CDT Thru Hike: Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex

The Bob Marshall Wilderness, aka “the Bob,” has something of a reputation for being a tough section of the CDT. It’s remote, it’s exposed, it’s notorious for blow downs, and it’s prime grizzly territory. For southbound hikers, the Bob is first section after exiting Glacier National Park, and the first real introduction to how wild this trail will become.

About a mile or so into the forest we heard a loud crash to our left. Up ahead of me, Matt stopped and pulled out his bear spray; I pulled out mine and caught up to him as the sound of breaking branches moved farther from the trail. Matt confirmed it was a bear and that from what he could see it was the brown you’d expect of a grizzly, but he didn’t get a good enough look to be 100% certain. He thought he saw the telltale hump, but the bear ran off so quickly he didn’t have time to really look closely. Whatever type of bear it was, it clearly wanted nothing to do with people which was fine with us.

After our first (and so far only) grizzly encounter, the rest of the day was fairly uneventful. The trail was easier to follow than we expected, and we managed to avoid a solid stretch of blow downs by taking a short alternate. We had been hiking with a friend Matt met a few years ago on the PCT, who was nursing a sore spot in his foot we were trying not to aggravate. The alternate we took looked smoother than the official route, and friendlier on the sore foot. Days we return to the trail from town are often shorter, but even so we managed to make it nearly 20 miles before settling in for the night at a beautiful campsite back on the official route.

We woke up the following morning to the sound of fellow hikers passing by, a group of brothers and their friends we’d met a few days earlier in East Glacier. They were the first to tell us how bad the blow downs were on the bit we avoided, and how slow the miles were as a result. Shortly after they left we were joined by some of the group we’d been hiking been the last few days in Glacier National Park, who took a break with us as we wrapped up breakfast and packed our gear so we could all head back out together.

Since our day had started several miles later than theirs we opted to hike on past their stopping point after dinner that evening, an approach we continued for another day or two. You see, we’re not particularly early risers and we often enjoy a slower morning leaving camp. Having the group trickle past, or even stop for a snack break with us as we finished breakfast, was a great start to the day and a good way to keep pace with them on our own schedule. Think of it like the backpacking version of greeting your neighbors from your front porch, only in this case everyone’s dirty and smells bad, and the coffee is sub par.

One of the highlights of this section was another alternate we took, the Spotted Bear alternate, which brought us over an incredible pass, through a long stretch of blow downs, and tested our limits for type 2 fun.

For several miles before the junction to the Spotted Bear alternate, the trail was super exposed. Much of the forest has been destroyed either by fire or an invasive species of beetle. It was initially a little creepy hiking through such an area. As the wind passed through the dead and dying trees still standing it made terrible whispering and moaning noises that sounded almost human, and it was kind of eery to look out over acres of downed trees and see almost no sign of life aside from an occasional squirrel or deer. However, as with many parts of this trail, the transition to an entirely different landscape was a quick one. Almost as soon as we hit the alternate we were back in dense, lush, very much alive forest.

Our first night on the Spotted Bear alternate most of the group camped at a lake near the top of the pass. We arrived shortly after dark and while we could tell the lake was beautiful, headlamps don’t show much and it wasn’t until the following morning that we saw how beautiful it really was.

Although we do enjoy a slow morning at camp, sometimes we like to get up and go quickly to get a few miles in before breakfast, especially if we’re near a particularly scenic spot where we know we’ll want to hang out for a bit. This lake was only a few miles below the top of the pass, so we decided on breakfast on the pass, convinced the rest of the group to join us, and set off down the trail.

It’s a good thing we all had such a wonderful start to the day, because the rest of it sure put us to the test. As we sat on the pass we could see a storm rolling in. To our knowledge it was only a chance of showers all day though, so no big deal, right? Wrong. It started sprinkling as we started our descent, and hardly let up the rest of the day. Sometimes it wasn’t much more than a mist, other times it was a fairly heavy rainfall, the entire time it was not the kind of weather we wanted while traversing miles of trail absolutely littered with blow downs.

By the end of the day we were beat. Matt and I made it a lake shortly after rejoining the official CDT route, unsure if anyone else would be joining us or if they would call it a day a few miles earlier. As the rest of the group trickled into camp it was clear they felt similar to us about the day. Our usually cheerful group was worn out. There was a certain comfort in having everyone around the fire that night, and we all went to bed a little less grumpy than we were when we got to camp.

The following morning was another day to hike a few miles before breakfast, as we were only about 2.5 miles away from the “Chinese Wall,” an incredible rock face the trail runs alongside for several miles. That entire day was filled with breathtaking views, making us thankful we’d dealt with the bad weather on a day that wouldn’t have been scenic anyway.

I wish I could say it was a perfect day, but unfortunately there was a…lets call it a situation, with one of my water fill ups. I’d filled up a liter of water before leaving camp that morning, and our only water source was the lake or the little stream flowing out of it. Since flowing water is preferable, we all filled up from the little stream. This is the water I’d used for my coffee at the wall and was sipping on throughout the morning. Somewhere around the last picture above, I emptied what was left and refilled it with fresh, cold water coming down the mountain.

Fast forward a few miles as I was drinking out of this particular bottle, straight through my water filter as I always do, when something caught my eye. My first thought was a leaf or moss, I must have picked it up at the last spring and not noticed. No big deal, it happens regularly. Then it moved, it swam. I nearly threw up. I’d somehow managed to pick up a rather large leech from the lake and carry it in my water bottle for 10? 12? miles.

I called ahead to my friend a little ways in front of me and showed her the leech. Another friend caught up to us and together we watched in disgust as I emptied the remaining water into the grass and watched the leech flop out. I couldn’t get myself to use the bottle after that. I trust my filter and we had ways of cleaning everything, but even so I just couldn’t do it. Lucky for you all, I didn’t take any pictures of it, and I’m too grossed out to add the video I took.

As much as I hate to leave you with that little story, that’s about all I have to say about this section. It was wild, it was trying, it was a little bit brutal and a whole lot of beautiful.

The videos don’t directly line up with the blog posts, but this one is the closest.

2 thoughts on “CDT Thru Hike: Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex

  1. Thanks for the update! And that leech story Omg! I think I would’ve thrown up too! As always awesome pics. So sad about the fires. Last week we had so much haze from the fires, and bad air quality as well. Stay safe, have fun! We think about you all the time! Love and hugs!


  2. I can’t wait to sit and watch “African Queen” with you when you get back! Followed by “Stand By Me”. May your Great Days be truly great, and may your Sucky Days be just sucky enough to help you appreciate the Great Days that much more! Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the grizzlies bite.


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