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Sorensen, a historian and man of the woods and water, dies at 78

Editor | October 31, 2023 7:00 PM

There were few people that knew Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness better than Stu Sorensen.

Sorensen died in his sleep Oct. 25. He was just a few weeks from his 79th birthday.

Sorensen was born Nov. 14, 1944. He grew up on the South Fork of the Flathead River before the Hungry Horse Dam.

His father, Fred, worked for contractor Wixson and Crowe clearing land for the Hungry Horse Reservoir in 1948. The family lived in a one-room cabin at Riverside, even through the winter. Sorensen said in a 2014 interview that he remembered his mother going down to the creek with a bucket and an ax, chopping a hole in the ice to get water.

The family canned everything to get through the winter — bear, venison, fish and potatoes.

Living on the South Fork as a youth fostered his love for the woods and as an adult he made a living as a packer.

He worked for outfitters in the wilderness and was a packer for Glacier National Park for 11 years. Each summer, he’d log 600 to 800 miles packing supplies to lookouts, chalets and other cabins for the Park Service. All told, he traveled about 8,000 miles of trails in Glacier alone.

He also traveled nearly all of the 2,300 miles of trails in the Bob Marshall Wilderness over the years. Sometimes for work, but many times just for fun.

In a 2014 interview, he recalled his first job in the Bob Marshall.

“I was bear bait,” he said. 

Sorensen was working for outfitter Russ Batche near Harrison Creek in the South Fork. A big old grizzly bear was making the rounds at various hunting camps back then, tearing the place up when hunters were gone. It was Sorensen’s job to stay behind and make sure this camp didn’t get ransacked. 

“I slept with a flashlight and a .44,” Sorensen said. 

The bear showed up, but Sorensen was able to scare it off without killing it.

Sorensen was one of the charter members of the Backcountry Horsemen of the Flathead in the 1970s. The group formed as a stewardship organization when the Forest Service was considering a ban on horse travel in the Bob Marshall.

Today, there are Backcountry Horsemen organizations across the United States.

He also was always willing to help out with scouting.

Over the years, Sorensen took a half-dozen or more Columbia Falls Boy Scout trips in the Bob. An Eagle Scout himself, Sorensen would run a pack string hauling supplies so the scouts and their leaders could hike with smaller packs. The groups traveled many miles — close to a 100 on a typical trip. 

“When I did those trips, I tried to go to an area that I haven’t seen before,” he said. “The scouts realized the importance of survival training. They wouldn’t have the chance to go if we didn’t take them. It’s a life-changing experience.”

Sorensen and his horses were mainstays in Columbia Falls parades and he would dress frontier clothing, with deerskin shirt and pants.

He built his own museum of pioneer days items at his home in Bad Rock — a 2,100 square foot building that featured late 19th and early 20th century items that he had collected over the years. Each room had a theme — a bar, a trapper’s cabin and a livery, to name a few.

Sorensen was a favorite subject of Hungry Horse News photographers over the years. Mel Ruder took his photo packing in Glacier several times and he was featured in many parade photos.

A full memorial service is planned for next summer.

His obituary is on this website.