We’ve spent the last five days hiking through the Bob Marshall Wilderness, a 136 mile stretch of trail with a reputation to live up to! We had heard a lot about it from other hikers, and opinion seemed to be divided as to whether it was wonderful hiking or a miserable grind.
We knew that it was a remote area which was home to black bears, grizzlies and wolves. But some southbound hikers who we met on the trail after they’d hiked “the Bob” were very negative about it, painting a picture of dull hiking through areas ravaged by wildfires over the years. Oh, and a storm was forecast to blow in on the third day out of town, just to add to the potential for misery.
On the plus side, a newly-posted re-route around a section closed by a wildfire meant that we would get to see the Chinese Wall, a spectacular natural feature which the standard CDT route follows for several miles. We wouldn’t be able to hike the whole length of it, but we would see more of it than many other hikers who had been sent on a much longer diversion around the closed section.
So it was with some trepidation that we set out from Benchmark Ranch into the Bob, along with rucksacks that were heavy with six days of food (we always carry way too much food, but somehow it always gets eaten!)
Our first half day on the trail was pretty gloomy, with spots of rain blown at us by a chilly wind as we trudged through a burnt area on a trail which had been pounded to fine dust by horses’ hooves. Our packs felt stupidly heavy, and as usual on the way out of town, it was hard work to achieve our intended mileage before nightfall.
But after 15 miles and just before it got dark, we finally reached our intended camping place, in a forest clearing next to a creek. The problem was that the only place where we could cook away from our campsite and hang our food was on the other side of the creek – which was about 12 feet wide, and the only way to cross it with dry feet was to balance across a skinny log, or skip across some slippery rocks. So it was quite a faff, but finally we managed to carry our food supplies across, cook and eat dinner, hang our food and get back to our tents, all with dry feet.
The next morning was clear and cold, with my cheap keyring thermometer showing -5°C. It took some brisk uphill hiking to warm up our hands and feet, but when we emerged from the trees into the crisp morning sunshine, the Chinese Wall towered above us, a 40 mile long limestone cliff up to 600 foot high, stretching away from us to the north and south. It was hard to capture the immensity of it on camera, but we did our best!
So after hiking below the Wall for a couple of miles, we came to the closed section of trail. The diversion took us down Moose Creek, where signs warned us about a dead horse two miles further on, which had been attracting bears to the area since mid August. So the three of us (me, Neil and Mithrandir) hiked close together, making noise as we went to avoid surprising any bears that might be around. We saw plenty of bear scat on the trail, and big paw prints in the mud, but no bears. But as we got closer to where the horse was, there was a lot of what appeared to be dog poo on the trail. Then Mithrandir pointed across a large grassy clearing, and there were about 15 wolves trotting away from us. So we guessed the bears had been first to arrive to scavenge from the carcass, with the wolves coming in later to take what was left. It was pretty exciting to realise how many big predators there were around the place! Though a bit unnerving when a toilet trip into the bushes was required … I was certainly glad I had my bear spray handy, just in case!
The next few days provided varied hiking in varying weather. The threatened storm left us with wet tents on Sunday morning, and there were a few brief showers, but that was it. There were a lot of areas of burnt forest, which didn’t make for great hiking, but it was interesting to see how forest regenerates after a fire. There were also large areas of beautiful lush forest, and while it was sad to know that the burnt areas were once like that, wildfires are part of the natural order of things, and regular smaller fires are essential for keeping down the levels of flammable material in the forest.
We also got a lovely surprise on Sunday evening as we collected water from a creek, when who should come hiking down the trail towards us but Discovery! We last saw him in New Mexico, and it has to be said he’d lost a lot of weight, some of his bounce, and all of the stars-and-stripes clothing that we last saw him wearing. Rather than doing a thru-hike from one end of the trail to the other, he was hiking the trail in sections. He wasn’t enjoying the Bob, but we reassured him that the Chinese Wall was well worth carrying on for.
Another bonus for us was spending Monday hiking with Mould and Mildew, a couple from Alaska. They have been on lots of hiking and cycling adventures together, so it was great talking to them as we hiked, and the miles flew by. It was also reassuring to camp together as a four on Monday night, when we ended up in dense forest with bear scat everywhere!
And Tuesday morning we all got into East Glacier Park Village, where we’re enjoying a very lazy day off. The weather is cold and grey and drizzly, and we were very happy to sit in a warm, bustling cafe this morning, drinking coffee and eating a good hot breakfast, knowing we don’t have to hike today!
So tomorrow we set off on the final northbound stretch of our journey, through Glacier National Park to the Canadian border, which we should reach on Monday. Not long now!!!
Don’t stop at the Canadian border, you’re just getting to the good stuff!
In all seriousness, Waterton Lakes National Park is just across the border from Glacier and it is spectacular. The park itself had a big forest fire last year, but the townsite survived intact – barely, it was literally a matter of inches! There is still lots to see as nature reclaims the burnt areas, and the east side of the valley was unscathed. I recommend the Crypt Lake boat ride / day hike.
Good luck on the rest of your amazing journey!
The Bob’s were the last place I went trout fishing, in, umm, 1972. I knew it would never get any better, after pulling (and releasing) 35cm long fish out of the Flathead all day long. I will get back!