Tag Archives: Montana

A Week in the Wilderness with Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation

My nerves almost got the best of me.  Trail work?  What was I thinking, I’m not a tool using animal!  Grizzly bears AND black bears?  Should we buy bear spray?  What if I spray myself by accident (very likely, given the previously stated fact that I am not a tool using animal)?  How cold is it going to be?  I just keep seeing snow and there was ice on the outside of our tent this morning…  And what about the other people in our group?  Will they like me, respect me, be patient with me, want to get to know me?

With all of these questions swarming in my brain, Jay and I drove from Hungry Horse Montana, 90 minutes down a dirt road, away from cell phone signal, to meet our crew leader at the Spotted Bear Ranger Station.  The drive seemed to confirm my fears as we spotted a bear along the roadside.  If it was this easy to encounter a bear on the drive in, the actual wilderness must be crawling with them!  Baby deer in MontanaThe drive also got me excited for the trip, with amazing vistas of the Flathead River and another wildlife spotting, this time of a mother deer and her baby fawn, so young it could barely steady its legs to climb off the roadside.

South Fork Flathead River

the view along the road on the way to the project

Just a few days later, I was singing “I whip my hair back and forth(click on the link to see the music video if you’re unfamiliar with this song), to amuse and motivate my sawing partner, Heather, as we cleared trees from the Black Bear Creek Trail in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  In other words, I was in my element and feeling more like myself than I had in weeks.  The 8 mile backpack in to our camp was difficult and the first two days were rainy, cold, and cloudy.  However, when the blue skies opened up and revealed the snow capped peaks all around us, it was a magical transformation.  Oh, and we didn’t see any bears.  Although I did have a super awesome dream the first night in which the bears looked like the ones in Country Bear Jamboree (see photo below) and our crew leader explained to me how they were a different species of bear… the Country species…

Country Bear Jamboree

photo by Express Monorail (Flickr)

We spent two days using a cross cut saw, Oregon saw, and bow saw to clear trees and branches from the Black Bear Creek Trail.  This was not our original assignment, but the unprecedented rains in Montana had created such high water levels that we were not able to ford the river to our project site near Black Bear Cabin.  While not what we intended, the work we did was important, with several trees blocking every mile of trail and making this section impassable for some backpackers or horse riders.  Since this trail is in federally designated wilderness, the work to clear it can only be done using hand tools and is usually handled by either a small staff of Forest Service employees or the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation volunteer crews.

Sharon cutting and Jay assisting

Each day we would hike from our back country camp to the trail we were working on, carrying our tools.  After spending several hours sawing and sawing and pushing trees off the mountainside, we would hike back the way we came, admiring the days work along the way.  It was dirty and challenging work, but with an obvious sense of accomplishment that comes as a relief after working in a cubicle.  With ZERO previous experience, I was able to learn how to operate all three saws, and came to appreciate the logic puzzle inherent in deciding where to cut and how.

black bear creek trail

Hiking back from a long day of sawing

Our trip was made possible by our courageous crew leader, Kelsey.  This was Kelsey’s first trip of the season.  She was coming back to the wilderness with her own set of apprehensions, having been in a potentially deadly sawing accident on the job last summer.  She explained to us how she had been helping to relieve tension on the tree when it broke off and rolled over her down the mountain.  It was a large tree.  Large enough to break her pelvis, fracture several parts of her leg and require a helicopter evacuation.  Amazingly, she remained conscious and was able to radio back to the ranger station for help.  It was with a haunted look in her eyes that she sized up each tree before deciding where to make a cut and where to stand when it broke off.  I recognized that look as one I have had several times since Jay’s accident in March.  I trusted Kelsey to keep us safe and had a lot of respect for her in getting back to the job, bringing her experience with her to make us all more careful.

Kelsey in the yellow hard hat overseeing our first crosscut on a particularly tricky tree

Working in the wilderness is a unique experience.  Without modern amenities, you spend most of your “non-work” time doing chores – setting up camp, cooking, cleaning, filtering water, digging a trench to use as a latrine, filling the trench before you leave, building a fire, dousing and stirring the coals to prevent forest fires, etc.  You spend a lot of time close to one another, sharing stories or just simply staring out at the clouds changing forms above the mountains.  You talk to animals, yelling at the deer to bugger off or threatening the mosquitoes, or beckoning the birds.  When we spotted a lone hiker crossing the creek on the 3rd day, we all got so excited.  Almost shouting “wildlife!”, before realizing that wasn’t quite right.  I can not really explain why you would want to hike away from other people and modern conveniences to spend a week doing hard labor for no pay.  But if you have read this account and gotten curious about what it might be like, I promise, it is a special and amazing experience that you can not get any other way.

Kelsey and Heather doing dishes in the rain - they seem so happy!

So check it out for yourself: http://www.bmwf.org/volunteer_trip_list.php

Photo Review: Bob Marshall Wilderness

Here are my favorite photos from the last week in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in northern Montana (just south of Glacier National Park).

Spotted Sandpiper


South Fork Flathead River

Meadow Creek Gorge (actually not in the Wilderness yet, but near the trailhead)

20th Week In Review: Bear Fixation

I was dreaming of bear all week as we backpacked into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, a home to both black bear and grizzly bear.  We were constantly reminded of their presence, working along Black Bear Creek Trail, taking pictures of Bear Grass, learning about the Grizzly Bear study in the region we were exploring…  But where were they?

bear fur on tree

A sample of bear fur stuck to the trees where they are collecting it to monitor the Grizzly population

We only saw 2 black bears this week, and both times we saw them from inside our car on the Forest Service road.  Also from the safety of our car we saw a moose, lots of deer, a group of mountain goats, and a coyote.  Out in the woods we saw less intimidating fauna such as mule deer, white tail deer, rat snakes, chipmunks, ground squirrels, marmots, a spotted sandpiper, lots of robins, and more.  We also cleared about 60 trees from the trail and backpacked for 16 miles.  It was a strenuous and memorable week and we look forward to sharing more stories and lots of pictures over the next few days.  Next week we head back to Canada to volunteer with a First Nation community, the Piikani, in southern Alberta.

Sharon at Bear Creek

Sharon in front of Bear Creek near our campsite

Hours volunteered: 24 hours (combined) or all week long depending on how you figure it…. we did 12 hours of actual trail work, but were getting to or participating in the project all week long.

States & Provinces:  1, Montana

Bob Marshall Wilderness

Just one of the many amazing views along the South Fork of the Flathead River in the Bob Marshall Wilderness

Budget:  UNDER!!  After our most expensive week yet, we had probably our least expensive week of the year, since we were away from civilization all week and unable to spend any money.

People Visited: none

Nights under the stars: 6, all in the Flathead National Forest, 5 of which were in the Bob Marshall Wilderness

Best meal: not a meal, but huckleberry milkshakes from Patchy’s Alpine Grill in Hungry Horse definitely deserve a shout out

Best beer: We did not bring any beer into the wilderness, so our only brew this week was a Fat Tire that Jay was given by a generous Forest Service employee when we arrived at the Ranger Station (they were having a potluck)

Deer in Bob Marshall Wilderness

Can you spot the wildlife?

We Are in the Wilderness

While you are reading these posts, Jay and I are tromping around in the back country of Montana on a week long volunteer trip with the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation.  We look forward to telling you all about it when we get back, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy catching up on previous posts and taking a look at these photos from a previous Bob Marshall trip similar to the one we will be on: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bmwf/sets/72157624267729895/.