Packrafting in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area

An invite to join Dave and others for a trip to the Bob Marshall Wilderness was an excellent excuse to finally get up and see the “Bob.”  Our party ended up consisting of myself, Dave, M and Spencer.

Dave walking up toward Stadler Pass

Dave walking up toward Stadler Pass

Our first day began with a sweety hike to the headwaters of the South Fork of the Flathead.

Spencer under a big pack

Spencer under a big pack

Bear Grass was unusually good this year according to M.

Bear Grass was unusually good this year according to M.

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I’ve hiked alone more and more in recent years, its hard to find someone who has the inclination and the time to do the kinds of trips I like.  Getting to go with someone like Dave was a real pleasure.

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Stadler Pass

Stadler Pass

At Stadler Pass we took a lunch break.  Enjoying the mountains with other people who enjoy talking about packs and hiking shoes was fun.

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From the pass we dropped down to Danaher Creek.

Bob  (22)The river crossings were a learning experiences.  I nearly took a swim here.  It probably would not have been bad except I would have lost my camera.  After this I kept my waterproof camera bag handy.

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We camped on a gravel bar.

On a typical backpacking trip the main challenge is to make sufficient miles in a day with perhaps a map reading challenge to keep you from getting complacent.  This trip was different, we’d hiked, lost the trail, found the river, floated and portaged around log jams.

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After a good days work a fire roasted trout was heavenly.

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In the morning we quickly paddled down the remainder of Danaher Creek to the South Fork.

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Wood was less of an issue here but we did have to portage a few times. Unfortunately I didn’t get any good pictures of the rapids.  They were not particularly bad by Dave’s standards but more complicated and bigger then what I’d run so far.

Bob  (28)While we “garage saled” by the White River Dave hooked a few fish.

We at the White River confluence.

Dave above the White River.

Dave above the White River.  

We hiked a few miles up the White River looking for a campsite.  We’d thought about rafting it down it but it was a hot day and no one wanted to hike that trail twice.

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Our second campsite was not as comfy as the first but it had good scenery and we were tired.  I had left my sleeping pad at in the car by accident and I was making do with Dave’s sitting pad and two life jackets.   Bob  (46)

In the morning we hike up the river, forded it with Spencer’s packraft and began hiking up to White River Pass.

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Keeping up with Dave is a challenge, I’d forgotten to factor in that he’s competed in the Alaskan Mountain Wilderness Classic twice.

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Bob  (62) Stitch

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We had a nice lunch on top of the pass.  Dave unloaded some extra food on me.  I turned the rest of his toco shells into Nutella sandwiches.   Bob  (79)

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On the West Fork of the Sun River we blew up our rafts on a rather crowded slope and got back on the river.

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The West Fork of the Sun seemed a bit more winding and technical then the South Fork of the Flathead.   It wasn’t bad but you needed to stay awake going around the corners. Bob  (111a)

We portage part of one rapid where the river blasted through a narrow rock channel.  When Dave and Spencer, both more experienced on whitewater opted to portage I followed their lead.

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Farther down the river slowed down a bit and was more relaxing.  The shots from my waterproof helmet cam don’t do the scenery justice.

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At a pack bridge we took out and hiked “4” miles to the trailhead, we all agreed it was likely a lot more.

Lessons Learned

This was my first overnight packrafting trip and it was a very good learning experience.  I learned a couple lessons that would help me later on.

1.  Us 1inch webbing with buckles to secure your pack to the raft.  It sounds like a small thing but it makes packing up so much easier.

2.  Multiple dry bags are better then one big bag.

3.  Organization is key.  You can waist a lot of time packing, unpacking and finding something if you are transitioning between hiking and rafting.

Gear Notes

I’d bitten the bullet and bought a Porter 4400 for this trip.  The extra space made it way easier to use then my Exped Lighting 60 and the water resistant fabric was a plus.  I liked Dave’s system of strapping his PDF under the talon pocket of his pack.  I improvised a similar system for later hikes.


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