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Snowshoeing: Discovering Yellowstone in winter

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Two snowshoers traverse a trail in the Hellroaring area. NPS PHOTO

By Eddy Murphy EBS CONTRIBUTOR

Some winter adventurers go above the trees, into the big sky and glide through the powdery paradise of Lone Peak; some painstakingly contemplate the cardiovascular benefits of cross-country skiing on one of the area’s many groomed trails; and some of us delve into the blustery and glittering wilderness on snowshoes.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Yellowstone during the summer, working as a barista. After those seasons ended, I returned home to Tennessee’s bland, rainy winters, sinking into nostalgia when I couldn’t lace up my boots and gawk at mesmerizing vistas whenever I saw fit.

So, when the opportunity arose for me to avoid my mom’s shabby sofa in Tennessee and instead live in Montana year-round, I was elated. I also felt uneasy, because I have never skied. I knew the couple inches of cursed snow that fell in Tennessee every year were nothing compared to what these skies promised. I knew Montana winter would make everything I knew of that season seem trivial and ridiculous.

But I was going to be near the wonderland that stole my heart four summers ago, and I was not about to let some white fluffy stuff deter me from recreating in my new home.

This winter, my first in Big Sky, I’ve spent many subzero mornings trying to extract my two-wheel-drive pickup from Crown Butte Drive’s ditches. When I first purchased snowshoes, I thought their alloy frames looked awkwardly shaped and odd.

The next weekend, I took my inaugural solo snowshoeing adventure in the Yellowstone backcountry. I drove to the Fawn Pass trailhead in northwestern Yellowstone. My truck was the only vehicle in the lot on the gorgeous, clear and frigid day. A moose drank out of an unfrozen rivulet beyond the pavement, and I translated it as the beginning of a memorable experience.

I watched the moose as I strapped on the snowshoes I’d blindly invested in, hoping they could carry me to the same kind of fond memories my hiking boots had in summers past.

I sallied on, into the trees, without any idea what to expect. Right away, I noticed the silence. No birds chirping, no brooks babbling, no wind—only the thwack of my snowshoes breaking the surface of new snow.

When I paused to sit under a tree for a snack, I lost my balance and fell into an impossible position in two feet of snow. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to escape.

Then, a slight breeze brought the hoary contours of the earth to life. I stopped in wonder. The sun blazed cold and brilliant behind a transparent cloud. Its strange, slanted light animated snow skimming the surface into phantasmagoric spirits. The lodgepoles whispered, and Yellowstone became something entirely new to me: a wintry wonderland, not only void of the sound of life, but a place with true solitude. It surely is an amazing thing to have the opportunity to be the only person on earth
outside of your front door.

A version of this article first appeared in the Feb. 11, 2011, edition of EBS.

Eddy Murphy is originally from Nashville. He lives in Big Sky and enjoys hiking, fishing and live music.

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