28. July 2013 · Comments Off on Bob Marshall Wilderness · Categories: Around The Campfire, Horse Camping

Phil Ryan – July 2013

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If you ever get a chance to ride the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana don’t pass up the opportunity. Bill Conger and I have ridden the “BOB” for the past two summers and each time it has been a great trip. Bill and MB have ridden that wilderness for years before they moved to sunny (hot) Idaho so he knew the trails and trail heads quite well. This year we decided to go into the wilderness from the East side out of The Benchmark trail head. That is out of the town of Augusta. That way we would ride up the South Fork of the Sun River, make a ride up to Prairie Reef and along the edge of the China Wall and come back down the North Fork of the Sun and back to the trail head, a total of seven days.

A wonderful twelve hour truck ride got us there and we spent the evening having a steak dinner, beans and beer. The next morning we loaded Bill’s two mules, our horses and set off down the trail. The first thing you come to is a swinging bridge over the river. Bill’s new horse “scout” wanted no part of that so my old horse “Sam” took the lead. We did this two times and his horse got the idea and away we went. As you go down the trail there are Forest Service signs saying “Alert” bear in the area, STAY ON THE TRAIL” so we did. Further down the Trail is another Forest Service sign “BE ALERT” BEARS (plural) eating on a mule carcass. Now that gets your attention and you make the horse move faster and you scan both sides of the trail wondering which outfitter scarified a mule so he could get down the trail and out of harm’s way. Anyway we made it and saw no bear (that day).

We traveled on and came to the South Fork of the Sun River and another swinging Bridge, no problem. Three hours of riding got us to our first campsite where the trail takes off to Prairie reef. We ford the river and set up a nice camp. Good grass and water for the stock. After a meal of MB’s ready made goodies, I went fishing, caught a Bull Trout, first time for that. The next morning after a breakfast burrito and coffee we saddled the horses and up we went. Now the trails in the “BOB” are well laid out with great switchbacks, but it was up and up and up, but the trip was well worth it. At the top of the mountain “Prairie Reef” is a fire lookout, and you can see the rest of the world, or at least most of Montana. One side is sheer cliffs for thousands of feet down. You can see all the way to Montana’s flat prairies on one side and the China Wall and snow covered mountains on the other side. We saw eight Mountain Goats on the cliffs below us and one crashed airplane (from the 1980’s) Bill told me. When we returned to camp it was a six hour ride and the horses were spent.

The next day we loaded up and made the ride under the China Wall, over the pass and down Moose Creek looking for a good campsite. We wanted to go down Rock Creek, but there was a really big fire there and the Rangers had closed all trails leading into that area. I spotted a really nice bear as we rode, don’t know if it was a Grizzly or not, but it was bigger than any bears I have seen here in Idaho so we continued further down the trail to find a camp. Seven hot dusty, horse fly infested hours later we made camp in a nice shaded glade, good food and water for the horses and a well-deserved drink of whisky for me and Bill. Next morning off we went down the canyon and to the North Fork of the Sun River. Wonderful meadows, lots of grass for the animals, good fishing. We laid over for a day there giving the animals lots to eat and time to play cribbage and me to catch some fish to eat. We decided to ride out on the sixth day because we couldn’t get up rock Creek or the Gates Park Ranger station so we headed out in dense smoke from the fire. We met an outfitter who had just been in the Rock Creek area and was only six hundred yards from the fire when it topped over the ridge above his camp, he said it was hot for a time while he got his equipment and stock to a much safer location. The Forest Service had sent a helicopter in searching for him to warn him to get out of that area.

On the ride down the North Fork of the Sun River we saw a gray wolf. We made it out in about four and a half hours to the trail head, loaded the stock, went to Augusta for cold drinks and chips and headed the truck south and made it home about twelve thirty Sunday morning.
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Another great trip, I may never get to see that area again in my life, but the memories are ones that will last a lifetime.
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P.S Watch out for the BEARS!!!!!

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