Wednesday, July 17, 2024

A bear in camp and other tales: Three days in the Bob Marshall Wilderness included a nightmare hike

| July 10, 2024 7:15 AM


Hungry Horse News

The July 4 weekend in the Flathead Valley can get a little busy to my liking, so I figured the appropriate response would be to get out of Dodge entirely and head into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, which is what we did.

The plan was to hike up to Hoadley Reef in the Sun River country, go over the pass, down into a valley and then back up to a high basin, then turn around and come back the way we came.

Everything was going great until we tried to drop down the East Fork of Ahorn Creek trail.

The trail burned over in 2007 in the Ahorn Fire and while it’s been cut out before, I’m guessing it’s been a few years since it’s been done again and there were roughly 500 or so trees down, which is a shame, because as far as trails goes, it has great views.

Needless to say it was a slog to get through, ranking right up there with having a tooth pulled or an ingrown toenail dug out, perhaps both at the same time. Over this tree, under that tree around this tree and then a branch snags on your pack and then your arm or leg or both. Where did that blood come from? Where did the trail go?

You get the drift.

It took us about five hours to go four miles.

Needless to say it sort of messed up the itinerary because there was absolutely no way we were going to head back up that East Fork of Ahorn trail. Whipped, we decided to skip the next basin and to make a loop of it instead, circling back round the West Fork of the South Fork of the Sun River to Benchmark.

It was pretty enough, for sure, but not the alpine experience I had mapped out. But such is hiking in the Bob. Unlike Glacier National Park, where you’re supposed to hit all your campsites because of the permit system, in the Bob you can be more flexible, as there are no permits. Glacier’s trails, on the other hand, are typically in great shape. But the Bob can be hit and miss, especially the less popular ones. The Bob has way more miles of trails, too, about 2,300 compared to Glacier’s 730 or so.

I try not to get angry when a trail disappears in the Bob — it’s just par for the course.

The West Fork has numerous small campsites and some bigger ones, too. We found a camp in a nice little meadow. A black bear sauntered into camp at dusk without a care until I threw a stick at him and told him to move on.

The last thing we wanted was a bear sniffing around. I do pride myself in keeping a clean camp. We make sure that all food is hung properly and we use Ursacks as an additional precaution. Ursacks are Kevlar bags that, when properly tied, a bear can’t get into. Sure, he can still crush all your food, but at least it’s not going to get all over the place.

To be honest, I’ve never had a problem with bears in the Bob or in Glacier, for that matter.  Plenty of close encounters, but problems? Not really.

The next morning was a pleasant glide out. We ran into a guy going northbound on the Continental Divide Trail. He said he was doing 30, sometimes 40 miles a day. A modern day Bob Marshall (Bob prided himself in 30-mile a day hikes).

Being just 200 miles from the end of his journey in early July is way early for a CDTer. I usually see them in late August, but most in September and October.

We exchanged pleasantries and parted ways. A snowshoe hare bounded up the trail in front of us. All told we did just 28 miles in three days. But then again, we weren’t in a hurry.

    A black bear saunters past camp.
    Hoadley Creek Pass.
    A mule deer buck amongst the blooms.