The winter of 2011 has been a record setter in the northern Rockies. While the record setting snow of the past winter has gone from the low elevations, snowkiting is still phenomenal in the high country.
For high elevation kiting there are few areas that rival the Beartooth Mountains of Wyoming and Montana. The Beartooths are unique. It is the largest alpine mountain range in the United States. It is old, comprised of some of the oldest rocks known: 4 billion years. In addition, the remoteness of the Beartooths insures that a sizeable population of elk, bears, wolverines and wolves can thrive.
Every year I explore a little deeper and a little further into the Beartooths via kites and skis. It is serious exploration as white-out conditions can occur quickly. Massive avalanche prone mountains abound. Tricky navigation is commonplace in the highly glaciated canyons and moraines. Given how far and fast one can travel by kite, I never let my guard down in the Beartooths.
With the only road, the Beartooth Highway, still closed by deep snow, we were forced to ascend into the high country with our snowmobiles. Each day last week we arrived at the snowline and rode 20 miles into the Beartooths. This 20 mile commute was generally uneventful. However on one commute back to the trailhead, we did come across some very fresh tracks of a Grizzly Bear! We were definitely not alone in this vast wilderness.
Our week kiting was characterized by north winds, opposite of the prevailing SW wind direction. I had never kited in the Beartooths on a northerly and one has to relearn where the best kite spots are located. It was often a challenge and this is where the snowmobiles helped enormously. With our sleds we were able to find the best locations to kite and access areas that I had never visited in years past.
The first two days were white-out storm conditions and this forced us to kite in the sub-alpine zone, among the trees for any semblance of depth perception. The benefit of storm kiting was the miles of fresh snow that passed under our skis. It is definitely a rush to be leaving fresh tracks in powder snow in the middle of May!
After the storm passed, the remainder of our days in the Beartooths were filled with bluebird skies and warm, spring snow conditions. The north winds persisted and we were thrilled to kite atop the 11,000’ plateau. With superb visibility there was nothing that held us back from challenging ourselves in this remote alpine paradise. We soaked in the views until our retinas were burned with the image of mountains and snow. It’s a spectacular mountain range and one that I will return to again and again.
Thanks for the post, enjoyed it. Will be back in WY for Memorial weekend, any kiting plans? Looking to do Beartooth or Bighorns. Maybe the crew can all get together somewhere. Wind has died out in Florida, time to head home.
Sleds are notrequired as long as the highway over Beartooth Pass stays open.
I will probably bring mine and come up from the Top of the World (Cody/Cooke City) side. If the highway closes (which happens occasionally when it blows a lot, even without a snowstorm) then I can use my sled to access Reefer Ridge, Beartooth Butte, and go deeper, away from the highway. If you want steeper mountains, most of those spots are a short sled ride away.
If the highway stays open then there is lots of low angle kiting directly adjacent to the road.