32 years ago, 34-year-old Tom Murphy made friends and family question his sanity when he took a solo ski trip through Yellowstone National Park.
Indeed, Murphy skied around 175 miles from Flagg Ranch (in northern Grand Teton National Park) to Mammoth Hot Springs over the course of 20 days, taking pictures all along the way. The exploit helped secure his reputation as a preeminent photographer.
Now, according to the Billings Gazette, at age 66, the Livingston-based wildlife photographer has made the trip again.
Over the course of 21 days (and 160 miles) Murphy retraced his 1984 trip with a group of friends (including his nephew, Clay Dykstra of Spearfish, SD) and two videographers: Shane Moore of Jackson, WY and Rick Smith of Bozeman, MT. The purpose? To make a film (entitled “The Journey to Yellowstone) both about the original trip and how the Park has changed in the interim.
Indeed, there were several parts of the trip that were noticeably different, in both good and bad ways. From the Gazette:
One of those changes was to ski across Yellowstone Lake, which Murphy doesn’t like to do because the lake contains underwater warm springs that could create spots of thin ice. But the route cut almost a day off the trip, even though it included a complete whiteout snowstorm.
The loss of visual cues made for some ungainly skiing.
“What was weird is that I’m skiing along and it feels like the ice is going downhill,” Murphy said. “If I didn’t pay attention to the faint, faint, faint horizon line I would tip over. I lost which way was up. It seems like you should know which way is up.”
The 21-mile day of skiing felt like it took a week, Murphy said, partly because off to the side was Stevenson Island, which looked like it never got closer or receded. Instead, Murphy said it seemed to be gliding along with them.
Back then, the snow was deeper, too, about calf- to knee-deep the entire trip. That made breaking trail an exhausting effort. This time, although there was only 4 feet of snow instead of 10 feet, the snow base was solid with a few inches of powder on top, much easier to navigate since the skiers didn’t break through the crust.
“That’s what it’s all about, skiing in that type of terrain in those types of conditions in the middle of nowhere,” said Brian Chan, a newly retired Yellowstone ranger and longtime friend of Murphy’s who took part in the trip.
Chan said the group discussed the hardships of winter camping and why they do it, excursions that he refers to as “suffer fests.”
“You don’t do it for the camping, like you do in the summer,” he said. “Winter camping is more about surviving so you can enjoy the place and the time of year.”
In addition, the Gazette notes, the weather was considerably warmer, a fact noted by the Geological Survey this past December. The group noticed less snow on the ground, even though they started four days earlier than the original trip. Further, they had to walk the last nine miles when the snow became too wet/heavy to glide on—or too scarce entirely—compared to the three Murphy had to walk in 1984.
The Journey Through Yellowstone
By and large, as shown by the map above from The Journey Through Yellowstone website, Murphy and crew mostly followed the original route to a T. Note, however, that the map above was made prior to the trip and does not include their eventual trek across Yellowstone Lake to save time.
Currently, “The Journey Through Yellowstone” has no release date, but we’re very eager to see it, whenever it does arrive. You can watch the trailer below.