One of the best, if not the best, thing about the Bob Open is that it isn’t about me or anyone else. It’s about everyone, going out and battling with their demons and desires on their own terms and hopefully learning what they wanted. The Bob itself is just a canvas, though not all canvas’s are equal.
I’ve written these summary reports each year because they’re a fun exercise and provide a convenient reference for the future. They certainly don’t even begin to get at any of the important stuff that took place. Most info used below can be found here.
The 2017 Bob Marshall Wilderness Open ran from the West Fork of the Teton River to the north end of Lake Inez, and took place after a big snow winter and under sunny and warm conditions. Saturday, Sunday and Monday all saw temperatures in the 80s at lower elevations, though mostly clear nights kept the abundant snow well frozen until late in the morning. Rivers were high, with the South Fork of the Flathead about 10,000 cfs all weekend.
18 men took the start. Everyone headed west into the headwaters of the North Fork of the Sun, almost everyone over the Olney/Nesbit pass, whose north side is burned and gains elevation quickly, with a forested south side that sidehills in dense timber and holds snow lower than one would think. Between the snow and unusually abundant deadfall many folks where starting to feel the burn by the time they reached the Sun in the late morning or early afternoon. Taking the North Fork valley all the way south to the South Fork of the Sun was the fastest initial option, with one party packrafting and several walking this stretch, and both enjoying good travel conditions. The next decision point was to take White River pass and trade a higher crossing and potentially tough ford of the West Fork of the Sun for quicker access to the pack bridge at Big Prairie, or to stick to the lowest route at take Stadler Pass into Danaher Creek, avoiding any potentially problematic crossings. One party discarded the longer and faster Sun River option and headed up Rock Creek to cross Larch Hill pass into the White River valley. Lastly, the first Bob Open ski participant took the northernmost route; over Washboard Reef, Switchback pass, and Wall Creek pass into the White River drainage.
Big stream crossings were a major theme. The Spotted Bear River at Pentagon Creek proved challenging, as did the West Fork of the Sun at Indian Creek, with the later providing at least one short ride. The southernmost ford of the White River near Brushy Park is often big and fast, and this year it was especially so, but one of the larger cruxes of the whole Open proved to be Gordon Creek, whose big basin had plenty of snow for the warm temperatures to melt. One party declined to cross Gordon and headed out over the Holland Gap instead, while all those who did cross reported a high level of concern, and at least one person took a wee swim. Noteable is one group coming out of the Danaher that was split up by an impromptu crossing of the South Fork on a recently downed Cottonwood.
Once across the South Fork crossing the Swan Range was still ahead, and was always going to be the crux of any route in such a big snow year. The one packrafter this year floated the White and South Fork down to Big Salmon, and took Pendant Pass down to Upper Holland Lake. This is a long and scenic route with a lot of higher altitude, north facing terrain, and as has been the case in the past delivered some tough going. The penalty for choosing the relatively easy option of the Holland Gap was double digit miles to make it south to Lake Inez, which was always going to be annoying mindnumbing, and this year proved quite mosquito infested as well. Of the two parties who came over the Holland Gap, one made the official finish, while one demurred and hitched a ride for the final dozen or so miles. The rest of the crew headed up Youngs and choose either Babcock Creek or Pyramid Pass as their final obstacle. The former was the shorter route, but the “trail” in upper Babcock is now even more buried in blowdown than in past years, and the going was tough. Connective tissue problems, fatigue, and general discretion and sanity had several participants pull up short mere miles from the finish, rather than endure a painful stretch of dirt road walking.
The end result is the largest number of starters ever, as well as the largest number (though not largest percentage) of DNFs ever. In some respects the conditions were ideal, in others they were exceedingly difficult, and the relentless and back-ended routes proved an ideal test of those who made it that far. The quality of storytelling certainly did not suffer.