The Open has always been my idea but the story has always ever been a tiny bit my own, at best, something which is proving to be less and less the case as years go by. Rather than attempt the more exhaustive accounts I have in the past, this one will be as terse as a good sense of completeness will allow. With something like the Open, any sense of the definitive is an illusion.
The 2019 Bob Marshall Wilderness Open ran from Swift Reservoir to the Swan Lake Campground. 24 starters (below) made for the largest group of aspirants yet.
The winter of 2019 made for an average snowpack in the northern part of the Bob complex, but a very cold winter and cold, rainy spring with several record setting blizzards made for plentiful high and mid elevation snow come later May. A cold and rainy week leading up to the start date had rivers and streams seasonally low levels Saturday morning, something that would change soon.
The vast majority of hikers took the North Fork of Birch Creek over Badger Pass to Cox Creek. Rain and route finding issues through the new burn up high gave folks pause for thought, but the snow was less rotten than the preceding week of rain and warm nights suggested. Aside from a handful of packrafters, these folks all bet on a reasonable ford near the mouth of Dolly Varden Creek, which with the Middle Fork around 6000 cfs (at West Glacier) ended up being well founded. Everyone made it across without swimming. Some fast and determined hikers continued into the night over Gunsite ridge to the Spotted Bear road, while most camped below the snow line in the Middle Fork basin.
Two hikers, both with boats, took the other option up the South Fork of Birch Creek into the Gateway Gorge and eventually to Strawberry Creek. One took Clark Creek over Trilobite Ridge into the Pentagon drainage, camping near the Forest Service cabin that night before putting in at Dean Creek Sunday morning (above Dean the Spotted Bear is class IV-V at higher flows). The second hiker ran the full upper Middle Fork, including Three Forks onsight without a portage at nearly 7000 cfs, making it to Granite Creek by dark, and Spruce Park (on foot) by 0215 Sunday. A bivy in the rain, without anything more than damp fleece and a drysuit, proved a trial, and the resultant lack of energy (compounded by the onset of what would later he diagnosed as Rocky Mountain Spotted fevor) led to a bail to Highway 2 the next day.
Remarkably, two folks chose a combo route (North Fork Birch to upper Strawberry) which put them on the same pass over the Trilobite. These two, along with several others, bailed at Spotted Bear, with the connective tissue and fatigue typical of the Open proving the decisive factor.
Sunday morning saw folks, as is usual, moving early and spread over nearly 40 miles of terrain. Rafting the lower Spotted Bear proved very fast (6-9 mph) for those with packrafts, without being so high as to be hazardous (though one gent did flip in the small gorge right above the confluence with the South Fork). Those without boats suffered a large amount of road walking; reflective of poor course design, extra punishment for not having a boat, unimaginative route planning, or all of the above. Fast finishers arrived in Swan Lake Sunday afternoon or Monday morning, with all routes over the Swan Range having at least one issue, generally either overgrown trail, snowy route finding, swollen creeks (one of which stopped folks for hours) or some combination.
Most, though by no means all, participants counted the weight of snowshoes as well spent, with 23 people choosing the pack them. Around 2/3s of participants finished, and everyone made it out safely, in one form or another. Almost everyone reports excitement for next year.