Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Across the Bob—Day 15, the Final Day

I broke camp at 7:30 a.m. on the cold morning of August 15, and frozen condensation crackled as I crammed my tent into its stuff sack.  I knew it would be hot by noon, so I dressed in layers, pulling on long pants over my hiking shorts.

Cold morning on the Dry Fork.

The rising sun just touched the tops of the peaks to the west.

The North Fork of the Blackfoot River, near the confluence with the Dry Fork.

The trail crossed to the east side of the North Fork, passing through an old burn full of new growth. 


North Fork of the Blackfoot, farther downstream.  Closer to the trailhead I passed several small groups of fishermen. Civilization.


Back at the Dry Fork Divide on Day 14, the trail had crossed from the Bob Marshall Wilderness into the Scapegoat Wilderness, which is still part of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and often lumped into part of what people mean when they refer to the "Bob."   About three miles from the trailhead, the trail left the designated wilderness area.

Sign at the ending trailhead.

At the parking lot I dropped my pack and went to see if my vehicle would start after sitting for 15 days.  It cranked right up.  The next issue was whether I wanted to sit in it, having gone so long without a shower.  I kept thinking about that Seinfeld episode where Jerry's car got indelible BO from a valet.  Luckily I'd remembered to leave a change of clothes and shoes in the back seat.  I used the car parked next to me as a screen as I shed the funky clothes, took a quick "bath" with a pack of baby wipes and put on clean duds.  All the dirty clothes, including shoes, went into a trashbag sealed up tightly for the trip home.  Driving was a strange experience after walking for 15 days.  When I got on the highway and got up to about 60, I felt like I was approaching the speed of light.

Now that I am back home, all I have left to do is to write a book about the trip.  I think it's going to turn out that backpacking 120 miles was the easy part.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Across the Bob—Day 14

Day 14 was my longest distance day--18 miles.  I knew Day 15 would be the day I reached the ending trailhead, and I was a little concerned about whether my vehicle would start after sitting there for over two weeks.  I wanted to make sure I had a shorter trip on the last day so I would get to the trailhead early in the afternoon while people were still around, in case I needed a jump.

It didn't rain on Day 14, but clouds hung low in the valley.

This open area is named the Basin.

Log crossing at Basin Creek.  To the upper right you can see a wire someone stretched across over the log to help maintain your balance as you walk across.

I'm always a little surprised to see frogs in this cold water.

After passing through the Basin, the valley closes up again.

Danaher Creek.

Looking downstream (north) back toward the Basin.

Farther upstream, Danaher Creek is a lazy channel through a marshy area filled with giant mosquitoes.  Bring your DEET.

The trail skirts the marsh, passing through a meadow filled with willows.

The north end of Danaher Meadows.  The Danaher family made a short go at homesteading here in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but the harsh country combined with the long distances to roads and markets forced them to give it up.

Abandoned farm equipment from the old Danaher homestead.

Danaher Meadows.

South of the meadows the trail climbs toward a low divide separating the Flathead River drainage to the north from the Blackfoot River drainage to the south.  On the south side is the Dry Fork of the North Fork of the Blackfoot River, so the divide is called the Dry Fork Divide.

On the evening of my last night in the wilderness, this rainbow hung in the sky to the south.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


"Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wildness — to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature."  Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Friday, August 27, 2010

Across the Bob—Days 12 and 13

After I'd gone over Larch Hill Pass on Day 10 the mountainous part of the trip was over.  From then on, it was all rivers and one low divide to get to the ending trailhead.  Day 12 was a long hike up the South Fork of the Flathead River and part of the way up Danaher Creek.

White River Park, a huge ponderosa pine savanna.

South Fork of the Flathead River, near the confluence with the White River.

Big Prairie.  The building in the distance at the lower right is a backcountry ranger station.

The Big Prairie Ranger Station, one of few backcountry stations that are staffed (during the summer and the fall hunting season only).

I stopped to chat with the ranger to find out if there were any new forest fires or other things I needed to be aware of.  The only thing was a winter storm warning that had just been issued for the next 36 hours, with up to three inches of snow possible above 7,000 feet.  I was glad to be in lower country.

The ranger asked where I started out, and when I told him Swift Dam his eyes got big.  "That's quite a trip!"  He asked if I'd seen anything, and I told him about the wolverine.  He nodded at my camera and asked if I'd gotten a picture.  I showed him the pic, and he said "Yep. That's a wolverine.  You're a lucky man."

Old corral at the Big Prairie Ranger Station.

Horse gate.

A few miles later I reached the closed trail my new friend from Missoula had told me about on Day 10.  I'd thought it was a recent closure, but it had been closed since 2007.  I'd heard the Forest Service trail maintenance budget had been cut, and this appears to verify that.  I took the closed trail to avoid the several extra miles of the detour.  A lot of dead trees had fallen across the route, so it was a bit of an obstacle course.

Natural reforestation at work.

Red-tailed hawk.

Why the trail was closed.  I had to do a little scrambling and grab onto some of those roots above the "trail" to get across the scree.

Browsing buck about 25 yards from where I was on the trail on the hillside above him. He didn't hear me until I had already taken this picture.

When he saw me he just froze, as though I wouldn't see him if he didn't move.  I wanted to throw a rock at him to get him to run. That foolish behavior is going to get him shot in about a month.

Wild raspberries.

This is where I camped on Danaher Creek.  I didn't get any winter weather, but I got plenty of weather.  Luckily it held off until I had made camp, eaten and made my bear hang.  Then the rain came fast and heavy.  A good rain is nice once camp is made and you're in the tent.  It rained just about all night, so I took Day 13 off to avoid slogging down a muddy trail.  My feet appreciated the break.  I did a food inventory to see how many more days I could go.  I was getting a little low, so I figured I needed to be out by the end of Day 15.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Across the Bob—Day 11

Day 11 was White River Day.  I hiked from the headwaters of the White River down to near its confluence with the South Fork of the Flathead River.  The trail stayed in dense forest most of the time, with occasional views of the river.

The accurately-, but unimaginatively-named White River.

Pair of American dippers doing their little dance on the rocks.

White River valley.

Needle Falls.  The water was low, so the falls were not quite as impressive as they can be.

A closer look at Needle Falls and the pool at the base.

Fording the White River.  The dark clouds were not making empty threats.  It rained during most of the last five miles of the hike. 

Closer to the South Fork of the Flathead, huge ponderosa pines grow in an open forest.

My campsite on the White River at sunset.  I made a campfire to warm up on a cool evening following a rainy afternoon.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Across the Bob—Day 10

On Day 10 I hiked over the north side of Larch Hill Pass to the headwaters of the White River.

The trail climbed a ridge overlooking My Lake, a popular camping area at the north end of the Chinese Wall.  I met a group of boy scouts from the Seattle area who had camped there the night before.  One of the scout leaders said the boys swam in the lake until they found leeches in the mud.

Looking back to the east.

Climbing near the top of Larch Hill.  The trail doesn't go all the way to the summit but skirts around the north face.

First views of the mountains to the northwest.

Photos don't capture the top-of-the-world feeling you get up here.

Red-breasted nuthatch.

Looking toward the summit of Larch Hill.

Not much to see on the descent on the west side of the pass.  The trail switchbacked through heavy forest down to the headwaters of the White River. 

Wild huckleberries.

Fording the White River.  The water is only about six inches deep here and not flowing very fast.

Where I camped at the south end of Brushy Park.

When I arrived in the late afternoon there was an old hippie camped here and preparing to build a campfire.  I didn't want to invade his camping area, so I was prepared to keep going.  I waved as I walked past, and he called out "There's nowhere to camp for the next ten miles.  It won't bother me if you camp anywhere around here.  I'm about to build a fire, so if you've got any trash to burn, you can throw it in here." 

I found a good campsite not too close to his and then went over and sat on a log near his fire ring.  He said he was from Missoula and that he was also hiking across the Bob, but he was going from south to north and taking a largely different route.  He was planning to go out near Essex, Montana, up near Glacier National Park.  "I've already gone about 100 miles, and I figure I've got about 60 more.  I'm taking every other day off.  The whole trip should take me 29 days, but if I need to quit early, once I get farther north, I'll never be more than about 20 miles from a trailhead."

I asked him how he could carry enough food for such a long trip.

"I eat a lot of salads," he said. 
"You mean wild plants?" I asked.
"You know them that well?" I asked. 
"A few of them."

Twenty-nine days.  My trip was only 15, and I was worried about my vehicle starting up after sitting at the ending trailhead so long.

"Do you have a car at your ending trailhead, or are you calling somebody," I asked him.
"I'm homeless, Man.  I'm using my thumb."

He had taken the bus from Missoula to Bonner and then hitched a ride to Rogers Pass south of the Bob.  He was a true free spirit, just happy to be alive and in the wilderness.  He told me about a trail on my planned route that had been closed.  "You can still take that trail, Man.  The detour is miles out of the way not very scenic.  They closed the trail because of a small landslide, but you can still get across there. You'll see a little path where the deer have walked across the scree.   There are a lot of wild raspberries up there.  I may have left you a few."

We chatted a while longer, and then he went to his camp.  It rained a little that night, so I slept in the next morning to let things dry out a little.  When I crawled out of my tent, my neighbor had already hit the trail.