No adjective can capture the essence of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. It's truly the Mecca for trail riders.
My adventure started many months ago, when I first decided that riding the Bob Marshall had to be on my bucket list of places to ride. I started my research online and soon realized that finding an outfitter would be no problem.
Can one ride the Bob Marshall self-guided? Absolutely. Actually, the trail system isn't that complex, and there are some trail markings. A map and compass are required, and a global positioning unit is recommended. Keep in mind that you're navigating a wilderness bigger than many states. There are no roads, and only satellite phones will work - sometimes.
The Right Choice
This may've been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, and I wanted to make the right choice. Therefore, I did what men just don't do - I asked for help. I sent an e-mail to The Trail Rider contributor Kent Krone. I asked him if he could recommend an outfitter that would provide a quality trip.
In no time, Kent responded with a couple of suggestions that he was confident would meet my needs. I chose the Seven Lazy P near Choteau, Montana.
I started e-mailing the Seven Lazy P with questions that culminated in my making a reservation to do the South China Wall trip. This 10-day trip starts around mid-July. I couldn't be more pleased with my choice. The Seven Lazy P is truly a five-star outfit, with a top-notch staff.
Just the Appetizer
The first day of the trip was July 19, my 60th birthday! Where better to spend your birthday than on a horse in the Bob Marshall? We rode out from the lodge, all 13 of us, along with 27 animals, including riding horses and pack mules.
We followed the Teton River to Route Creek and eventually over Route Creek pass. It wasn't until we crossed the pass that we were in the Bob. I'll never forget the experience of reaching the summit of Route Creek Pass and the view before me.
I didn't know that this was just the appetizer and the best was yet to come!
Our first camp was at a place called Wrong Creek. Right or wrong, it was a good camp. The next morning, we awoke to a heavy frost, and the smell of coffee and bacon. I can't describe how good it feels to be alive and having a cup of hot coffee on a crisp morning in the Montana wilderness, taking in the sounds of the wranglers bringing in the stock, the smell of breakfast cooking, and the anticipation of another day of riding.
At our next camp, we had a layover day, during which we could fish, hike, or just rest. I'm not much of a fisherman, but you don't need to be to catch fish in the Bob Marshall.
Day Four brought the only rain of the trip, reducing any fire threat. This trip was so perfect that the rain stopped just before we were to make our next camp. This camp was in Pretty Prairie, an appropriately named mountain meadow on the Sun River.
Day Six, our third layover day, included a day ride to the top of Prairie Reef, which is 8,868 feet in elevation at the summit. No way was I going to miss that opportunity! When you're on the top, you can see Glacier National Park to the north, the prairie around Augusta, Montana, to the east, and the Chinese Wall to the west. It's absolutely breathtaking!
Breakfast on the Wall
We knew that the next day of riding would take us to our goal, the China Wall. I'd read about the wall and seen many pictures of it, but the moment I broke out of the forest and saw the wall rising in front of me, I found myself speechless.
It's just an awesome sight: a sheer wall of limestone with a multitude of colors from the leaching of minerals. It happened to be a year when there was more snow than normal on and around the wall, adding to its beauty.
Our outfitter, Dave, informed us that we'd break camp early the next morning and that breakfast would be later, after we'd ridden for a couple of hours. He explained that he had a special place for breakfast, and it was a long ride to our next camp.
The day broke crisp and clear. By 7:00 a.m., we were headed straight for the base of the wall. After a couple of hours, we reached the spot Dave had planned for our late breakfast. It was stunning - the sun shining from the east created one of the grandest sights I've ever witnessed!
We rode the Moose Creek trail to our next layover camp, Sulfur Creek. It was our longest day - 9.5 hours in the saddle.
The 'Dessert' Ride
If Route Creek Pass was the appetizer and the China Wall was the main course, Headquarters Pass was definitely dessert. The summit is around 9,000 feet in elevation, but it's the last 500 feet, along a narrow, sheer cliff, that you'd remember.
After crossing to the other side, I told my riding partner, Ed, "If your heart isn't beating now, somebody needs to bury you!"
This is my story of riding the Bob Marshall. After 10 days, 56 hours of saddle time, and 120 miles, it was over. I hope I can do it again someday, maybe the North China Wall trip - who knows?