Beargrass in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13166A, Backpacking


  • Explore an iconic, huge hiking destination
  • Enjoy broad, well-watered river valleys and stunning vistas
  • Experience real wilderness in the “Last Great Place”


  • Tasty meals on the trail
  • One of our most experienced leaders
  • Optional vanpool to trailhead


DatesAug 17–25, 2013
Difficulty4 (out of 5)
StaffRoger Grissette

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Trip Overview

The Trip

You’ve heard about it for years: The Bob Marshall Wilderness, or just “the Bob.” Here’s your chance to finally experience this land located just below Glacier National Park. On this adventure, you’ll climb soaring passes, including one beneath the highest peak in the “the Bob.” You’ll traverse broad, well-watered and heavily timbered river valleys. Bridges are rare, but beautiful streams and broad rivers are legion. Crossings will require fording. Several days will be long and challenging, but your rewards will be many: jagged peaks, reefs, and vast vistas of some of the most spectacular and rugged scenery to be found in North America.

This wilderness complex was named to honor Bob Marshall, a tireless and legendary protector of our wild lands. Co-founder of the Wilderness Society in 1935, he wrote of the importance of protecting the complex web of life, and he led the fight to add 5.4 million acres to our wilderness system. In the midst of the depression, as a Forest Service attorney, he successfully lobbied for preservation of Alaskan backcountry. Renowned for long rambles, his day hikes were rarely less than forty miles, and most totaled fifty or more.

While we will not match Marshall’s distances with our full packs, there will be several long days, and our total trip mileage will be around 64 miles. Plan eight full hiking days with one layover day. Experience the restorative and healing power of true remote wilderness on a loop through the heart of the area so well-loved by Marshall. If you are interested in experiencing the spellbinding effects of long-distance backpacking, this outing is for you.

These “Front Range” formations provide critical winter habitat for bighorn sheep, and mountain goats congregate near the higher peaks. Bears are common in many areas, and there is hope that the wolf packs being established in Glacier will begin to colonize the northern reaches of the Bob. This is home to the tiny shooting star and the 600-pound grizzly, the mischievous Clark's nutcracker and the stately elk.

Partly due to its remoteness, the area is little-used by backpackers. Meeting other hikers will be an event. In spite of your exertion on the trail, you may find it hard to fall asleep, pinching yourself to see you’re not dreaming that there is still wild country like this. Your heart will sink when you find yourself heading back to the dirt road that leads toward what most call "civilization." Please join us for your chance to finally hike this renowned area and see the beargrass in bloom.


Your route will be one that gives a cross-section across several divides and follows major rivers. It’s been popular with Sierra Club groups in past years. Please understand that the route may need to be changed for your safety, depending on trail conditions, weather, or the group’s ability.

Day 1: West of sleepy Choteau, Montana, our hike will start at the Middle Fork, Teton River trailhead and move west 6.5 miles to our first campsite at Nesbit Creek. Starting elevation is 5,400 feet, with a 600-foot elevation gain.

Day 2: We'll hike to Round Park, with under nine miles hiking and a 200-foot drop in elevation.

Day 3: Today we will continue northwest to the glacier-flecked Lake Lavale beneath a dramatic rock wall. We will hike about seven miles, with a climb of about 700 feet.

Day 4: We will move north to Dean Lake under Pentagon Peak, where we can dayhike to the peak. Our hike will be under five miles, but over a pass that is the highest point of our route at 8,077 feet.

Day 5: We'll head south to a campsite in a broad valley carved by the Spotted Bear River, below Three Sisters. It will be about an 11-mile hike, going downhill most of the day, with almost 1,900 feet of elevation lost.

Day 6: We will take a layover day to explore the fabled Chinese Wall. This overthrust belt is the result of an upheaval, creating a split from Glacier Park almost down to Yellowstone Park. Our view from the north will show the 1,000-foot high Chinese Wall extending south almost 20 miles.

Day 7: Today, we'll hike about 11 miles to Baldy Bear Creek over one of our lower passes at 6,900 feet.

Day 8: We'll hike to Headquarters Pass Campsite; 13 miles.

Day 9: We’ll head up over Headquarters Pass toward our trailhead; about 4 miles. This area is where the trip leader has met the goats shown in the pictures.

We may have to consider alternative routes depending on the abilities of our group and natural obstacles we might encounter. In no case will we have a longer route.



Getting There

We’ll need to get an early start our first day, so everyone should be at our trailhead, west of Choteau, Montana, on Saturday at 10 a.m. Lunch that day will be our first meal together. We recommend flying into Great Falls Airport. If you prefer to arrive elsewhere, please notify the leader. The distance from Great Falls to our trailhead is 84 miles; the first 54 miles is on major highways, and the last 30 miles is on secondary Forest Service roads. Two hours should be allotted for the drive from Great Falls. The leader recommends arriving Friday night and staying at one of several small motels in or near Choteau.

Teton Canyon Road, north of Choteau, will bring you west to our trailhead. Some vehicles will be placed as shuttles at our expected hike exit several miles to the south. Our return to trailhead is expected by noon on the final day. You should be back in Great Falls by 4 p.m. our last hiking day.

If there is enough interest, a van rental will be provided on a shared-cost basis. The leader will provide more information and driving directions for approved participants.

Accommodations and Food

Our first meal together will be a quick lunch on the trail. Our last will be breakfast on the final day.

High-carbohydrate cereals, pasta, and dried fruit will make up the bulk of our meals, with cheese, nuts, and chicken adding a small amount of protein and fat. Most dinners will include hot soup and maybe a dessert -- and there will be fresh coffee or tea every morning.

Despite jokes about freeze-dried food, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good our food tastes. Everyone will take a turn on the cook/clean-up crew under the watchful eye of your leaders. We won’t allow any disasters -- we like to eat, too!

You’ll be able to tell your friends how you enjoyed four-star wilderness dishes. A quantity of trail treats will be available for your selection before our time on-trail begins. If you have any special treats you can’t live without, feel free to bring those. Few dishes call for meat, so we’ll be able to accommodate vegetarians.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated “4.” We will generally be on established trails, but most are seldom visited and receive infrequent, if any, maintenance. On some, we may have to make our way through downed timber or slides. The difficulty rating reflects the long distances expected and the elevation gain and loss on our more challenging days. Trip participants should have backpacking experience and the ability to carry a fully loaded (42-48 pound) backpack. No climbing experience is required, and any peak bagging will be optional.

To fully enjoy this unique experience and tolerate the long distances, everyone must have a regular aerobic and strength training program for several months before our trip (three days per week, 30+ minutes per session). The trip leader also suggests exercises to strengthen your legs and ankles.

Equipment and Clothing

In this region, a good rainsuit (not a poncho) is essential, as we may encounter several days of rain. To minimize our campsite “footprint” and impact, tent-sharing is encouraged. This will also lighten your load. Advise the trip leader of your tent collection so he can assign tent-sharing with another participant. Be sure to bring a good supply of dependable insect repellent.

A detailed equipment checklist will be sent to approved participants.

To enjoy this adventure to the fullest, you're also asked to come equipped with a flexible and positive attitude, as well as a healthy sense of humor.



  • "Bob Marshall," "Great Bear," and "Scapegoat Wilderness Complex," USFS Northern Region, 1990.


  • Doig, Ivan, This House of Sky (Landscapes of a Western Mind). Harcourt Inc, 1978.
  • Doig, Ivan, English Creek. Penguin Books, 1984.
  • Doig, Ivan, Ride with Me, Mariah Montana. Penguin Books, 1990. (Ivan Doig’s dramatic trilogy of Montana ranch life is highly recommended. Try to read at least the first one.)
  • Graetz, Rick, Montana’s Bob Marshall Country. Montana Magazine, 1985.
  • Glover, James M., A Wilderness Original: The Life of Bob Marshall. Mountaineers Books, 1996.



The area we’ll visit has been “permanently” protected by a "Wilderness" designation, but the majority of Montana’s roadless areas have no such legal protection and are under continuous pressure of encroachment.

We’ll be in an ideal locale to reflect on the role this area plays in the Yellowstone-to-Yukon movement, as embodied in the proposed Rockies Prosperity Act. This act will define and establish corridors for flora and fauna in a novel approach.

Extractive industries continue to greedily eye the Rocky Mountain front, and past inroads have already taken their toll. We know that decisions are temporary and can be changed by new administrations and new government officials. We cannot consider existing wilderness designation to be permanent as far as threats from oil and gas exploration or hard rock mining industries are concerned. As we drive from Choteau, we’ll pass through the last home of the plains grizzly. Drilling in this area was turned back a few years ago only by an outcry by local citizen groups while national focus was on areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

We will discuss and practice minimal impact camping techniques and take on minor chores to erase the signs of less considerate packers, such as fire rings and camp “furniture.” We will also attempt to restore our campsites to their original condition. We may encounter a variety of different user groups, and will consider the proper respect due others, a cornerstone of Montana’s traditional Western ethic.

Most evenings, we will take time to discuss national and local environmental issues. You are encouraged to come prepared to introduce any topics of interest.

The areas we will visit are among the most remote in the Lower 48, yet we’ll still see evidence of other users. We’ll have a magnificent setting to reflect on the question: “How much wilderness is enough?”

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Lewis & Clark National Forest.



Roger Grissette has led outings for many years in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, as well as the Eastern Sierra, Utah, Mexico, and Hawaii. Leading four to five trips per year recently, he's thrilled to share these adventures and their sense of discovery with a diverse group of Sierra Club members. Discussing challenges that face the wild places his trips visit is always a highlight for him, as is the time he spends in the camp kitchen. "Sometimes I feel I'm preparing a dinner party," he says. When not backpacking, he spends his spare time playing traditional music with friends in a string band.

Assistant Leader:

Robert Martin

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