Concerning broification

Broification: a trend in outdoor adventure sports/activities, which results in an increase in the perceived average level of mastery within a given pursuit, thus dissuading novices from pursuing any nascent interest.

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If you don’t already read Hansi Johnson’s Universal Klister I’d suggest you start, as it’s one of the most authentic outdoor blogs around.  Mr. Johnson does a bunch of stuff outside, from skiing to biking to fishing to hunting, and is deeply involved in trail and recreation advocacy and local politics (in Duluth, MN and the upper midwest).  He has a longitudinal, multifaceted perspective on the industry, and a habit of telling things as they are, which makes him an ideal candidate for inventing and disseminating the term broification, which I attempted to define above.

Johnson views and pursues broification from the perspective of an access advocate, and I would assume, as a dad.  He sees the artificial inflation of things like skiing and biking as a wedge which will separate current practitioners from future ones, and make city and town governments less likely to see outdoor pursuits as future assets.  When the predominant vision of mountain biking involves 1% terrain* and a riding style which exacerbates erosion it understandably ceases to be an example, both for many new riders and for towns who might be looking to build trails as part of a development strategy.  That >2000 dollar mountain bikes have become commonplace, and that quality <1000 dollar bikes less common, only underlines this problem.

That problem being, a significant part of the appeal here, from fishing across to overlanding, skiing, and backpacking, is being a member of an exclusive group.  Not exclusive because others are excluded intentionally or because of socioeconomic factors, but because membership is gained via skill.  That skill is had from time invested in learning the activity, and with that skill comes an enlightened perspective on the world.  You’ll hear it everywhere in the outdoor realm; ____ (cyclists, hikers, etc) are better people.  More trustworthy.  Easy to get along with.  Kinder.  The  depth of friendship with a new acquaintance is often pushed years forward if said acquaintance is made on a backpacking trip or 100 mile ride or powder day.

Johnson’s original post got a big boost last week when it was picked up by Adventure Journal.  There’s a not inconsiderable amount of irony here, as A-J would make about any top-ten list of broifying publications.  Johnson’s post led with a photo of snow-caked blue jeans, A-J a group of mountaineers way the hell up on a snowy peak.  Two decades ago living the dream entailed an old pickup and 50 dollars from the lumber yard.  Today it’s a Sprinter and “custom” mods, starting at 50,000 dollars.  The perception that things of this nature are essential, important, or even the end goal of outdoor activities is probably good for selling stuff to the initiated, but I agree with Johnson that a secondary effect is putting off a certain percentage of newbies.  Why this is a problem is another subject entirely, but I do think it is a problem.

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I’m far from convinced that the language of advertising in the outdoor industry is the most important factor.  Public land access and the structural/societal reasons why outdoor recreation remains a white and affluent world are far more significant, long and short term.  That said, broification is real.  It is real because it is a problem, and it is a problem because people lie.  They lie in advertising, and they lie on social media.  They, meaning me, lie right here though I try to not do it too often.  Outdoor sports are awesome precisely because of their accessibility.  Anyone reading this, baring significant disability or medical issue, could with a few years of hard work climb iconic, cool stuff.  Probably not 5.14, but definitely hard 5.11.  Anyone with the inclination to learn and the motivation to get out and progress could within 4-5 years do a trip like this one, as pictured above.  Anyone with a decent bike and a year or two of hard riding can go out and ride the Whole Enchilada, walking only a handful of places.

Publications and companies who artificially inflate reality may ultimately be shooting themselves in the foot, both by reducing their potential market, and by radness fatigue.  Authenticity is in the social media age a precious commodity, and broification is if anything inauthentic.

*Both in terms of skill to ride and more significantly the distribution of said terrain across the planet.

2015 Alpacka Yukon Yak review

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A year ago exactly I had a very good week; at the beginning of it I won a new raft at the Packraft Roundup, at the end of it Little Bear was born.  After a year of intermittent use I’ve finally gotten a good enough grasp of the new boat to say something meaningful about it.

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My 2015 Yukon Yak has a cargo fly and whitewater deck.  Before I ever put it in the water I glued in points for thigh straps, and rear attachments for skis.  I use a length of 5/8″ polypro webbing for a rear grab handle.  Before I go further, I should say that the dual loop ski lash points are the way to go, as they totally eliminate flop.  I’d also like to see Alpacka make thigh strap lash points a factory option.  Basic straps are an almost mandatory mod for whitewater, even the moderate whitewater I paddle, and while gluing these in yourself isn’t complicated (and is good repair practice) it does take time as well as expensive and nasty smelling glue.

My perspective on packrafting is that I do it as a wilderness activity, usually solo, and usually as a means to the end of a multiday traverse.  With time out limited by work and kiddo, I rarely choose to do a day packrafting trip, and it has been years since I took my packraft on a car-shuttled, “sidecountry” float.  I don’t have particularly developed whitewater skills, and due to the context I usually boat in I maintain a large safety buffer on moving water. All of this heavily influences what I want from a packraft.

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The 2015 Yak is heavier, and more significantly bulkier, than my 2010 Yak, and than I would prefer it to be.  The cargo zipper, extra material involved in the longer boat, and tubing which builds the combing of the whitewater deck all take up a lot of space.  More boat means a larger pack, which is heavier, gets hung up more easily, and so forth.  The advance of packraft performance has a substantial cost associated with it, something which is too infrequently highlighted.

That said, the performance improvements of the 2015 boat over the 2010 boat are enormous, and they apply in almost all circumstances.  It is hard to say they’re not worth the added weight, bulk, and indeed cost.

The longer boat is much faster than the old boat, both in a straight line and when accelerating.  Flatwater paddling and whitewater maneuvering are both massively improved.  The long stern vastly increases stability and hole-punching ability.  I saw all of these first hand, the flatwater speed was obvious in the 2012 Wilderness Classic when Luc Mehl and Josh Mumm easily pulled away from me on the lower Tasnuna, and the value of the long stern was plain when Spencer had a much easier time with the bucking waves of the North Fork of the Blackfoot two years ago.  Having these advantages on my side has been very welcome, and it would have been worth it a few years ago to sell my old boat and pay the difference to upgrade.

The whitewater deck is similarly functional, with reservations.  It’s a lot drier, and a lot warmer, than the cruiser deck.  The added warmth alone justifies the irritation associated with packing the pipes.  It was also nice to see that the deck is seam taped, which was my major complaint about the old deck.  Rigging the whitewater deck takes more time, and getting the skirt around the combing can be a pain with cold fingers, and the skirt does leak a bit and pool water occasionally, but overall it just plain works.

The cargo fly was a greater subject of my skepticism, but I have mostly been converted.  No question, arriving at the takeout with your pack not soaked is very nice, especially on a cold day.  It saves weight too.  Having the weight low and centered improves maneuverability in whitewater, and makes room for skis or a bike.  It is important, especially in more difficult whitewater or if you’ll be doing any portaging at all, to secure the cargo within the tubes so it can’t flop around.  The buckles on the Alpacka dry bags are well thought out in this respect, and with the Seek Outside Divide the bachelor buckles can be hooked to the webbing loops inside the boat.

On the other hand, the zipper does introduce a rather massive point of failure, and in spite of careful and proactive care I’m not at all convinced it won’t wear out well before other parts of the boat.  Whether that happens at all close to the time I’ll want to upgrade, I cannot say.  My zipper did develop a pinhole leak, which was easily fixed, but does not necessarily inspire confidence.

Rather then repeat my request for a ~4.5 pound all up decked boat for light wilderness stuff, I’ll thank Alpacka for making such a capable product.  It was almost startling a few days ago just how much easier the 2015 Yak made the more technical rapids.  That so much performance can be had out of such a light and small package is quite amazing, and while the packraft continues to mature as a product we users should not allow ourselves to forget how revolutionary (for reals) the original implementation of a durable, packable one person boat really, really was.

Bear aware, maybe

Last week a Forest Service law enforcement officer, Flathead native, and longtime recreator in bear country was killed by a bear near West Glacier.  According to rumor, and the local paper,  the bear was probably a Grizzly, and the gentleman collided with the bear while going quite fast down a gentle, tightly forested descent on his mountain bike.  The bear reacted out of surprise and fear, and the injuries were quickly fatal.

DSC00601Grizzly sow and cub, center right, a comfortable 3/4 mile away.  M photo.

There is a longstanding and vigorous campaign around here, and in the Yellowstone area, to be “bear aware.”  As presented in the handouts you’ll get in national parks, the signs you’ll see on forest service land, on the posters you’ll see in local stores, being bear aware means carrying bear spray, hiking in groups, storing ones food wisely, sleeping away from said food storage, and being careful when hiking near food sources or in noisy areas.  As a matter of public policy it is important to have a soundbite-friendly version of this to which neophytes are likely to pay attention, but I cringe 50 times a summer when I see folks sauntering around with spray clipped to their packs, out of reach and available for accidental triggering.  Spray certainly deters attacks, and for every such attack surely gives 100 hikers the poise necessary to not panic during a close encounter.  Incidental, indoor discharge is also responsible for the temporary evacuation of a building or two every summer, and while its effects aren’t deadly, bear spray is nonetheless a potent weapon carried around with a carelessness unacceptable in any other context.

Frankly, while it is unrealistic to expect the millions of tourists who roll through the Crown Ecosystem to undertake sufficient research to form their own opinions of what being prudent in bear country entails, anyone who spends a lot of time in the bear woods without plenty of research is doing themselves a disservice.

Living here, and being in those woods on a daily basis, one is almost obligated to become inured to the hazard.  This past Saturday, on a routine 2 hour hike with Little Bear, on a trail I’ve biked in the past, we came upon a black bear off in the bushes at 30 yards.  Another black bear was right behind it.  I watched them, for less time than I would have had I been without a child in a backpack, and then yelled a little to scare them off.  And they complied by disappearing in the opposite direction.  Bears probably aren’t common in this area, Grizzlies especially, but it is 10 minutes from home, and 300 yards from a group of houses.  Bears don’t easily live among us, but they live far closer far more often than most people imagine.  Grizzlies included.  Certain activities, like mountain biking, are no doubt more probable than others to produce a bad encounter, but more time spent out there increases the likelihood of running across the wrong bear, in the wrong place, and at the wrong time.  When it happens, as it did last week, neither bear nor human may be doing anything miscreant and incorrect.

R0010682Sow griz and two cubs, at a comfortable 1.5 miles.  I later saw them at a less comfy 120 yards.

So the first thing for proper bear awareness is the admission that bears kill humans, and not always when they are a sow with cubs or protecting a kill.  The probability is low, but it is possible that while you are out in the woods a bear might kill you through no fault of your own.

Next, admit that certain activities are less safe than others.  Anything high velocity, quiet, off trail, in the fall during hyperphagia, and in a group of less than four increases the probability of a bad injurious or fatal encounter.  Read Herrero’s Bear Attacks, and all the great data kept by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, and decide for yourself, but in my mind the evidence here in overwhelming.  That said, at least 50% of the time I am personally out in Grizzly country I’m doing at least two of these things at once, and not infrequently all of them simultaneously.

I’ve reconciled myself with that because my reading of the research tells me that the most significant factor in keeping bear encounters from turning wrong is not doing anything stupid.  Be aware of the area you’re moving through, read the situation when you do encounter a bear, and act with cold rationality.  Most of the time all this entails is not getting any closer, acting confident but non-threatening, and allowing the bear to figure out what you are.  My closest sustained encounter with a Griz was during the 2012 Bob Open, hiking through Pretty Prairie around dusk.  I was on high alert, because dusk is good time for bears, especially in the long days of spring, and that area is a good place for spring bears, with big south facing meadows and lots of deer and elk.  True to expectation, I came upon a bear as I emerged into meadow.  It took a good minute or more doing a quarter circle of me at 30 yards, standing to better look and smell several times, before winding me and running off, quickly.  I did nothing but stand still, made possible by not panicking, as I was on bear alert.  It’s worth noting that these days I would probably not hike so late into the night, alone, in that particular place at that particular time of year.  Bears can be almost anywhere at the most unlikely time, but fear evenly applied across settings sucks focus from when it can be best put to use.

Beyond this, bring spray if you want to.  It has a good track record, so long as it isn’t too windy or raining hard.  I still find the fragility of the nozzle disconcerting, and believe that 80% of folks who carry spray are putting themselves at net greater risk, due to the frequency of accidental discharge (spray on shoulder strap, alder pulls trigger, spray in face, blind hike out).  Also bring a firearms if you want to, provided you’ve trained the hell out of it.  Plenty of incidents in Alaska where a good shot saved someone from a good mauling.  That said, 75% of the rafters I saw on the South Fork of the Flathead in early August two years ago had 3-5 pound revolvers in chest rigs, and I’m very skeptical that many would have been able to shoot them well enough to do any good under duress.

IMG_0782Griz print in the Almost-a-Dog chimney, Norris Traverse.  Bears go where they want, often in very improbably places.

In summary, being bear aware is mostly about being self-aware, though having a decent knowledge of what bears do at different times is also important.  A good nights sleep in bear country shouldn’t be the result of ignorance, or even worse, a bunch of Tylenol PM.  It should be earned, over time, and while that doesn’t help the policy makers much, concerned as they must be with greatest good for greatest number, proper knowledge built on a body of experience is nonetheless the only way to really get there.  No shortcuts.

How to aquaseal your trail shoes

Adding aquaseal to one’s trail shoes should be standard practice to maximize useful life, otherwise known as trying to keep the upper hole-free until the tread is worn down to nothing.  If you walk in rough terrain, and especially if you get your shoes wet frequently, this is not always easy to accomplish.  Depending on shoe material and construction, aquaseal may help a little or it may help a great deal.

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Pictured here is all you need: new shoes, old shoes, and aquaseal.  Strictly speaking you only need new shoes (but as will be discussed old ones are handy as a guide), and you can use seam grip rather than aquaseal.  I’ve heard tell, and believe, that seam grip is aquaseal diluted, and as the later is usually the same cost or cheaper I always purchase it.

Old shoes are useful because they provide a good guide for which areas to reinforce.  This varies from both shoe to shoe, and from user to user, depending on how you walk.  If you’re on a new model, or have never before given your shoes the treatment, you can’t go wrong with a coating on either side of the metatarsals (what I do below), along with all lower stitching in the front part of the shoe.  If your shoes have a linear, totally exposed midsole (like the old X Country) it might be prone to delamination, and a bead of aquaseal along the midsole/upper connection is a good idea.

Thankfully the Bushidos are one of the more durable trail shoes I’ve used.  There is minimal area to reinforce, which along with the nice faux-leather and TPU reinforcement patches (which hold aquaseal well) results in a 90 second job.

Other shoes will need more time, and more care.  Shoes with large areas of thinish mesh beg for lots of aquaseal, but excessive thickness will create a rough patch inside that can eat feet.  I ruined a pair of New Balance MT100s this way.  Other shoes, like the Altra Lone Peaks, have such weak mesh that wherever the aquaseal ends will provide the failure point, and short of coating the entire upper a little extra life without gravel-swallowing holes is all you can hope for.

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There is a not inconsiderable extent to which using trail shoes for rugged hiking and backpacking is not ethical; it’s a damn good way to add lots of shoes to landfills.  Until a light, low-topped, resoleable option becomes available, I find it an environmental and economic imperative to try to make the things last as long as possible.

If my new Bushidos can persist as long as the old ones, who have reached the end of useful tread and upper right at the same time (with an aquaseal treatment to help out), I’ll be happy.

2016 Bob Open analysis

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18 folks started the Bob Open this year, a new record.  Near as I can tell, 12 finished.  As has been the case in the past, most of the chat has been over at BPL, but posting there now requires a small fee, which may require a change of venue.  Point being, anyone can show up for the Open, and no one has to say anything either before or after.  The following is my conjecture and my conjecture only, based on incomplete information.  No one, not even those of us who showed up, will ever have the complete picture.  Thankfully.

Everyone finished their traverse by hiking up Little Salmon and Palisade Creeks to Lion Creek Pass, then down Lion Creek.  Folks with boats had the luxury of floating the fast the easy Swan River to the Cedar Creek bridge, while those on foot had one of several dirt and paved (ditch) road walks to the finish.  The quickest finish was Les and Micah from Helena, purely on foot, in ultrarunner/hiker style, and in not much over 48 hours.  Reportedly they navigated the snowy and not-obvious Lion Creek pass in the dark, which must have been adventurous.  Slowest finish belonged to John and Thad, also from Helena, whose 4 day 7 hour route included an afternoon relaxing and spin fishing in Big Salmon Lake.

Saturday morning at Bean Lake everyone headed west up the Dearborn River, save Derek, who took a road and prairie route to the Benchmark road, by all accounts both expedient and foot crushing.  He made the Indian Creek patrol cabin on the West Fork of the Sun River by late that evening, for 46 foot miles.  Most of the Dearborn pack continued over the pass into Straight Creek, where some continued straight (both boating and walking) while others headed west over Elbow and Observation Passes to Danaher Creek.  The remainder of the field headed west and then south, taking Whitetail Creek into the headwaters of the North Fork of the Blackfoot, before taking the Dry Fork of the Blackfoot into Danaher Meadows.  I think the Elbow and Observation route was the quickest, if you had a raft to float Danaher and the South Fork.  The Teton Trio made the Basin Creek cabin, 48 miles of hiking, by midnight.  I floated from around the same location down to Little Salmon in seven hours, starting at noon on Sunday.  I also think everyone missed the boat by going over Lion Creek pass.  Taking Bunker Creek to Inspiration Pass and the Napa Point trail was I think the quickest finish, with fast boating miles to the Meadow Creek takeout, and much faster walking over the Swan Divide.

As has been the case in the past, and will doubtless remain the case in the future, connective tissue and joint issues caused the majority of bails.  The Bob Marshall in spring provides a unique combination of hard-packed trail miles and soft, uneven mud, snow, and deadfall.  Combine these two with 12-16 hour stretches on the trail and the legs are bound to suffer, and any chinks in ones training.

The Open will continue on Memorial Day weekend in 2017, with a similar or slightly longer course.

Rab Novak

For several years now I’ve been looking for an ideal fleece insulating layer, with only modest success.  This layer should be warm enough for stand-alone use in many three-season conditions, as light as possible, have minimal to no lycra in the fabric, fit over a baselayer but under a shell, and have a few pockets as well as a functional hood.  Until recently almost all men’s fleece jackets were either hoodless, or not as warm as desired.  The old Patagonia Los Lobos jacket came close to this ideal, but the hood was baggy, taking up too much space under a rain jacket and blocking peripheral vision.  I bought an XL women’s Retool hoody from Patagonia, which fit when modified and had ideal fabric, but the kangaroo pocket on this pullover was made from moisture loving mesh, and I could never make the hood fit quite right.  Then a few years ago Rab came out with the Novak hoodie, and all my problems were solved.

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The Novak hides in plain sight as part of Rab’s “Escape” lifestyle line.  It’s a solid coffee shop or bouldering jacket, but this winter and spring I’ve been using it as a technical layer with great success.  The hood, fit, and features are classic Rab.  The sleeves and torso are long, the hood covers my brow and stays put with nothing more than tailoring, and the jacket has two hand pockets and one left chest pocket.  Hem drawcords, good non-absorbent mesh in the pockets, and plain finished cuffs round out the package.

The cuffs are the one aspect of the Novak’s casual intent that come up short in the backcountry.  The sleeves run from the elbow to cuff with minimal taper, making the large wrist opening a significant source of heat loss.  Thankfully the arm seam is plain finished, and the cuff seam serged with only two lines of thread, making it fairly easy to rip a few inches of the cuff seam and 5 or so inches of the arm before giving the lower sleeve quite a bit more taper when sewing it back together.  In the above photo I’ve taken almost two inches of circumference out of each cuff compared to stock, and there is still enough room and stretch for the sleeves to be rolled up above my elbows.

The Novak fabric is 270 grams/meter, 100% polyester “honeycomb” fleece Polartec has been pushing lately.  The exterior has a somewhat dense, rough texture, while the inside is as soft and a bit denser than traditional fleece.  This fabric is a bit thinner than traditional 300-weight fleece, and has a hair of wind resistance.  It dries quickly, and moves moisture fast.  The only downside, relative to the more fluffy heavy fleeces (e.g. Patagonia Synchilla) is that it’s substantially less cuddly for anyone you might have occasion to hug, especially when the Novak is new.

I’ve worn the Novak to work and the brewery plenty, where the warmth and understated look are appreciated.  I also used it as my only insulating layer on this trip, and my primary insulation for this trip.  For outings where internal and external moisture are both probable issues, fleece works better, and when the cold is serious, a thick fleece like the Novak is my preference.

Beyond that, I think there is a good case to be made for something like the Novak as an outright replacement for a light synthetic fill jacket (such as the Rab Xenon) in all circumstances.  The Xenon has an edge in weight (roughly a half pound lighter), packed size, and in having integrated windproofing.  The Novak has the edge in better moisture management, not loosing insulating value with use (or only doing so very slowly), and in being less than a third the price.  When you combine the lower price of entry with how quickly fills like Primaloft loose insulating value, I find the Xenon option hard to justify, both from an economic and aesthetic perspective.

There are now a couple of good, heavier, technical fleece hoodys on the mens market.  Most, like the current version of the Patagonia R3, are a bit lighter than the Novak, but most also approach synthetic fill jackets in price.  At $70 the Novak is a bargain, and it being so functional only enhances the deal.  My only wishes for improvement are the cuff fit, as mentioned, and for the fabric which backs the hem drawcord to not be more absorbent than the main fabric.  Otherwise, the Novak is about as good as fleece gets, given current technology.

The 2016 Bob Open: all about me

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The Bob Open started undefined years ago, at whatever time in the early to mid oughts I first heard about the Wilderness Classic.  That skillset was far enough away that I couldn’t really identify how to get from where I was to where I could go to Alaska and cross 150 miles of wilderness, quickly and safely.  That desire stayed in the back of my head for years, as I went through a bunch of different outdoor pursuits.  Then in 2009 we were living in Missoula and Ryan Jordan at BPL posted about Le Parcour de Wild, an October traverse of the Bob complex from south to north.  I teamed up with Kevin Sawchuk, and while he was the experienced and more fit side of the team, I held my own and we finished the trip in some tough conditions.  The next spring I did an aborted crossing of Yellowstone, which showed what was possible.  That summer, in 2010, I finally got a packraft, and by the following spring I was well into the final preparation for the Classic.  This trip was the prototype for the Bob Open, and proved the integrity of the concept which continues to this day.

All of which is to say that I had no excuses this year.  In my seventh year of this kind of trip, and sixth straight Memorial Day in the Bob itself nerves, mistakes, and anything other than solid execution of a solid plan would just not do.

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Plenty of folks, 18 in total, showed up Saturday morning to toe the line.  I recognized plenty of potentially fast folks, and plenty of the nerves I felt acutely in past years.  Les and Micah, the Helena ultrarunners, as well as Abby, Jason, and Fred, the Teton adventure racers, took off running.  Derek took off in the opposite direction as everyone else.  Most of us settled into a solid 3.5 mph walk down the hard and scenic dirt road along the Dearborn River.  This felt pretty fast once the same speed translated to the singletrack along the Dearborn.  A lot of people had, on the forum in the weeks before the start, professed to be on a three day plan for the crossing over to Cedar Creek.  I was as well, M was set to meet me there at 7 pm Monday night, and had few illusions about just how fast that schedule would require each hour to be.  So I kept pushing as Adrian from Minnesota drifted off the front.

A coffee and ramen break was in order once I broke off to cross the Dearborn and go up Whitetail Creek, into the very headwaters of the North Fork of the Blackfoot.  Good speed is one thing, calorie debt four hours in another.  Mike, John and Thad arrived as I was putting my stove away.  They were in good spirits indeed, but I was in a mood to just walk, and didn’t wait after wading the very cold stream.

Oft-used horse trails in the Bob are generally not pleasant walking, either broad, dusty, and hard enough to abuse the legs, or narrower, muddy, and ankle-twisting.  The Whitetail Creek trail was not either of these things, and obviously used more frequently by elk and bears than anything else.  It had been rerouted in the last decade or so, to in the modern style actually have switchbacks, and in some places the critters obviously favored the old way, which caused confusion.  I went 50 meters down the wrong way to make certain, and seeing fresh elk sign followed the old trail uphill.  There was deadfall but the 15 foot corridor through the pines was obvious, and led up into a steep sage sidehill, with a dozen bull elk visible at 80 meters.  Traversing to get a better view I caused an explosion in the scrub 20 meters up to the right; an enormous Grizzly ass, running away from me, spring fat vibrating furiously.  Apparently bull elk aren’t too fussed by big bears at medium distances.  Said elk were far more bothered by me as I followed their tracks, contouring up through aspens and an open hillside, from which I could here Mike et al down below, and contour back down to meet the trail with minimal bushwacking.

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Yesterdays video might not make the boating on the North Fork of the Blackfoot seem appealing, and the willow bashing and watching out for portages was constant.  I completely missed that mountain goat until I was reviewing clips days later.  But, it was fun, the sort of low-volume, moderate-speed, busy boating I love and with which I’ve become so familiar.  The five miles I floated until the river gorged up and the wood got much worse were no faster, or slower, than walking the good trail, but the value of an hour long alteration in mental and physical exertion was massive.  I took out, hiked another hour, cooked dinner high above the North and Dry Fork confluence, then kept rolling up the valley into the evening.

Initial planning had me thinking about making the foot of Danaher the first night, and hiking into the dark to do so, but I had miscounted those miles, and had very tired feet after a long and speedy day with a not-light pack, so I made camp at dark, at the first spot near water.

One bar before bed was not enough; my body couldn’t make heat well, and I woke after 45 minutes, shivering, and procrastinated a bit longer before stumbling out into the dark in socks, pulling my food bag down, eating more chocolate, and firing up the stove to make a hot water bottle.  Which ensured I fell asleep quickly and slept well, at least until a little after 5am when it got light and the birds woke up.  A further hour of rest did little to prevent packing, and the initial miles over the Dry Fork divide, from being a clumsy affair.  My mind was not sharp, and my ankles wobbly, and the miles came slower than it seemed like they should have.

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Danaher Meadows is a magic place, emblematic of the Bob in its expanse and blend of the gentle with the rugged.  Whitetail and Mule Deer ran ahead of my wake, and sandhill cranes crooned roughly from the far side of the bog.  I have plenty of nostalgia for the place, having passed through in 2009 with Kevin and 2011 on the proto-Open.  The weather was immaculate, but my feet were still slow, and the morning continued to pass faster than I wished.

So I did what often happens in the face of fatigue, but solo in the backcountry never should: I made a stupid decision, and put in on the creek shortly after the end of the meadows.  Things were fast for about 500 yards, before the oxbows bends began at the level of the spruce forest, with the predictable result of massive compound logjams at each bend, usually accompanied by a slow portage through the willows on moose trails.  After over an hour of flailing I gave up and headed back to the trail, having confirmed at last that the conventional wisdom concerning Danaher was correct.  I was hastily rerigging the boat, at the usual putin, when some trees cracked and Tyler walked up.  He and Seth had walked over Straight and Elbow passes the day before, and camped on the far side of the Observation that night.  That morning they had followed the tracks of the Teton crew, benefiting from the nights hard freeze.  It seemed obvious to me that if his mindset held he’d finish, and I felt bad about being cranky and anti-social.  We went our separate ways, he on trail, me at last rafting a stretch I knew to be efficient.

Lower Danaher isn’t short, or short on deadfall to avoid and occasionally portage, but is beautiful, quick, and highly entertaining.  I certainly had less water than five years ago, and barely more than July two years ago, but that was mostly fine.  It would take longer to float the 30 miles down to Little Salmon Creek than I had anticipated, but now I was content with that.

Never during the Open have I run into so many people in the heart of the woods.  First Tyler, then the Teton trio on the nice bench before the White River, and not long before dark Derek, responding to my “hey bear” call.  The Teton folks, running three to a Gnu, had come to grief in the same rapid which got Spencer (and almost got me) on that July trip.  I convinced the stretch down to Little Salmon was acceptably mellow, and floated most of the way with them, before running a rapid they portaged and taking out further down river.  They had put in a 48 mile day on Saturday, and if they wanted to catch me that evening could plainly do so.

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Derek’s “road warrior” route had given him a similarly huge first day, but mentally he looked a little done in that night, having missed the navigation a bit on White River Pass, and facing if anything a more complex task up Lion Creek.  My head was tired, and I saw no value in pushing on beyond dark, and told him so.  So I found the first mossy spot off the trail clear of brush, pitched my tarp, and built a little fire right on the trail to dry out and ensure good sleep.  Which worked, though the thunder woke me up in the middle of the night, along with Derek’s oaths as he re-rigged his tarp to be above rather than below him.

In theory we were not quite 30 miles from the end; 2 or so miles to the Palisade Lake Trail, a little over 5 miles to the pass, 10 miles to the trailhead, 3 or 4 down the road to the Swan River, and 8 miles of river to the Cedar Creek bridge.  Waking up I had the sense that these would not be fast miles.  We were on the trail a bit before six, with the weather looking pretty good, and put a few miles down before shit got real on the Palisade Creek trail.  If a path in the Bob is both below the alpine and “not recommended for stock” you can assume this means both skinny and muddy as well as with plenty of deadfall.  We put forth good effort, but the miles did not pass quickly.  We hit solid snow a few hundred vertical feet below the lake, and contoured up towards the pass on decently supportive crust, following the same pair of tracks we’d seen traces of all day.  Good hiking, but still the miles did not come quickly.  At last we made the pass, and even on the way down the miles did not come quickly.

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The first rule for going fast in the Bob Open is to not do anything silly.  The second rule is that when you do something silly anyway, try to slow down and not make it worse.  I made two poor decisions in about an hour, and thankfully neither went too far wrong.  From the pass a goat trail crossed the talus into some ledges, with the summer trail visible 500 feet below.  A swath of steep snow cut through some trees to our left.  Rather than crossing the talus to some skiable scree and going down the obvious way we detoured to the snow, which as it was north facing was hard and between 35 and 40 degrees.  I quickly found out that Derek is both not a terribly experienced snow climber and a bit afraid of heights, as his descent involved a bit of swearing.  But we made the trail fine and were shortly headed downhill efficiently, following grizzly shortcuts from snowy switchback to snowy switchback.

The second poor decision was when we crossed Lion Creek and ended up in a massive, pounded out outfitter camp with a faint leading downstream.  After a few hundred meters of vague going it seemed obvious to me that such a well used camp could not be logically connected to such a small trail.  I assumed, incorrectly, that the well used path we saw going uphill from the camp led to the main path, and we killed 20 minutes up the hill in the snow and alders trying to find it.  As it turned out the left branch before the creek crossing, which I did not take, went to the main trail, which we eventually found.  All this points to three things: evaluate all your assumptions before making navigational decisions, the fact that Cairn choose to leave outfitter spur trails off their maps is pretty lame, and the level of use the FS allows stock outfitters to inflict on the Bob is unacceptable.

But we had miles to make, and still those miles did not come quickly.  I was a bit frustrated at the deadfall, and more frustrated by the steep and rocky trail which pounded my feet, but mostly frustrated by my inability to capture the mentality necessary to grind out the miles present to details of efficiency without excessive attachment to outcome.  The Lion Creek trail is very scenic, with some spectacular waterfalls, cedar forests, and boulder gardens, but I was too preoccupied with the miles left to the road, and the probability I’d be late to meet Meredith.

In the end I was not late to meet Meredith, as the universal rule of constant forward motion dictated.  Derek let me go in the final miles of trail, and I pounded out the road walking refusing to go any slower.  The Swan, which I had never floated, was actually great; fast but easy, with enough logjams and weird channeled sections to keep me awake, which at that point was a serious concern.  The river was the only part of the day which went a bit faster than I had thought, and at 5:55pm I floated in, done.

More than anything I’m thankful for what the Bob and Bob Open trips have given me over the years.  As ever, it is great fun to watch the stories roll in.  It seemed to me the first night of the trip, as it does today, that the current arrangement for the Open is close to ideal.  A time slot which is convenient for most folks and gives a built-in holiday, and a time of year which will over years provide a variety of conditions.  The last two years have been low on the snow and water, but 2011 and 2012 were much tougher, so who is to say what 2017 will bring?  Right now my intention is keep things as is, and be there next year so veterans and newbies alike can show up if they like.  I will keep praying for snow, however.