Get Out and Explore the Bob Marshall Wilderness

Dustry Crary leads a mule train down Route Creek Pass in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Dusty Crary and mule train: Dustry Crary leads a mule train down Route Creek Pass in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. (Photo by Rick and Susie Graetz)                  

This column is a bit different in that we are sharing the foreword of revised 2004 edition of our book “Montana’s Bob Marshall Country.” It spells out something that we feel others who travel wild country and favorite haunts might find interesting and can relate to.

Published in 1985, the first edition of this work came from myriad notes and photos assembled during more than 15 years of trekking and skiing in excess of 2,000 miles of trails and ascending countless mountain summits in Bob Marshall Country. I was a youngster when we first started, and in that era of my life, long trail distances and “bagging” peaks was part of living. We moved fast and memories were stored for future storytelling.

With the exception of an occasional walk in the periphery of the Bob – especially the Rocky Mountain Front – the Beartooth and other mountain wildlands in Montana and beyond took me away from this piece of the Northern Rockies for many years. The Bob Marshall became just a part of many great untrammeled places.

Susie and I returned in this summer of 2004 for a seven-day reunion trip with Bill Cunningham, a long-time backcountry companion, and several other friends with whom I had spent many days and nights in this fabled place. We hiked about 60 miles of the headwaters of both the Middle Fork of the Flathead and North Fork of the Sun. A week later, Susie and I again found ourselves heading into the Bob, this time with Mike Munoz, district ranger of the Rocky Mountain Ranger station; Kraig Lange, the wilderness ranger; and Pat McGuffin and Dave Watts of the Montana Wilderness Association. The task was to look closely at the landscape for the proper photograph for a poster commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the 1964 enactment of the Wilderness Act – legislation that gave lasting protection to places like the Bob Marshall. We chose the Chinese Wall as our primary destination.

These two expeditions allowed ample time to observe the wilderness from a different perception. Many miles over many years clouds one’s definition. As we passed through deep woods and areas changed by fire since previous visits, surveyed the beginnings of two storied rivers, crossed several passes and paralleled one of the great symbols of the Bob – the 13-mile Chinese Wall – no longer goal or summit oriented, I now looked at this place as a whole. And a couple of weeks after our second trek, a flight over a wide swath of this wilderness complex –courtesy of Ted Cogswell and Doug Forest – helped tie it all together. Susie and I have been extremely lucky to visit much of this planet’s most incredible mountain sites. In our opinion, the Bob Marshall country matches any place we have been.

This, the crown jewel of the nation’s wilderness system, has it all. It’s accessible and plenty big. The three contiguous wilderness areas – the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Great Bear and surrounding de facto wilderness – comprise more than 2.5 million acres. That’s a piece of geography larger than some eastern states. In an inventory roll call, all the ingredients are here. The Bob is a magnificent gathering of soaring rocky peaks, shining snowfields, reefs, buttes, stately expanses of timber, park-like valleys and meadows, tranquil lakes, meandering flows, raucous whitewater and icy springs so pure that to sip it other than flat on your belly with your lips to the source is a sacrilege. The wildlife includes all-stars of the wild … grizzlies, black bear, wolves, elk, mountain lion, beaver, moose, wolverines and eagles. As an added attribute, the Continental Divide, sending waters to the Missouri from its east flank, and to the Columbia from the windward aspect, gives it its backbone.

The human factor then provides another dimension. The aura of those who came before resonates in the cathedral hush of this place and casts an air of wonderment and respect. Legends from the past give life to many a trail and landmark. Time and space go well here!

So with this recognition and new-found awareness at hand, we presented, at the time, a revised edition, having kept and left unedited much of the original writing – especially words penned by men who saw the early days of this wilderness firsthand.

What we penned in 2004 is still the way we feel. Read this current missive, and then head out into the landscape on foot or by “wilderness sport’s car” – the four-legged model, namely horseback. Montana’s Bob Marshall country is your place … you own it … go explore it!

Rick and Susie Graetz | University of Montana | Department of Geography