One-hundred-and-five miles. Thirteen days. On foot, by boat, against all challenges.

For Venture Crew One – a team of five Boy Scouts from Bozeman that packed and paddled across the Bob Marshall Wilderness in July – it’s an experience that will last a lifetime.

“Character can’t be built in the absence of trials and difficulty. You can’t build muscle without lifting a heavy weight,” said expedition leader and Backpacking Light founder Ryan Jordan. “The best Scouting experiences are those that stretch the kids to their absolute mental, emotional and physical limits.

“The outcome of this is that some kids break down and then you have to throttle them back – send them into a more stable situation where they can work on skills and rebuild their confidence. It’s iterative. Some other kids, if they are ready, will rise up to meet these challenges and continue to seek more difficult ones. That’s where it’s at.”

Venturing Crew One is a Boy Scouts of America group based in Bozeman. The crew’s mission is to “promote youth development initiatives focused on instilling the attributes of honor, courage and leadership through practice in the context of the complex and challenging environment of high adventure.” The hope of Crew One is that participants build a foundation of skills that translate to adult life; that scouts make a positive impact as adults in their families, workplaces and communities.

Jordan said the main difference between a traditional Boy Scout troop and a venture crew is that the activities are more advanced and demand more responsibility from Scouts. Scouts are involved in all aspect of the trip, with adult leaders serving as mentors and coaches.

“We planned out the routes and how much money we’d need and all that stuff,” crewmember Aiden Fink, 15, said. “The trip was completely planned out by the members.”

The outing was organized in collaboration with Montana High Adventure Base. MOHAB develops programs that emphasize expedition leadership, wilderness trekking, wilderness packrafting and conservation in remote wilderness areas.

“There are a number of high adventure bases around the country, but MOHAB’s niche is its remote, wilderness character,” Jordan said. “And the difficulty of the advanced expeditions, like the trip Crew One completed.”

Scouts that participated in the MOHAB expedition – Wilderness Packrafting III – were required to have exceptional fitness, pass a medical evaluation and have had extensive experience in wilderness travel and packrafting.

Jordan said expedition members had each completed 20-mile or longer backcountry treks in Yellowstone National Park, the Spanish Peaks, Washington’s Olympic Mountains, the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, the Sierra Mountains and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The members of this expedition completed MOHAB’s first packrafting program in 2013, when the group descended the South Fork and North Fork of the Sun River in the Bob Marshall Wilderness near Augusta.

This year’s expedition brought with it a variety of new challenges, not least of which was high flows on the South Fork of the Flathead River.

The crew started its trip with flows on the South Fork surging above 9,000cfs. The expedition began at Benchmark trailhead outside of Augusta. The team carried 50-pound packs full of provisions and packrafts to the waters of Danaher Creek, one of the tributaries that form the South Fork. By the time the crew reached the creek on July 1, flows on the South Fork had dipped to 7,800cfs.

Venture Crew One put in at the confluence of Danaher Creek and Camp Creek on July 2. Data updated via satellite indicated a downward trend in flows on the big river, which boded well for the trip. The high water complicated the crew’s navigation through a series of logjams above Big Prairie. Deadfall and snags in the river required numerous portages through willows, brush and flooded grassland.

“It was difficult to move through and sort of frustrating,” Fink, of Bozeman, said on Monday. “Sometimes there were trees and low brush you couldn’t see through, but every once in a while you would get an opening and you’d see mountains and snow-covered peaks.”

The expedition arrived at Big Prairie on the South Fork the evening of July 3. With big water and many miles ahead, Jordan sensed the group coming together.

“Our Crew of Venturing Scouts is proving themselves expedition worthy,” Jordan wrote on his blog ( “The 27 miles that we’ve traveled to reach this point have been hard earned, and they’re rapidly entering that glorious cooperative characterized by what we call ‘Expedition Behavior.’ They’ll need it for next 80 or so miles.”

The crew’s greatest challenge was soon to come.

On July 7, the group set out from the confluence of the South Fork and the White River in a bid to reach the enormous rock band towering over the landscape. Known as the Chinese Wall, the 2,000-foot climb from the river was a defining moment for the crew.

“We hiked straight up, cross-country,” Fink said. “We went from forest to meadow to talus. From the top we counted 13 mountain ranges. We took lunch there and looked at the views. There was a lot of satisfaction to accomplish that portion of the trek, because it took a lot of work climbing to the top.”

Fink said the descent from the Chinese Wall was the most challenging moment of the expedition. The crew had gotten on the trail at 6 a.m. and hiked 16 hours straight, making camp at 1 a.m. the following day. Unmarked cliff bands, that were imperceptible on the group’s maps, made the descent truly rigorous.

On July 9, the crew camped on the West Fork of the South Fork of the Sun River. The group descended the West Fork the following day, and continued downstream to the Sun River and back to civilization.

“The dynamics of spending 13 days straight on a hard expedition, immersed in each other’s business; we had no drama or conflicts on the trip, but this is something that’s always there,” Jordan said. “This is a remarkable group of young men and they have a lot of self-control when it comes to their emotions and feelings in the face of extreme trials.”

Fink said the trip was rewarding and he’s excited for future expeditions with Venture Crew One.

“The most rewarding part of the trip, part of it was definitely getting to know these guys better, but we had hiked together before,” Fink said. “Being on top of the Chinese Wall and seeing all those mountain ranges – in my opinion, all that effort and planning to get to the wall, it made it worth it.”

Ben Pierce can be reached at and 582-2625.