Benchmark to Hungry Horse – July 21 – 23

BM2HH (Benchmark to Hungry Horse)
Dates: July 21-23, 2023
Leaders: Forest Dean, Elizabeth Moore
Participants: Alec Cottrell, Ethan Levin, Francis Horton, Sean Colvin

This little adventure was a long time in the making. We first dreamed it up in 2018. This year was finally
the year we put it into action. The goal was to run/hike 57 miles from Benchmark on the east side of the
Bob Marshall Wilderness to Meadow Creek, which is about 10 miles south of Spotted Bear. On day two
we would then ride our bikes 67 miles to the town of Hungry Horse. A team would be needed to shuttle
gear, bikes, and runners. It all worked…sort of!

We drove from Missoula to Benchmark on Friday afternoon/evening in two vehicles (approx. 3.5 hour
drive). Sean and Alec arrived early and got a campsite for us at South Fork Sun campground (which is
also essentially the trailhead). There would be three of us running in the morning (Alec, Elizabeth and
myself). Francis, Sean and Ethan would make the long 7 hour drive to Meadow Creek. We got to bed

Alarms went off just after 3:00am and we got up, got ready, and hit the trail at 4:00am. The first 10
miles seemed to really cruise by. We used headlamps until a little after 5:00. Our route was on the CDT
for the first 26 miles. We started north along Straight Creek, then bent west along the West Fork of the
Sun River. Elevation gain was minimal thru this stretch so we mostly ran. A little after the 10 mile mark,
Alec decided to pick up the pace and run ahead. He had been doing a lot of ultra races this spring and
summer and was in peak shape (plus he is half the age of us other two!).

The weather was excellent to start. Clear skies and cool temps. We made our way north, then west and
climbed up to the Chinese Wall. This was certainly a highlight area of the crossing. We spent the next
couple hours headed north along the east side of this magnificent geologic feature. “Up close and
personal” with it, as I mentioned many times. The sun was hitting us by now though and it promised to
be unrelenting for the rest of the day. Also during this northerly traverse, Elizabeth really began to feel
the affects of something not right with her “gut”. This would prove to be very problematic as the day
wore on.

Around noon we ascended to Larch Hill Pass on the northern end of the Wall. We had a short lunch,
then began the descent to the west into the White River upper reaches. After leaving the CDT prior to
Larch Hill Pass, we ended up not seeing another person all day (Alec reported the same thing). The trail
south along the White River was mostly good, but a bit overgrown in a couple areas and had to search a
bit to make sure we were on the trail. At 2:30 pm we made it to the Helen Creek/Pagoda Mtn trail and
started up again (34.5 miles at this point). Here Elizabeth unfortunately really began to struggle. She
wasn’t able to eat or drink without puking it all back up again. (A couple days later she was diagnosed
with a possible infection as well as pretty severe dehydration). We had to gain 2000’ to get up to the
pass that would lead us down Helen Creek and into the South Fork Flathead River. It was agonizingly
slow travel with lots of rest breaks. Somehow she persevered and we made it up. Coming down into
Helen Creek started out ok, but then she started to relapse as she kept getting more dehydrated. The
trail down through that canyon was in awful condition as well (think bushwacking on a trail) which didn’t
help either of our attitudes. (Alec would also concur later that this was a very demoralizing section of
trail. Again, somehow we got through. When we arrived at the South Fork trail around 7:30 pm we
thought we were on a jeep road! But alas, we still had about 11 miles to go.

We hiked along on a bench above the South Fork for the next couple miles as the sun set. At around
8:30pm, Elizabeth came to a dead halt. She just couldn’t go on any longer. Incidentally, Alec was
finishing at this time (16:30, 57 miles, 8000’). We were using an Inreach to communicate with Sean and
crew at Meadow Creek. I told them that unfortunately we were going to do a bivy for a few hours.
Before Sean received that text though, Francis and Ethan decided to hike south towards us in hopes of
helping any way that they could- mostly with a morale boost. They didn’t know that we were still 8
miles from the trailhead though, and they didn’t set out till 9:00pm. Sean took off on his MTB bike and
tried to catch them, but had to turn back at the Wilderness boundary before he could make contact.
They ended up hiking 6 miles up the trail, shouting for us. They turned back at that point and got back
to camp at 1:00am. Their effort and generosity will be hard to ever forget.

After 49 miles we didn’t have a lot of energy left in our bodies to keep us warm. We had long sleeve
base layers, shorts, damp feet- and an emergency space blanket. The temp got down to around 40
degrees and we shivered for 8 hours trying to stay warm. The stars were pretty amazing though!
Probably should have started a fire, but that would have required a level of energy neither of us really
had. At 5 am we had enough of the shivering and began hiking again. It was a long slow 8 mile hike out,
but at least it was relatively flat. The team all greeted us just before 9am as we came across the bridge
over the Meadow Creek gorge. What a welcome sight that was! Went straight for the spaghetti and
meatballs that was supposed to have been dinner last night. Three morning beers had me feeling pretty

As stated earlier, the Sunday plan was originally for four of us to ride our bikes the 67 miles back to
Hungry Horse, while two people drove the vehicles. However, only Francis felt the urge at this point. He
jumped on his gravel bike about 10:00 and proceeded to crush it as he rode north on the east side road
around the reservoir. The rest of us lazily packed and drove north, passed Francis at one point, then
waited for him right before Martin City. As a team, we had achieved the BM2HH!

Next was a visit to Backslope Brewing in Columbia Falls for food and beer (and air conditioning!). It was
good! Drove back to Missoula afterwards, arriving about 7pm.

Weather (hot), trail conditions, deer flies, and bodily issues all really conspired to throw a wrench into
plans that had been carefully concocted over the last few years. But that happens! We all made it
safely. This team was amazing and it will be an adventure to remember. Thank you all very much!
Forest Dean

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *