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When we met Dan at the yurt camp where he works, nineteen miles into our four day ski trip, I asked him if he’s ever seen Tom Murphy come through. That’s the one great traveler of Yellowstone’s winter backcountry that I knew of. “Actually, we just brought a resupply to him yesterday, and he’s heading this way!” So we got the incredible opportunity to talk to Tom on the thirtieth-anniversary re-creation of his first great trip from the south entrance to Gardiner. He is now 67 years old, and had the company of five other guys who are making a movie about the trip. He dropped a couple pearls of wisdom on us. “Winter camping is like hitting yourself on the head with a hammer,” he said. “It feels good when you stop.”

I expect climate change will be a major theme of the movie. We saw the crew again on the last day of their trip; they weren’t able to ski the last leg and were walking along the Mammoth-Tower road. A light rain was falling, which sort of made sense– a water bottle I’d left in the car never froze, and about a week earlier I got a tick in the area, not the kind of thing you’d ever dream of seeing most Februaries. As for us, we were hassled only by slushy snow conditions and highs in the mid-40s around Canyon (the winter camping movie required by the back country office warns about overnight lows between -30 and 0 degrees; our forecast was in the mid-20s). That said, the animals were looking good: the bison feisty, the wolves howling, fox on the hunt. First griz tracks of the year.

Murphy’s team was out for fifteen days. They gave us a lesson in raising the envelope for what is possible as far as existing in inescapably cold and wet conditions. What about bottomless powder, when your pace drops to a half-mile an hour or less, I asked? Answer: break trail without your pack one day, bump camp to the end of your trail the next, repeat. (Brutal, brutal stuff.) “Read ‘The Worst Journey in the World,'” one suggested. Apparently, there’s a lot of relevant stuff in there. The fact we were able to average around thirteen miles a day doesn’t say much besides we had it very, very easy. Winter in Yellowstone used to mean something different.

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