A Six Day Trip to the Big River Meadows
in the Bob Marshall Wilderness - July 26-31, 2011
Copyright Notice

Nancy and I read the book Big River Meadows, Eviction from Eden. Author W. David Jones, M.D. describes an intriguing 1927 backcountry trip to the Big River Meadows near Gateway Pass on the Continental Divide. What was that place really like? Was it as beautiful as he pictured it? How might it have changed since 1927? Nancy and I had to find out. Most of our questions were answered. Yes, not everything was as described in this novel but our adventures were interesting. Photos by Ralph Thornton and Nancy Thornton.

Our trek to the big River Meadows began at the West Fork of the Teton Trailhead west of Choteau, Montana.

On our first day we followed the North fork of the Teton River for 3 miles then hiked up to the head of Bruce Creek.

The day was cool, windy and damp. Periodic showers wet the vegetation.

Above Left: Looking up Bruce Creek from the North Fork of the Teton River.
Above right: Nancy in the dense forest low in the Bruce Creek Valley

Left: We're finally approaching the head of the Bruce Creek Valley. It's time to search for our first campsite.

After a cool and windy night the sun began to break through the clouds. "Sucker holes," Nancy called them.

Our camp along Bruce Creek had a nice view down the valley.

As the morning progressed we saw more blue sky. This view, looking down the valley of Bruce Creek features Mount Wright on the far left and the Corrugate Ridge on the right.
After breakfast we packed up and headed up the trail. Our goal for the day was to reach the Big River Meadows. The trail crosses two passes. Above Bruce Creek we would cross into the head of the Nanny Creek Valley, then climb to the pass between Nanny Creek and Crazy Creek.
As we approached the saddle leading to Nanny Creek we passed the grave of Jacques LaFleur.
Our hike was going well and we had made good time to the Bruce Creek Nanny Creek Saddle where we stopped for a luncheon.
Oops! A short walk after our rest brought us to some steep snow. In the distance we could see that our route over the Nanny Creek Crazy Creek saddle was completely blocked by snow.

Knowing we could not cross that snow we began to consider alternate routes.

Melting snow often creates interesting formations. Here conical mounds of mud formed as the snow melted away.
We tried two different routes hoping to bypass the snow but we had chosen poorly. It was well into the afternoon now and we still had not reached Crazy Creek. Time for Plan B.

This view is of the head of Nanny Creek.

We found a nice camp spot above Nanny Creek and spent our second night.

More sunshine the following morning was a welcome sight.

After packing up we followed a game trail to the edge of the snow.

Below: Nancy approaching the big drift blocking our passage into the Crazy Creek Valley.

The drift was fantastic. A huge cornice was formed by the winter winds. A big chunk of that had broken off.

We carefully climbed around the drift and finally reached the Crazy Creek Valley.

Back on the trail Nancy begins the long descent down Crazy Creek to the South Fork of Birch Creek about 4 miles away.
We waded Crazy Creek then the South Fork of Birch Creek (left).
Once on the South Fork Birch Creek Trail we headed up toward Gateway Pass and the continental Divide.

The South fork of Birch Creek is a wonderful valley with cascades, waterfalls and superb views.

It's our third day on the trail. We have seen no other people so far. The trail will go around the ridge coming down from the right to reach Gateway Pass.
Gateway Pass is a low and gentle pass on the Continental Divide. Besides the sign, the only other way we knew we had crossed the divide was that we noticed the streams had changed direction.

Soon the Big River Meadows came into view. I expected a beautiful view but was surprised at how expansive the meadows were.

We walked about halfway along the meadows and found a nice camp on a small hill. The camp offered morning sun, afternoon shade and a wonderful view across the meadows (below).

While filtering water that evening a party on horseback arrived and camped about a quarter mile away. These were the only people we would see during our six day adventure.

We planned to camp near the Big River Meadows two nights and spend the day exploring, resting, splashing in the creek and hiking to see Gateway Gorge and the Sabado Cabin.
Below the Big River Meadows, Gateway Creek flows through a deep valley. a mile or so down the trail brought us to a junction.
Above: Looking down Gateway Creek to Gateway Gorge.

Left: The Sabado Cabin.

While walking quietly back up the trail toward camp we came across this grouse. She had four young chicks but I only managed to photograph one. The chicks looked to be very young, maybe only a day or two old.
Afternoon light at the Big River Meadows.

The following two photographs are among my favorite views of the Big River Meadows.

The first photograph features Indian Paintbrush in the foreground while the second photo has pink elephant head pedicularis and white cotton grass.

Day five and time to start the hike out. We went back across Gateway Pass and descended the South fork of Birch Creek past Crazy Creek all the way to Phone Creek.

At the start of the Phone Creek trail we saw a sign. Only 13 miles to our vehicle.

We hiked about 2 miles up phone Creek to Seedling Creek where we found a nice quite place to camp.
Our last day on the trail. The pleasant walk up Phone Creek turned into a hot grind for the last mile or two to Phone Creek Pass. Then about five miles down the North Fork of the Teton brought us to the boundary of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. One more creek wade and one trail mile later we reached the end of our hike.