2021 Bob Marshall Wilderness Open
Jun 1, 2021 at 10:01 am #3716530Elliot HBPL Member
Called my ride at 9pm Sunday from the NF Blackfoot TH. 71 miles in 37 hours.
Considered road walking the 30-ish miles to the finish on Monday but my feet said no.
Route took me up the WF Sun and over Camp Creek pass down to Danaher.
Have to say a huge thank you to John (didn’t catch a last name but he’s an ultra runner) for basically pulling me over the pass in the dark. We may have been the youngest and oldest participants this year working together? Not positive. Had a blast and learned a lot.
Don’t know if I’ll take another shot at it, but if I make it back out I’m definitely bringing a boat. Thanks Dave and everybody for an awesome weekend.Jun 1, 2021 at 10:27 am #3716531
Congratulations Elliot.Jun 1, 2021 at 5:02 pm #3716595Andrew CBPL Member
The Bob consistently reminds me to temper my ambition and stick to the safe choice. Some years that means avalanche zones instead of whitewater, shorter days so the morning climb goes over firm snow, or taking the inside bend instead of the fun whitewater line, but this year it meant confirming my partner’s safety over finishing the course. Needless to say, I’m now 50/50 on the DNF.
Several months ago I managed to convince my friend of the boundless fun he would experience crossing the Bob. To set the stage, this is the first year I’ve planned to cross such a remote off-trail pass and it’s also the first year Lee has rafted, snowshoed, or ultralight hiked.
Day one went well when we strolled the bucolic South Fork Sun Valley up to a mile or so past Benchmark. Day two was a bit of a late start and the novice fatigue started to settle in. I’m sure we weren’t slowed down by my route choice of picking our way through deadfall in a burn over trail that hasn’t seen maintenance in decades—it’s definitely Lee’s fault. The 2000’ climb up to Observation Point was slow, and punctuated by close encounters of the grizzly kind, but the ridgeline snowshoe was even slower. While the views of the Blackfoot, Sun, and Flathead basins was amazing, we mostly focused on the trail ahead of us and avoiding avalanche terrain. Judging by the tracks, the grizzlies weren’t too worried with one set of tracks coming straight down a steep cornice ready to slide. Unfortunately, we got caught on the ridge at dark so had a bit of blind route-finding to get down to the Dry Fork.
Needless to say, the Bob had one more nighttime surprise in store. The trail was nowhere to be found and we were on a steep sidehill. Luckily, this proved no problem for our hammocks and we got a good night’s rest.
With the Canyon Creek Trail obliterated, we resorted to mild canyoneering down the Dry Fork before eventually stumbling upon vestiges of the old trail. Undeterred by deadfall and 12 foot firs growing in the trail, we followed the Dry Fork down to Dry Fork Divide. With spirits buoyed, we put our rafts in at Dwight Creek. The constant awareness inherent to wilderness packrafting was too much for Lee, so we decided to split up and rejoin along the NF Blackfoot below the cabin.
After three hours of high quality wilderness packrafting, I pulled onto the NF Sun trail. I waited around for a few hours and hiked back above the NF Cabin a bit, but didn’t see Lee. I eventually moved on to our agreed upon camp at the road bridge below the campground, hoping maybe he was ahead of me. He wasn’t. Nor was he there when I awoke.
I assumed he was moving slowly and camped at the cabin overnight, but couldn’t be sure. After recruiting his wife to get us a vehicle, I parked the campground and waited until I thought he would show up. When he didn’t meet my expected timeframe, I set off anticipating a long day of determining how he went off trail. To our mutual elation, I met him 10 minutes into the hike. It turns out he had shown up at the cabin not long after my last search for him and opted to camp there.
While I didn’t finish, I certainly got the full Bob experience with a sunset ridgeline snowshoe, a nighttime descent off trail through deadfall and snow, light canyoneering on the upper reaches of the Dry Fork, and a 10 mile wilderness packraft. Lee is alive and bears no visible injury.
I’m eagerly awaiting next year’s fun.Jun 1, 2021 at 7:11 pm #3716635Will BBPL Member
Nice work y’all! Andrew, that ridge from Observation pass looked beautiful. I was eyeing that route but ultimately opted against it.
I couldn’t in good conscience dump that much text on this thread, so I started a new thread and posted a full length TR here:
I’ll share a video once I go through all my footage. So may be a while.Jun 1, 2021 at 8:48 pm #3716648
- Route Description:
Day 1: Left WF of the Teton at 5:30 > Nesbit Pass > Route Ck Trail > Floated NF Sun (~21 mile) > took out just before the start of the big water > Pretty Prairie > Made camp just shy of Benchmark around midnight >>> 47 miles
Day 2: Left Benchmark at 6 > Straight Ck > Halmoon Ck > Telephone Ck > Crossed Scapegoat at Far East flank in the upper Cave Ck basin > made camp at Carmichael around 9 >>> 23 miles
Day 3: Left Carmichael at 7 > descended NF Blackfoot > Arrived at NF-BF TH at 1 >>> 15 miles
Total > 85 miles in 55.5 hours
Dan and I’s decision to start at the West Fork of the Teton was made solely to incorporate a float on the NF of the Sun into our route. We moved our start to the WF-Teton from the SF-Teton to avoid the avy hazard on HQ Pass and was happy to discover a road clear of snow. The chilly Friday night and early start gave us excellent conditions going over Nesbit Pass. The climb and descent came and went without much drama.
The float on the Sun was predictably excellent. Fast water, great weather, and big views made for one of the best floats of my packrafting career. The fact that we were joined by Will and Anders made the experience truly memorable. I was blown away by Will’s control over his boat. He rolled his boat on command and turned corners sharp and smooth enough to mimic a hard shell. It’s a different thing entirely to witness work like that in person than to simply watch it online. I feel hyper motivated to improve.
The next day’s climb up to Scapegoat was hard. Having traveled almost 50 miles during 20 hours of effort, it was quickly obviously that we blew our load on Day 1. This fact was made even more clear later by the strangely precise half-life reduction in our daily mileage. Personally, I didn’t take good care of myself. I didn’t pack enough food, and the food I did pack was of poor quality. I also didn’t stop enough to hydrate and refuel. This was another strange irony as I noticed that I could be genuinely lazy whilst fast packing a heavy boat through tough conditions. Stumbling into Dave footprints was a welcomed relief from the mental load of navigating. Only during The Open could I happen upon some random snowshoes prints and confidently read the mind of their maker.
I am glad Dan and I made the call to bail on the Green Fork Route. Although Nesbit was comparatively tame, that zone gave views of some huge cornices and revealed how much snow still lingered in the high country. With those images never leaving our thoughts, we called an audible at the Green Fork Jct and opted for the slightly longer route up the far east flank of Scapegoat. This provided excellent views of the Halfmoon Zone, possibly the most beautiful section of the route. Later we would stumble into Will and Anders at Trixies and hear their horror show recap of their Green Fork High Route. I’m proud we made the call we did.
We bailed on the float to the finish. We dragged our boats ~50 miles from the takeout to the TH and didn’t have the extra gear to close it out. So it goes. I was surprised at how much water was in the upper drainage of the NF Blackfoot. It seemed like there was plenty of water to float from Carmichael to the Falls, and below the cabin the flow looked bigger than NF Sun. However I was plagued by too much brain fog to feel confident on-sighting skinny water and ultimately doubted it would be faster than walking. Super psyched to return to this drainage later this summer for the mini-golf flows.
This year was my third Open and was the first for my buddy Dan, although I suppose we immediately disqualified ourselves when we chose to begin in the Teton Area with an alpine start. I now have mixed feelings about that decision given that it distanced us from properly participating in The Open. However we executed our plan in the spirit of The Open by mooring ourselves to a start that was close to the original plan and attempted to finish at the proper end point. This allowed for an excellent adventure through challenging terrain that was almost 100% new to me. I’m proud of what we did and am so thankful for the existence of this vaguely official event. And I am thankful to all who participated; your effort brings out a level of try-hard in me that doesn’t show itself on personal trips. That is why The Open is special to me.Jun 1, 2021 at 8:49 pm #3716649Thad ABPL Member
I rolled into the Home Gulch campground where a surprise awaited. Straight creek was rumored to be under ten feet of leech infested waters with piranhas and alpine sharks viciously finning its course. The route I had painstakingly examined and the cached maps on my phone were no longer relevant, and I was flying blind apart from Mike’s map and recollections of distant glimpses from past trips.
The roaring wind and pleasant reunions of Friday evening faded into the long awaited morning, which dangled perfect weather and endless possibilities. After hurried preparations and a Bob benediction from Dave, we immediately broke ranks and traveled straight up the canyon to avoid the foot punishing road.
All good things must end, however, and soon we emerged from beneath Lime Ridge and onto the dusty hot gravel. After some terrifically unhelpful survival advice from a jeep wielding gentleman convinced that our road walking signified unbounded stupidity in such realms, we reentered the cool woods about mid afternoon. We walked and walked. I passed the wilderness sign just as the sun set on day one. After some headlamping we navigated a final irritating set of crossings and arrived at welcome creek cabin.
A pitched tarp emanating some muffled wisecracks led me to believe we had caught Tom, but our campfire and scintillating conversation failed to lure him from his repose.
We awoke to another calm morning with the temperature in the mid twenties. At this point Tom indeed emerged and we all opted to take the longer scenic route up Jake creek (if memory serves) rather than the direct route from the cabin. One of many hits from our unscouted route as it added to our mileage. The Dearborn river and deadfall overtook the trail for some miles, and Dan, felled by a lack of sleep and consideration for the group pace, turned back towards the start despite my efforts to tie him to the mast.
The payoff for our extra mileage was a gratuitously showy view of scapegoat mountain, followed by a dicey but manageable scramble down to the North Fork of the Blackfoot.
We chatted with a fellow Bobopener who simultaneously descend at the hobnail trail junction near Carmichael cabin. I inquired as to whether he had swum up Straight creek despite the biblical flooding that had occurred and to my great surprise, since he appeared unscathed apart from the ordinary rigors of the Open, he answered yes.
I don’t expect to be nominated for sainthood. I did, however, selflessly wrestle with my desire to give an unnamed member of our group a hard time about our last minute route scramble. Though I failed in that regard, my efforts to do so were considerable. And then we walked and walked and walked.
I did not expect to take in a badminton match during the Open, despite always expecting the unexpected. Yet as we reached the junction at the North Fork cabin as the sun lowered, a trail crew was in the midst of a heated set. I rudely interrupted the play for a moment and inadvertently set in motion another setback to our endeavor when I asked them about the prospect of crossing the dry fork up to canyon creek.
I had hoped to do the crossing that evening, but vaguely remembered it being closer and the dry fork trail crossing and recrossing the river.
As I rushed up canyon into the rapidly darkening evening the crew fell further and further back. Reaching the split with the pack trail and the hiker trail I was heartened to discover that my dusty memories from 2015 were wrong and we only had the one crossing to contend with. I also began to worry that the pull from the North Fork parking lot might alter my companion’s plans, and I waited at the junction to offer encouragement and praise for their noble determination to push on.
Mike eventually arrived and, thinking Tizer would be on his heels we waited as the last sunlight faded, but then fatefully decided it best to rush up and find a camp and gather wood short of the crossing.
We found a not quite level bench above the river where a fire would be obvious from the trail and set camp and ate. Mike and I discussed our options in the event that Tizer didn’t appear, and being fully exhausted we built up the fire and went to our respective tarps where I immediately fell asleep.
Another early morning on day three found Mike and I resuming our discussions about the ominous absence, over what passed for breakfast. I hiked back past the first trail split searching for Tizer’s yellow tent along our side of the river. Coming up empty I turned back up canyon where Mike and I decided, given Tizer’s woods sense, the likelihood that he was heading for the North Fork trailhead, and the nearness of the occupied cabin we would push on.
Below the deep but swimmable dry fork crossing a log jam offered a dry solution and we ascended the blowdown hell that is the current condition of the canyon creek trail.
As our progress stalled I stubbornly continued to nurse plans of continuing on through the night to the finish, but by the time we reached Monture around 7:30 the math no longer aligned with some nonnegotiable work obligations and there must now shamefully and forevermore be placed a DNF next to my name, my perfect streak reduced to pitiful memories.
A friend awaited with news that Tizer, who had only just heard of the Open days before, heard me babbling about crossings and forded the dry fork in a feat of daring that left him swimming and soaked on the other side, where he had escaped my notice during my return hike that morning.
A Trixies burger greatly assuaged the bitter defeat, and by midnight I stumbled into my house in Helena. I had planned to make this my last year of the Open, but now unfinished business remains.Jun 1, 2021 at 9:39 pm #3716651
A true pleasure to read everyone. Always a highlight of my year.Jun 2, 2021 at 6:40 am #3716670
I also appreciate everyone taking the time to write up their experience as well. Years ago pretty much everyone was on BPL and got to hear from just about everyone. Lots of folks have heard about the Open by other means, so a good likelihood we won’t.
I know a couple of the guys that were from Helena (one that Elliot mentioned John) that aren’t on here, hopefully I can get to visit with them and hear about their adventures, maybe over a beer.Jun 2, 2021 at 9:01 am #3716687Elliot HBPL Member
Mike, if you get that beer with John, I’d love to hear about his time on day 2 going up and over limestone pass.
I tried to talk him out of it based on our experience over camp creek pass, but he was in phenomenal form and seemed like he could handle just about anything.
Also loving reading all these reports, thanks again everybody!Jun 2, 2021 at 10:06 am #3716691Josh JBPL Member
loving all the reports and dreaming of joining one year! hopefully next starting with hiking and maybe one year rafting that looks like a blast!!Jun 2, 2021 at 10:17 am #3716692John FSpectator
I’m never hiking a road again. Ha! Nate, Branden and I finished at Sunset Hill Bridge on Monday at 8:14pm. The last 30 miles on flat ground were a slog but we got it done. Trip report to come soon.
Beer at Blackfoot Brewing today (4:30p) for BMO storytelling. Hope to see some of you later!Jun 2, 2021 at 11:54 am #3716714
In for today.Jun 2, 2021 at 12:13 pm #3716719
I should be able to make it too; think Thad will as wellJun 2, 2021 at 7:06 pm #3716883
Enjoying the trip reports everyone! I suppose I’m overdue for a longer report.
Took off roadside walking toward Gibson at the head of a big crew. By the time we hit trail, I was out of sight and just continued at 4ish mph all the way around the reservoir, enjoying the solitude and the morning. After the confluence/ ranch I took a quick break and was caught by a merry crew all still together. We rolled heavy up SF sun until I eventually wandered off the front again through the incredible pretty prairie. At the WF confluence, I spotted a log I thought might go and wasted 10 min schwaking down to it only to find it vibrating sketchily and a no go. Onward to the pretty prairie bridge where I rejoined the crew. I said my goodbyes and took a nice shoes off lunch break as the group split with John and Elliot? going over camp creek and the rest up green fork and over scapegoat. Truth be told, I needed the separation to maintain my resolve to continue over Stadler instead of joining in over the scapegoat.
Eventually got going up hoadley creek until the cutoff SF sun crossing, which looked deep and fast at the trail. I was glad I was going over Stadler and not observation… hit snow on Stadler at a little under 6000 ft and transitioned to snowshoes. I followed two sets of shifts and a dog who had clearly been there a few hours before having taken the more efficient if less inspiring route from the start. This was a low point as I was starting to bonk and convinced I was way off the pace. I slammed gummies until I felt better and then reminded myself that I was here to go fast on my route, not theirs, and anyway, they clearly weren’t packrafting the Blackfoot with a dog. The snow was firmer than expected and I made ok time over the pass. It was a mental boost to follow tracks and not worry about the route finding too much.
Over the pass, things got ugly, but I was in a better mental space. First there was patchy snow, then deadfall in snowshoes, then lots of deadfall, then deadfall by headlamp. And probably some more deadfall in there. I was happy for every bit of strength and stability work this spring. At 11pm, I arrived at basin creek cabin, crashing through the woods, singing loudly, hoping to bivy on the porch. Unfortunately, a trail crew was staying there and I was relegated to crashing out begind the outhouse and feeling bad for probably waking everyone.
I chatted with the trail crew as they got up at the same time as I. Thankfully, they were very gracious and also interested in why the hell I was stumbling through the Bob at 11 the night before. They informed me the trail out to dry fork divide had been cleared the day before, which was a huge mental boost. I slogged off quickly trying to get warm, going through the screaming barfies once or twice as I broke through ice at every stream crossing
By 8 or so, I arrived at Danaher Meadows, which was just pure, pure magic. Meadows glistening with hoarfrost, big snowy mountains in the background, and a bull elk bugling somewhere. I saw lots of griz sign and eventually two moose cows across the creek. That was the crowning moment of the trip and all the reason I needed for taking a longer route.
Out over dry fork divide, I was beginning to feel the miles and was looking forward to floating the Dry Fork. The bench just above cabin creek was a highlight, and I took a long break to enjoy. I put on the dry fork shortly after. This was a lovely if slightly scrappy float and I was soon at the NF proper. 2.5 miles later I was packing up at the Put-in for the whitewater section when along came a group of very stoked hardshellers. I figured they would beat me to the bridge as I walked the final miles of the trip. Very ready to get off the feet, the last bit of road walking was rough, but eventually the bridge was in sight. Just as I was about to put in, the hardshellers showed gushing about the run. It sure looked fun. Maybe someday when I’ve been boating more recently and am not solo…
I put on at roughly 4:15 pm, a little worried my stopping to smell the roses earlier would jeapordize a finish before dark. After enjoying the splashy initial section, I settled in for the ride to the 200 crossing. Doing the math there, I realized that the Blackfoot needed to be a more urgent paddle to make the finish before dark. I paddled hard and the stretch before Monture creek confluence was the low point of the entire trip. It was hot, I was dehydrated, and feeling pretty depleted. At the creek, I scooped a bottle of clear Monture water, smashed two gels, and texted Nat to pick me up in an optimistic 1:30.
The gels and hydration kicked in, the gradient picked up, and I was back on a high by the time I hit the last few rapids as the light faded. With waning light I hit the big wave trains with the realization that in 15 min I wouldn’t want to be there. When I rounded the corner and saw the sunset bridge, my brain just wouldn’t accept that was the finish. I was convinced there was another bridge I had somehow missed on the map and that I had to keep going. Then I saw Nat standing on the bridge and let out a huge whoop. The trip was over, except for Nat laughing and filming me trying to get out of my boat after 5 hrs. I was on a huge high, but also more physically done than I’ve ever been. I managed to eat there Trixie’s burger and fries she brought me, but getting up the stairs at the air-bnb was a challenge. I shivered uncontrollably in the shower, then slept like the dead. I went for a 50 mile ride on Tuesday, but that pretty much wrecked me. After wearing compression socks for 2 days, I can almost walk normally today.
After a DNF in 2016, I wanted to come back and really nail the Open this year. Despite not having regular access to the mountains, I made it my primary objective for the spring and trained specifically for it with a very structured plan. This meant lots of laps of state parks, road walking, and goofy packrafting trips close to home to get my workouts in. I trained the mental game with lots of rope-solo rock climbing. I made sure my route and nutrition were dialed. All that to say, it is totally possible and extremely satisfying to train for this piecemeal from afar and totally nail it.
105ish miles, 37h20min, with no major mistakes. I could have shaved a couple of hours by pushing harder and 3.5 or so with a more efficient route, but I got to see the SF sun valley and Danaher, and most importantly preserved the enjoyment of all of it. Never felt rushed (until the end) and took plenty of time to enjoy the trip.
Finally, it was a huge personal accomplishment to show up on Open “winning” form, even if I wasn’t first to finish. Since I first learned of the event years ago, such efforts were the purvue of other, crazier, fitter, better people. Thanks Dave for the inspiration to train, build skills, and become that. I don’t know what is next, but I’m sure there will be another Open in the near future. Someday, maybe an Alaska summer classic.Jun 3, 2021 at 8:33 am #3716959
Lots of exceptional stories this year.
A few notes for 2022, as I imagine most folks are like me and already excited about it:
-Will stay on memorial day weekend
-Start will be announced early winter; my hope is to have a nice convivial environment for getting to know folks the night before
-Finish will be announced on May 18th, to both introduce a bit more ambiguity and allow a bit of tweaking to suit conditions
-I solemnly swear there will be much less possibility of road walking
PS: Worth noting that the N Fork Blackfoot and S Fork Sun both spiked impressively in the past 4 days; all that snow up on the Scapegoat massif is finally melting. The later is currently setting an all time high for this date, and the former is within 200 cfs of doing so.Jun 3, 2021 at 10:10 am #3716981Tom MBPL Member
My trip report:
The night before Dave C. threw out a flashier route than my original so I decided to re-route. We left in a group and before I knew it the pack was behind me and I caught Dave somewhere above Agropyron flats. It was enjoyable to see new country which for me is getting harder and harder to find. Our pace was moderate and not rushed but I was running on borrowed time due to an injury I sustained a few weeks back. Somewhere on the Jakie creek trail near welcome pass as we were stopped to put in some calories and remove some tics I told Dave that by no means wait for me and stay on the gas to get over the flank of scapegoat. Near the top of Welcome Pass I hit the breaks and watched Dave peel out down the trail heading for the headwaters of the deerborn. I made camp at the guard station, got a fire going and sat naked from the waist down in the river to try to keep the inflammation in my knee down. I was in bed by 9:30. The group minus one showed up around 11pm. I decided to go to Lost Cabin Creek and avoid crossing the deerborn a bunch of times early in the morning. Plus I wanted to go on a new trail. Due to some navigational errors I found myself cruising up the trail by myself with the group on the wrong side of the river. The ridge walk leading above the amphitheater was awesome and before I knew it I was over the divide and heading into the tobacco valley and very familiar territory. The rest of the trip was just a nice walk and when I arrived at the North Fork Blackfoot T.H. at 6:59 I decided to pull the plug knowing that the road slog might extend recovery time and with a trip of a lifetime coming up in mid July it was an easy decision.
Jun 3, 2021 at 10:16 am #3716982Tom MBPL Member
- Cruising through Home and lime gulch (if your timing is right the wildflower display would be out of this world).
- The ridge above amphitheater.
- Dave and I sneaking up on a bull elk (during archery he would have been tagged and bagged).
- Taking the time to stop and cook up an early dinner at North Fork Falls (it was cranking).
- Seeing the same trail crew leader four years in a row at the north fork guard station.
- All the scouting trips Mike M and I did prior to the open.
- Meeting new people, reconnecting with others.
- Talking with Dan M. and his son “Montana Dan” about their route.
- Most of all the friendships that have formed because of this event.
You got lucky and should have hugged everyone of those crew members because Dave and I stayed at the Basin cabin earlier this year and your route from there to dry fork was filthy with trees.Jun 3, 2021 at 11:46 am #3716989
Dave- sounds good on the road walking!
Tom said we’ll just take up knitting for next winter :)Jun 3, 2021 at 8:27 pm #3717072
Delaying the reveal of the end is a great idea. I’ll probably enjoy speculating potential end points and their corresponding routes a lot more than obsessing over creating the perfect singular routeJun 5, 2021 at 3:16 pm #3717295
The one thing missing from this thread are pictures, post ’em if you got ’emJun 5, 2021 at 9:19 pm #3717334
Might be time to add a Bob Marshall Ski Open to the mix. Just saying…Jun 7, 2021 at 7:49 pm #3717626
Wow. 1 week later and I’m still processing my trip across the Bob. Every year, I’m in awe of the variety of travel styles, challenges, and adventures everyone has during the Open.
We just got home late last night, but maybe I’ll have time this week to sort and post some pictures. Till then, here is a Google photos link to the pictures Nat and I took last week.Jun 8, 2021 at 6:54 am #3717690
Seth were you able to get out on the phone and order a pizza? The phone is a little tricky, but it works :)Jun 8, 2021 at 9:57 am #3717741
Ideal conditions for Camas Creek!Jun 9, 2021 at 8:33 am #3717890
Dang, I would have called somebody if I knew the phone actually worked. That’s pretty cool!
Indeed. Camas creek was quite lovely and a nice introduction to backcountry boating for my wife. I was hoping for a North or Middle fork Flathead trip at some point during the week, but levels were just too high to put her on the river. We also ended up at spotted bear for a day. The South Fork was cranking. It was pretty impressive watching whole trees coming down the river.
- You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Our Community Posts are Moderated
Backpacking Light community posts are moderated and here to foster helpful and positive discussions about lightweight backpacking. Please be mindful of our values and boundaries and review our Community Guidelines prior to posting.