We laced up our boots, strapped on our crampons, and decided to tackle the snow-covered trails after spending the night in the Paradise Inn. The plan was to hike the Skyline Trail up to Panorama Point, but right away we knew those plans would be changing due to the amount of snow still covering the trails.
Instead, we decided we would hike the Skyline Trail as far as we thought it was safe (or until we got tired) then turn around and return to the Visitor Center to meet up with Geoff’s parents. The trail started off with a steep snowbank we needed to scale proving that this trail was serious. After climbing the bank, we were rewarded with a paved path that had melted out for about a quarter of a mile.
Soon enough we were at a bridge crossing over a waterfall. The NPS did a fine job of marking the trail so that we would stay on solid ground and not make the mistake of walking over a snow bridge. While these snow bridges were absolutely gorgeous, they were super dangerous. Accidentally wandering could cause a fall to the creek bed below especially since the temperatures the day before had reached 80 degrees making the snow less solid. I really wasn’t looking forward to starting off my first true vacation day by ending up plummeting to the bottom of a waterfall, so we kept our eyes peeled for any signs of running water under the snow.
After crossing the bridge we spotted our first wildlife–a hoary marmot. Basically they look like a groundhog, but stand on their hind legs to survey the landscape in much the same way as a meerkat. Our marmot friend was peacefully checking out the thawing meadows and newly sprouted glacier and avalanche lillies around him. We decided to get a little closer for some better photo opps. As soon as we got about 25 feet from this little creature, his stench smacked us in the face. I can’t even begin to describe his stink other than it was something way worse than wet dog.
As we continued up what we thought was the trail (we followed the bootprints of a hiker who had passed us) we began to spot hoary marmots everywhere. They were scurrying down the side of the mountain, resting in the sun, and wrestling in snow drifts.
We stopped to watch them for a little while, and so I could catch my breath after the steep incline. I love hiking, but snow always makes it so much more challenging. As I broke a path in the snow with each step, I was reminded of hiking down the Grand Canyon. The snow was much deeper on this trail making the hike that much more strenuous.
We hiked until we meet the hiker who had passed us earlier, and he informed us that we probably should not venture much farther than the ridge we were approaching. He said that beyond that point there were many snow bridges, and the trail was hard to follow. We continued to the top of the ridge that offered a nice view of a very tall waterfall.
Geoff decided he wanted to take some pictures, so we went down into the little valley and set up the camera on an exposed boulder pile. There we ate a few granola bars, sipped some water, and held a mini photo shoot. As we played with the camera, we heard this weird, high-pitched squeal. At first I thought there were some little kids hiking near us. Then Geoff realized that it was the noise of the hoary marmots. We looked up the mountain slope in front of us and sure enough there were about five or six of them playing in snow.
Photo shoot over, we decided to turn around and head back to meet Geoff’s parents. Hiking down the mountain was the most fun I’ve ever had. I literally was able to run down the mountain without falling! The snow was in such a state that it slid just enough with each step to keep me balanced. The only thing that might have been more fun than running down that mountain would have been going down it on a sled.
Before long, we were back at the trailhead. As we approached the parking lot, we were passed by a group of mountaineers that were heading to the summit. They were discussing their plans as they passed us, and I felt a pang of jealousy. I would really love to climb an entire mountain one day. It seems like such an accomplishment. One that would have to save itself for another trip.