Seeking Route Advice, Trip Partners for ambitious Bob Marshall trip
May 15, 2023 at 9:13 am #3781225
Sacrifice postMay 15, 2023 at 9:14 am #3781226
After finishing second in 2019, I have been planning and training for almost a year to participate in the 2023 Bob Marshall Wilderness Open. A few weeks ago, I realized I wouldn’t have quite enough skill to safely execute the most difficult sections of big, continuous rapids I had wanted to paddle on the Middle Fork of the Flathead (between Schafer and Miners). Route options that avoided this section were less than exciting to me, so I decided to create my own route, and do it during the time I have taken off of work, which happens to be during the official Bob Marshall Wilderness Open, May 24th – 31st.
My planned route is 163 miles, and includes packrafting sections on Straight Creek, South Fork Sun, White River, South Fork Flathead, North Fork Sun, and West Fork Sun. It’s 49% boating and 51% hiking. It starts and ends at Benchmark, and goes generally clockwise. For challenge, views and style points, it involves multiple high elevation off-trail passes over snow. It’s ambitious, but I think I can finish it in as little as 6 days if I go at 80% of BMWO pace. I’ll give myself two extra days for unforeseen delays or hazard re-routes, for a total of 163 miles over 8 days. I will do the trip solo if I can’t find a partner or two.
Here’s the CalTopo link to my proposed route.
For those folks who have experience with the Bob Marshall at this time of year, I am looking for advice on the passes I’ve chosen. I’m from Indiana and don’t know much about avalanche danger, other than try to do the passes early in the day. I’ll have MSR Shift snowshoes and trekking poles, and am willing to carry a Tika Ice Tool if people think that would be necessary. I’ll have paper maps and compass as well as CalTopo on my phone in case of whiteouts. The following pass names are listed on my CalTopo map, because I don’t know the actual pass names.
– “Bear” Pass – Looks fairly straightforward. Am I missing anything? I also assume the forest on the far side will go without much danger at about 1mph.
– “Silvertip” Pass – I’m guessing the trail will be totally buried here, so I plan on just walking wherever looks the easiest. I’m guessing summiting Silvertip Mountain this time of year would be biting off more than I could chew.
– “Ibex” Pass – Dave Chenault says it’s passable (in the Silvertip Route section here). Is it reasonable to anticipate it should go in late May too?
– “Hart” Pass – This is the one I’m least sure about. It looks like it goes on Google Earth, but I’m not sure how snow will change it. The back side looks like it’s just barely on the sane side of too steep. Might I trigger an avalanche here? Would saving it for early morning be safest?
– Snow overall – in 2019, there was no consolidated “icy” snow on my BMWO route, and there was never a good reason to have an ice axe. Everything was slushy, and childrens’ Shift snowshoes were good enough. Does that typically hold throughout the Bob this time of year, or should I anticipate some “slippery” more exposed sections on this route that would require a self-arrest tool? And is there sometimes fluffy snow this time of year that would require bigger snow shoes? I’m 175 lbs.
I’ll be bringing almost a full whitewater packrafting kit: Wolverine, foam pfd, helmet, drysuit, 4 piece paddle, bow bag. I’m confident on Class III but plan on frequently shore-scouting horizon lines if necessary. I’m used to cautiously running rapids like these alone, as that’s all I’ve ever known. There is enough information available online for everything except the Upper White River (above Needle Falls). I plan on taking out and portaging about 2.5 miles around the high gradient Needle Falls area.
Is it likely the Upper White will be boatable this time of year? I’m assuming there’ll be enough water, and not much over Class III difficulty. I enjoy “battle boating,” and don’t mind portaging a lot of strainers or getting stuck on rocks.
Are there any sections of river that are perpetual no-go’s because of water level or other hazards at this time of year? I’m aware there’ll be a lot of strainers up high, but I’m mostly thinking of things like the lower gorges of the North and South Fork Sun, and the giant strainer below Wrong Creek. I’ve looked at satellite views exhaustively and labeled visible stuff on my maps but would appreciate any insight that others have.
I plan on cooking 2x/day, sleeping 8 hours each night, and enjoying a fast-ish but not too painful trip that hits most of the popular packrafting rivers in the area. I’ll have a Garmin inReach Mini for emergencies and tracking. I plan on filming and taking photos to document the route, though I doubt it’ll be within the abilities of most due to the difficulty of travel during the narrow timeframe when all these rivers are (hopefully) running. I’ll post to my blog and YouTube afterward. My starting pack weight will probably be about 43 pounds. Here’s a link to my gear list (click the “Bob 5/23” tab at the bottom), if interested.
I don’t want to siphon anyone away from the BMWO, but I would welcome any physically fit and experienced packrafters to join me for this route. It’s big and committing enough that I would love to have the company. Here’s my planning note if you’re interested in my research so far.May 31, 2023 at 12:59 pm #3782270
Due to family health issues, I had to pull the plug on this attempt 11 hours before my flight left. I hope I can attempt it another year.
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