Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Backpacking in the Bob (2010 Trip 1)

This was my first trip into the Bob in 2010, but it was really just a tune-up to prepare for a longer trip I have planned later.  On this trip I started at the Benchmark trailhead west of Augusta, Montana and hiked up to the Chinese Wall, a thousand-foot high limestone escarpment along a 12-mile stretch of the Continental Divide.  According to the guidebook, it's 20 miles one way, with about 2,000 feet elevation gain.  It sure felt like it.

Geared up.

The only permitted means of travel in wilderness areas are by foot or horse, and since the Chinese Wall is the best-known and most popular destination in the Bob, the trail handles a lot of feet and horses.  This packbridge crosses the South Fork of the Sun River about a quarter mile from the trailhead.

 The trail enters the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area about three miles from the trailhead.  This area was burned by the Ahorn Creek Fire in 2007.  With the tree canopy burned away, the sunlight can now reach the ground, causing a profusion of grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and baby trees.  Natural forest succession at work.


I saw my first and only griz of the trip about three hours in.  I didn't see it until I was within about 25 yards—much too close.  The trail had made a gentle ascent on an open grassy hillside, but I couldn't see there was a shallow depression near the top of the hill, where a small creek drained.  The griz was right on the trail in that depression, having a drink.  When I got close, I could see a brown back sticking up, then the bear raised its head.  I drew my bear spray and began slowly backing up.  The griz looked at me for a second, perhaps deciding if I was an immediate threat or just unpleasant company, then turned and loped down the hillside. 

 A few miles later I made camp near the West Fork of the Sun River.

 In bear country it is important to hang any food, and anything that could smell like food to a bear, in a tree well away from camp to avoid attracting any late-night visitors to your tent.

 Back on the trail.

 This hiker bridge, made of a log with a flat edge shaved on one side, wasn't on the map, but I was glad to find it.  It was a little springy.

 Burnt Creek.  I camped near here before the climb up to the wall.

Now the trail began climbing for real—over 1,000 feet in one mile.  The south end of the Chinese Wall looms in the distance.

 From the top of the saddle at the base of the wall, looking south.

 From the saddle looking north. 

I ate lunch here and then headed back down.  This is a fragile area that can't take much pressure, so camping is prohibited near the top. 

I was in the backcountry for six days on this trip, hiking on five of those days, and having a lazy day by the river on the other one.   It was a good workout and a great trip.  I also got buzzed several times by a mother northern goshawk protecting her nest, but I'll put that in a different post.


  1. That hiker bridge looks like it will prepare you for the Darby logging days competition! Beautiful pics as always, glad the bear decided you were just unpleasant company.

  2. Cliff, YOU DA MAN!!!

    And, I have a brilliant insight I wanted to share: Bears are scared of Cliff. Cliff is scared of Penni. Therefore, bears are scared of Penni. Penni, you have nothing to worry about when you go camping.


  3. Thanks, D-Liz. I can't argue with your logic. You're right up there with Learned Hand.

  4. Funny that Cliff is still scared of me after all these years! We'll never know if bears are scared of me, because I won't be camping in a tent in the middle of nowhere. My camping involves a nice comfy bed, a shower and room service.