Article By Don Andrews and Dave Folts
As is often the case in Yellowstone the best adventures are when you get to leave the car, the road and the crowds behind you and head off on your own. Such was the case on a recent winter day in the northeast corner of the park. A good friend of ours, Dan, wanted to put in a snowshoe trail for an upcoming class he had scheduled. It was a quiet and peaceful afternoon and within minutes, we found ourselves completely out of sight from the road.
The snow was deep in spots and even with snowshoes on we sometimes went in up to our knees. With three people to take turns breaking trail, we were able to make good time. Always the naturalist, Dan was busy looking for signs of animal behavior and tracks in the snow. He didnít have to look far as tracks from coyotes, bison, and ermine etc. were plentiful.
We went through a stand of trees, passed alongside an open meadow, and then started uphill. Soon, we picked up a small set of tracks that seemed to head in the direction of an outcropping of rocks. Curious to see where the tracks would lead us, we followed them to a small cave in the rock wall. As we approached the wall, I pulled myself up to where I could take a look inside the small crack. Nervously, I got close enough to smell a very strong combination of animal waste and something else very pungent. I pulled pack and then peered in one more time. As I was attempting to describe what I found to my friends, a noise came from within the crack that made me jump back and according to my two friends, had quite a surprised look on my face. It wasnít a growl. It wasnít a hiss. It was more of a dull brushing sound but enough for me to move faster than I thought possible on snowshoes.
Equally curious, my two friends had to take a look for themselves. We decided based on the tracks that it might be a cat of one kind or another and decided to leave well enough alone and continue on. We moved around to another side of the wall and found another crack, much smaller than the first one but still being used by something.
We headed up hill a bit further and then traversed across the slope to an opening where we started back down, eventually joining the trail that we made coming in. The snow was falling harder at this point but with no wind it seemed to be a postcard setting in every direction. Eventually we made it back to the road, disappointed that we were done for the day. We will never know for certain what was in the small cave but the memory of that day will probably last for the rest of our lives. The mystery just adds to the adventure of breaking trail.