The 2015 Bob Marshall Wilderness Open report

1432608631_125845Photo by Sam Haraldson.

The 2015 Open, from the Owl Creek TH at Holland Lake to the Swift Reservoir TH, set a record for attendance with 16 starters. Under sunny and warm skies on Saturday morning the various hikers fanned out into five different drainages above Upper Holland Lake, taking diverse routes down to the South Fork the Flathead. Mike, Kevin, and John (Helena, MT), Nick and Conner (Bigfork, MT), and Morgan and Justin (NorCal) all headed down Gorden Creek and took advantage of the Big Prairie pack bridge to cross the South Fork. The middle two pairs both headed up the White River and crossed the Continental Divide at Larch Hill before descending Rock Creek to Gates Park along the North Fork of the Sun. Conner and Nick stayed west, cutting off a few miles by not using the Headquarters Creek bridge in exchange for a burly wade across the North Fork at Lick Creek. They then took Sun River pass north before cutting east through the Gateway Gorge and taking the South Fork of Birch Creek down to Swift Reservoir, and eventually the trailhead. Nick and Conner finished Tuesday night at 10pm.

Mike, Kevin, and John followed the upper White into Wall Creek, which facing north was snowy and presented route finding issues. They camped the second night at the Pentagon patrol cabin, and tackled the big climb up Switchback pass and the traverse past Dean Lake and down to the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Flathead on a sunny Monday morning after a night of hard freezing. They considered pushing on up Gateway Creek into the South Fork of Birch, but after extrapolating a 5am finish decided to camp and finish the next day, which they did, around 130pm on Tuesday.

Morgan and Justin had set out on the slow plan, with heavy and luxurious food bags, plus fishing gear which Justin put to good use. They Went over White River pass and made their way down to Gibson Reservoir before calling for a pickup Thursday afternoon completing an enjoyable traverse.

Dan (Vancouver, CA) and Tanner (Bozeman) led Greg (Colorado) and myself on a route of my own design, wrapping around cross country to the frozen Lena Lake before heading over a second pass to descend Burnt and Holbrook Creeks, respectively. Dan had a packraft while Tanner did not, and fortuitous timing allowed the former to get a good view as the later swam the South Fork. Dan continued floating down to the Mid Creek takeout, making 6-7 mph, while Tanner hiked up the White River. Dan hiked around Meadow Creek gorge, and kept hiking into the night up Harrison and Corporal Creeks, making camp at 1130pm 3 miles short of the Spotted Bear river.

I descended Bartlett Creek to the South Fork, putting in on the river upstream and several hours after Dan. By the time I floated to the White River I was quite cold in my open boat, and decided to ascend the White that evening rather than float further south and climb over Pagoda Pass. I made it most of the way to the South Fork of the White, camping on a gravel bar several miles short of the camp Tanner made along the same drainage.

Meanwhile Greg had tweaked his knee on the slick beargrass traverse to Lena Lake, and after changing course to descend Big Salmon Creek and hiking until midnight to make up time, was stopped by high water in the dark at Black Bear Creek. Greg awoke from a short bivouac to find a knee not in good shape, realized that further travel was unwise, hiked and rafted out to the Spotted Bear ranger station, and arranged a ride out. Derek, traveling from Georgia and descending Pendant Lakes to Big Salmon Creek, caught up with Dan in the wee hours of Sunday morning, traveling entirely on foot. Unfortunately, he was also stopped cold by the high and fast Spotted Bear river. While Dan was able to raft across, Derek decided a ford was not possible and bailed after hiking to the ranger station downstream.

Les and Micah from Helena, along with Chase and Alex from Oregan, had also descended Pendant to Big Salmon Lake. The former pair with an ambitious plan to ascend Pagoda Pass before dark and push for a 48 hour finish. The snow in the high country made this not possible, and they camped in Helen Creek at 10pm. The next day they crossed over Pagoda and descended to the White, not far behind me and not far ahead of Mike et al. They camped below Switchback Sunday night, and made a long push out the same route Mike, Kevin, and John would travel to finish at 10pm on Monday.

Tanner was still further ahead on the same course, following the Upper White into Wall Creek and ascending Switchback pass and dropping into and crossing the Middle Fork to camp near Gooseberry Sunday night. He took a clever diversion into the Middle Fork of Birch Creek, which both saved distance and avoided the horribly horse-wrecked trail along the South Fork of Birch. Tanner finished in the early afternoon Monday.

First to finish was Dan, who reached at trailhead at 845am Monday. After crossing the Spotted Bear early Sunday morning he combined trails and bushwacking to drop north into the upper reaches of Schafer Creek, which he followed to Schafer Meadows and a packraft crossing of the Middle Fork of the Flathead. Good, muddy trail up Cox Creek took him to Badger Pass just before dark, and a bivouac near snowline on the east side when darkness made navigation problematic. The next morning a quick bit of rafting the North Fork of Birch Creek and hiking along the north shore of the reservoir had him at the TH very quickly indeed.

Lastly, I crossed the Sun on the Headquarters Creek bridge Monday morning, and took Route Creek and Nesbit Creek over into the North Fork Teton drainage, then followed that north into Phone Creek. A gorgeous meadows amongst birch groves at 6000′ compelled a stop at 8pm. I woke up refreshed the next morning, and rafting a fair bit of the South Fork of Birch Creek before paddling across the reservoir and reaching the TH at 11am.  Chase and Alex had originally planned on fording the S Fork, but decided against it and detoured south Saturday evening to Big Prairie, where they then ascended the White and followed my route to Gates Park and beyond.  They were behind schedule due to Alex’s swollen ankle, and contemplated having him picked up from the Teton road when they arrived there Wednesday night, but felt better the next morning and decided to both push on for the finish.  Like Morgan and Justin they were soaked by strong rain, and endured flooding creek crossings and a bit of hypothermia before finishing late Thursday afternoon.

Overall 2015 will stand for the wide variety of routes, widely varied scenery, and the many determined efforts put in by the various hikers to finish. The pre and post trip planning thread over at BPL is recommended for those seeking more detail, and contains links to all the trip reports from which the above information was collated.

5 responses to “The 2015 Bob Marshall Wilderness Open report”

  1. Dave- thanks for organizing this! It was really neat that no two “teams” shared the same route (some overlap to be sure, but no two routes were the same). So very many challenges, but the rewards easily outweighed the challenges.


    1. It’s a privilege to be able to prod folks out into doing something like this. Made for a very good May.

  2. I’m looking for some firsthand info on current flows for the South fork of the Flathead, near White River. I’m doing a pack trip and floating from the Youngs/Danaher confluence to the Mid Creek take out at the end of July and it looks like flows will be pretty low. I’ve been watching the Twin Creek gauge, but that’s down near Hungry Horse reservoir and I’m not sure how the CFS down there translates to the CFS further up river. Any help would be much appreciated. Thank Youuuuuuu amigos!

    1. Hi Bryan, in a minute I’ll be reposting and updating an old post on South Fork flows which should be useful. If you have more questions just ask there. Thanks for reading.

  3. […] I walked the last 2 miles around the reservoir not sure what I’d find. I wondered if Tanner or maybe the trail runners would be there to chat about the trip, but when I rolled in at 8:45am there was just everyone else’s cars in the parking area. Reaching the end is always anti-climatic after the relentless intensity of a long traverse (105 miles, 48.75 hrs). It’s also a nice relief, so I laid on the grass for an hour soaking it in. I drove away at 10am and made it halfway over highway 2 before fatigue finally set in and I pulled over for a few hours of sleep. (Post script: Tanner finished about 3 hours later. His route was just as fast but he caught more sleep than I did. Full results here). […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s