Settling for a lesser adventure

Jerry Painter pulls a sled behind a fat bike on the Cave Falls Road on March 1. The sled was attached to the bike by ski pole strapped onto the seat post with a bungee cord. Unfortunately the trip was cut short by a (Royce Lee photo)

Jerry Painter relaxes reading a copy of "Island of the Blue Dolphins" in the warming hut on Morgan Summit near Kelly Canyon after spending the night in the hills. (Jerry Painter photo)

I was pedaling a fat bike along the Cave Falls Road east of Ashton this past Thursday when my journey came to an abrupt end after about 4 or 5 miles.

My goal — the Bechler Ranger Station in Yellowstone National Park — was still another 5 miles down the road but I wasn’t going any farther. After arriving at the ranger station, my friend and I were to ski to Dunanda Falls and spend a couple of nights.

The road block was knee-deep drifted snow covering the ungroomed road. Up to this point we had been following some old consolidated snowmobile tracks. The going was OK until the snowmobilers stopped and turned around. Beyond the tracks was smooth, deep, untouched heavy powder. If I wanted to go farther, it would be nothing but plowing the bike, pulling a sled behind, for miles. It wasn’t going to happen.

Recent snows had caused the grooming operations in Fremont County to get behind schedule and the Cave Falls Road was one of those that hadn’t been attended to yet.

It was probably all to the good. My partner Royce Lee was struggling. He was sick and needed to turn back anyway. I tried helping him by pulling his sled too. I attached his to the back of mine, slowing me down considerably. Our bikes were rentals from the Outdoor Resource Center at Brigham Young University-Idaho. They gave us a sweet deal on multi-day rentals. They were surprised to see us back in the shop by early Thursday afternoon after renting them for three days that same morning.

Back in Idaho Falls by mid-afternoon, I was still chomping at the bit to “do something” with my time off. I kissed my wife goodbye (a second time that day) and drove up to Kelly Canyon Ski Resort. I paid for overnight parking and skied off into the dark night. Before I left, my wife Julie picked out a small paperback “so you won’t get bored sitting in a tent.” It was the novel “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell. The book is basically a survival story about a girl who lives on her own on an island off the coast of California in the 1800s. I skied up the road to the top of Morgan Summit and ignored the empty warming hut to set up a teepee tent and sleep in the deep snow. The snow was close to 3 feet deep.

I picked out a flat spot and stomped out an area with my skis. Then I skied around in the dark by the light of my headlamp to find some dead branches to use for tent pegs. Regular tent pegs are useless in deep snow. My floorless teepee tent is great for winter camping because you can fire up a pack stove inside without too much worry.

By the time my tent was pegged down with branches, a ski pole and skis, the stomped snow had solidified and hardened. I quickly set up my bed — a tarp, sleeping pad and bag — and set about working on dinner.

Disaster struck again. I put together my MSR white gas stove and began pumping air into the canister. Gas began leaking seemingly from all over. The smell of unburned gas filled the tent. Not my favorite perfume.

I put the stove away and ate a cold dinner of bagels, tangerine and cookies. I went to sleep craving a hot meal. In the morning, I still wanted a hot meal. I packed up my gear and skied over to the warming hut about 100 yards away. The Morgan Summit warming hut is less equipped than the Kelly Mountain warming hut that can be reserved for overnight stays. This hut has a table, chairs and a wood stove. I got the wood stove going, sat down and went to work on my wife’s reading assignment while the water in my pot took its time to boil. Breakfast for the day was to be the previous night’s dinner: freeze dried rice and chicken. It was delicious.

Outside, the snow was falling in huge, fat, wet flakes. After a few chapters in the book and cleaning up my gear, it was obvious the snow was piling up in a serious way. I decided to go for a ski without my winter pack along the Pine Loop trail just off Morgan Summit. My skis required glide wax to keep from sticking in the new warm snow. Pine Loop had been groomed recently, but with all the new snow coming down, the tracks were nearly covered.

I recommend this picturesque trail through the forest. I returned back to the warming hut and fired up the wood stove again to dry out my jacket. I read more about the tale of a girl who made spears out of walrus tusks.

I left for home after 1 p.m. And drove to the Los Alberto’s restaurant in Ririe. Tasty stuff.

P.S.: The stove proved to be an easy fix. I replaced an O ring and tightened a valve and it works perfectly. If you were wondering how we would have fared on the Yellowstone outing with a wonky stove, we had a backup stove for that trip.