the Bob Marshall Wilderness Open 2019

Discussion in 'Outings, Trips & Expeditions' started by mtwarden, May 28, 2019.

  1. mtwarden

    mtwarden roaming the Big Sky Supporter

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    No entry fees, no t-shirts, no aid stations, no trophies- just a badassery annual trek across the Bob Marshall Open Wilderness Complex in May. Not too many rules- it has to be under your power (rafts, snowshoes, skis or feet) and everything has to be carried on your back and fully self sustained; the start and finish points change each year, the routes you chose on how to get there is up to you. The typical distances range from 90-120 miles depending on the year and the routes you choose- the shortest route frequently doesn't translate into the quickest route.

    This was my fifth Open and quite frankly is typically the highlight of my year. I train year round, but this is a good share of my motivation for training.

    In addition to a year's investment in training, there is months of work looking at different routes, coming up with multiple alternative routes, figuring out bailing points (if needed); deciding on what gear, how much food to take, etc.

    One of the key factors in finally settling on a route and deciding what gear to take is the weather. This year we had above average snowpack, but not a lot of warm weather to melt it out- that translates into more time on snowshoes/skis, but could ease concerns on fording the numerous streams/rivers you have to cross.

    I was teaming up with John (four prior Opens), Thad (two prior Opens) and Andrew (one prior Open). It's always understood that someone(s) will make a change in a route and go their own way, could be someone has to bail, someone wants to go slower/faster. Andrew was bringing a raft, so there was some obvious divergence on his route.

    The starting point this year was Swift Dam, which drains Birch Creek- basically in the northeast corner of the Bob Complex, finish was the Swan Lake campground on the far west side. We had chosen three routes- one based on lower stream flows where we would have to ford the Middle Fork of the Flathead (big water!), one based on average stream flows where we would have to ford a couple of larger drainages (but not as large as the MF Flathead) and one based on high flows which meant longer (and more snow covered) miles, but avoided most of the more hazardous crossings.

    We watched the flows (via the USGS site) diligently and watch the flows drop with the cool weather and finally settled on option one, which entailed a cross of the Middle Fork.

    The weather forecast was rather dire, lots of precipitation rain lower, snow higher and unseasonably cool weather. The cooler weather isn't a big issue, lots of precipitation is.

    Friday night my wife and I (and Tiny Elvis) headed north to the East Front of the Rockies. We stopped in the little town of Dupuyer to meet up with some of the other participants and enjoyed big burgers and a few beers.

    Even the drive is awfully easy on the eyes.

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    We got to Swift Dam and got tents setup, fires going and some story telling :)

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    We woke early to one of the most enthusiastic coyote choruses I've ever listened too; Tiny E was impressed!

    I made a big breakfast of eggs, chorizo, cheese wrapped in tortillas, washed done with copious amounts of pressed coffee. No rain yet, things were looking up.

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    Five minutes before the 8:00 AM start we posed for a picture, 24 participants this year- a record. Tiny Elvis made it into the picture, but didn't go- much to his chagrin!

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  2. mtwarden

    mtwarden roaming the Big Sky Supporter

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    it was 8:00 am and time to get after it, the group split- some hitting the South Fork of Birch Creek, others the North Fork- we went the way of the later.

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    Andrew had the heaviest pack of our group adding a pretty bomber raft, paddle, life jacket and helmet (along with all the other gear including snowshoes)

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    With fresh legs and and adrenaline running high, the miles ticked off quickly despite the steady climb.

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    The views didn't hurt either.

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    Where I'm building my mountain man cabin and taking a Blackfoot wife (well my wife might not agree to that second part :))

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    Ancient Druid worship site????

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    Despite the adrenaline, we needed to stick to the little details like consuming regular calories and water, we got into a rhythm of taking a couple minute break on the hour to do just that.

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    We started hitting numerous patches of snow on the trail and just post holed through them, know that eventually we would be donning snowshoes.

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    And that time arrived pretty quickly :)

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    The last pitch to the first path the trail was completely obliterated so we took what we thought was the best route shooting for the pass.

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    At the pass we were welcomed with a very cold rain (but not quite snow), I donned my hardshell and pressed on. The trail could intermittently be found, but eventually lost in the deep snow. We got split up at the top and there were tracks heading into different directions, I just went the way I thought was the most direct to Badger Pass. Eventually there were only two tracks I was following, which was a little disconcerting. The trail was completely wiped out with the snow, a very fresh burn removed any hint of a trail (cut logs and the like) and I was completely socked in with clouds and rain. I eventually got to a tree that had a burnt sign on it and then found a new sign stating S. Fork of badger Ck and the two tracks heading down it. That didn't seem right and my map confirmed it, they were definitely headed down the wrong drainage- I was hoping that it wasn't two of my crew.

    I took the correct trail, what little I could find, but there wasn't a single track on it and there should have been at least a half dozen or more as I was definitely not out in the lead. I'm not going to lie, that was an uncomfortable feeling to say the least. I pressed on and figured worse case scenario if I really f'd it up, I'd backtrack the couple of miles and reorient myself, knowing I would finish the event solo and worse case, backtrack all the way to the start- neither overly appealing.

    After about a mile I hit a single set of snowshoe tracks, that was promising- no idea who, but at least someone was going the way I was. I eventually caught up and it was Andrew, at least I'd have company for better or worse :)

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    After another mile or so, John and Thad appeared out of the mist from above us. Evidently a lot of folks stayed higher with the trail obliterated. The group was finally back together.

    It wasn't all rosy though. None of us had donned rain pants, all thinking the rain would be short lived. Two hours of steady cold rain had completely soaked our pants, being on top of snow the entire time didn't help warm things either. This was really a grave error on all of our parts. The femoral artery in your legs is a huge part of the equation in regulating heat or in this case losing heat. When we stopped, we couldn't stop more than a minute without fully chilling out. The only thing that worked was to keep moving.

    "Lunch hour" came and went, no way to stop. We finally made it to the second pass and started a long descent down Cox Creek eventually hitting the Middle For of the Flathead. The rain let up a little and offered an occasional view.

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    Eventually the snow lessened and we were finally able to lose the snowshoes.

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    And eventually even the rain stopped!!!

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    We were reminded several times we weren't the only things traveling Cox Creek, at least there wasn't any bits of clothing in it

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    About 3/4 of the way down Cox Ck, Andrew declared it floatable and split off. The plan being he would float the remainder of Cox Ck, dump into the Middle Fork and meet us at the Middle Fork ford, likely well ahead of us. We kept pressing on thanking the Lord that it had quit raining and eventually seeing our pants dry out and even warming up a bit.

    We decided to stop for a late lunch. I was anxiously looking forward to the large burrito I had purchased at a local restaurant on Friday- a little splurge! Unfortunately I never took out of our cooler and there it remained, 20 miles behind us-grrr! Oh well I had plenty of butthole sandwiches and they tasted just fine.

    At 6-ish PM we arrived at the Middle Fork, but unexpectedly Andrew wasn't there waiting. The Middle Fork was rolling significantly more than what we anticipated, no doubt to all the rain swelling everything feeding into it. We went downstream and then upstream, looking for a suitable ford- nothing looked good. We found the "best" of the unsuitable spots and decided to give it a go- it looked like we were headed for exactly what everyone had to avoid- a swim across the Middle Fork. Somehow we managed across it, wading up over our waists; I almost got swept as I neared the far bank, but recovered and made it out.

    Hard to describe that relief. But no Andrew was worrisome. We started a large fire and started prepping our suppers- a fire and a warm meal never tasted as good! About 45 minutes Andrew finally arrived. What he thought was floatable on Cox Creek was just one after another really tough portages around and through dense cover. The float once he hit the Middle Fork was really nice however. He took the opportunity to dry some clothing and his supper. We eventually took off with a couple of hours of light remained and pushed up Schaefer Ck about five miles and made camp- in headlamps.

    A funny story- 10 minutes before we left the house for the start, the doorbell rang and the mail man dropped off a package. It was a shelter I ordered several weeks earlier and wasn't expecting to use for this trip. I took the shelter out, read the instructions, awkwardly set it up in the backyard and said screw it, I'm taking it as it weighs half of what the shelter I had packed.

    Now I'm setting up this completely unfamiliar shelter in the dark :) Fortunately it wasn't too bad and got it with just a minor bit of cursing. We quickly got out of anything that was wet and into dry and hit the hay, just as it started raining!

    It rained all night long as near as I could tell. I woke at 5-ish with adequate light, but it was still raining steady. We took a vote to give it another 45 minutes- the vote was unanimous and as luck would have it, the rain dropped off to just a drizzle.

    I ate a warm breakfast (granola, dried whole milk, dried blueberries adding hot water) along with a couple of fig bars and a couple of cups of coffee. It didn't take us to long to eat and pack and we were on the trail a little before 7.

    Unfortunately the drizzle quickly turned to rain which hinted at a very tough day ahead. We learned our lesson yesterday and everyone quickly donned rain pants. Of course multiple creek crossings keeps you pretty wet regardless.

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    With 24 hours down we had racked up 32 really tough miles.

    to be continued





     
    Last edited: May 29, 2019
  3. mtwarden

    mtwarden roaming the Big Sky Supporter

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    we kept plugging our way up Schaefer Creek, but unfortunately the rain never let up; I will say that were we all significantly warmer w/ out rain pants on, not a ton drier, but warmer!

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    not surprisingly as we climbed up the drainage we hit enough snow to need snowshoes

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    at least we were getting good practice donning the shoes :)

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    no need for filtering in places like this

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    as we neared the top of Whitcomb Mountain we decided to try and shave a few miles off, dropping off towards the Spotted Bear drainage through a recent burn- otherwise we would have had to stayed high (snow) another 5-6 miles, before dropping with the trail.

    we did pretty well on the upper portion of the burn when we were still in snowshoes, but as we descended we ran out of snow and stashed them back on our packs; without the snow it was mud and wet vegetation laid down flat which made for a very tedious descent- everyone fell down a couple of times

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    it took us much longer to hit the old logging road we were aiming for, but I think in the end it did shave an hour or two off on staying with the trail

    the road at last!

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    it was nearly 1:00 PM and the rain had finally stopped, so we took advantage of the break and sat down for some lunch; lunch of champions for me- butthole sandwich and a Snicker's bar- an easy and quick 750 calories!

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    A pretty good shot of the Spotted Bear River winding it's way down to eventually hit the South From of the Flathead river.

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    About 5 miles down the road Andrew parted ways again and made his way down to the Spotted Bear to float the remainder of that river and several miles of the South Fork, hopefully going up late evening.

    Unfortunately for us we had 20-ish mile of linking old logging roads and eventually the main Spotted Bear Forest Service road, as well as traveling down the South Fork of the Flathead via the Hungry Horse Road. We had good views, so no complaints there, but as the roads became more improved, they also were harder packed- still gravel roads, but much firmer than trail. Our feet got more hammered and more hammered. When we stopped for a our supper break (just past the bridge over the South Fork which we would have needed wings to ford!) everyone had blisters to contend with and morale was low (as was our energy level).

    It was never said, but I know everyone thought that if we were to bail, this would be the perfect place.

    We begrudgingly slung our packs and continued down the South Fork, eventually arriving at Soldier Creek where we met up with Andrew- who was relatively fresh coming off the water and avoiding about 12 miles of walking.

    Soon it was dark and we setup our second camp and hallelujah the rain had never started back up!

    We rolled out of camp around 6:00 AM very tender footed, but at least it wasn't raining! We still had a few miles of road to walk though, damn road!

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    But in the scheme of things, not too paltry on the scenery

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    with 48 hours down we racked up another 39 miles to put our total to 71 miles

    to be continued
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2019
  4. mtwarden

    mtwarden roaming the Big Sky Supporter

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    the road section was finally coming to end; this is Quintonkan Creek below us, it's flowing much higher than we expected and we will soon have to cross it- albeit higher up

    we saw lots of wildflowers along the way, but didn't take a lot of photos- but did take a few of my favorites, this is Western Trillium a pretty lily that is almost always white

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    but occasionally almost purple

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    we also saw a lot of Glacier Lily, another of my favorites- this is an important food source for grizzlies in the Spring- they dig them up and eat the bulbs

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    when we arrived at the trailhead we immediately had to ford Quintonkan Ck, after several failed attempts (and the fact that a total failure would result in getting flushed down a steep ravine we had to reevaluate

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    well where's there a will, there is often a way- a 1/4 mile up a very choked bottom we found two logs that had crossed each other and spanned the creek; there was a caveat- if you get swept or fall- you're toast!

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    all across safely

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    well our "trail" on the map was actually a very old trail that obviously has been determined to leave abandoned- lots of brush and small trees growing in it, which really slowed progress

    eventually we climbed high enough to hit enough snow that we needed to don snowshoes again; we also lost the trail for good and made what we thought was our best line for the last pass- it was a steep climb, a really steep climb!

    here's what one looks like after a 30-40' free fall slide down a mountain (luckily a downed log to slow my progress)

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    after a small eternity we made it to the pass

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    we weren't the only ones to have recently travelled through this pass- a wolverine had passed probably just a few hours before we did :)

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    there was still snow on the other side of the pass, but it only lasted maybe a mile AND we could see into the Swan drainage our final destination

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    There is a really neat (large and deep) lake nestled in near the top- Hall Lake; it's also rumored some large trout roam it's waters

    you can also catch a glimpse of Swan Lake- the finish

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    time for lunch and for some a quick nap

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    the trail was almost snow free with very few blowdowns, but it's STEEP- losing over 2000' in about 5 miles- it's a quad thrasher, especially on the last day with thoroughly trashed legs!

    I kissed this sign :)

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    we were very pleased with our finish- 91 tough miles in 57 hours

    and now it was time for burgers and beer :D

    I used to live just down the road from the Packer's Roost in the late 80's- place hasn't changed a bit

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    this is a "packer's" burger- 1 and 1/4 lbs of burger, cheddar and Swiss cheese, ham and bacon with all the veggie trimmings w/ a side of about a 1/2 lb of fries

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    the waitress gave us a look and said good luck with that, twenty minutes (and two IPA's) later she came back to scrubbed clean plates!

    the rest of the story

    we have subsequently found out that four folks had arrived prior to us (two had finished in under 48 hours!!!:eek:), that four folks had bailed to injury/illness/fatigue, but at this time that still leaves about 12 folks that I don't now what happened to; when I get any updates I'll post to this thread

    thanks for reading and I apologize for the piece meal posting- I have an excuse, I'm sore and tired

    thanks for reading!





     
    Last edited: May 29, 2019
  5. MJGEGB

    MJGEGB Bushmaster

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    Anxiously awaiting for you to fill in the rest!
     
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  6. mtwarden

    mtwarden roaming the Big Sky Supporter

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    first 24 hours posted :)
     
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  7. Eric Westbrook

    Eric Westbrook Supporter Supporter

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    Man, what a day!

    40* and rain is about as miserable as it gets!

    That river had to feel like liquid ice!
     
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  8. MommaJ

    MommaJ Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    Darn what a harsh 1st day
     
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  9. mtwarden

    mtwarden roaming the Big Sky Supporter

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    I agree- I'd rather have snow and 10 degrees, rivers and creeks almost took your breathe they were so cold!

    I have to concur :)
     
  10. DaStoner47

    DaStoner47 The Navigator Supporter

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    awesome trip, cant wait to read the rest of the report.
     
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  11. MJGEGB

    MJGEGB Bushmaster

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    So far pretty awesome report. I'm glad I'm not the only one who forgets things from time to time. Had to stop on the way to the trail head earlier this year for a smart water bottle. I'd left a full bottle sitting on the dining room table at home.

    What's the new shelter? Obviously you didn't take the Gatewood.
     
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  12. mtwarden

    mtwarden roaming the Big Sky Supporter

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    second 24 hours posted :)

    I had my Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL 2 in my pack, with the weather I wasn't ready to give the Gatewood a go this time. I ordered a Tarptent Aeon Li several weeks earlier, not expecting it to arrive until June, it weighs in at 16 oz w/ stakes and guys, roughly a pound and a half lighter than the Ghost- so I figured I'd roll the dice a bit with no having any experience with it whatsoever (save the one backyard setup). Definitely a solid solo shelter :)
     
  13. UAHiker

    UAHiker Guide

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    lol, your not the only one. i went winter camping a few years ago, stopped at the log book on the trail and before that took off my fleece b/c i was hot and put it on the roof that housed the log book. well, i walked off with out my fleece and thought i lost it until i walked past the trail book and saw it sitting there right where i left it.....

    i also couldn't find my head lamp so i had to stop at rei on my way to pickup another one and when i got back home i found the head lamp right where i left it.... now i have to black diamond spots :)
     
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  14. MJGEGB

    MJGEGB Bushmaster

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    That is one fine looking tent. I've taken a look at it and it appears to be a very well designed tent and a palace at that.
     
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  15. MJGEGB

    MJGEGB Bushmaster

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    Just upgraded my headlamp to a Nitecore NU25. I went with white to make it harder to lose. And the homemade headband will be bright green. My old Olight was orange and I never managed to lose it so here's to hoping.

    Thankfully I only ever tend to wear my insulating layer in camp or for extended stops. I produce plenty of heat when I'm moving. Mine is usually a $16 down puffy so it wouldn't be a big loss, but a huge inconvenience.
     
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  16. mtwarden

    mtwarden roaming the Big Sky Supporter

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    finally finished it up- thanks for your patience :)
     
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  17. M.Hatfield

    M.Hatfield Midnight Joker #42 Lifetime Supporter

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    You just hiked more then some folks get out in their entire lives. Watching your journeys is always a pleasure. :)
     
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  18. A Seedy Lot

    A Seedy Lot Supporter Supporter

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    Awesome trip Mike! You can endure misery better than I. Thought of you Saturday night as the rain beat down on the tin roof, Montana mountain ranges can be very grueling in late spring.
     
  19. MJGEGB

    MJGEGB Bushmaster

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    Excellent report, and I'm happy to hear you finished. That's awesome, no small feat for sure. Hard to imagine doing that in under 48.
     
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  20. BBizy

    BBizy Tracker

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    What an incredible outing. Thanks for the great pictures and write up!!

    Ira
     
  21. A Seedy Lot

    A Seedy Lot Supporter Supporter

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    I was thinking about your burger stop, Packers Roost was the long way home. I would say the Roost has changed a little if they are serving IPAs...
     
  22. GoKartz

    GoKartz El Coyote Supporter

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    Looks like a tough but awesome time Mike. Glad y'all made it safely. When I grow up maybe I'll be fit enough to go for a hike with you!
     
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  23. Seeker

    Seeker Woods Bum Supporter Bushclass I

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    A nominee for 'trip report of the year'. Thanks @mtwarden... glad you made it through alive and well... appreciate all the useful observations and taking time to take pics.

    Your folding chair at the start... make/model?
     
  24. J. Pierce

    J. Pierce Perpetually Off Topic, Sorry. Supporter

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    A spectacular and miserable trip!
    I'm not too proud to admit I couldn't do it, but I'm a flatlander with not enough ambition and drive to train properly....lol. Hey, at least I know my weaknesses.

    Thanks for posting, it is inspiring and beautiful, even if I know I'll never do it.
     
  25. FIELDCRAFTLTC

    FIELDCRAFTLTC Roughian #10 Supporter Bushclass I

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    Wow, just wow! Great TR and a tremendous accomplishment! Thanks for sharing.
     
  26. Bobsdock

    Bobsdock So long, and thanks for all the fish Supporter

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    Outstanding brother !
    Congratulations on finishing.
     
  27. mtwarden

    mtwarden roaming the Big Sky Supporter

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    thanks all!

    well yeah that's changed :) we had drive all the way around and grab Andrew's jeep and then found out they closed the road at Augusta (major flooding from the rain) and had to make a detour around- got home at 1:30 AM!
    :eek:

    Helinox Chair Zero- pretty darn comfy and only weigh a pound- I bring them backpacking when I bring the "boss" :)
     
  28. oathkeeper762

    oathkeeper762 Bushbum & PT Wanderer Supporter Bushcraft Friend Bushclass I

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    We’re not worthy...outstanding trip report. Well done my friend, congratulations on a great finish.
     
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  29. Seeker

    Seeker Woods Bum Supporter Bushclass I

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    Yeah, that's what it looked like... price though... was looking at the REI knockoff this past weekend over in DE, and even that's a lot... still, comfy, seems well built. simple (which is usually good). and requires no tree placed just right, or a tripod, like for my bush chair... that's about 8 oz, and comfy too... but this would be so nice on a canoe trip (vs portaging a bigger folding chair.) decisions decisions. thank you sir!
     
  30. Turtle Creek

    Turtle Creek Guide

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    Congratulations! What an epic trip and self-challenge. Pretty inspiring to say the least. Great write-up and very glad you took some time out and took so many pics to share. I'm sure Tiny E now realizes he was better off at home for this trip. :dblthumb:
     
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  31. mtwarden

    mtwarden roaming the Big Sky Supporter

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    thanks gents! :)

    they did a side by side test with the REI chair and it fared very well- almost a toss up and it's (REI) cheaper

    When we went up the trail my wife had to hold onto Tiny E, she said he threw a giant fit- didn't think he should have been left behind on a "hike" :D
     
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  32. Kona9

    Kona9 Supporter Supporter

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    Awesome trip and report as always. Now rest up.
     
  33. actichy

    actichy Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    Wow! The scenery looks amazing there. Finishing this event is seriously hard core. Great job!
     
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  34. Jason in ID

    Jason in ID Tracker

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    That is an awesome trip! I can only imagine what it would be like to do that. I look forward to reading your trip report on this event every year.
     
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  35. backlasher

    backlasher Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    Well done and congratulations.
     
  36. mtwarden

    mtwarden roaming the Big Sky Supporter

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    thanks for the kind words guys!

    I'm feeling much better today than previous two days; feet are still sore on the bottom- not blistery sore, more deep tissue sore, but definitely better :)
     
  37. roadend

    roadend Wandering Where I Can Supporter

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    Epic. I appreciate you take the time to shot photos and share with us your amazing trips.
     
  38. Odinborn

    Odinborn Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    Congratulations again. I can't imagine pushing it that far in that terrain, your finish was well earned.
     
  39. Turtle Creek

    Turtle Creek Guide

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    @mtwarden , When you said "Damn Road" .... I know what you mean. Worst stretch of the AT from PA to Harpers Ferry, WV was the relatively flat 3 miles of pavement and 'blue stone' that covers the C&O Canal tow path into WV. I'd rather be climbing switchbacks or walking the ridgeline. Made the cheeseburger and cold beer in town that much better I guess. At least the end of that AT trip sounds kind of familiar to your end. (except our burgers may have only been 1/3 of a pound, LOL)
     
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  40. mtwarden

    mtwarden roaming the Big Sky Supporter

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    thanks guys :)

    ^ exactly! it was both mind numbing AND feet numbing :D
     
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  41. Blackhillz

    Blackhillz Supporter Supporter

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    Awesome report!
     
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  42. racetrack

    racetrack Supporter Supporter

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    I tip my hat to you sir.
     
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  43. mtwarden

    mtwarden roaming the Big Sky Supporter

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  44. Soilman

    Soilman Scout

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    Congrats mtwarden! I ALWAYS look forward to this particular trip report! Thanks for posting.
     
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  45. Hunt4lyf

    Hunt4lyf Guide Bushclass I

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    Fantastic TR! I always look forward to these reports every year. Thanks for doing them!
     
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  46. crewhead05

    crewhead05 caffeine, nicotine, knives and nature. Lifetime Supporter Supporter

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    I got tires just reading about this trip. Time to get one of those burgers!

    Great work.
     
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  47. UAHiker

    UAHiker Guide

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  48. mtwarden

    mtwarden roaming the Big Sky Supporter

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    Thanks guys!

    @UAHiker

    James is a super nice guy; he was at the finish when we got there (waiting for his wife); not sure what his training regime was, but it definitely worked :)
     
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  49. MrFixIt

    MrFixIt Old Jarhead LB#42 Supporter Bushcraft Friend Bushclass I

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    Once again you have provided us with another epic TR.
    Thanks you for taking the time to document it.

    (Dang, my legs hurt...)
     
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  50. Park Swan

    Park Swan Maker Vendor

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    Incredible!
     
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