After a trip this weekend (video in the Trip Report forum) I'm now nine months into visiting Yellowstone NP at least once a month for a year. It's been a great experience, seeing different parts of the park as the seasons come and go. Winter has been especially nice: you can go into different places in the park (Bear Management areas), camping is much less restricted, and the closure of roads makes the park so much bigger.
The terrain I saw this weekend in the NW corner of the park was fantastic. Great for ski touring, great for turning, and great for sitting around the fire and listening to owls at night as the moon rises.
I was also struck how, if you have a few bits of knowledge and the right gear, easy winter camping is. Following are some thoughts that I hope others might find useful.
-Fires are nice. Winter nights are long and cold. This weekend I found a spot in the lee of some trees that had shallow snow cover. I dug down to bare ground in a 7' circle, poked around to find some nice dry pine, and enjoyed a few hours of relaxing on my ridgerest, watching the moon rise, reading, and sipping tea. Good dry wood ensured that no sparks burned holes in my puffy coat, and a site out at the edge of the meadow ensured that a down-canyon breeze kept the smoke out of my eyes.
-Big shovels are good. My Black Diamond Deploy 7 is not light (700 grams on the nose), but moves snow fast and busts through hard snow with ease. My sleeping trench was 5' by 4' by 10', and took 10 minutes to dig.
-Snow shelters are fun. I found a nice deep drift in the lee of a big downed log. Anchoring my tarp over the top with sticks was the hardest and slowest part, due to the very dry snow. I dig in light clothing and Goretex shell mits, and stayed totally dry.
-Melting snow is slow, regardless of your heat source. I was psyched to see that the Gallatin was ice free.
-I prefer hydration systems, dry high altitude winter air dehydrates you fast. I use a big Dromedary with a hydro hose. During the day, I make sure to blow back into the bladder, and stow the valve in my collar. I use a simple soft rubber valve, with no hard plastic parts. If it does freeze, I can chew on it to thaw it out. Overnight, I bring the cap, remove the hose system, and sleep with the hose complex in my bag. If I have to keep water in the bag overnight, I bury it in the snow to keep it from freezing.
-Being cold at night is no fun. I use a 48" ridgerest and full length Thermarest. This, my WM Antelope, and a puffy goes down well below zero in comfort.
-Clothing is key, and sweat is your enemy, even more than in summer. Delayer before you sweat, and choose items that dry fast and breath well. My system for this past weekend, for dry temps from 30-0 F:
Wool 2 t-shirt
Ibex wool hoodie
Lightweight capilene tights
Soft shell pants (w/ shock-cord instep straps)
Capilene 1 headband (key!)
This system worked very well. The Houdini rocks in the winter, and I prefer the synthetic parka to down as it deals with moisture better.
-Vapor barrier socks. I ski in plastic tele boots with warm liners that absorb tons of moisture if given the chance. I use very thin knee-high liner socks, and vapor barrier socks on top. My feet are always warm, and the thin liners dry fast overnight. I keep fat wool socks in my sleeping bag for the night.
-Fat waxless skis are great. I love my Karhu Guides. They're not too fast on packed tracks, but break trail and float well, and can ski down anything the driver can manage. For me winter camping means getting off the beaten track, and not being restricted from exploring cool terrain.
-Avalanches are scary. As you can see in the video, snow study and terrain assessment is vital. Get educated.
Get out there! Winter is great!