Bellies full, we drove on up the road toward the pass, following Rabid Noah and his Kite. My arm was killing me, and I had a stash of Oxycodone with me (which I like to travel with, being accident prone as I am...) and some Ibuprofen, so we started with the little guns, and pulled up to the gate, which was closed. We hopped out and Kurt started walking, and I figured, you know, we are gonna go wander around up here for a little bit... forgetting, of course, that I was with someone who thinks nothing of climbing a huge mountain, doing laps on it, and then gets home and walks to Yoga... you know, right, The Kurtinator...
It was a beautiful walk, and its funny, I felt that petulant child inside of me wanting to whine "But I did so well earlier, we already hiked, why are we walking... wahhhh!" and the rest of me going, "This feels really nice! I would never have thought of this. Shut up, whiny part, lets enjoy this!" I think I may be in the process of slaughtering old childhood demons one at a time...
We hiked up and up and up the road, into the huge snowbanks, and Kurt was seized with the idea of drawing some intelligent political slogans into the snowbanks so that when the pass DID open, all the world could feel the sting of his intellect... yes, it does indeed say "George Bush Sucks Donkey Balls"...
After quite a ways, we caught sight of Noah riding his kite, it was pretty cool to watch him work his way up one side of the hill and then disappear over the other side, he was obviously having a ball... Kurt made the observation that this isn't really a sport you can do all together with your friends, I mean, you'd never see a big group of people all kiting together, imagining the mayhem of tangled strings and crashes was enough to bag that idea... so its a solitary sport, but it looks like a fun one!
We were thinking of walking all the way to the other side of the pass, but it was pretty far, so we made a new plan, to turn around and drive the round about way to Red Lodge via the Chief Joseph highway. We figured we'd roll into town and ski on the Red Lodge side early in the morning.
I am SO glad the gate was closed, the scenery on the Chief Joseph highway was truly spectacular. This is where the battle of the Nez Pierce was fought, in this majestic, rugged and fantastic place. We stopped at a couple of the overlooks and looked out into the gorge, with beautiful rock, by the way, it looks like a spectacular place to climb. The weather couldn't have been better, we'd been cold for days, and it was sunny, warm, shorts weather! It took us a couple of hours to drive around this way, and it was absolutely worth it.
We got into Red Lodge in the late afternoon, scouted the campsites, and visited the Chamber of Commerce to get an update on the pass opening.
Apparently, there had been a very large avalanche/landslide the night before, which covered three layers of road and ripped out some guard rail. The woman at the chamber told us that the last time there was an avalanche that size, the road was closed for the whole season, as it ripped out a portion of the actual road as well. But she offered us a nice place to go ATVing, and a free Frisbee.
We spent some time hanging out in the chamber, looking at the maps (Kurt is a bit of a map fiend... we managed to end up with quite a collection by the end of the trip), talking about where we WOULD ski if we COULD ski... but sadness. What should we do? We were fairly certain that there would be no skiing the next day.
We wandered around Red Lodge, which is an incredible town, taking photos of the old houses, none of which are too ostentatious, all of which are charming, you can see the ski hill, Red Lodge Mountain, right from the town (That's where I did my level 2 certification last year, its HUGE and very fun, I've heard its even more fun when the back side is open.)
The campsites were a bit swampy, so we settled for an Inn with Pool, ordered Chinese Food and watched the Blizzard of Ahhhs! Its the first time I've ever seen it all the way through, I've only caught snippets here and there. It was, in a word, AWESOME. The skiing was amazing, and the history of the film itself is pretty cool. Everyone my age who is a skier was totally taken by the throat with this movie, everyone knows where they were when they saw it the first time. It was, and is, pretty revolutionary in the ski industry.
I slept late the next morning, thinking there was no way we were going to ski, only to find out at ten that the pass was open early that morning!!
More photos of the Chief Joseph Drive through the Sunlight Valley
More photos of Red Lodge and the Pass, including the Glacier Cut of the Valley
More photos from the Cooke City side of the Pass