2013 Bob Marshall Wilderness Open: the officially unofficial report

Compiled by Dave Chenault; links to individual reports at the bottom.

The 2013 Bob Open ran from the Benchmark trailhead in the southeast Bob to the Bear Creek trailhead where Highway 2 meets the Middle Fork of the Flathead.  11 people, including the first woman in the events short history, took the start.  Kind weather contributed to a 100% completion rate, with many excellent routes and stories generated.  Significantly, all but two of last years seven starters were repeat offenders.

Saturday, May 25th dawned with cold weather and blue skies.  First down the trail to the South Fork of the Sun were Dan Durston of Ontario, Greg Gedney of Colorado, and Greg Gressel of Pennsylvania.  Durston and Gedney planned to take White River Pass over to packraft the South Fork of the Flathead, while Gressel planned to follow the CDT along the Chinese Wall before striking north over Spotted Bear and Pentagon Passes on a direct line to Schafer Meadows on the Middle Fork.  Durston and Gedney found little more than a mile of snow at the pass and inflated boats at the White River at 1630, after 8.5 hours on the trail.  They found the continuous small rapids of the White to be enjoyable, and the South Fork, which was running at 9000 cfs, to be very fast.  They averaged 6-7 mph, and were approaching Meadow Creek gorge as the sun set.  In one of the micro-gorges below Mid Creek Durston punched a big wave, hit a lateral, flipped, and swam.  Gedney, whose last sight was Durston disappearing around the corner bow wildly elevated, eddied out river left, a task made more difficult by the 8 inches of water in his boat.

Meanwhile, Gressel was putting his practiced thru-hiker legs to good use along the Chinese Wall.  He hit continuous snow around 6ooo’, but found it mostly consolidated and thus good traveling.  Despite getting off route near the notoriously confusing (in the snow) Larch Hill junction, Gressel rolled with the punch and dropped down into Juliet Creek before climbing back up to drop down Hoop Creek and meet back up with trail on the upper Spotted Bear.  Darkness caught him at the ridge, and he camped in a tree well with a 30 mile day in the bag.

The rest of the participants took the route of least resistance down the S Fork of the Sun, before hiking up the N Fork Sun valley towards Sun River pass.  I found the Sun to be excellent, if cold, packrafting, and arrived at Sun River Butte in little over two hours.  I took the west side trail up through Gates Park, used the boat to cross the impressively big N Fork at Lick Creek, and camped near Monroe Creek, tired after a long day.  Cyrus and Kate, from Minneapolis, also had rafts and took the same route.  Andrew Farland, Chris Steutterman, and John St. Laurent teamed up and after hiking down the S Fork, crossed the pack bridge at the ranch and went up lower Arsenic Creek to follow the east side trail, camping near Headquarters Creek after an enjoyable 27 mile day.

Saturday night was clear and cold, with valley temperatures well below freezing.  Everyone woke to frozen shoes and gear Sunday morning.  Durston was especially motivated, with a goal of finishing that day reinforced by a small food bag.   The night previous he had righted his raft, ran the next rapid with fogged glasses, made the takeout, wrung out his clothes, and hiked a half mile of trail to warm up before stopping at 2200 to make a fire, dry out, and sleep.  Though Saturday had been a 50 mile day, Durston was on the trail at 0530 in good spirits, back on the river below Meadow Creek gorge, and taking out at Twin Creeks by 1000.  Durston choose the trail up Upper Twin and North Creeks because it was more trafficked and didn’t gain and loose elevation, though the lower elevation snow punished this choice with miles of filled-in sidehilling.  Durston persevered through snow and later deadfall in Long Creek, making the Middle Fork at 2000 and the parking lot by 2300, completing an impressive ~100 mile tour de force in 39 hours.  More impressive, the next day Durston rallied, solo, for the 23 hour drive back home.

Gedney woke up above the aforementioned micro-gorge, having slept around a fire, and had a more leisurely morning.  By the time he found Durston’s ok message (written in sticks on the trail) Gedney was 3 hours behind.  He had an uneventful float down to Twin Creeks, and choose the lower Twin Creeks trail, which entailed a steep climb up snow to the divide but overall seemed a bit easier than Durston’s route.  Dark caught Gedney at the ridge, and like Gressel before him he bivvied in a tree well.

Gressel himself got moving at 0600 and after negotiating the usual maze of deadfall and rotten snow in the lower elevations of Hoop Creek, found the trail again and beat tracks down and then up to Pentagon Pass and Dolly Varden Creek.  The afternoon was bluebird and almost hot, and Gressel found himself at the Middle Fork at 1830, right as rain rolled in, preparing for the crux of his route: crossing the river without a boat.  Though mentally and logistically prepped for a swim Gressel (and his long legs) choose a savvy spot which made for a surprisingly mild waist deep and upright crossing.  Chilled from the wade and rain, Gressel hiked a few more miles before making camp at 2000 a little beyond Schafer.

I woke to sore feet and gorgeous weather, which continued as I dodged deadfall over Sun River pass.  Reaching Strawberry Creek around 1030, I took a coffee break before inflating my boat and enjoying a superlative float down the Middle Fork.  The impressive floods of a few weeks before had ripped some bank down, creating fresh log jams near Gooseberry, but overall the 11000 cfs (@ West Glacier) level proved ideal for packrafting.  I made the 22 miles to below Schafer in a rather leisurely 5 hours.  Strawberry had been surprisingly low, but I assumed Lodgepole Creek would be a different story.  It was.  At 1700 Sunday afternoon the normal ford on the Big River trail was running fast and waist deep at the far side.  After securing my gear, and putting on my PFD under my pack, I made the crossing without incident.  Rain caught me near Granite Creek, and soon thereafter sore feet and a pace slowed by deadfall stopped me for the evening around 2000 on the east side of 25 Mile Creek.  I slept long, easily, and well.

Andrew, Chris and John enjoyed the excellent weather as well, with Andrew describing the upper reaches of the N Fork valley as the visual highlight on their journey.  St. Laurent dropped off the pace before Sun River pass, bothered by swollen achilles tendons.  Stuetterman and Farland crossed Strawberry at 1800, relieved that it was so mild, and hid from the rain on the porch of the Gooseberry patrol cabin.  They celebrated Farland’s birthday, and what they erroneously thought was the crux of their route, with dehydrated cake and nutella before bedding down.  St. Laurent reached Strawberry at dusk and camped on the south shore, enjoying his choice of a larger tarp than last year as the rain beat down.

Monday dawned cool and foggy in the Middle Fork drainage, with at least five Bob Open hikers camped along 35 miles of the river.  25 Mile creek, which had looked short but intimidatingly deep and fast the night before, seemed a bit more mild come morning with a belly of hot coffee.  Once again I put on my PFD and crossed easily.  The remaining miles went slowly, but I reached the parking lot shortly after 1200, was congratulated by Gedney’s wife Kate, and celebrated with some more coffee and a nap in the sun.  Gedney was on the move at first light, crossed the Middle Fork around 0900, and made it to the parking lot around 1330.  He and I toasted two excellent routes with beers, and headed back to Whitefish for pizza.

Gressel was also on the move early Monday, crossing Lodgepole at the lower and slightly steeper ford, getting caught by the current and face planting in the process, but with no harm done aside from a wet iPhone and clothes.  Gressel made short work of the intimidating 25 Mile crossing, and generally continued to be the Open’s fastest walker, even in the face of heinous chaffing which had him walk most of the final 12 miles naked from the waist down.  He finished at 1530, saying that the route exceeded his expectations.  High praise from a well-traveled hiker.

Stuetterman and Farland were on the trail early, and made Lodgepole by 1500.  They didn’t fancy either of the lower options, and rather than push too hard backtracked to the Morrison Creek trail ford several miles upstream.  That looked little better, and they were on the verge of a long and circuitous bail up the Badger and Two Medicine drainages when St. Laurent came out of the woods.  He encouraged them to look downstream, where they found a large pine down across the creek and were able to make a nerve-wracking but controlled au cheval crossing.  This solution had eaten 3.5 hours, so the reunited team camped on the right side of Lodgepole, ready for the final push the next morning.

A short ‘schwack Tuesday morning took them back to the trail and some easy miles.  Team West Coast (St. Laurent is from Seattle, Stuetterman and Farland the Bay Area) was across Granite before noon and looking at a finish before dark.  Then rounded the corner above 25 Mile and wondered what Gressel and I had thought before them: why is the Middle Fork running backwards?  25 Mile was, like Lodgepole, above their comfort level, and like at Lodgepole they displayed admirable self-control and creativity in finding a solution.  In this case, a nasty bushwack upstream led to a gentler, wider section of creek which proved a reasonable crossing, at the cost of a few hours burned.  Resolute to the end, they pushed on through the dark, making the parking lot at 0100 Wednesday morning.

Cyrus and Kate finished later that day (?).  They blew you their boats and floated around 25 Mile on the Middle Fork.  Chris and Sam, from Kalispell, finished on Tuesday afternoon

-Dan’s trip report

-Team West Coast’s report

-pre and post Open thread (contains reports from both Gregs, and other thoughts)

-my report

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6 thoughts on “2013 Bob Marshall Wilderness Open: the officially unofficial report

  1. I spent some time this morning rereading some of the posts. What an excellent event this is – a rare informal, unsupported wilderness challenge as well as a chance to learn from (and be emboldened by) the experiences of others. I’m looking forward to next year.

  2. My friend Tom ran into a couple guys who were doing it. I forget who. One who was previously a PCT thru hiker.

  3. Excellent experience. I’m looking forward to another BMWO and maybe a Utah Classic – hopefully with newly acquired rope skills.

  4. This was an amazing experience and I will definitely be back next year. I was honored to participate as the first woman and think more ladies need to join in on the fun. Thanks Dave for bringing to life such a great event…. And yes to a Utah Classic too, though I am with Dan in needing to work out my rope skills! I will have a video ready soon documenting Cyrus and I’s 2013 BMWO trek….lot’s of good weather here in MN and it has been hard to tie myself to the computer to complete it.

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