GET OUT: Post Holiness

By on May 10, 2016

Trudging through mud and ice to enjoy the ‘splendors’ of spring.

Top left: A hiker attempts to discern the trail amid a blanket of snow. Right:  A nice river view seen from a ridge line. Bottom left: An old cabin that sits near the trailhead to Holmes Cave. (Photo: elizabeth koutrelakos)

Top left: A hiker attempts to discern the trail amid a blanket of snow. Right:  A nice river view seen from a ridge line. Bottom left: An old cabin that sits near the trailhead to Holmes Cave. (Photo: elizabeth koutrelakos)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Spring is waging a battle over the last bits of winter, clearing snow from the valley floor and tricking us into thinking the trails are clear. The waves of heat mixed with warm rain tell me anything is possible, and when there are daffodils growing it’s difficult to think otherwise.

My little adventures seem to embrace or avoid what’s left of the snow. There’s no happy medium.

Ski people don’t want to go anywhere if “the line doesn’t go all the way,” meaning there must be a consistent patch of snow in said area. They reject skiing lines if they have to take their skis off to walk. 

The other group consists of folks that are itching to trail run, hike and bike. These people will never stop trying, no mater how deep the snow is. They don’t really care. They’ll walk anywhere and even attempt to stay on the supposed “summer trail” though everything is covered in snow. One may see evidence of these insatiable hikers in large and unexpected postholes imprinted in the snow.

Last weekend, on the brink of spring, I had to decide: was I a skier or a hiker? I attempted to be a skier, but was left with no choice than to become a hiker after my partner bailed for an early morning ski. Secretly grateful, I stayed in bed and slept until a more reasonable hour. I then consulted with a hiker friend who suggested we hike the trails on Towgatee Pass.

From Moran, the trailhead was about 21 miles east. From the highway snow seemed to have melted away. We parked at the pullout for Holmes Cave; I thought a spring mission to a cave might be a fun and different thing.

This forest service trail was quite muddy, but it had frozen just so that if one was extra careful, it was possible to pass in a tiptoed scramble. We then got to the place that looked like a mountain of white and black spots, akin to what you might see on a giant cow; the patchy snow had prevailed.

We got to the top of a divide and looked down at where Holmes Cave may have been. An endless ripple of snow expanded as far as the eye could see. At this point, I realized looking for caves in mountainous meadows that are still snowy is probably a terrible and dangerous idea. So we backtracked, glissading until we came upon some fresh large paw prints. They appeared to belong to a grizzly. I tightened my fanny pack and made sure my bear spray could be accessed in one fell swoop.

My friend, born and raised in Moran, often tells me I shouldn’t be afraid of bears unless I can smell their breath. However, seeing those giant fresh tracks simply made me afraid. The thing was close, and I guarantee its paws would be able to move more adeptly on the snow than my human feet. My fear deepened as our random steps became very post holey.

For those that like slight pain and unpredictability, I highly recommend dabbling in the art of post holing. One walks freely and is then engulfed (anywhere from ankle to hip deep) at random intervals as the weak snow swallows said extremities. After perpetual post holing, the ankle begins to numb and it’s kind of like a brain freeze in the entire body… except without the ice cream. On the plus side, if one is wearing shorts, post holing can be quite good at exfoliating the legs and ridding oneself of that dry winter skin.

In the mid afternoon, steps were unpredictable, which is part of the reason why a stick went into my hiking partner’s leg. We were about a quarter mile from the car and he had accidently stepped around a downed tree and post holed onto a stob. The stick, while small, found its way into his leg and when he pulled it out, white fatty tissue oozed out of the sides. I gagged a little, and though I wasn’t in pain, the nauseous feeling seeped into my entire being.

Choosing one’s own adventure for hiking or skiing can be pretty extreme this time of year. Just because there are leaves on the cottonwoods doesn’t mean all trails are a go. While our excitement for greener, warmer pastures is difficult to contain, choose wisely when selecting your next May outing. PJH

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