Beyond All Roads
<< WATCH OUR FEATURED VIDEO: THE BOB MARSHALL DREAM TRIP
VIDEO DESCRIPTION: 5 days in the Bob Marshall Wilderness: hiking 28 miles, pack rafting 49 miles, and living the dream.
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“For me, and for thousands with similar inclinations,
the most important passion of life is the overpowering
desire to escape periodically from the clutches
of a mechanistic civilization.
To us the enjoyment of solitude, complete independence,
and the beauty of undefiled panoramas is absolutely
essential to happiness.”
~ Bob Marshall
There is no more special place in the lower 48 than the Bob Marshall Wilderness area, and no more special getaway from “the clutches of mechanistic civilization” than the small, rustic intrusion of the K Bar L ranch west of Augusta. Our first sign of its uncommon character came with a warning not to use GPS or any techie-aid to find one’s way to the ranch access trail or boat launch. “No” to cell phones. “No” to the Internet. “No” to civilization?
The ranch, an in-holding holdover from the Civil War, has been passed down through generations of owners to the present-day Wallis family, whose mission is to preserve its traditions while upgrading the visitor experience. “Our changes will be subtle,” according to Adam Wallis, “we want our guests to experience the wild with low-impact and high appreciation of its unique character and surroundings.” The ranch is certainly unique, as it is the only occupied dwelling in “The Bob’s” 1.5 million acre vastness. The effect of zero population is unsettling at first, though you quickly become accustomed to the uniqueness of the place, as its ageless tranquility envelopes your whole being.
“The Bob,” as it is commonly known, is a designated wilderness, named after Bob Marshall, an early conservationist, forester and co-founder of the Wilderness Society. “Wilderness,” means there are only a small scatter of ranger stations and horse bridges. Not a single road spoils this conflation of The Bob, the Scapegoat, and Great Bear wilderness areas. Wildlife include deer, elk, mountain goats and sheep, lions, black and grizzly bears, moose, and wolverines.
The K Bar L rises from the forest floor on 40 acres, at the watery intersection of the north and south forks of the cascading Sun River, just before they merge and empty into the Gibson Reservoir, before continuing onto the Missouri River near Great Falls. The Sun is the life-blood of the ranch, feeding everything from its horse stock and fishery to the marvelous ambiance of the old encampment.
Our own visit to the ranch was at high-water on the reservoir, which allowed us a speedy seven-mile run on the ranch launch, quickly passing the K Bar L’s pack horses and mules, trailing along the same onshore route, carrying supplies as they have done for decades. If it had been a bit later, say mid-July, the Gibson would have been too low for boat passage, and we would have joined the slow trudge on that same trail, guided not by modern convenience, but by the dusty track of decades past.
The oddest sensation on the ranch is the absence of time. One rises and sets with the sun, with the only markers the movement of the horse and mule stock, wrangling them to the ranch in the morning, and to green pastures in the evening, far above the 13 guest cabins and the main house, where we gather at the sound of the dinner bell, sharing hearty fare and conversation at breakfast and dinner. Bagged lunches to order are handed to us each morning, as guests are free to wander far and wide by foot or horseback to enjoy the primeval, unspoiled by any other presence or suggestion of human impact.
Cutthroat trout seem to be just waiting for our fly lures at Arthritis Point and Freezeout along the Sun, where we fish waters unspoiled and teeming with life. Our horses graze in a grassy grove riverside, at rest from our ride to the middle-of-nowhere. Our casts bring success time and again, and we return every fish to the river, losing many to our distraction at the cloud-scraping, mountainous vistas in every direction. Wolves howl in the distance. A lone deer drinks upstream. Life here moves at a pace unimaginable to those who have not experienced it. We saddle-up with some reluctance, and return without a single fish, but with a creel full of memories which will last a lifetime.
After an active day on foot or horseback, guests can treat themselves to a plunge in the Medicine Springs, a welcoming geothermal pool which sits just above the ranch, sited at the same spot where the waters were once enjoyed by Indians, loggers, hunters, and trappers in generations past. A smallish sweat-cave lies close-by, offering another opportunity relief and relaxation. A hot shower awaits you at a small, pleasant shed near your cabin; and remember to fire-up your wood buck stove for the cool evenings and mornings, as frost is quite likely to appear through June.
Adam Wallis’ vision is still taking shape. The ranch has upgraded the comfort level in the cabins with new beds and bedding, and fluffy robes for the short treks to the bathrooms and showers. Two new draft horses, “Doc” and “Duke” have been added, and are now hitched to a fine, hand-built service wagon imported from an Amish community in Minnesota. A full-time chef creates dependable vittles for three meals a day, with no limits except your appetite. And, if you visit during certain dates, you could well be treated to a wine festival, a backcountry distillery or zookeeper Jack Hanna’s take on the wildlife of “The Bob.” The ranch is also available for corporate retreats, family reunions, and as an unusual setting for weddings.
An axiom of the wilderness experience is that one must leave behind nothing but a footprint; but a stay at the K Bar L will cause you leave behind a bit of yourself, to be enjoyed in reminisces for years to come.
Adam and Emily Wallis (owners)
22025 Sun Canyon Road | Augusta, MT 59410
** For more information, visit their website at: www.kbarlranch.com
HUNTING SEASON AT THE K BAR L
The Bob Marshall is home to the Sun River elk herd, numbering some 2500 animals. Expert elk hunts from the K Bar L are historic and memorable. You won’t be disappointed.
at the K Bar L opens on
September 11th, and runs through Thanksgiving Day.
September 11th through October 6th
2 Hunters: 1 Guide Ratio
October 22nd through November 26th
2 Hunters: 1 Guide Ratio