Bisecting “The Bob”

One row, highlighted red, near the bottom of the spreadsheet we use to manage the hike, has been giving us “the evil eye” since the beginning. This row has been threatening Dad with a 118-mile stretch of the CDT in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, between the popular Benchmark Trailhead in the south and US Route 2 in the north—without any intermediate access roads. It so dwarfed every other section that had come before (and will come after) that I was certain there must be a dirt track that crossed the trail somewhere in there. Spoiler alert: there is not.

As directed by the Wilderness Act of 1964, “The Bob”, as it is informally known, is to remain roadless.

Terrain view map of the Continental Divide Trail within the Bob Marshall Wilderness
The CDT (in red) wending through the Bob Marshall Wilderness

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Beast Mode

It had been a while since I’d stretched my legs, so late one morning I threw two sodas in my daypack and started hiking southbound. After the Roadwalk Reroute, things had started going according to plan—Dad had hiked 200 miles, all of it on-trail, and we’d met up half a dozen times with nary a hiccup—which for him (and somewhat for me) meant the hike was fast becoming a grind. He broke down when I reached him, repeating between sobs, “I need a zero day. I need a zero day.” Anticipating this, I’d already booked a room in Helena, Montana for the following night. All that stood between him and a hot shower was a 19.1-mile slackpack day, and he was alright with that.

Lodgepole pine 'green tunnel' along the CDT
Too much of the same trail can get pretty boring

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Roadwalk Reroute

“So I’m thinking about walking around the fire” is how it started.

In Lima a week earlier, I first learned that the Trail Creek Fire had closed 30 miles of the CDT, a span so negligible in Dad’s mind that his working plan when he reached the closure (in 200 miles) would be to skip it. I’d pick him up south of the fire and deposit him north as though nothing had happened. But the fire grew, as fires are wont to do, and after a chance encounter with a Forest Service ranger, we learned that they would soon be closing over 130 miles of trail, just north of (what would have been) our next meetup. This news warranted a zero day—his first thus far—on day 35.

Smoke from the Trail Creek Fire, visible from Wisdom, MT
Smoke from the Trail Creek Fire, visible from Wisdom, MT

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The Slackpack Streak

Once outside the boundary of Yellowstone National Park, Dad took off, hiking nearly 22 miles in a single day. Though our 12th meetup was supposed to be 3 days after I left him in the park, he ended up hiking to a point where I could reach him after only 2. This set in motion the potential to slackpack every day for the following 5 days. And then on the 6th day he nero’d (with a full pack).

Last year, Dad treated slackpacking as a novel luxury. For the uninitiated, this meant he’d swap out his fully-loaded backpack for a small daypack with water, snacks, and his inReach, but only on the rare occasions when I could meet up him on the same day. It wasn’t until after we were stuck in the snow in the Jeep that I “weaponized” a series of high-mileage slackpack days to get him to the finish line. With this latter approach in mind, Dad hoped he could make up for the perceived miles he lost to the blowdowns in the Wind River Range (in terms of his daily average), since it appeared that I could safely reach him every 19–23 trail miles over the course of our next 5 meetups.

Selfie with Dad aka 'Tartan' and Justin at Firehole BBQ in West Yellowstone, Montana
Good BBQ is the best reward!

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Yellowstone Backcountry Transit

While on the phone with the Yellowstone Backcountry office, I learned that the area around Heart Lake, through which the CDT passes, is off-limits for 3 months—from April 1st through June 30th—so that mama bears can be with their newborn cubs undisturbed by humans. At his typical pace, Dad was set to enter the park on July 2nd, right after the restriction was lifted (as if we had planned it—we hadn’t). The problem (and there’s always a problem, isn’t there?) was that upon leaving Brooks Lake Campground after our 7th meetup, there were 45 miles of trail before he crossed into the park, and then another 27 miles before he got to the Heart Lake Trailhead. In other words, he had a total of 72 miles (or 5 days) to hike before reaching the next spot where I could drive up to the trail.

Dad aka 'Tartan' modeling the new Alu-Cab Shadow Awning at Brooks Lake Campground in Wyoming
Dad modeling the new awning at Brooks Lake Campground

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