Reflection on the Bob Marshall Trek by Dawna of Team Packerpillar
June 2012. I returned home from work following the same routine of backing my old beater of a Subaru into the driveway, sending a wave to the dogs who’s faces were smashed against the window adding more nose prints to the crusty ones already accumulated, and walking across the road to get the mail. But this day ended up being a very different one than the ordinary. This was the day I received my application packet in the mail for the Wilderness and Civilization Program. At this point I had no idea what this meant, but as my eyes scanned across the pages and my brain began to process the information I could feel the excitement growing through my body. This program would be perfect for me! One of the highlight of the program was over a week backpacking through the Bob Marshall Wilderness!
For those of you that are confused let me give you a little background on both what the Wilderness and Civilization Program is, and some information on the Bob Marshall. The Wilderness and Civilization Program is through the University of Montana in Missoula that takes a small group of 20 people for a semester of learning through field work and academic. After you have completed the program you will obtain a minor in Wilderness Studies in slightly over a semester. The Bob Marshall Wilderness was named after the famous wilderness activist Robert Marshall. Bob Marshall came from a very wealthy family and was an active outdoorsman. “Bob” was the co-founder of the Wilderness Act, well educated, and wrote many books like Arctic Village describing his experiences in wilderness. Bob was also the Chief of Forestry, and was the first to suggest wilderness preservation. Many know him as the man who walked 50 miles in a day. At the age of 38 Robert Marshall died on a train of an apparent heart attack. He never had children, and his wealth was divided into 3 trusts, one of them being wilderness preservation. This trust preserved 1 million acres called the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Western Montana.
I spent hours filling out paperwork and writing essays for this program. On the day I got the phone call saying I had been accepted into the program there were dreamy stars in my eyes. Later that night, when I laid my head on my pillow, it felt like I was laying on thousands of feathers from angels wings. I was dreaming of the wonderful adventure that awaited me.
Finally the day of departure came! Day 1: We were at the wrong trailhead. After several hours of dirt road driving we found the trail to enter the North Fork of Dupuyer. At about noon we were off! Ahh, the scent of fresh air and the long line of 11 people walking into the canyon of the Rocky Mountain Front in the Bob Marshall! I thought I was so ready and prepared for this moment, but as the day continued it all changed. First was the news that we could end up with a dry camp. The weather had been above normal this year, and the creek was dried up. Then was our first climb over a saddle to drop us into the Sheep Creek drainage. The weight of my pack was pulling me down like I had jumped in a lake with all my clothes on. I was drenched in sweat, my face redder than ripe tomatoes about to burst. The packs straps were cutting off my lungs, I was gasping for breath unable to fill my lungs, feeling like a fish out of water. At one time I threw my pack off my back in frustration and stood there gasping thinking, “How could this be happening to ME!? I dominated one of the Julian Alps in Slovenia, and one of the Dalmatian Alps in Croatia! Just last week I walked 15 miles in Glacier National Park and drastically showed of my Montana tough skin by jumping in to Iceberg Lake and getting pictures on one of the icy looming bergs!” I did make it to camp that afternoon, alive and well without a blister to my name.
Day2: We woke up at 4:00 am to hike to the top of the Walling Reef and watch the sun rise over the prairie. After doing a wolf howl to greet the morning we were answered by coyotes, “Yip-yip-yowl!” It made me smile, and I wondered what they thought about us harshly invading what was obviously their territory. It was an amazing morning. We caterpillared our way up the stony limestone mountain, often spending time hopping from rock to rock with just the lamps upon our heads to find a suitable trail. This morning took away all the frustration of the past day. When we had reached the top you could look East and see the prairie encompassing the land all the way till it hit the Walling Reef, which suddenly shot out of the ground into a 7920ft. wall. To the West the full moon was turning a vibrant orange color before it went below the sea of mountain peaks. The day was not as impressionable, and by evening we made it to Swift Reservoir and washed our salty sweaty bodies in the clean cool water.
Day 3: This is the day we got nowhere. At 3:00pm we reached Post Creek where an amazing little waterfall had created a smooth rock slid, and a pool of water within its belly. It was like letting a swarm of bees out. Clothes went flying everywhere as we stripped down to go swimming, and showering beneath the falls. Students (one of them being myself) were climbing around the edge of the waterfall to explore before we were called back under control from our co-leaders. They had some bad news for us. We had only traveled 3 miles so far that day. Sadly we walked away from the falls to do a power hour of walking and get our miles in for the day.
Day 4: Patrick Gass Pass. After finding we had wasted so much of our time the day before we agreed that it was time to get a routine going so if there was a place we wanted to explore we would have the option. We got up and moving in the morning, it was a pass day, and I was ready. Other than the first day where I had almost cried with defeat I was getting the beat down and feeling fresher than my armpits smelled. The group started the morning shivering in our camp, a windy canyon that was not receiving any morning warmth. As we walked we entered a dry expanse of burned land that quickly made the group shed any layers that was left on from the morning. Then the switchbacks began. The switchbacks were long and drawn out across a scree slope, and as we climbed higher and higher in elevation the wind became stronger. Gales of wind slammed against us like the force of the air coming out of a jet plane at takeoff. We stood strong against it and pushed upward. The Top! How amazing and wonderful! I have not confirmed, but I believe that I could see Heavens Peak in Glacier National Park far to the North! We were 7800 feet high! Take that mountain! You cannot defeat the Packerpillars! (Packerpillars is our group name.)
Day 5: This was my day of intense enjoyment. I walked behind the group so they were far enough away that I could barely see them. It gave an entire new perspective. I could see everything around me, not just the hairy legs of the person in front of me. We left the green of the coniferous forest, and entered a burn area. The plants went from vibrant and alive to overtaken by fireweed and the skeletal remains of burnt forest. The mountains loamed in the background, a dark grand shadow reaching toward the sky through the greens, pinks, reds, and yellows of the fireweed changing for the fall. As I walked further the golden seed heads of Wild Rye gave contrast to fine colors of Fireweed.
Layover day: The group proceeded to do nothing all day but lay around like intoxicated hippies drinking tea, napping, and trying a sad attempt at doing homework. I found a little hole of water along the petering stream of the Teton River where one little cutthroat was stuck. The poor fish went through the cleansing of my filthy body, along with the rinsing out of the stiff un-namable grim that my clothes had accumulated.
Day 7: We were back on a routine! So well in fact that we covered all of our miles for the day just before noon and had all afternoon to ourselves. Emily, Lauren, and I decided that Bum Shot Mountain that we had set up camp beneath was calling our names. This adventure was easily the biggest high for me out of the entire trip. It was much taller than originally thought. When we reached the summit I came close to tears from sheer extraordinaire and delight. Mountain peaks as far as the eye could see in every direction. The living green pined peaks to the white dominating limestone peaks. I may have hopped around a bit with my hand covering my mouth in excitement.
Day 8: Mother Nature just wouldn’t let us get away with bright sunny days the entire trip. We woke to rain and deep fog. The fog entered the crevices of the mountains around us giving them a dark depth that you don’t see in the sunlight. Today was our last pass to go over for the trip. We walked onward with our multi colored rainsuits up and over the pass. Moving was the best way to stay warm.Day 9: Today we woke to a hard frost that fell of the tent fly in chunks, and the realization that this was the end. The sun came back out to greet us and say goodbye. After reaching the Bob Marshall Wilderness sign we did a solo walk out of our sanctuary, giving the person in front a couple minutes head start. The mountains that had given me peace and solitude turned to grasslands, and the cool fresh air turned hot and dry. There were people and cows. An old couple gave each of us a packet of guacamole. As I licked the plastic guacamole packet clean I decided civilization wasn’t so bad. Then it was over. A trip that will always be safely in my memory.
Reflection on the Bob Marshall Trek by Ana from Team Overthrust
29 August 2012. The Wilderness and Civ crew left UM campus heading for the 10 day adventure in Bob Marshall Wilderness. Our first stop was in Pine Butte Swamp Reserve in Northwest Montana. We had a talk with Mark Korte about the Nature Conservancy mission on that area. We talked about the goals, the issues, and the management of the reserve. Following our trip we camped at Dupuyer Creek area, a flat grass area with an amazing view to the mountains. It was our last camping site together as a 20 people group. The next day started at 9am, and then the two groups were divided, the Overthrusters was created! 10 people, more 2 leaders, Flin and Patrick headed to Swift Reservoir. We started our adventure at Swift Dam. The first day we hiked about 5 miles and camped at the trail that falls in the North Fork of Birch Creek. The next day was defiant. We did a 7000 ft pass and about 5 miles. We passed through the Continental Divide and we got in Bob Marshall Wilderness. Following Strawberry Creek, we camped in a Backcountry horse camping for 2 nights. Continuing our adventure we kept following Strawberry Creek for more 4 miles, and we took the trail to Middle Fork of Flathead River for more 4 miles. After that long 8 miles day, we camped at Gooseberry Park. On the next day, we came back the 4 miles and took the Gateway Pass trail. After another 8 miles day we camped at Big River Meadows. In the 7th morning we woke up at 5am and we did a peak to watch the sunrise. Despite we could not actually see the sun rising, we had pancakes for breakfast, what was definitely a highlight of the trip! Day 8. We did Gateway Pass (about 6400 ft), and we left Bob Marshall Wilderness. In Lewis and Clark National Forest then, we camped at South Fork Birch Creek for 2 nights. The tenth day was the last day in our trip. We just hiked about 4 miles till we got back at Swift Reservoir. Our adventure was then completed, it was an about 35 miles backpack trip full of happiness, learning, stories and overcoming.
Now I’ll give you guys a little bit of my personal reflection about the trip. I’ve never thought about doing a 10 days trip in the backcountry. When a lift my backpack for the first time after packed, I thought would be impossible carry that thing for 10 days. During the trip many other challenges arose, such as cold, sickness, blisters, tiredness. I was questioning myself why someone would want to be subject to something so defiant. The answer: the feeling of overcoming and success after all is indescribable. When I was doing the first pass I was sick and really tired. My body was asking me to stop every second. It was one of the moments in my life that my success depended only on me. I could not give up, I could not be helped, and I could not go back. I was breathing deeply and thinking about the same situation that sometimes we have in our real life outside the backcountry. Situations that only depend on us and our success are totally our responsibility. My learning: we should not think about the top of the mountain itself, but every step that will lead us there instead. One step after another, and I did the pass. One day after another, and we completed our trip. Each day taught us how the nature is striking, and how it makes us feel alive.