Plan B Ski Expedition

A really big ambitious objective for plan A didn't work out, so a relaxing simplified plan B was just fine!

By: Isaac Parsons + Save to a List

Initially, my brother and I planned to get deep into the central portion of the Bighorn mountains in North Central, Wyoming. Unfortunately, none of the forest service roads we needed to take were plowed and there were some recent storms that definitely killed the chances of getting to the trailhead we needed. So, from that “unfortunate happening” we devised a Plan B, we aimed to ski the southern bighorns off of HWY 16 near Powder River Pass which is about 9,600 feet in elevation. At the pass we left the truck and civilization behind. We ventured our way into the wilderness for the next 4 nights and 5 days of backcountry skiing and exploration!

The first segment of the skin-hike was about a thousand feet of climbing over the course of more than a mile. On the way we were tugging one sled that held all the main camping supplies in extra packs while we had our day packs with all our backcountry ski gear and extra layers. I was hauling the sled to start out, we switched after about ¾ of a mile and eventually as the hillside got steeper we both hooked into the sled and dragged it uphill, as we neared the top the clouds grew and appeared more and more ominous and eventually it started to snow. After a long uphill jaunt we topped a saddle in the ridgeline where we had our choice of a couple different bowls, through the snow-filled sky we made a decision, and kept moving to our best option for camp. More than three hours had passed from the time we left the truck to get to a suitable spot in the trees to camp and we were growing tired and hungry.

After skiing down and across the bowl we quickly decided on a group of trees that had an opening in the middle so it would offer the most protection from pretty much all sides if the weather was to get poor, which it eventually did, but we were prepared. Thankfully, setting up camp didn’t take too long because it did start snowing. We made our first supper of the trip and boiled water for our Nalgene bottles to put in our sleeping bags which always comes in clutch. A hot water bottle is such a nice way to get the night started with a warm sleeping bag!

The next morning we took our time getting out of the tent, but eventually nature and our bladders called and forced us to exit. Once we did, we had plenty of “homemaking” to do around camp: shoveling new snow, building a “kitchen area” with snow block walls, cutting benches into the snow, and finally once the work was done we could play, we went touring around the bowl we chose to stay in. We made it to the top of the ridgeline through the wind, which had changed directions from the night before. From the top of the ridgeline, we were able to get a single bar of service to be able to send our family and wives an update that we were safe, excited for adventure, and okay. From the ridge, we made several lines down the mountainside enjoying the fresh powder that had built up the night before. I found a spot where the snow had naturally piled up and made for a fun hit over some bushes, so I turned it into a little kicker we worked on and hit the rest of the afternoon and even the following days. The afternoon of day 2 was a pleasant one and led into a nice evening too where we built a fire to help dry out our gloves. We boiled hot water to put in our nalgenes again to take the chill out of bedtime, then we called it a night, but a couple hours later we awoke to the sound of wind really whipping through the trees and snow drifting against the tent.

We woke up between 9 and 10 and stuck our heads out the tent only to find that the unrelenting wind was still ripping through the trees, had filled our pathways through camp with knee-high snowdrifts. We spent some time getting the tent and our pathways dug out, all the while our eyes were set on some new lines across the bowl. With sore backs from re-digging our camp we left ready for some sweet fresh powder. The lines ended up being some of the best of the trip! The snow was tremendous and we made as many runs as our legs could handle before taking the long route, circumnavigating the bowl, back to camp to see what the rest of the area might hold. Although our legs were tired we both felt the need to hit our little kicker one more time before heading back into camp to settle in for another cold night. Before falling asleep I brought up what was written on one of our dehydrated meal packages, “talk about how big the universe is'' so we spent some time having some great conversation and chatting about our purpose in life and other deep thoughts before drifting off to sleep.

Sunday (day 4) as planned, was our last full day, we decided to make it our biggest day and moved out of our bowl into some neighboring bowls and ridgelines to see what else was over the next hill. Sunday’s weather was the best of the trip with mostly clear skies, but like everyday there was some wind, which was definitely the worst on ridgelines or above the trees. Luckily we were able to find stashes of sweet fresh snow in the trees a couple different times. After touring for several miles and most of the afternoon, we distracted our tired bodies with the goal to build another kicker that dropped us into some amazing snow for smooth landings. After a few runs at our newly constructed jump we finally dragged ourselves on tired legs back to camp for the last evening. We spent a little time getting our hot water going, but as soon as the water was ready we retired to the tent to eat some of our dry food and bars to then start pre-packing our gear so we would be ready for an early start the next morning.

The morning came quick, we woke up to the usual sound of wind, but to us it sounded a bit more powerful than most mornings, it was hard to say from the inside of the tent though. Once out of the tent we realized our guess of stronger winds was true, like way stronger. Only the top quarter of the tent was visible due to drifting! We packed up the tent as quick as we could, put our skins on our skis and loaded the sled, thankfully it was a couple pounds lighter from all the food we had eaten the last 4 days. We made a beeline for the saddle on the ridge, but with the wind being as strong as it was it made it quite difficult, going uphill was hard enough but because the wind was whipping it seemed to make it even harder to just catch our breath. Once we crested the ridge we realized we weren’t out of the woods yet (pun intended), we literally had to skin downhill because we were going directly into the wind, which by this time had numbed our faces and built up chunks of ice in our beards. Finally, we got down out of the worst of the wind and got enough downhill angle so we could ski the rest of the way down to the truck. With newfound respect for wind, we were thankful to be back in the truck and headed for home.

A couple thoughts/reflections we had from the trip:

  • - Bring two sleds, for each carry our own gear dispersing the weight and inturn making it “lighter”
  • - Hot water bottles in your sleeping bag are GOLD (make sure lid is sealed tightly) #protip
  • - Camp booties worn while sleeping help keep your toes warm all night
  • - A pair of insulated boots for around camp would be very helpful to get out of ski boots

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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