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Home Forums Campfire Hiking Partners / Group Trips 2022 Bob Open

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  • #3751139
    Rob
    BPL Member

    @alpine_sailor

    Locale: Missoula

    The Open for me is the highlight of my outdoor adventure year. It is the thing I’ve been  unconsciously working towards since I discovered the magic of moving through complex terrain, combining all the necessary skills that give one Mountain Sense. It is a unique opportunity to rise to a true challenge that is only made possible by the participation of other like minded characters. I try hard in most mountain missions, but I am able access a deeper level of try-hard during an Open. The various thru hikes, river trips, and climbing expeditions I have done, or at least attempted, have created similar conditions, but the Open has an additional element that separates itself from other efforts. I am struggling to define that element here, but it probably has something to do with both the collaboration with fellow participants and the pseudo-competition factor. Whatever it is, I fucking love it.

     

    This year was no different. For me, the individual components of my route did not singularly max me out. The passes I climbed were modest on good snow, the rivers I floated didn’t freak me out, and the weather didn’t give me many reasons to complain. The crux factor for me was the length of trip, both in distance and time. These days my dad-bod is coming along nicely and I struggle to find the time to exercise and adventure as much as I’d like. However, I broke my endurance bone a long time ago and can still do a lot off the couch. Simply knowing what a 30 mile day actually is makes it easier to repeat. But charging hard for 170 miles over 4 days is something else. There’s a heavy tax on your mind and body; one that off-the-couch-cash is  insufficient to pay, at least for me. The length of this trip really jacked me up.

     

    The first day gave me a lot of pause about what was possible. My original plan was to tag the checkpoint using a standard approach -> Get to NF-Sun > Float to the take out above the big whitewater > mash miles to Benchmark > climb Stadler > float Danaher to the checkpoint. This much I was able to do. I  didn’t want to repeat the approach I took South when traveling back North so I came up with a route that included some extra credit -> float SF-FH > climb White River Pass > float WF-Sun to SF-Sun > mash miles up NF-Sun valley > climb Route Ck Pass > take Clary Coulee back to Blackleaf. I think it added 6 miles, a proper alpine pass, and a lot more time over 6000’. This all seemed impossible once I failed to complete my objective for Day 1; finishing the float of NF-Sun before dark. It polluted my mind with doubt and I woke up on Day 2 feeling like I had no choice but to alter my route. If I actually had the strength of mind I sometimes think I do, I would have stuck to this plan. Knowing what I know now, I am confident it was doable.

     

    Fortunately, or unfortunately if I judge myself as negatively as possible, there was an alternative option this year. I decided to go with my original-original route. I, like most, had my suspicions before the ending was announced that we would finish at the Rattlesnake TH. The route I eventually completed was that plan -> ascend Young’s from the D-Y Jct > climb Pyramid Pass > road walk to the Clearwater put-in just south of Seeley Lake > CW Float > BF float > CF float > climb Jumbo Saddle > finish at Rattlesnake TH.

     

    Despite any negatively expressed above, I am super psyched on this route. I am currently writing this at the Blackleaf TH, where I have returned a week later to retrieve my truck. This place feels very far from Missoula and its extremely satisfying to know I traveled from here all the way the there. The float on NF-Sun was engaging and bit pushy-er than last years Open. The gauge data is saying flows were essentially the same (1500) so I’m not sure why this year felt different other than the river dramatically spiked the day of the float. There were less than 5 mandatory portages. I had also never explored Danaher or Youngs, and was totally blown away by both, particularly Youngs. That drainage, throughout its relentless distance, never stopped keeping me engaged. I don’t think I’ve been taken with a drainage so much since I walked up Silvertip a few years ago. I also have to imagine I am only one of a few weirdos that have hiked a boat up Youngs instead of down. The boat however proved essential because of big, mandatory fords. Sometime soon I hope to reverse course.

     

    The Clearwater was also completely new to me. Despite its front-country nature and being regularly interrupted by infuriating long lakes, it is one of the most beautiful rivers I have ever floated. It maintained a wildness outside the developed lakes, but flat water definitely sucked. Salmon Lake in particular was a huge pain in the ass. I think it took me 2 hours to paddle it. The only thing that kept me moderately sane was I could measure my speed and saw that maintaining 4mph was possible, albeit totally exhausting. Fortunately there was no wind to slow me to a crawl. The float of the Blackfoot had its exciting moments, but it was mostly a slog. I love that river, but I was hating it once I hit the 6 hour mark in the boat. My hands were swollen and blistered and my legs were seizing up after going from non-stop motion to non-stop nothing. In total, I was in the boat for almost 11 hours.

     

    If the route hadn’t taken me to Missoula (my hometown), I don’t think the long float on Day 4 would have added much to the overall trip. There is a tangible change in the character of the event once you leave the Bob Complex. I don’t think I would advocate for this in the future. I also don’t think I would support the idea of having two route choices. Not only does it divide people into camps, which takes away some of the camaraderie, but it allowed me to bail on my initial objective. I think eliminating any option for an alternative helps maintain the secret sauce of the Open. I don’t want to see it devolve into something where everyone is doing their own thing. I do however like the idea of a checkpoint, so long as it doesn’t loop you back to the start. This of course is just my opinion and I would be very interested to hear what y’all think.

     

    Here’s some other random takeaways:

    *I brought a stove for the first time and feel like that was a game changer. It obviously allowed me to carry lightweight meals and was a huge morale boost, but it also allowed me eat more. I tend to hate whatever food I have for the first two days and hot meals allowed me to eat the calories I needed.

    *I continued my habit of not treating water. So far this hasn’t bitten me in the ass, and I imagine I’ll change strategy once it does, but for now it allows to quickly hydrate and save a little weight. I only carried a 500ml flask.

    *I lost one of the shafts of my paddle when descending into the Teton. I carry a ULA compression bag, and slide my broken-down paddle behind the dry bag and compress it all together.  After climbing to the top of Blackleaf Pass, I got excited and jogged down some of descent. I think this loosened some of the compression in my pack. The trail then disappeared and the hike became a bushwhack in the creek bottom, which involved some serious willow/alder bashing. It was here that my shaft slid out from my pack and silently fell to the ground amongst all the brush. LUCKILY, I stopped to de-layer about 10 minutes after the worst of the brush and noticed the missing item. I started to panic because I figured there was no way to accurately retrace my steps. I then did one smart thing and one dumb thing. Before heading back up, I turned the tracking feature on in my GAIA app to ensure I wouldn’t search the same place twice. I then proceeded to frantically run up the drainage to desperately search, which resulted in me not actually seeing anything. It seemed impossible to repeat my route down, but I eventually calmed down, took a breath, turned off my brain, and tried to trust that my legs would search out the same path of least resistance that they identified on the way down. This eventually led me to thickest alder/willow patch and it was there I found my shaft. Holy-fucking-shit.

    *I was surprised how scared/nervous/anxious I was at times. Although I was fortunate enough to have some great company for sections of the route, some of the solo sections creeped me out in ways that surprised me. I think this has something to do with maturity and, dare I say, wisdom. The more experiences I have in the mountains, the more I understand how things can go wrong. And now that I’m a Dad, there is an extra degree of concern that I might make a stupid mistake and cause some real problems for my family. I have a feeling this will only get worse and it makes me want to do future Opens with a partner.

    *I feel like I’m the only one that doesn’t take the time to build a fire. It seems like a waste of time and energy but y’all seem pretty keen on it. Other than trying to warm up in a life threatening situation, why is a fire worth it?

    *I brought a drysuit again and continue to think that’s a good idea. I know it’s heavy and bulky, but I feel like avoiding the cold ensures I paddle with appropriate aggression. In times past, I’ve attempted to avoid areas of the river that might belch a wave in my face and that has lead to poor line choices. I want my decisions to be guided by what it best to safely descend the river, not what will keep me dry. I’d be curious to hear what lighter alternatives to a drysuit y’all have had good results with.

    *I tend to have some serious chaffing problems on hikes like this, specifically in the gooch zone. This year I tried to finally address the issue by wearing some SAXX briefs with the hammock under some running shorts with built in compression tights. I then liberally used some butt grease as needed and that seemed to more or less do the trick. Pretty happy with the results even if it added a little weight and was kinda gross.

     

    One final note > I wanted to again thank y’all for your participation. Without you, this would have just been another Bob trip. With you, this was a peak experience. I am extremely grateful.

     

    -R

     

     

     

    #3751142
    Mike M
    BPL Member

    @mtwarden

    Locale: Montana

    If the route hadn’t taken me to Missoula (my hometown), I don’t think the long float on Day 4 would have added much to the overall trip. There is a tangible change in the character of the event once you leave the Bob Complex. I don’t think I would advocate for this in the future. I also don’t think I would support the idea of having two route choices. Not only does it divide people into camps, which takes away some of the camaraderie, but it allowed me to bail on my initial objective. I think eliminating any option for an alternative helps maintain the secret sauce of the Open. I don’t want to see it devolve into something where everyone is doing their own thing. I do however like the idea of a checkpoint, so long as it doesn’t loop you back to the start. This of course is just my opinion and I would be very interested to hear what y’all think.

    My thoughts.  I also don’t really care for a two (or three) option event.  Not overly excited about an out and back either.

    My preference would be going back to what I consider was a “normal” Open- a point to point that is in the 100 mile range (not straight line 100 miles, a 100 mile route).  Something that with a lot of effort can be finished in 3-ish days.

    Trailhead to trailhead (or campground to trailhead, trailhead to campground)- eliminate road miles as much as possible.

    I think based from the earlier feedback, the announcement should include the start and finish.  Helps out of state folks plan better as far as what airlines to use and when and where they should book their departure/arrival.

    It also gives everyone more time to plan routes, bail options and other contingencies- including spouses/friends picking folks up.

    I have no problems whatsoever repeating past starting/finish points or taking a past event and doing it in reverse.  As we all know simply changing the direction, changes everything.

    Oh, on most Opens we never did do much in the way of fires; this Open, with 1.5 days of straight precipitation, changed that :)

    #3751147
    Anders N.
    Spectator

    @andersn

    2022 Trip Report:

    Last year, I posted on the BPL forum that I was a new arrival to Helena, had minimal backpacking experience and no packrafting experience, but, nevertheless, had borrowed a boat and was hoping to participate in the Bob Open and—due to a suspicion that I was well in over my head—was looking for someone with a bit more experience who might be willing to partner up for some or all of the course.  Against all expectation, someone responded: Will generously agreeing to roll the dice on teaming up with such a complete unknown quantity.  We both had plenty of reason to wonder how much of a liability I might be in the Bob.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that, with no major hiccups and no difficulty covering mileage in the desired time-frame, our paces easily meshed and we reached the finish via an interesting route in a manner that felt like a real success.  With the thrill of seeing a big piece of wild country in a way that tested my physical and mental abilities to such an extent, I knew I would be back for more in 2022.

    I was excited when Will suggested over the winter that we team up again for 2022, and we began planning our route.  As we had opted for a more northerly start point—West Fork of the Teton trailhead—in 2021, it was clear that a 2022 Missoula finish would involve a route strikingly similar to that we had used last year, so we settled on the Blackleaf loop.  Stretching a map across a Helena bar on Thursday night before the event, Will suggested that the route was looking quite lengthy, and I probably shouldn’t plan on being back any earlier than Tuesday pm.  I didn’t give it much thought, given how quickly the miles had passed in 2021.  If we’re running low on time, I reasoned, we can just break into an easy trot for a bit and make it up, which had worked well enough on the descent from the Scapegoat to the Dry Fork in 2021.  After having completed the 2021 event with relatively little struggle, I was apparently carrying the lightly-held assumption that whatever baseline physical capabilities I happened to have would be sufficient to have a successful Open, without engaging in anything so onerous as physical preparation.  I needed that assumption to be true: I had been kept from most physical activity since a  March ski tour on Marias Pass in which I had inadvertently tested the non-releasable nature of old school three-pin tele bindings (pain is the body’s way of telling me to improve my ski technique, I concluded). Though I hadn’t heard anything back yet from the previous day’s x-ray examining the persistent pain and swelling in the resulting ankle protrusion, I confidently told Will that, presumably, if anything bad had popped up on the imaging, someone would have called me to let me know by now.

    Will had flown into Helena Thursday night, so on Friday I suggested that, given the late spring here in Montana, he try to find tail extenders for our showshoes while I was at the office.  Will later informed me via text that the shop in town, perhaps suspecting what we had in mind, had no interest in entrusting us with their nice MSR extenders, which were apparently available for purchase only.  I later saw I had missed a text from Will saying that he couldn’t find his way back to my place from the shop.  First navigational error of the trip, we joked.

    At Blackleaf on Friday night, it was fun to listen to stories being swapped among veteran Bob participants, a part of the event that I had missed in 2021 due to our extra-credit start point.  As I was still without a packraft of my own, Tom had kindly agreed to lend me his boat for the event.  After a windy night near the trailhead and one last hearty breakfast, Tom provided some brief event instructions (something like: “don’t do anything too stupid, and don’t die”) and we were on our merry way.  The canyon was a spectacular piece of the Rocky Mountain Front that I had never seen before, and provided a very scenic start to the trip.  Right away, we climbed out of the canyon and up a pass, taking in some impressive views of the gap in the canyon back into the plains behind us, before dropping into the Teton drainage.  At the bottom, we failed to notice the trail re-route higher along the bank, and instead meandered our way through thick brush a long the stream bed, which temporarily cost Rob the possession of a paddle-shaft that had been strapped to the outside of his pack.  Upon arriving at the West Fork of the Teton trailhead, I stopped to make use of a last pit-toilet while Rob caught up to his with his miraculously-retrieved paddle shaft, and the four of us (Will, Kyle, Rob, and I) began the trek up the West Fork.  This was familiar ground after last year, and Will and I managed to avoid repeating 2021’s first navigational error of missing the turn south to Nesbit.

    After turning south, we stopped at the creek crossing to refill water and chat with an older gentleman (and his dogs), who warned us of a number of strainers on the North Fork of the Sun.  We thanked him and began approaching Nesbit Pass.  Aware that the first day of the trip would otherwise be very similar to the start of 2021’s route, Will and I decided to turn west and climb over the Washboard Reef and drop down to the North Fork Sun higher up, rather than continuing south over Nesbit Pass as we had last year.  We wished Kyle and Rob well and began the climb.  According to the cartogophers at National Geographic, there is a trail here, but, as expected, there was nothing that could be recognized as such through the years of uncleared burned blowdown on the climb.  We put on snowshoes, but the snow was surprisingly firm given the recent warming and we made the climb without too much difficulty.  Though there were big recent slides (including one that had obviously been triggered by what must have been a house-sized cornice fall) to either side of us, we were able to easily find an unexposed route.  We made the (windy) summit of Washboard Reef and were treated to some fantastic views of a stark, desolate, and mountainous landscape.  We began the descent once again feeling quite lucky to be on firm snow that kept us above most of the deadfall.

    As we dropped down the gully into the start of Wrong Creek, we both had the feeling that we had just pulled a fast one on the Bob: a little extra off-trail climbing had gotten us a great view in the alpine, a mellow descent, and a route to a higher river put-in.  Then we turned the corner.  The landscape before us was what a pile of tumbled match-sticks must resemble to an ant.  With no more snow to aid our cause, we tried the left side of the drainage, then the right, then the far right, all to no avail.  Progress slowed to a crawl; a crawl that took place on, below, or between tree trunks.  Without a suitably-sized pack, I had ample items (PFD, snowshoes, paddles, boat) attached to the outside of my pack to serve as velcro.  After an hour or so, there was little indication that we had made forward progress, other than some sticks in my shirt that appeared to have come from a tree slightly behind me.  We still occasionally shouted for bears—it might have been primarily out of hope that one would come and mercifully end our suffering—then gave even that up as clearly nothing bigger than a squirrel had attempted to cross this landscape in years.  We secretly hoped that the descent off of Nesbit Pass had been every bit as heinous; “maybe this route is no worse than any other,” we thought.  At long last we climbed out of the carnage, which evoked images from T.S. Elliot’s “The Wasteland,” and met a recognizable trail heading through a stand of living trees.  Clearly, whatever wind event had occurred had been a significant one, as even a number of the green trees had been uprooted across the trail.  Nonetheless, we made real progress once again as we resumed our descent towards the North Fork of the Sun.

    In addition to watching much of the afternoon disappear in that mile, I had noticed another ominous fact: I was already tired, more tired than I should be less than a day in.  Though I had indulged myself on the assistance of trekking poles this year, I struggled to climb over deadfall and didn’t always land where I intended on the other side—I promptly smacked my kneecap into a sharp stump, leading to immediate and persistent swelling.  I shrugged the matter off to a slow start, as I tried not to notice that I was having to push myself to match Will’s pace.

    We enjoyed a pleasant walk down to the North Fork of the Sun at Wrong Creek and made our boat transition.  I was impressed to discover how truly watertight the internal storage in Tom’s boat was, rendering my thick vinyl drybags completely unnecessary.  (My whitewater kayak is apparently made with special water-permeable plastic that ensures that any stored items, and my bottom-half, sit in sloshing water at all times.) By now, the sun was setting, and we knew we were far behind our intended schedule of being finished with the 25 mile float before us by the end of day.  We decided to see how far we could get, and even considered paddling by headlamp.  The river seemed much higher than it was in last year’s event, and the higher put-in gave us some more sporty paddling, portages, and wood-dodging moves, one of which involved me hastily squeezing under a set of logs in a tight drop by just enough room that my PFD took a significant hit on the back, but my tucked head and shoulders were unscathed (Will’s significantly more minimalist flotation device led to no such problems).  After stopping at last year’s put-in so I could look for a missing water bottle and filter from the 2021 event, we continued on in the dusk, enjoying fast water, abundant waterfowl and ungulate viewing, and a pleasant evening. After the equally-abundant strainer dodging, we decided against a night-float, knowing we still had about 20 miles of floating ahead of us to the takeout.  We dried out items in front of a nice beach fire (the existence of which must be credited to Will— my fire-starting abilities remain a subject of praise and amazement by Smoky the Bear and Asbestos International) over which we cooked some tasty pasta and made some tea (thanks to my girlfriend, Krista, who had kindly donated teabags to my foodbag that morning).

    The next morning, feeling much less bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we took our time getting up and making a hot breakfast, not getting back on the river until well after 7 AM after re-packing and –inflating our boats.  The river had come down significantly overnight, and we moved along much slower.  Floating through the game range, we were able to get close to plenty of elk and deer, including one soaking-wet mule deer standing in an eddy, apparently after having recently swum the river.  Amazingly, it appeared to be in no rush to get out of the shoulder-deep water, and complacently stood watching Will and I pass by.  If I, for some reason, found myself swimming the Sun River that May morning, I knew I would be exiting that watercourse in a much more hasty fashion.

    We reached the takeout, attempting to divine a more expedient and direct location to leave the river than we had last year, but ultimately failing to do so.  Amazingly, the sun came out just as we got to shore, and blessed us with some direct radiation with which to dry our gear as we began the fiddle-and-fidget procedures of metamorphosing  from people-on-boats to boats-on-people.  We got underway sometime between 11:30 and noon, aware that we were about ten hours behind last-year’s progress, and doing little to make up time on this year’s vague schedule, which would most likely require us to pass the Youngs/Danaher checkpoint and reach the confluence of the SF Flathead and White River by the end of the day.  That would give us two days to climb back over the Divide at White River pass (with some likely finagling over Haystack mountain to avoid avalanche hazards), down the West Fork South Fork Sun, and work our way back up the North Fork Sun valley, over Nesbit (not Washboard Reef!), to Blackleaf by Tuesday evening.  We acknowledged that completing the route in the allotted time was looking to be an increasingly tall order, and began talking about a secondary option of exiting the Bob with a SF Flathead float to Spotted Bear, perhaps with a side trip up to White River Pass.  Nevertheless, we felt our original route might still be possible if we had a successful afternoon.

    We walked out of the North Fork drainage and into the South Fork valley for what must have been some of the most pleasant and scenic walking miles of the trip.  While moving out from Vermont for a job in Helena  less than two years ago, these were exactly the sort of landscapes I had imagined awaiting me in Montana as my rusty little truck shuddered in the wind, driving through endless plains.  We walked through Pretty Prairie, where we were greeted by some mules, contentedly grazing after having presumably finished their own day of carrying packs through the Bob.

    As we approached the West Fork confluence, I was again noticing that my legs were not carrying me as I expected, and I seemed to be digging deeper and deeper just to match Will’s pace.  For a couple years after high school, I had raced overseas as a low-level professional endurance athlete.  The experience had taught me that, even when the legs aren’t performing as hoped for, you can still get the job done with a bit of mental fortitude.  The lesson apparently stuck around a lot longer than the commensurate fitness necessary to back it up, and I put my head down and carried on.  By the time we reached Benchmark, I knew that the tank was running out, and I reluctantly told  Will that I was not going to be able to keep the current pace, and likely wouldn’t make the climb over Stadler that night.  I suggested he continue on with his planned itenerary and we part ways, but he decided to stick together for the time being and kindly dialed back the pace a bit.  Nonetheless, at around 4:30 PM, as we reached the point where our route would take us away from the SF Sun and up to Stadler Pass, the lights had clearly gone out and I was no longer a fully-functioning human.  I stumbled onto a gravel-bar and managed to lower my pack off my cramping back and shoulders.  I can’t recall much of what followed through the brain fog, but Will later described coming back from collecting firewood to discover me still standing, shivering but otherwise frozen in place, staring with complete perplexity at an open drybag in my hands.  Unable to answer basic questions, I must have appeared to be suffering from a partial stroke, shock, or hypothermia.   I subsequently curled up under a tree, loosely draped my sleeping bag over my body, shoes still on, and shivered in the rain.  Will set up a shelter and coaxed me over to it, where I came in and out of fitful sleep for several hours before awakening, physically exhausted but once again fully alert and oriented.

    Sitting around the campfire, I had no explanation for what had just happened.  I didn’t appear to be sick and was seemingly not suffering from some strange Montana strain of malaria.  The only conclusion I could draw was that I had unwittingly showed up without the expected or necessary degree of fitness, had dug deep all day in an attempt to match Will’s pace regardless, and had persisted in doing so until I had completely cracked myself.  It didn’t make much sense: I hadn’t trained or otherwise prepared myself for last year’s event either, and hadn’t come close to reaching my limit then.  Ah well—as a Belgian coach used to admonish, some days you are the hammer, some days you are the nail.  Hammer on, Bob.

    Either way, it was clear that a Tuesday Blackleaf finish was no longer an option for me and, due to his decision to stick around and keep an eye on me that afternoon, Will too.  The remaining question was whether I could get myself over Stadler and down to the SF Flathead the next day with enough of my wits still about me to manage the 45 mile paddle to Spotted Bear.  I suggested that I could, though I didn’t have much confidence in any of my predictions at this point.  We used Will’s InReach to send Krista our new plan, hopeful that she or someone she knew would be willing to make the long drive to Spotted Bear sometime before Tuesday’s work day to pick us up.  The previous day, I had shared some haughty philosophical skepticism about carrying a device capable of sending text messages into the wilderness, but Will graciously declined to remind me of these fully-abandoned sentiments now.

    The next morning I woke up feeling much better. Will agreed to sleep in a bit and give me a head start, so I could climb Stadler at my own pace and hopefully avoid a repeat of the previous afternoon.  I set out a little after 6, and had a pleasant walk up to the pass, which, while having a modest amount of blow-down to be navigated, was clearly a well-maintained trail.  After the previous night’s precipitation, the snow was soft enough at that point to need snowshoes, but nothing problematic.  After I lost the trail, I followed tracks left by Rob, Kyle, and a directionally-savvy moose through the freshly-falling snow over the summit and down the other side.  After being startled by the prehistoric sound of a pair of sandhill cranes reacting to my arrival, I looked back to see Will catching up to me in the meadows just before we reached the put-in to Danaher Creek.  With a long float ahead of us, and unsure of our plan after we reached Spotted Bear, we did a fairly quick transition and began paddling.  Danaher was high and fast, and loads of fun.  After we hit the confluence with Youngs Creek, the start of South Fork proper, we hit a stiff headwind and progress slowed.  However, the river picked up volume and soon we were fairly flying.  After some painfully slow foot miles that weekend, it was gratifying to watch the miles effortlessly tick by.  Despite the arrival of a persistent rain, the cloud ceiling remained high enough to take in fantastic views of the river valley and surrounding peaks.  As while floating the North Fork of the Sun, I was amazed at the ability to float along a fast-moving bit of water while also taking in expansive views of green river valleys with snow-covered peaks rising out of the timber beyond—quite the difference from the densely forested rivers in low-lying terrain of Maine and Quebec or the steep mossy bedrock of Vermont creeks where I learned to paddle.

    Eventually, we reached the Meadow Creek takeout, which is marked by a sign—ironically, only readable from the river after one has missed the final eddy—warning of certain doom to those who continue on into the downstream gorge.  By now, the cold rain, wind, and cloud cover had gotten us both quite chilled, and we were glad for a chance to move our legs and warm up. With a wet drysuit and boat, my pack was as heavy as it had been all trip, notwithstanding the diminished food and fuel weight.  Still, watching Will peel off the double-layered, but very wet, rain-gear, I was glad to have opted for a drysuit and neoprene mitts.  The final few miles walking to the trailhead as dusk gathered were pleasant as we warmed up and enjoyed some views of the constricting river below us.  As the river became a steep narrow gorge, we took the footbridge across and reached the Meadow Creek Trailhead, the end of our Bob traverse.

    At somewhere around 100 miles, with two lengthy and beautiful river floats and three passes, I felt like the trip was well worth the effort.  Still, I felt disappointed that my body had let me down in such a major way on Sunday and that we hadn’t completed the route, especially since it meant that Will, in deciding to stick with me, also abandoned his own chances for a finish.

    Before too long, Krista arrived, bearing pizza and snacks.  We thanked her profusely and assured her that we would do the driving on the return journey so that she—having work the next morning—could sleep on the way back to Columbia Falls.  She wisely suggested that she would drive past the dicey drop-off sections of the road, by which point Will and I had promptly fallen soundly asleep and did not awaken until we arrived at her place in Columbia Falls.

    Though our Bob Open had ended, our adventure had not.  On her way to work the next morning, Krista dropped us off at a Hungry Horse diner where, after filling up on biscuits and gravy, we began attempting to hitch our way back to Blackleaf.  Though Krista gave us a phone number of a friend she thought we might be able to arrange a shuttle with, I was excited by the prospect of relying on good luck, karma, and open hearts and car seats to close the circle to Blackleaf that my legs had failed to complete, with minimal excess fossil fuel consumption.  My idealism didn’t last long.  Though a raft company employee got us swiftly to West Glacier, and a mason with an appreciation for backpacking subsequently  took us over the pass to the route 89 junction (“you guys sure smell like you’ve been out for a while,” he informed us), our luck then ran out.  At the intersection of routes 89 and 2, Will and I took turns begging passing motorists with pleading eyes and our break-down paddles while the other leaned against the lone road sign and rested.  Eventually, having given up on the purist approach, we broke began calling random taverns and garages along the Front, soliciting individuals willing (and preferably sober enough) to drive us to Dupuyer for some cash.  Nothing.  I was sunburnt, had eaten the last of my cheese and granola bars, was running out of water, and knew we were facing the unpleasant prospect of hiking four miles back into Browning to search for provisions and a new game plan.

    To our great relief, a rancher stopped and agreed to take us to Dupuyer.  Along the way, we convinced him to drive us “a few miles” off the highway up to Blackleaf.  He kindly did so and refused our offers to buy him some gasoline.  At long last, we arrived back at the truck, about when we had initially expected to (Tuesday evening), though certainly not by the hoped-for route or method.  I enjoyed a beer and some apples left in the truck, though not necessarily in a celebratory fashion.  The truck started up and off we went.

    As it turned out, the adventure was not quite over.  Only a couple miles down the the freshly-graded gravel out of the Blackleaf canyon, I got a flat, or, rather, shredded, rear tire.  Upon attempting to remove the rusted spare from below the bed of the truck, I recalled that, as when I had last attempted this on another old Tacoma many years ago, (a) the mechanism for de-attaching the spare from the vehicle was neither obvious nor intuitive and (b) I had forgotten whatever method I had eventually discovered on that prior occasion.  With no cell service, low on water, and still a significant distance from pavement, this once again looked like it was shaping up to be something of a pickle.  Fortunately, a brief shift in the wind allowed for enough service on a smartphone to read one cryptic internet message-board advice line: “above the license plate,” which was a sufficient clue to allow us to solve the puzzle and unlock the spare just as an 80-year-old rancher arrived with truck full of tools, encouragement, and good story-telling with which to assist in the remainder of the process.  In response to his questioning, we repeatedly assured him that our current barefoot state was due merely to blisters and hotspots and that we had not attempted to traverse the  Bob shoeless. He seemed to suspect that we might be a bit unhinged, all the same.  With another slow leak and a less-than-perfect spare, we limped back to Helena.

    Though I’m not a highly-experienced backpacker, this event has been a perfect way to explore the wild country, river-courses, and mountain ranges that exist nearly in my Helena backyard, while meeting some fantastic people.  After having a remarkably problem-free initial go in 2021, I am glad to have had a humbling experience in 2022 to round out my perspective and ensure I continue to appreciate the Bob as the rugged and inspiring place that it is.  I feel grateful for so much in this year’s event, including the new ground and river mileage I was able to explore, the folks I met or re-met at the start, and another weekend of chatting on about life’s Questions with Will.  A big thank you is also due to Krista for making the night drive to/from Spotted Bear, Will for keeping an eye on me while I hallucinated under a tree, Tom for loaning me his packraft, the wildlife that (willingly or otherwise) briefly shared their home as we passed through, and the kind folks who gave us rides back around to Blackleaf and came to offer assistance during automotive trouble.  And, begrudgingly, to Will’s InReach.

    #3751168
    Mike M
    BPL Member

    @mtwarden

    Locale: Montana

    Anders- sounds like a real suffer fest, which will be all to familiar to almost all of us! :)

    Progress slowed to a crawl; a crawl that took place on, below, or between tree trunks.  Without a suitably-sized pack, I had ample items (PFD, snowshoes, paddles, boat) attached to the outside of my pack to serve as velcro.  After an hour or so, there was little indication that we had made forward progress, other than some sticks in my shirt that appeared to have come from a tree slightly behind me.  We still occasionally shouted for bears—it might have been primarily out of hope that one would come and mercifully end our suffering—then gave even that up as clearly nothing bigger than a squirrel had attempted to cross this landscape in years. 

    Nothing more brutal, tiring and humbling that I’ve found.

    Thanks for posting!

    #3751200
    David Chenault
    BPL Member

    @davec

    Locale: Queen City, MT

    I appreciate everyone taking the time to write and record their experiences.  Though it was the right choice, I am bummed I was not out there this year.

    I also want to say very plainly that I hear the feedback about the route.  I got far too clever with things this year, and will try very hard to not repeat that in the future.

    #3751519
    Kyle P
    BPL Member

    @pucko25

    Locale: Missoula

    Rob, great trip report. Your route definitely earned extra credit, which is worth one hour and one minute.

    Anders: Thanks for the write up. Loved reading it. I laughed, I cried, and I also slammed my knee into some blowdown. I’m envious you had the opportunity to float the South Fork of the Flathead. Just the best. Any pictures from the trip?

    Rob: I started a fire because I swam the North Fork of the Sun and was feeling like I needed a good thaw out. I also like to practice fire starting when it’s a nice-to-have instead of a must-have.

    Route: I might be in the minority here, but I was pretty inspired by both routes this year. Of course, Missoula is home so there was that. But the checkpoint meant an all-you-can-eat wilderness trip looping passes and rivers that equated to an epic adventure. Granted, retracing even the Blackleaf portion of the trip would have been pretty “soul crushing” as you said, Rob. In the future, I wouldn’t mind a checkpoint or multiple options. Especially if the crowd gets a little bit.

    Road walking sucks, but sometimes it makes the route options less obvious. Years when people come up and over different passes over the swan are always my favorite trip reports to read.

    MMC, would love to hear about the route you guys wound up taking.

    #3751570
    Tom M
    BPL Member

    @twofeathers

    Locale: Kalispell

    The 2023 Open will start at 0800 MDT, Saturday May 27th, at the Owl Creek TH on Holland Lake, and finish at the obelisk at Marias Pass.

    That was a bit unexpected.

    #3751571
    Josh J
    BPL Member

    @uahiker

    Thanks Tom!!

    WOW! didn’t expect that either, Dave is on top of it and definitely taking feedback to heart, allowing plenty of time for out of towners and everyone to plan!!

    THANKS DAVE!!!!

    #3751574
    Mike M
    BPL Member

    @mtwarden

    Locale: Montana

    The 2023 Open will start at 0800 MDT, Saturday May 27th, at the Owl Creek TH on Holland Lake, and finish at the obelisk at Marias Pass.

    Sweet!

    #3751640
    MMC
    BPL Member

    @mmc

    Kyle. My trip report will come out like our exit from the Bob…last.  I’m working on completing it, but I write like Jack Torrence hunched over a typewriter in the Overlook Hotel.

     

    Glad to see Dave put out a tradition route with plenty of time to plan.  Now I don’t have to keep refreshing the link to his web page twice a day for the next five months.

    #3751900
    MMC
    BPL Member

    @mmc

    If you’re interested, you can read the trip report for Tex’s and my shot at the Bob Open this year, at the link below.

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-eEJQHu5P5QS7EdX9J-cdS7yXiF42Kr4tKEQfONcCwk/edit?usp=sharing

    As Dave already posted the details for the ‘23 Bob Open, I hope I’ll be able to take a stab at it again next year. I’ll certainly start the tallying favors and begging my wife for a pass, as soon as possible. I learned about the Bob Open when I head an interview with Durston in 2020 (so blame him if more and more people start showing up). I’ve been fascinated with it ever since. Like most of us, I’m sure, I do a better job of keeping myself in shape when I have an event to train for. The Open has become the reason I hike up the Wasatch front with 45 pounds of rocks in my backpack or try to clock a few miles on the trail each day before the sun is fully up. It’s probably also the reason my dog isn’t morbidly obese and chewing the legs off of my dinner table (he accompanies me for all of my local training). I’m also, a horrible cheapskate and have become more and more jaded by the price and hype surrounding other races and events. I can’t bring myself to spend $200 on a bib for an ultra or OCR event, nor do I want to be around a bunch of aspiring instagram celebrities or worry about picking up my medal and t-shirt. I’d rather meet up with a dozen people at a restaurant and/or a trailhead, trade a few stories and strategies, then part for our own self-designed journeys together. I was also a little surprised that the other, more experienced and successful, participants had the least bit of interest in me. As Tex and I were the last ‘22 Open participants to exit the Bob, I was surprised to see that some of the other folks involved had checked in on us. I’m sure most of their motivation was to avoid being implicated for reckless endangerment or negligent homicide, if we ended up disappearing without a trace (don’t worry, although we were slow, we have decades of wilderness experience, first aid and trauma training, and a good ’ole Garmin InReach, in case the feces ever hit the oscillating fan). Nonetheless, it was nice that they checked in.

    In short, I hope to see all of the participants again and that my trip report either provides entertainment or the cure for aggressive insomnia.

    #3751901
    Mike M
    BPL Member

    @mtwarden

    Locale: Montana

    A “big time” indeed- good job you guys!

    It’s hard to describe accurately for folks that haven’t been through the remote parts of the Bob in May; one of those things you just have to experience for yourself- which sounds like you guys did in spades

    I’ve wondered about Windfall -> Lange, sounds like my instincts were correct :)

     

    #3751936
    Rob
    BPL Member

    @alpine_sailor

    Locale: Missoula

    Excellent write up MMC. Thanks for sharing and see you next year

    #3751983
    Anders N.
    Spectator

    @andersn

    Thanks Kyle, I unfortunately didn’t get many photos, but here are a few. 

    #3751991
    Kyle P
    BPL Member

    @pucko25

    Locale: Missoula

    MMC: Great stuff. I just don’t believe the North Fork Sun gauges this year. Seems like that thing was moving when we were on it and sounds like you had a similar experience.

    Anders: Very cool photos. Thanks for taking that one looking down on Wrong Creek. I don’t think that’s a route/view I will ever see :)

     

    #3752048
    MMC
    BPL Member

    @mmc

    Rob and Mike, thanks. I hope I can make it out again next year.

     

    Kyle, agreed the gauge levels were a bit deceptive. The Sun was moving a little too fast for us.

     

    Anders, great photos. The scenery shots were great, but the photo of waiting for a hitch/ride is the epitome of the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Good on you and Will for having a bonus adventure.

    #3754294
    Sam
    BPL Member

    @10thmtn

    Howdy folks, greenhorn here. Heard about the BMWO for the first time last night, and I’m all in. I’ve got a similar trip planned in CO later this year, but nowhere close to this scale/pace.

    Wondering where the best source of information might be, if there’s a 2023 forum opened up anywhere yet. Also got some questions about general tactics/strategies for navigation and route finding. Anybody willing to spare a few minutes to answer some questions would be greatly appreciated!

    #3754298
    Mike M
    BPL Member

    @mtwarden

    Locale: Montana

    I’d start with reading all the trip reports; I think the first one was 2012.  There are reports here as well as here (scroll to the bottom)- this will give you a pretty good idea of conditions, how folks chose routes, the good stuff (and the bad stuff) and just plain good reading :)

    https://bedrockandparadox.com/bob-marshall-wilderness-open/

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