Just south of Glacier National Park is more than a million acres of nearly untouched wilderness. But remaining mysterious comes at a price paid by some of those who have sought out the trails of secrets and death that wander across the depths of the Montana wilderness.
The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, which straddles the continental divide in northwest Montana, is the third largest chunk of wilderness in the lower 48 states.
Thrill seekers go there for adventure. Some may go there simply to see a new part of the world they otherwise couldn’t imagine.
Some, like Noah Pippin, never return. Outside Magazine told the story of the lost adventurer and how his parents found in neat block letters the directions their son intended to follow:
SOUTH FROM HUNGRY HORSE ALONG THE EASTERN EDGE OF THE FLATHEAD RESER
VOIR TO THE SPOTTED BEAR RIVER. THEN EAST ON SPOTTED BEAR RIVER (TRAVELING ON IT’S NORTHERN BANK) UNTIL BLUE LAKE(S) IS REACHED.
Whatever the motivation, knowing the lay of the land might provide comfort before taking the first crunching step up the trail and into the unknown.
The Bob Marshall Wilderness is managed through the National Wilderness Preservation System; a part of the Wilderness Act of 1964 that works to keep wilderness healthy through generations of people.
The Bob is huge. It is made up of four national forests, including the Flathead, Helena, Lewis & Clark and Lolo. It is managed by five ranger districts (Spotted Bear, Seeley Lake, Lincoln, Hungry Horse and Rocky Mountain).
In over a million acres of ancient wild, there are some curious human histories that today’s rangers have experienced firsthand.
Schaeffer’s Meadow sits in the Flathead National Forest’s Great Bear Wilderness. It’s home to a ranger station that is 15 miles from the nearest road. Rangers spend a good chunk of their lives in the heart of the woods living in old, weather-stained log forest cabins. If a tree falls in the woods, they are definitely there to hear it.
In Al Koss’ case, he was there to hear a voice calling in the dead of winter when nobody was around for miles. Sam Wilson’s article on the Daily Interlake’s website highlights Koss’ firsthand haunting experience with the “Ghost of Schaeffer Meadows”:
“Just before dawn, I heard this voice — ‘Hello? Hello?’” Koss remembers. “I looked out the window, there was nobody in the woods. I thought maybe it was some hunters coming through … I got up, got ready to go out to the airstrip where we keep the mule and horse, and there’s no footprints or anything.”
“Koss said he’s familiar with much of the lore surrounding the historic backcountry structures that dot the 1.5 million-acre wilderness complex, and has heard multiple reports of the “Ghost of Schafer Meadows” from fellow foresters and other visitors to the site.”
Telling ghost stories around campfires is one thing, but it’s another to experience hauntings at the recurring rate that Bob Marshall Wilderness forest rangers and backcountry cabin renters seem to.
Another haunting in the Bob is The Legend of Crazy Clyde… and the image of his body lying motionless on the bottom cot of the Salmon Forks Guard Station on the South Fork of the Flathead River in the Bob, blood streaking the wall behind him from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Legend has it that Clyde grew up working as an outfitter in the Bob Marshall. At some point in the mid-80s, he had managed to get on the bad sides of both the Mafia and the law, so he decided to escape back to the stillness of his familiar childhood.
A man named Bryan Nichols, sent by the Forest Service in late Spring to open up hiking trails, was the first to open the cabin to find Clyde’s body.
According to the story, the faint remnants of Clyde’s brains still stain the wall above the head of the left bottom bunk of the Salmon Forks Guard Station. Those who sleep there claim to have strange dreams throughout a restless night.
From a mother’s empty footsteps as she waits for her husband to come home with medicine for her dying child, to ghosts of children lost in a tragic 1919 fire, the Bob Marshall Wilderness is more than a stunningly immense stretch of geologic wonder. To know the Bob’s secrets is to respect nature, and all its awe-inspiring and mysterious qualities.