1032 ns, Castle 1102 (a major), and I finally decided to abandon Grand because I really wanted a Beehive if at all possible.  There was a lovely Old Faithful at 1142 as I passed Lion.  Grand erupted at 1156 ns as viewed from Plume with a beautiful 2nd burst.  Plume erupted at 1158 and Beehive's Indicator started at 1214.  A couple had asked me questions about Beehive and due to the cold they were heading in to warm up when I called them back saying, "You might want to stick around since there's water in the Indicator."  We positioned ourselves near Plume, hoping that we had made a good choice, since this wasn't the time to get soaking wet.  Beehive erupted at 1221 and I would like to thank Tricia for her web cam shots of that eruption.  This was to be the only Beehive that I would see on my trip.  I stopped in at the Visitor Center and then worked my way back down basin.  Artemisia's steam cloud billowed in the blue sky at 1522 as I waited for another Oblong.  There was a Giant hot period at 1527 (duration 4 minutes), Daisy at 1545 ie, and Grotto Fountain was ie at 1633 so I hurried that way passing another Giant hot period in progress at 1633.  As I waited for Grotto to start, I noticed that a herd of 7 bison were crossing the boardwalk at Oblong where I had just been standing.  (Thank you Grotto Fountain!)  Grotto started at 1647 and I returned in time for Oblong at 1655 (with the bison quietly grazing in the trees to the left of Oblong).  Boom, boom, boom!  Oh what a heart beat.  Darkness was sneaking up on me fast as I approached Grand with West Triplet ie at 1709.  It was the end of another long, but successful day and my weary bones were ready for bed.
     January 2nd arrived with geyser fog (the first of my trip).  I stood in front of Old Faithful at 0832 listening to the preplay.  Old Faithful rumbled forth at 0840, although it was hidden in the fog.  I slowly made my way down basin visiting with Kelly (an Interpretive Ranger) and Jason (a park employee) as we waited for 2 bison to move and watched a coyote standing near the warm spot in the Old Faithful Inn's parking lot.  We watched Kelly with the difficult task of getting the down load from Castle and then went to Grand which was still refilling from the last eruption.  It would be later today.  At Giant, Kelly moved the danger sign to the spot where the Giant sign usually sits, so that at least something would move if Giant erupted before they could get the Giant sign replaced.  That sign was still frozen in place under the cage.  Kelly headed back in as we noticed Daisy ie at 1015.  Jason and I watched an event cycle at Fan and Mortar that looked promising and then went to Riverside which erupted at 1203.  As we headed back for lunch, we noticed Rift was ie at 1228.  One last meal and I heard the Visitor Center asking if that was Grand's steam cloud at 1311, but I was unable to confirm.  I was waiting for my ride back to the real world.  I saw Castle ie at 1439 as we headed north.  We saw several dead bison that the coyotes and other animals were devouring.  We saw many swans a swimming (I had only seen 7 on the way down).  Dark slowly descended upon us as I loaded my belongings into my trusty Suburban and headed away from the wonderland.  It was a great trip and I thank everyone that helped it to be such a wonderful time.  I'm sorry I took so long writing this, but I detoured on the way home for a stop in Billings, Montana to enjoy some shopping, a meal at Olive Garden, and a sit in a Jacuzzi at my hotel.  Go Giant!!!                                                                                                    
                                                                                                             Kitt Barger
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