SW Bob Memorial Traverse: A Trip Planning Case Study

So I want to plan a trip for this coming, three day, weekend.  A precious thing, those three days, to be used wisely (hence the above image, which has nothing to do with the conditions I’ll find on my trip).

It’s much more accurate say that I’ve been planning this trip, for a couple months.  Albiet vaguely, turning over routes in my head, watching the snowpack melt and the rivers rise.  I’ve been observing conditions out in the field, and seeing how they generalize back to online information sources.  Based on all this I’ve seized odd moments, most often driving to appointments at work, to consider what gear I might bring along.  Only now, less than a week out, do I start to do concrete planning, and start to put actually pieces of gear in my pack.

Not everyone’s speed, but how I prefer to operate.

Now that image I expect to see this weekend.  That’s from just on the east side of Limestone Pass, looking down into the Upper Danaher Valley.  I’ve settled on my route, and for a variety of reasons impressively little of it will be new to me.

Extra-hiking circumstances shape route selection, inevitably.  In this case, I’m going to a party with grad school friends in Missoula on Friday night, and while I though about waking early to drive to a TH on the east side of the Bob, doing so after a night of drinking (and skipping Bernice’s for supplies) is not a good idea.  It would also mean a lot of extra driving.

I also need M, whose tireless shuttle driving and support makes virtually all my trips possible, to pick me up Monday evening with a minimum of inconvenience.  This dictates the exit point.  I want three full days, but don’t intend to go at race pace (ie no more than 14-6 hours on the move per day), so the distance should be 60-90 miles, depending on conditions.  Conditions are likely to be challenging, so I’m going for a route of around 70 miles.

This route. 

Start in Monture Creek (an easy TH to access), up the creek for 8 miles (should be snow free), up and over Limestone Pass (7k, plenty of snow), down into Danaher Meadows (will have less snow than the projections indicate), then down Danaher to the S Fork (floating, mostly), then down the S Fork to Forks o’ Salmon (should be faast floating), up Big Salmon (walking, then snow in the trees), over the low pass to Upper Holland Lake (snow), and down to Holland Lake (snow, ice, should I bring crampons?).

Mapping software, satellite imagery, snow projections, and stream flows are all vital tools.  (I can zoom in on the upper reaches of Big Salmon, unknown to me, and see that none of the avy paths are especially threatening, the trail stays in mature timber almost the whole time.)  Otherwise the ‘net isn’t helpful; if people do these sort of trips, they don’t write about them.  A body of experience allows accurate generalizations from the abstract.

The forecast is next.  It looks crappy, but that doesn’t really change my planning.  Next is to compile a mental list of gear, start packing it, buy food, etc.

I’ll be bringing lots of stuff, so the North Fork pack is the only tool for the job.  It’s not going to be that cold at night, so I’ll bring my synthetic quilt.  I’m digging my Prolite XS right now, so that comes too.  Our new Shangrila 2 arrives tomorrow, so if the forecast deteriorates further I might bring that.  Or maybe my Montbell bivvy and a tarp, but probably the Shangrila (mixed snow and rain).

I’ll have the Hoks with universal bindings, and adjustable poles with powder baskets.  Packraft, paddle, and PFD (given the high flow and cold water).  I’m really torn on crampons, the trail down from Upper Holland is steep and sheltered and crosses a stream a few times, but I won’t need them anywhere else.

Food will be standard: ramen and potatoes for dinner, bars and lots of chocolate for lunch, bagels for breakfast (maybe Nutella, too).  Lots of coffee and extra soup.  Probably bring a cartridge stove to make mid-day hot drinks fast and easy.

Clothing is tough, as the weather could make the high crossings and packrafting spectacularly miserable.  Real raingear, LS synthetic base, softshell vest, pile hoody.  Probably some fleece tights, an extra wool hat, and maybe even an insulated vest, as I might be pushing my sleep system a bit in the worst case.  Definitely liner gloves and G-tex mitts.  That’s a lot of clothing.

Time to start packing.

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8 thoughts on “SW Bob Memorial Traverse: A Trip Planning Case Study

  1. Sounds like fun. Ted and I are going to Missoula Friday night as well (to see Modest Mouse). I have to start trial next week though in Bozo so I won’t be adventuring. I’ll be packing.

  2. Dave,

    That looks like a neat line. Hope the water’s not too pushy, but plenty fun, anyway.

    If it was me, I’d bring more clothes and a way to get warm with hot drinks, fast. Are you allowed to make fires? Bring a fire starter kit you can use without thumbs as emergency hypothermia-fighter.

  3. My hope is that the upper reaches won’t be too high, but that might be hopeless optimism.

    I’m bringing a cartridge stove and plenty of extra soup packets and via.

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