Bob Marshall crossing

10:30 p.m. on March 9, 2010 (EST)
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I'm thinking about crossing the Bob Marshall from west to east in a weekend this June. I will get a good start Friday night after work, and knock it out by Sunday afternoon. Preliminary estimates on the total distance is between 45 and 50 miles, so on a 2-1/2 day hike it's within my upper limit (although I doubt this hike will be anywhere near comfortable). With the Bob mosquitos in full force be June, I'll have plenty of motivation to keep moving. So here's the route: Holland Lake trailhead, over Gordon Pass, following Gordon Creek to the S. fork of the Flathead, crossing the Flathead, heading south on the Danaher Valley trail, then east up Stadler Creek, over Hoadley Pass, and out at the Benchmark trailhead. I am familiar with the first 15 miles East from Holland Lake and that's about it for this route. I have departed from Benchmark towards the Chinese Wall, but never hiked west from that trailhead. As of now, it looks like it may be a solo hike, so I need to take all necessary precautions. I have about 200 miles of experience hiking the Bob, so I have a good idea of what to expect as far as trail conditions (basically anything goes). The trails I chose to cross the Bob are farily heavily used stock trails, so navigation won't be a problem. Although, in early June there may be some blowdowns to deal with. I am a civil engineering tech/surveyor by trade, so my navigation skills are solid. My main concerns are the Flathead River crossing and of course, injury. Has anyone seen the S. fork of the Flathead in June? There is a packbridge I can use if necessary, but it adds 6-8 miles to use it. I always lean towards the safe side so I'll likely stay dry and use the bridge if conditions are sketchy. I also might rent or buy a personal locator beacon for my wife's peace of mind.

Anyone with experience on this route? How about experience using the non-emergency features of a PLB (google map locations, "ok" email messages, etc...)? Thanks in advance for any replies, and congratulations for finishing reading this long, wordy entry!

1:52 a.m. on March 10, 2010 (EST)
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Kleon--

Though I've been in the Bob several times, I'm not able to claim familiarity with the particular area you're describing. It sounds far enough south, though, that maybe you're catching the S. Fork of the Flathead far enough up that it may not be terribly difficult--somewhere in there is where it first comes together from the various creeks draining into it, as I recall. That said, though, the water could still be quite high in June, especially if they've had a lot of snow this year.

I don't have or often use PLBs or the like, so can't comment much on those. I do, of course, make sure my wife and key others have detailed itineraries, and I'm considering going more techie, but,....

I envy you the trip--the Bob and GNP are perhaps my favorite areas to hike in. Just wish I lived close enough to make it there more frequently.

At any rate, good luck, be careful, God bless, etc.

10:40 a.m. on March 10, 2010 (EST)
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Kleon,

I just sent a note to a friend of mine who has hiked around the Bob Marshall's. She should get back to here soon.

9:50 p.m. on March 10, 2010 (EST)
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Good point about how far south the river crossing is, I hadn't really considered that but it makes perfect sense. The snow levels in MT are at near historical lows this year, so if the pattern continues, the river might not be a problem. Once I see the river I guess can make the call. If it's high I can head north to the pack bridge, if it's low I can follow the river south and cross at the easiest spot to catch my trail east. Thanks for the tip, the river crossing issue is now put to rest. I should be good to go, now I just need to pick a weekend with good weather to pull it off.

Thanks!

8:02 p.m. on March 11, 2010 (EST)
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Kleon,

On PLB's - Take a look at my writeup on SPOT from just over a year ago. First thing to note is that the term PLB refers specifically to the 406MHz emergency units that use the COSPAR-SARSAT satellite-based system. The most readily available ones are from ACR, which has units that include a GPS receiver and can include your location in their emergency message. Note that PLBs as such are only for emergency units. ACR is in the process of introducing a pair of units that will transmit a small number of "ok" messages. The limit is imposed because there is a legal requirement for PLBs to be able to transmit the emergency signal for a certain period of time. This limit is imposed because of the battery.The emergency signal goes through an international government-supported system to governmental S&R facilities (such as the US Coast Guard) having jurisdiction in the area. PLBs must be registered in the area you are located (there is a way to register for short stays in areas that are not your home area). Since PLBs are primarily emergency only, it is not possible to do field testing for review. However, the units must meet a fairly rigorous set of tests to be certified, and have resulted in a number of rescues over the years. PLBs work over almost the entire globe, hence are used by ocean-going vessels (there is a small region in the immediate vicinity of the poles that is poorly covered).

SPOT, which is a division of Globalstar, is not, strictly speaking a PLB, in that it uses the Globalstar digital messaging system and emergency "911" notification goes to a private S&R coordinating company. The older SPOT 1 and newer SPOT 2 units can send Ok and Help messages to a small number of people on your "team" (5 for each type of message) via email or text message to your cell phone. They can also send "track" messages to your SPOT account and by a "share" function to groups of people. SPOT and Delorme have announced a pair of devices, one the new PN-50w Delorme GPSR, the other a SPOT device, that uses the same Globalstar and private S&R coordination company to do the same thing with a more flexible messaging system. Delorme and SPOT have only released a few details about the capabilities of the combination, which is still in the beta-testing phase, so I can't tell you how it actually works in the field. However, as noted in my article, SPOT is limited by its reliance on the Globalstar satellites to about 70 deg latitude (N and S), though they work occasionally up to 80 deg latitude. SPOT is further limited by the fact that Globalstar uses a "bent-pipe" architecture, hence requires ground stations. This means that ocean coverage is poor, and that some areas where I go from time to time are poorly covered or even not covered (East Africa in Tanzania, which includes Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti, and Antarctica). This may not be a problem for you. I am hoping to test a SPOT 2 for review, since it is promised to have a much better GPS receiver and antenna and improved messaging capability.

In both the ACR units and the SPOT, your messages are pretty much limited to pre-programmed, very short messages ("I'm ok, at 30d 1.234m N, 120d 5.678 m W" or "Send help to 40d 9.012m N, 100d 3.456m W") - no "having a great time, wish you were here, miss you and the kids a lot, expect to be home in 4 days" or any such free-form, long emails.

You might consider a sat phone, if your spouse is really that worried, though I really do not recommend that. I have seen what happens when people have a worried spouse while they are up on Denali (we had a member of a team bail - they had been married for 3 weeks, and missed each other terribly, which ended up in the first 3 or 4 days on the mountain in a $250 cell phone bill - sat phones are much more expensive at $2-3/minute). If you go the sat phone route, I recommend Iridium (I am, of course, unbiased, even though I worked on the development of Iridium - far be it from me to recommend a product I had a part in, even if it is infinitely superior, thanks to my personal brilliance - well, ok, I had only a minor part in the system - still, my experience with Iridium phones while in Antarctica was very good). Remember that a sat phone, whether Iridium of Globalstar (the two only practical choices), will cost about $500 (or more depending on model), plus charges of $2-3/minute. You can buy "packages" of minutes, or pay as you go on a contract at a slightly better price. Still very pricey. Renting might be cheaper if you are only using the phone once in a great while.

OH, WAIT!! You are only going on a weekend trip and have 200 miles hiking experience in the Bob. Just do the usual notification of someone (your spouse) and the rangers of your itinerary (with map) and schedule. "Rescue me if I don't check in by Sunday afternoon" should be more than sufficient.

10:23 p.m. on March 11, 2010 (EST)
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Sound like a fellow I should spend some time around. Love the Bob, but don't get that far north frequently. Most of my time is down here in the Pioneers or the Pintler Wilderness. However you go, would love to hear some reports!

What's your usual strategy for bears? The couple of times I've been in the Bob that has been a HUGE concern for me.

7:49 p.m. on March 12, 2010 (EST)
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Bill, I suppose I would be covered if I simply notified the ranger station and the usual people I tell about my excursions. I'm sure I'll see other people along this route anyway, due to the popularity of the trails. And it's not like I'm venturing off trail. So the likely worst case scenario is a rolled ankle or bum knee, which certainly isn't life threatening in the dead of June. So, maybe I'll hold off on the PLB until it's truly necessary. Thanks for all the great information!

Cleric, I really don't worry about bears. I have had a few encounters with black bears and grizzlies, but have only seen one in the Bob. It was in the Sun River Basin, and a black bear cub scurried up an aspen about 100 feet off the trail in some really heavy brush. We immediatley grabbed our bear spray, expecting the mother to rear her head, but it never happened. Whew! My typical bear encounters have all ended in the bear either shuffling away, or carrying on about there business like I'm not even there. I am probably getting a little complacent when it comes to bears I guess. I always carry pepper spray, take the necessary food/cooking/odor precautions, and above all I try to recoginze areas where a suprise encounter would be likely to occur. Then I try to be as alert and in tune with my surroundings as I can be. I would rather hike quitely and alertly and have the chance of seeing amazing wildlife, then make a ton of noise and see nothing. It's kind of a roll of the dice I suppose. I think the odds of sneaking up on a bear are pretty slim, so I'll take my chances. Anyways, I can think of much worse ways to go then by getting taken out be a bear. I'll post the details after this hike goes down.

6:47 p.m. on March 15, 2010 (EDT)
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Well I guess my friend says you seem to know much about the area as she could tell you.

9:55 p.m. on March 15, 2010 (EDT)
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I have a question about your avatar, Kleon. That sandwich is your food supply for your whole trek across the Bob, right?

8:20 p.m. on March 21, 2010 (EDT)
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Yeah, really, that monster probably packed about 3000 calories! My wife and I had just finished a 7 day hike in Glacier and that sandwich was on my mind for a couple days! We packed a little light on food, so by the last day we each had a power bar left for the hike out. Needless to say, I was a little hungry. I couldn't finish it by the way, my eyes were bigger than my stomach..... and I ate a half-pound of potato salad prior!

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