Back in 1974, I read an article in Backpacker Magazine about the Bob Marshall Wilderness in western Montana along the Continental Divide, one of the first areas designated as wilderness by the feds after the signing of the Wilderness Act in 1965.
(Side note: The Wilderness Act was bipartisan legislation that Congress supported as a unified body. This stroke of genius was followed three years later by the National Scenic Trails Act for which those of us who enjoy epic adventure can truly be grateful. Imagine — Congressmen from both parties uniting to pass wise legislation.)
Anyway, I was impressed that the Bob Marshall Wilderness was out there for me to explore at some future date. I do not keep a bucket list, because I love the spontaneous thrill of jumping on the next adventure to emerge. But the Bob was waiting for me, and when my AT thru-hiking son took a trip there years ago and raved about it, my interest was piqued all the more. As my friend of more than 65 years, David Chandler, was planning a trip for this fall, I tossed out The Bob as an option. He did his due diligence, and late last month David, Steve Skinner and I traveled out there.
Due to forest fires, we decided on an in-and-out hike of about 50 miles over six days. We put in at Benchmark and followed a route along the west and south forks of the Sun River. We were equipped with bear spray and made every effort to properly protect our gear from griz.
Daytime temps were perfect, and nights dipped to as low as 20 degrees. We had rain and snow, but mostly clear with occasional angry clouds and gasp inducing sunsets. One night before the full moon rose, we watched the International Space Station glide overhead. We spent hours around campfires retelling the same jokes and personal stories we’ve hashed over for over half a century. We also realized how fortunate we are that we can still haul heavy packs up multi-thousand-foot climbs.
The pic above shows me taking in the Chinese Wall, a massive escarpment that meanders a dozen miles along the divide. Most of the trip was along the Continental Divide Trail, and we saw several late-season thru-hikers plugging toward the end. For two full days we saw no one at all. We saw no grizzlies but plenty of berry-laden scat. We did see mule deer and elk.
It was because of people such as Bob Marshall and Benton MacKaye who founded the Wilderness Society that we have these amazing chunks of paradise set aside forever. So, read THRU, hike the Bob Marshall, stay vertical and keep walkin’!