The official purpose of this trip was to hunt wolves in the Bob Marshall Wilderness—a task not unlike trying to find a needle in haystack, but a needle that is actively trying not to be found and a haystack that is more like a two million acre maze of steeply mountainous, densely wooded terrain. Throw in sub-zero temperatures, snow best measured in feet, and 30-40 mile an hour winds, and yea…we really just wanted to see if we weren’t the ones the wolves ended up finding, our bodies frozen over from hubris.
Anyway, here is my pack set up: a bullpack frame with an alice pack attached, a Ruger .270, a fishing rod for the off chance I could find a place to cast (I never did), an axe, saw, tarp, leatherman and condor knife, an Army extreme cold weather bag rolled inside a bivy, a sleeping pad and stuff sack carrying cold weather coat, gloves, trapper hat and extra wool socks, a Hill People Gear front pouch carrying a map, compass, Zippo, idodine tablets, predator call, binos, and a Glock .45, and lastly, the alice pack carrying food, a cook kit, wet-weather gear, and xtra under layers. I could have cut a few things out, and if my buddy from Seattle, Jeff, and I coordinated a little better we could have split some items, but altogether, I’d say it weighed about 70 pounds.
Here we are, Jeff and I, a couple infantrymen reliving our glory days.
Our journey began around swift dam. It is the site of 1964 tragedy where unprecendent rain on top of heavy snow flooded the reservoir, broke the dam, and killed 31 people living along Birch Creek on the Blackfeet Indian reservation… The worst flood in Montana history
This is Jeff skirting the perilous route we decided to take, after much deliberation, around the dam. With the heavy snow, even getting to this point was no easy feat, and somehow we managed to lose the trail already, managing to jump onto a vehicle route for the dam’s maintenance. We prodded the mountain for easier access over it, and even thought about turning around completely, but determined, we edged the icy, loose-rocked slope and tried to put the 100 foot fall to the reservoir out of our mind.
Incredibly beautiful country. Having lost the trail almost entirely at this point, we skirted the resevior another couple miles and decided to make camp near this location mid-afternoon. The temperature was dropping quick and we recognized the need to gather lots of firewood
Cooking rice mixed into chicken noodle soup over the fire. Salmon that Jeff brought from Seattle warming in foil on the side. A little whiskey may have been passed around too.
Wolf Camp, looking cozy.
Then, after sun down, the wind hit. I had already dozed off only to awake to our tarp taking off like a sail. Because I was not about to get out of my warm sleeping bag in my long underwear and jump around in the sub-zero temp, I reached into a bag next to me, grabbed some 550 cord, and pulled down the line supporting our tarp, which the wind had loosened, and I looped the cord around the center of the line, securing it to my sleeping bag. So, we ended up sleeping with the tarp directly over the top of us. Not bad, actually. But I learned, 1) a lean-too may not have been the best set-up in this situation, and 2) while we were concealed, it may have been better to lay out our bivies further in the woods.
The next morning, the wind continued. We crammed some trail mix and jerk into our faces, and basically looped around our camp looking for tracks, calling, and trying to spot with binos the wolves we came to find. No such luck though. After a few hours, we went back to camp, and though we originally considered staying two nights, we decided we better pack out that day. There was more wind and reports of snow, and considering the difficulty we already had following the trail, we didn’t want to get into a situation out of our control.
About the one good thing to come from the hunt was we picked up part of the trail again and had a little easier time following it back versus the way we came in.
Emphasis on a little easier, though. We came to the same plateau we dropped down from. The wind was really roaring. It felt like what I imagined it’d feel like on Everest and put descending the slippery route we used before out of the question. So we climbed higher looking for a good vantage point.
Finally, we found the damn thing. But it was a soul crushing distance further over the mountain and around the valley to my truck. A few exacerbated curse words and a little talking, and we decided to find a manageable way back down to the maintenance road. That way ended up being a draw we could slide down on our butts. I’d say there was a moderate to severe risk of going head over butt near the top, but the drop soon mellowed out, and we made it.
My exhausted mug near the end.
And a smiling Jeff too.