May 31, 2018 at 5:43 pm #3539431
Bob Open Trip Report
Day 1: North Fork Blackfoot Trailhead to Basin Creek Cabin (27.7 miles)
After a wet evening, we started hiking on a beautiful cool sunny morning. Really couldn’t have asked for better weather the whole day. I spotted a few morels along the trail within the first 100 yards but decided to leave them be and make some time up to the cabin. The amount of snow that melted off in the 3 weeks prior was incredible. We chatted and then eased into a decent 3 mph pace. I lost a trekking pole basket along the way, which proved to be not nearly as bad as anticipated during snow travel. Scott was having a snack at the cabin so we stopped for a quick chat then carried on up Dry Fork. Trail conditions were excellent, some water here and there but deadfall free and not a ton of mud. We stopped at the Dry Fork divide for lunch and to air out our feet. Scott caught up to us just as we were getting ready to head out. Water conditions deteriorated as we moved down the Danaher. Large portions of the trail were flooded, which made for some interesting travel. Rapid Creek was moving pretty fast and proved to be a calculated ford to avoid getting knocked over. We got to the cabin at Basin Creek to find Dave relaxing on the porch. Tyler and Jon had just left 5 minutes prior and camped a ways up toward Stadler. After starting to cook dinner we decided to just camp around the cabin for the evening.
Day 2: Basin Creek Cabin to Pretty Prairie (25.3 miles)
We woke to more great weather. Our crew plus Dave and Scott hit the trail up to Stadler. Trail conditions remained good, with perhaps a bit more deadfall. The snow level was surprisingly high and the snow condition was quite firm for shoe packing (I didn’t wear my snowshoes once the entire trip). No surprises up and over Stadler, putting us at the bridge near Benchmark around 1 pm. Kevin, Dave and Scott headed toward the trailhead as we moved on up the trail. It took me a mile or so to fight off the urge to turn around and go grab a beer at Kevin’s car. It was pretty warm as we hiked, which slowed at least me down quite a bit. As evening approached we came around a corner to find Tyler and Jon relaxing next to the river. They decided to bail the next day at Gibson and planned on taking the whole day to get there. We continued on to the Pretty Prairie cabin, where we stopped to cook dinner before a little more hiking. We saw some horses in the meadow and heard some hooting and hollering accompanied by some gunshots from what sounded like a party. Sure enough as we approached down the trail we found a pile of 19-20 year olds partying out in the woods. One of the dudes waved us over and we stopped to chat a bit. They offered us to take a break and drink some Miller Lite but once again we fought the temptation and moved on. We camped about 2 miles later near the north end of Pretty Prairie. Tired but feeling pretty well overall.
Day 3: Pretty Prairie to Wrong Creek (24.5 miles)
We continued up the river with a nice cool morning and plentiful sunshine. We had an immediate sketchy crossing of Prairie Creek, with the chosen option a stradle butt-scoot across a downed log. We crossed the bridge near the reservoir and continued up the east side of the Sun. Creek crossings were becoming more frequent the further north we went, with the final crossing of the evening of Route Creek proving to be the limits of what I wanted to do. All day I had a feeling we wouldn’t like what we found if we continued on to Strawberry Creek and made the decision after crossing Route Creek to bail the next day. Mike was suggesting Teton Pass but it was about five miles shorter to head up Washboard Reef and over to West Fork Teton. We had dinner then forded Wrong Creek and made our way to the cabin where we set up camp.
Day 4: Wrong Creek to West Fork Teton Trailhead (13.5 miles)
The trail up Washboard Reef lived up to it’s unmaintained status on the Cairn map. At times it was decently visible and others completely buried in deadfall. We often stopped and looked for cut logs to guide us forward. Luckily we didn’t hit snow until quite a ways up the trail, which remained in good condition for shoe packing. We stopped for lunch at the top of the saddle and found some giant cornices overhanging the entire ridge. The trail had up going straight down a ridge, which we couldn’t immedietly tell if it was cornice free. Andrew walked up the ridge a bit and took some pictures of the ridge in question. Whatever cornice had been there had mostly rounded off. We went one at a time down the ridge to a spot amongst the trees and called out for the next guy. The snow proved perfectly stable and we all got down with no issues. The trail proved to be faint here as well but we made it up to the junction with the Nesbit trail and enjoyed the walk down to the trailhead. Our rides were still out about 30 minutes so we took some time to air out our feet and dry some gear. Andrew’s wife Leah soon arrived with beer and light bulb chicken, with my wife and son following not long after with more beer and change of clothes. Mike jumped in with us and we headed down the highway to Augusta where we stopped for some burgers before headed back home.
Overall another good trip in the Bob. It’s crazy how we’ve now done this 4 years and have had good weather every year. I ended up carrying a lot of stuff I didn’t use (rain gear, snowshoes) but it’s a tough call to leave those things behind. Fail of the trip was my Topo Athletic Terraventures. They were great until day 3 where I noticed the sole starting to delaminate from the upper, not to mention shredding the mesh on the top (which is typical during the Open for me). I sent some pics into customer service and they are replacing the shoes so that’s a win. The inReach proved extremely handy. I have been a bit hesitant to get one but my wife got me (her) one for my birthday. Definitely put her mind at ease. Great job to all participants, such a lovely time of year to be out on the trails. Eagerly looking forward to next year’s route…..May 31, 2018 at 6:34 pm #3539445Mike MBPL Member
Nice write up John! I agree on the inReach, my SPOT was nice- this even nicer. I’ll add that I got knocked down at Pretty Prairie creek- broke a trekking pole and wet up to my neck- it’s not a big creek.
I’ll add a few pics.
the Dry Fork not so dry
yup- a little water to deal with along the Danaher
yes- pepperoni and mushroom
small hobo camp I stumbled upon :)
up and over Stadler
the confluence of the South and West Forks of the Sun
Andrew perfecting the butt scoot
lunch on the North Fork of the Sun
making the miles
Wrong Ck cabin- brand spanking new!
intermittent in Forest Service speak means abandoned :)
to the top of the Reef- a real grind
and the solution
yeah it’s a wee bit steep
these are always the best beers you’ll ever tasteMay 31, 2018 at 8:29 pm #3539462
Nice work guys! Thanks for the write up!
That’s impressive you found morels within a 100 yards. When I was going through all those burn zones in the Sun I figured they must be all around me, but I tried not to look too hard because I didn’t want to find them and have no way to eat them.
I was through the Wrong Creek trail during the BMWO last year, and it is indeed a doozy. I was headed the other direction and I never actually found the trail, so you did better than me. Washboard reef is a beauty though.May 31, 2018 at 8:51 pm #3539473Ryan TuckerBPL Member
Thanks for sharing. Always enjoy reading about this particular adventure.Jun 1, 2018 at 3:58 am #3539555
Great trips everyone! I love the write-ups, it’s cool imagining all our forks coming out of NF Blackfoot. Here’s my trip report. Warning: it’s way way too long. But I wanted to get all my thoughts down in writing and not forget anything. Looking forward to next year!
- This trip was wonderful for the sense of camaraderie. I loved meeting everyone at Trixies and hanging out at the trailhead before starting together. I can’t wait for next year
- I didn’t know I could move this fast in the wilderness. I had my two biggest-mileage days ever on the first two days. The second day was not only by far my biggest mileage day ever, but 10 mph Flathead aside I nearly met my personal record for foot-miles in a day on some difficult terrain. It took me almost 24 straight hours of travel, but still.
- On a deeper level, I have mixed feelings about crossing a landscape this way. It hardly feels like I saw anything, and if I’m being totally honest there’s a part of me that asks myself “what was the point?”. I’ve never felt that way about being in the wilderness before. I really value being able to travel fast, but this trip reinforced t it’s not an end in itself for me.
- I seriously need to cut down on the stupid mistakes. Described below, I made several boneheaded errors. None of them put me in danger, but they could easily have had consequences ranging from late exits to forced bails to minor annoyances. By and large I floated past my mistakes by luck, in one potentially case not even realizing anything had happened until after the trip. But there was nothing inevitable about that.
- I’m usually slow transitioning in and out of my raft, but motivated by Dan’s claims to 15 minute transitions I was able to make the transitions quickly on Sunday night, which was when they counted. This tells me that my usual problem is mental and not technical, and that I can do them much faster if I bring that same sense of urgency.
- I still can’t walk without a limp (extensor tendonitis/tibialis strain), but in general I’m happy with my physical performance. I had 0 knee issues, which felt great 11 months off of an ACL surgery.
- I have no idea how to cut my calorie needs. In his TR Adrian mentioned 3000/day being too much, which Dan also brought and didn’t finish. I brought 4000/day and needed every ounce. I told Dan afterwards that he has plenty of skills that I don’t but which I could imagine the pathway to acquiring, whereas I don’t see any pathway to cutting my caloric needs by 25%. Maybe keto?
DAY 1: Start to Big Salmon – 53 Miles, 8AM-10PM
Day 1 started off fast and easy after a damp night underneath my boat and a morning spent trying to give away all of my gear. I’d held a lot of anxiety about the trip in the week before, but it melted away as soon as we got moving Dan, Adrian, Dave and I were stayed out front together until the cabin, where Dan split off to go east and Adrian pulled ahead. Watching him disappear into the woods he looked strong and fast, and I figured it would be the last time I would see him on the trip.
Dave and I hiked together from the cabin to Danaher meadows, the conversation helping keep my mind off the 15 miles. It was a beautiful hike and I took a ton of pictures. I passed Dave about halfway down the meadows but figured that with my picture-taking it was only a matter of time until he showed up again. The horrendous battery on my old iphone 6 made itself known, and by the time I got around the meadows to where the creek starts to consolidate I was already down to 73%. I turned it off, as the hiking was starting to take more attention across the flooded prairie before rapid creek. Around rapid creek Danaher had jumped its channel, and I lost 10-15 minutes getting through a forest-turned-bog that had completely drowned the trail. Fun stuff, and good practice for Sunday night when I would cover similar terrain in darkness.
I was still feeling good and continued to churn away, but I was getting into a “gotta just get to the put-in” mode, tired of the trail slog and ready to float. I got to Cabin Creek and took the trail down to the river ford. Looking up I saw a thin lodgepole stretched across the river above me, but it didn’t look like something I wanted to balance across so I decided to power through what looked to me like a fairly easy ford of the creek. Although the creek didn’t have a huge amount of water in it (just below chest-high on me) I badly misread its gradient and thus its power, and I got pushed down and swam to some willows on the opposite bank maybe 40 feet downstream. I stood up thinking “not a big deal” until I reached for my map to see how far I had to the put-in. Except for a good deal of water it was empty, and I realized that I had forgotten to zip the map up and the creek had taken it. This would have been dumb enough on its own, but I found out later that the lodgepole I turned down was actually placed as a bridge, and had been cut so it was flat on top. So through a combination of laziness and pig-headedness I had managed to lose my map to a creek with a bridge over it. Great stuff.
Nice views, fast water
I pulled out my phone to check how much further I had to the put in and found that I’d forgotten to actually download the topo maps for the area on Gaia. Without service all I could get was the super-pixelated version, meaning I could sort of tell where there was a stream or a big mountain, but couldn’t read names or contour lines. Luckily I had checked the map near rapid creek and I knew I couldn’t be more than a couple miles from camp creek. I figured I might as well go take a look at the put-in although I wasn’t keen on floating SF flathead at 20k cfs without a map. Amazingly, when I got there I found Adrian just about to set up his boat; he had gotten held up where the Danaher jumped channel and I had made better time than I thought. He seemed open to floating together so I blew up with him and we got on the water around 5 or 530.
<span style=”font-weight: 400;”>Danaher was moving fast and we paddled very cautiously at first, trying to eddy out at nearly every turn to scout it. We only had to portage one logjam, though, and we got increasingly aggressive as the float went on. We reached the confluence of the SF feeling great, I was buoyed by the incredible scenery all around. The floating was also amazingly easy given the level of the river; most of the wood that Dan had warned me about at burnt park seemed to have been flushed out, and the extremely large channel size made the wood that remained very easy to avoid. We got up around white river park just after sunset. I was feeling happy with the day’s progress and nervous about floating the high river after dark, so I started making noises about eddying out to camp but didn’t put my foot down and we passed the white river without realizing as it got darker. By 9:50-ish my anxiety was seriously increasing as it became more difficult to spot viable eddys. We spent a nerve-wracking 10 minutes (in memory, although it may have really been more like 5) trying and failing to find an eddy. Finally at about 10:05 we caught one at Salmon Park. We made a fire to warm up and set up camp. I had rationed the day’s food poorly, so I ate a handful of peanut butter cups for dinner and crawled into the sleeping bag.
Day 2: Big Salmon to Morrison (??) Creek – 65ish miles, 6AM-330ish AM
We woke up cold at six to find, unsurprisingly, that condensation had undone the work of the night’s fire. Just after salmon park the river got spicier, with big (and incredibly fun) standing waves, nasty holes, and complicated hydraulics with counter currents ready to grab you if one of the many diagonal waves pushed you out of the main flow. One of these required a quick brace when I got pushed into and grabbed by a backwash line, the closest I came to flipping all trip. I thought about the consequences of running this in the dark if we had missed our take-out at salmon parks and was frustrated at myself for not just eddying out at 9:35 when my gut told me it was time. In retrospect I’m not sure if I was being overly anxious or if waiting until real darkness to take out was another potentially big-consequence mistake which I got through by luck. On one hand I was probably overly nervous and a swim could easily have had just the same consequences as during the daytime, but on the other hand we could have easily made up for the 30 minutes of lost river time by just getting up at 5:30 instead of 6, so whatever the actual risk I’m not sure there was any reward for floating that late.
Adrian navigated us to black bear creek and we got psyched up for a tough take-out before the constriction, but the pool at the creek was huge and the cobbles offered a great resting/drying out spot. I misremembered the beta I got from Dan and thought that the tough constriction was a half-mile downriver from black bear after the SF straightened out, not at the bend just after the creek. Since we were already on shore and the flows were big we decided not to try to run the SF up to mid creek, but looking down on the river on the hike from black bear to harrison creek I quickly realized that the tough constriction had in fact been the one at black bear creek, which had looked eminently runnable even at high flows. Adrian split off at black bear and hiked east into the forest. I’m still pretty disappointed in myself for not running the SF from black bear to mid. It was 4 miles of walking in the hot sun that I didn’t need to do, but more than that I let my own anxiety and timidity about the high flow totally obscure a real assessment of the objective risk. I feel like there was a justification either for bringing a drysuit or for portaging that section with the river at 20k cfs, but there was no justification for both.
My disappointment translated to a quick pace above the SF, and I got to harrison creek at about 12:45. The SF below harrison was beautiful in the verdance of its forest and the sharpness of its gorge, although it lacked the big mountain views from the confluence to Salmon Park. It traded its big holes and river-wide wave trains for increasingly complicated and grabby hydraulics with giant waves at the outsides of turns where the river pushed into bedrock. On one ferry from river right to left I crossed 11 distinct eddy lines. I had turned my phone on to tell time and use the pixelated Gaia map to see how far I was from the reservoir, but using the GPS for the hour and 30 minutes (15 miles!!) to lower twin creek I managed to drain my battery down to 10%. I shut my phone off to save it in case of an emergency and pulled out my altimeter/watch to find that it was not nearly as waterproof as advertised, which left me without a timekeeping method beyond the sun. I wasn’t thrilled about this, but also couldn’t come up with an exact reason why I needed one. I would estimate that after a slower-than-I-would-have-liked transition I headed up the lower twin creek trail by 2:45.
The miles to the alpine route below twin mountain (big shout out to Dan for suggesting the route, it was bomber the whole way) were easy. There was relatively little burn, barely any snow in the lower twin creek drainage, and although the trail hadn’t been cleared downfall was very manageable. Twin creek was running fast but its ravine was steep enough that it hadn’t jumped channel and flooded the trail except for two 10 foot stretches of knee-deep wading. The “ford” at the trail looked like a doable swim, but just upstream I was able to walk only marginally sketchy logjams across a series of divided channels. I started to feel a twinging over the top of my left midfoot all the way up my tibialis (whose name I only learned when I looked it up afterwards) when I held my foot in dorsiflexion. I shrugged, knowing that some kind of soft-tissue issues were inevitable on a trip like this, although I couldn’t figure out if the problem originated in my extensor tendon or in the muscle. In any event it didn’t slow me down much at first. I stopped for a break at the west saddle below twin mountain to eat dinner. I took out my phone to check the time and it was 6:20 (and I had somehow had lost a couple percentage points of battery while turned off.) I was very, very happy with 3.5 hours for 9.5 miles and nearly 4000 feet of elevation gain. The views were beautiful if a little bit hemmed in by the nearby ridges and by twin itself, and I took some time to reflect on the trip and my goals for it. I had struggled the whole time with competing desires for speed and performance on the one hand and for a sense of immersion and connection with the landscape on the other. It struck me as a conflict between a desire to conquer the land and a desire to be the one conquered. I remembered that the I wanted to push my ability to move fast in the wilderness so I could better reach the kinds of places that moved me; the outdoors was more to me than just an athletic arena. I promised myself that I would slow down and camp at the little pond below horseshoe peak so I could have some time with a sunset on an alpine ridge.
This little epiphany quickly disappeared in a puff of irony. The minute I stood up from my break I felt a deep shooting pain in my tibialis and a cramp in my midfoot. I sat back down and worked the muscle with the handle of my trekking pole for a bit, which loosened things up. After a few minutes of slow ramping I was back up to about 3.5 mph. It was clear to me from my basketball days that this was the sort of soft-tissue injury that got worse and not better when you stop to let the muscle cool down, so I chewed it over while walking and decided that contra my promise to myself I would make as many miles as I safely could that night before the muscle inevitably locked up when I slept. Thankfully the steep southwest slope of Twin was almost completely melted out at hiking elevation so I was able to cross the south ridge on the foot trail instead of side-hilling on alternating bands of vegetation, talus, and cliffs. The east slope of the ridge was an almost unbroken ravine glissade from 6800 to the melt pond at ~6000, although the snow was slushy enough that I had to slide on my sleeping pad to reduce butt-friction. The trail more or less disappeared from there, but I stayed on game trails at roughly the same elevation to avoid bad deadfall below me until climbing up to about 6500 as the deadfall gained elevation. I was pleasantly surprised to find a clear trail which took me over the pass below horseshoe peak. An easy bushwhack down to bank-full Bradley lake followed, where I traversed along the north shore until finding a narrow trail with plenty of bushes and vegetation reaching into its space. From the looks of it the trail crew hadn’t come through the year before, but the valley had almost no burn and thus relatively little deadfall and I made good time, arriving at the MF flathead as the light was dimming.
This is where my trip got a little bit confusing, and I now think I ended up in the Morrison creek drainage instead of the granite drainage I believed I was in. I’ll explain both what I thought I was doing at the time and what I now believe I actually did. Although I did in fact have my map, I didn’t consult it at the time, having both a misplaced sense of confidence about my location and direction and a misplaced sense of anxiety about my progress and speed (plus some deep and quietly simmering panic about feeling very, very alone with no watch, an emergency-only phone, no one else around but the bears, and only my spot to contact the outside world.) As with the night before I was nervous about getting on the river after dark even just to ferry it, and I hiked downstream the MF flathead at a very fast clip to find a suitable crossing. At the time I felt like I had hiked a good ways downstream, maybe even a few miles. I inflated and paddled across, getting all packed up again and moving probably around 10:30. I climbed the banks and turned right on the trail, thinking I had overshot Granite. I came on a trail junction but kept moving right along MF flathead, as I knew I wasn’t supposed to take a left fork until after a major creek crossing. Sure enough a major creek came up which I quickly blew up for and floated, followed by an unsigned junction which I took left. The trail had plenty of deadfall and was slightly narrower than expected but widened out after around a mile. At this point I did take out my map but it was an hour and a half too dark to be very useful, and in any event my compass had me moving northwest, so I figured I HAD to be going up granite as expected and kept pushing. Deadfall was slightly annoying but neither horrendous nor continuous; the trail was flooded in places but never reached the levels it had along Danaher so I made all right time. Several times I got my toes caught on deadfall, pulling my foot into extension and aggravating my tendonitis/strain, but after a few moments the pain would settle back down to baseline. I was nervous hiking in the forest after dark, feeling that both streams and bears could give me more trouble than usual. I’d done plenty of night hiking before, but almost all of it either in the alpine, in the Northeast, or wrapping up to get to the trailhead. These are generally all places where the outlines of the phantom bears are a little bit dimmer and the streams much smaller. My nervousness was a gift to my pace, though, as I took the sparse deadfall with a speed I struggle to reach when I’m calmer. After a couple of miles of solid NNW travel I came on a major feeder creek crossing. Slightly upriver there was a logjam that might have gone, but looked like the river crested the jam and formed a big wave along the opposite bank, so I swam below the jam. I was frustrated as I hadn’t expected the feeders to give me a problem. In another mile I had another quick creek crossing; the channel was waist deep but narrow so I forded it knowing I could grab a willow on the opposite side if I swam. Shortly after a patch of downfall I came on another fast creek crossing! This one looked significantly wider so I got mentally prepared to swim again, but I got into the channel and found it maxed out below my ribcage and I was able to get across without swimming. I still pulled out my puffy jacket and hiked in it since I didn’t trust my body’s ability to warm back up on its own at that point. By now I was definitely surprised about the amount of water I’d had to cross, but I chalked it up to a record year. Compass still pointing North so I had to be en route, right? After another hour or so of hiking I was feeling more and more unsteady on the deadfall and warm enough to get some sleep, so I found a slot between two lodgepoles, threw down my sleeping pad and crawled into my bag.
Day 3: Below Challenge Cabin to Marias Pass – 14ish miles, 5ish AM – 3:15 PM
I woke up cold and hungry around first light, probably just after 5 and after an hour and a half of sleep. I ate a probar and some fatty jerky, massaged my now completely cramped tibialis and got on the trail. I set off at a slow pace trying to warm my leg up, and after an hour I hit the road. The road allowed me to speed back up, but something about the high degree of regularity and the flat ground also exacerbated my issue. I couldn’t seem to find a way to give my foot a good rest while walking; even raising my knee high and allowing my foot to droop gave the tibialis a break but stretched and hurt the tendon over the top of my foot. By the time I reached challenge it looked to be between 7 and 8, the air starting to warm up for the day.
Reaching Challenge vindicated my route from the night before and I put all thoughts of excess water out of my mind. It wasn’t until Monday night after I’d met up and swapped stories with Dan that I got confused and spent some more time looking at the map, seriously retracing my steps. Dan told me a few things that got me thinking: 1) He asked how I’d done with the wood on Granite. The wood I encountered was sometimes irritating, but the burn areas were very patchy and in general the water slowed me down much more than the wood after the middle fork. We’d both had to blow up to ferry once after the middle fork, though, and I knew Dan was a lot more gung-ho with water than I was, so it seems possible we experienced the same terrain differently. 2) He didn’t remember seeing a very prominent, fresh looking carcass that I passed on trail, and 3) He didn’t remember seeing tracks in the snow. Again, the snow was patchy and pretty hard after I crossed the MF at night so it’s possible he missed them, but this was definitely strange. After spending tuesday morning on the Lake McDonald dock staring at my map and scratching my head, I now think I may have come up Morrison, not Granite. I think the initial cause of the mistake was adrenally-overestimating how far I had hiked downstream the MF to find a good ferry spot. This would have been compounded by darkness and nervousness which led to and an abject failure to bother to look at the map and match up the distances from the Bradley lake trail to Granite and Morrison to how far I had hiked down and then up the MF. It would explain the relative dearth of downfall and the abundance of stream crossings, and would also explain some oddities like my small period of morning travel with the sun at my back (i.e. westward) on the road before reaching challenge. I’m still honestly not 100% sure. Since it all happened in the dark, nervous about bears and my foot, the firmest memory I have is the memory of my own conviction, which can be difficult to shake but is hardly ironclad. It seems improbable that I messed up that badly, even more improbable that I messed up that badly and still wound up at challenge, but it matches my experience so much better that I’m fairly sure that’s what I did.
In any event, from Challenge I headed up to Elkcalf mountain. It was actually a pretty easy decision. For one, I didn’t relish finishing the route by roadway because the road had been so much more painful than the trail. On a deeper level, I already felt somewhat disappointed in myself up to that point, despite having made great time. I felt like I had wimped out of running black bear for no reason, and like I had let myself lose track of the reason I come to the wilderness to begin with. I figured there would be no better way to reconnect to that reason than to end the trip with giant commanding views into Glacier, which might be my favorite place on earth. Plus my body felt surprisingly good aside from the foot/tibialis issue.
I took a right on the first (overgrown) logging road after challenge, which I realized halfway up was stupid because then I had to cross the creek in its basin for no reason. Amazingly when I ducked off the logging road onto an overgrown path to head into the basin, I found that the path must itself have once been a road since it took me to a wide walkable bridge. Another mistake erased by good luck. I slowly bushwhacked up an unburned finger coming off the divide ridge before my metabolism totally cratered. I realized my calorie deficit had finally caught up to me and I slammed down a bag of doritos and another probar on jelly legs before feeling an energy surge and continuing. By 6500 feet the schwack became an excellent walk across alternating patches of sparse trees, snow, and alpine scrub. The snow was perfectly consolidated; I only postholed a few times walking over young trees or deadfall near the surface, although if it was my left foot it made for excruciating extraction. I made the divide ridge at 7300 feet, descended a couple hundred feet, and then up to Elkcalf at 76. I had lost my bandana and visor to the SF flathead the day before and I was absolutely baking in the midday sun, but I’d carried plenty of water so I stopped for fifteen minutes to rest and whoop for joy. I turned my phone on (6% left) just before 1 and snapped a few pictures.
I was just in there!
I descended down the divide ridge about a thousand feet before dropping into the basin SE of flattop, which took me to the road coming up from skyland TH. On queue my body decided it was time to fall apart, and my tibialis starting spasming painfully with literally every step. It was a slow walk down. I hadn’t seen another person for like 70 miles so I didn’t even consider there might be anyone on the road. I came around a corner and a photographer with a tripod set up in his flatbed worriedly asked me if I needed help. I’m not sure if he was more concerned by my cartoonish limp and grimaces or by my scream-singing of Hey Jude (changed to “Hey Bear”) to stay awake.
Never been so happy to see a phallus! (bottom middle of picture, just above the deadwood)
I got to Marias a few minutes after 3, picked up some water out of the creek, took off my wet socks, and caught a hitch to West Glacier after shamelessly asking tourists at the obelisk for rides.Jun 1, 2018 at 5:57 am #3539570
Great stuff Will. Sounds like it was a learning experience, which is the best thing about the BMWO. Every year I take away a few good lessons. Nice job persevering and covering so much ground. Even if you do end up moving through the wilderness too fast, you do take away some good lessons from that which will benefit future wilderness travels. For example, knowing how many miles you can crank out if you really need to will let you linger longer in the woods in the future as you won’t be as worried about making it back out. And learning how to navigate and make decisions while stressed/rushed, will really improve your performance someday if you end up a unexpected tight spot.
That ridge section over Twin Mtn/Horseshoe Creek to Bradley lake looks like a great route. I’m still amazed you had the motivation to go over Elkcalf. After that many miles, I was just in survival mode, but yes the road does hurt. This year was the first road walk I had the wisdom to pre-plan how to have dry shoes and feet so they didn’t blister up on the road.
Regarding Granite vs Morrison, it sure sounds like Morrison to me. Granite is ~3 miles downstream, which would be an awful long way to bushwack beside the river without a trail while looking for a crossing with darkness falling fast. At a few points I was deliberately looking for tracks in Granite on both the snow and mud and couldn’t find any. The deadfall was quite bad virtually the entire trail until the wilderness boundary, because someone had just been in a week or two prior to the wilderness boundary with a chainsaw and had cut the wood thereafter, so there was fresh sawdust on the snow for the last mile or two. I didn’t actually blow up the boat in Granite at all – just one tough ford where the trail crosses Granite itself about 4-5 mies up. Conversely the Morrison Trail crosses Morrison Creek on three occasions, plus some other good side creeks, so that seems like the best explanation to me. The fords in Morrison were a big part of why I kept floating to Granite.
You’re gonna have to get a new battery for next year so we can get a few more photos :)Jun 1, 2018 at 1:49 pm #3539593
For sure, I learned more on this trip than I have in probably the last two or three years. That’s a great feeling, and I can’t wait to put it to use.
I usually just bring a disposable waterproof camera, but I skipped it for this because I didn’t want the weight and figured I would use my phone. Definitely going back to that next year. It also prevents me from taking like 150 photos right when the views start to open up like I did at Danaher meadows, which is a plus.
Re: Morrison vs Granite, I’m sure you’re right. There was just SO much more water than you saw, and then everything else on top of that. It’s a tough pill to swallow in some ways though, and kind of scary, that I was that off at the time. Definitely learning how much darkness and nerves can impact my judgement.
Big thanks again for all the encouragement and suggestions and for the ride at the start.Jun 1, 2018 at 2:55 pm #3539600
On a deeper level, I have mixed feelings about crossing a landscape this way. It hardly feels like I saw anything, and if I’m being totally honest there’s a part of me that asks myself “what was the point?”. I’ve never felt that way about being in the wilderness before. I really value being able to travel fast, but this trip reinforced t it’s not an end in itself for me.
Couldn’t agree more. Even 25mpd feels like I’m missing the real wilderness experience. Definitely kudos to the speed demons but I like to take a bit more time to really enjoy myself. Now my 4th time across the Bob but haven’t spend much time backpacking there. Need to do a week long trip with like 10mpd to really check out the Wall, etc.Jun 1, 2018 at 3:44 pm #3539612Mike MBPL Member
On these types of trips I don’t feel like I’m missing out all that much; if these were the only trips I did- then yeah. I try to get several trips in with my wife each year- those are slow and relaxed. I like both equally as well.Jun 1, 2018 at 5:33 pm #3539641
On the speed topic, if I think about how much time I would like to spend for a given trip, the answer is usually a lot. I would love to spend 21 days wandering across the Bob instead of charging across in 3. Many folks think from this perspective. I did a one day speed hike last fall of a 60 mile traverse that normally takes eight days, and ran into several folks who said doing it in a day was a shame.
A potential problem with this type of thinking is that’s based on the assumption that more time is available, when it’s often not. In the case of that speed traverse, I only had one free day and hiking 60 miles through the wilderness felt like a good way to spend it.
So the perspective I usually think from is “Okay I have X days, how should I spend them?”. From that perspective, moving quicker to get to places you otherwise wouldn’t can be a good idea. There is a river near me that I really want to packraft, but if it’s going to be this year then I need to squeeze it into a 3 day weekend. I’d love more time but going fast is better than not going. It’s often not a choice between doing the same trip fast or slow, but rather a choice between doing the ambitious trip at all, or choosing a smaller objective for that window of time. Either way I’ll be spending about the same number of days in the woods.Jun 1, 2018 at 5:44 pm #3539645
Completely agree Dan-the time we have is our biggest limitation. Not knocking the speed trips at all, speaking just for myself but spending so little time in one of the biggest black spots on a light pollution map of the CONUS is a shame.Jun 1, 2018 at 7:17 pm #3539659
Agreed, obviously more time in these places is ideal. And often I’ll have a given objective and fixed objective that I’ll be excited to squeeze into whatever timeframe I have. The tension comes up for me though when I know I’ll have a given and relatively (4+ days) long time in an area, and I’m trying to decide what to do with it because there are a lot of possibilities. For instance later this summer I’m meeting a friend in glacier for 7 days. Before this trip I was inclined to basically try to do a full continental divide traverse of the park, as close to the ridge and as much off-trail as possible. But now I’m reconsidering that and wondering if limiting ourselves to just the Livingston and Norris traverses (two highlights) would actually be more rewarding, although we would see less overall terrain.Jun 1, 2018 at 7:54 pm #3539671
It takes a wisdom to bite off the right amount. My wife would say I lack that.Jun 1, 2018 at 8:13 pm #3539674
If one’s hiking partners all have the same goals, skills, and abilities, I don’t think there is any problem in going for broke on something big. It’s hard to get everyone to be completely honest as no one wants to be the guy to say “no”. One should also consider whether you want to do any hanging out with your friend or not. If you both spend lots of time together already, something big is a little easier to stomach than if you rarely see one another. The the latter case, it’s much nicer to have a solid block of the day to relax and hang out.
I experienced this firsthand with my usual backpacking buddies when we attempted Dixon’s Wind River high route. We all enjoy moving fast and going long, but if you want everyone to stay in a good mood for the entirety of the trip, there’s definitely a point at which long becomes too long…someone is going to be a little irate which can affect the whole group. One friend was not comfortable with the exposed class III/IV climbing along the alpine lakes, so we took the highline trail at the halfway point. I was not pleased with the change of plans. I had lost sight of the higher purpose for everyone getting together, which was spending time together as we don’t usually get to do it that often in our regular lives.Jun 2, 2018 at 4:04 pm #3539816David ChenaultBPL Member
@davecLocale: Queen City, MT
Will, your account of the frequency of the water crossings definitely suggest Morrison. Did you have any downhill road walking right off the bat? If so you definitely went up Morrison. Most of the ~3 miles from that TH back to the fork to the Granite TH is a 4-6% grade.
This year continues to be a good wake up for me about thinking I know too much concerning conditions. That Biggs Creek would be that huge I never considered, and yet at the same time Mid Creek wasn’t too bad. Weird.
Hugely satisfying to see and read everyone’s accounts, much appreciated.Jun 2, 2018 at 9:00 pm #3539856
Yeah it was downhill. I have trouble making meaning out of grades (much better with degrees). I remember it being pretty gentle (i.e. didn’t adjust my trekking pole length), but it was definitely downhill.
Adrian that’s always tough when a friend lowers the bar for a trip. One of the reasons I was so keen to do this is that I have lots of friends who like to hike but none who really like to push it, and I’ve had to bail from A LOT of cool itineraries to something tamer midway through.Jun 3, 2018 at 5:10 pm #3539982
My trip report is posted here:
https://intocascadia.com/2018/06/03/bmwo-2018-double-swimmer/Jun 4, 2018 at 3:11 pm #3540159
Great report, Dan. I’m glad you stayed safe on the MF, though getting pinned on a strainer sounds worse to me. How was the inflateable pfd? Did you even think about trying to keep your head up? I wonder what I would have thought about the MF below Three Forks if I had continued my route. I had thoughts about floating that section to Granite, but was planning on having a good look-see first.
With the exception of the route over the Scapegoat plateau and the final walk to the finish, I had planned the same route up the East side. It sounds (and looks) like it was as fantastic as I had imagined. The big creek crossings sound like a real frustration though. While I would not have liked to blow up the raft for a creek crossing, I guess it’s better than having to turn back. Have you tried some bag balm (lanolin) for your feet? My feet still got pretty beat up with the constant wet, but the bag balm at least propped them up a little when applied before sleeping. Did the snowshoes get worn at all?
Will–holler if you ever have some thoughts on some longer challenging stuff. Sometimes its easier to make plans happen if you have a partner, than doing it solo.Jun 4, 2018 at 3:18 pm #3540162
Adrian RE wet feet, constant struggle but I’ve found some stuff called Bonnie’s Balm that is great to put on right before bed and first thing in the morning. My feet still got pretty pruned up but no major cracking, etc.Jun 4, 2018 at 3:46 pm #3540168
The inflatable PFD worked well – at least well enough that it didn’t occur to me while I was in the MF Flathead. I popped right up. I continue to think it’s a good compromise in terms of safety vs weight/bulk. I’m quite happy with the performance of it, but there is always the risk of it puncturing if you hit wood or something.
Below Three Forks the MF was totally paddle-able, but sprinkled with hazards you had to avoid so it wasn’t relaxing. Conversely above Schaffer it was much more relaxing/enjoyable. The whole section from Three Forks to Granite was pretty consistent in that the gradient was steeper so there was constantly larger waves. I expect you would have been fine with it – it wasn’t crazy – but it did punish poor decisions.
I should experiment with some feet balms. It would be great to find a solution. A few years ago I was trying SportSlick/Hydropel but it was wearing off too quickly and I couldn’t be bothered to dry my feet every couple hours and then reapply. I’ve had some good results using Rocky Gore-Tex socks that I put on over dry socks, and then have dry feet for at least a couple hours until the water inevitably soaks through. The break helps a lot. I brought those along, but the tops are damaged now (from the straps on my MSR Shifts) so any little creek ford and they’re soaked.
I used the Shifts for a mile over Scapegoat and was on the fence about putting them on in Green Fork. Overall I would have been fine without them.Jun 4, 2018 at 4:17 pm #3540177
Great TR Dan! Scapegoat looks awesome, I would love to get up there on one of these. Tough to convey the drama of the moose creek crossing in writing.
Adrian, I’ll definitely hit you up if I have a fast/challenging objective that wants a partner- it was great floating together and our paces seem pretty well matched. Incidentally do you think you could send me the rest of your pictures/video from the SF?Jun 5, 2018 at 2:04 am #3540279Ethan A.BPL Member
@mountainwalkerLocale: SF Bay Area & New England
Thank you for the trip reports and photos – looks like an amazing experience in epic country and challenging conditions. I’d be very interested in seeing video of some of the challenging river runs and traverses if anyone has any, though the written descriptions were quite vivid. Kudos to all who participated.
Seeing a grizzly footprint next to a large adult trail runner is quite the sight (and isn’t encouraging my wife to explore grizzly country).Jun 5, 2018 at 2:27 am #3540288
Not too harrowing Ethan but here is our log scoot across Route Creek. Some foul language….;)
The griz footprint is not quite as big as my shoe-the back half looks like where it scraped in the mud. I’ve participated in the Open four times now and have only seen a single black bear last year along Gordon Creek. Always lots of sign.Jun 5, 2018 at 2:54 pm #3540326
Ethan: I’m working on editing a short video (~10 min) of my Bob Open trip this year. It’s coming along. I expect to have that ready in a couple days, so I’ll share it here then.Jun 5, 2018 at 6:48 pm #3540381
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